Dissertation and Final Oral Exam

The Ph.D. in Communication is a "Plan C" degree, which requires a written dissertation and a final oral examination. These requirements are overseen by a dissertation committee composed of no less than three faculty members.

Graduate Council description of Plan C:

The Graduate Council shall appoint a committee of a minimum of three members, including its chair. This committee will be designated as the Dissertation and Final Examination Committee, and the chair of this committee will be the candidate's major professor. This committee shall determine whether the candidate has met the requirements for the degree, in accordance with the following procedure:

1.   The committee members shall guide the candidate in his or her research and shall pass upon the merits of the dissertation. The committee and the candidate shall arrange for such conferences as may be necessary for the complete elucidation of the subject treated in the dissertation.

2.   A final oral examination, as described below, shall be required.

3.   There is no exit seminar requirement for this plan.


A dissertation is a research project that can consist of a single, major study or a programmatic series of smaller studies. Given our program's focus on quantitative communication research methods, our students' dissertation research typically employs experimental procedures, survey research methods, content analysis (manual or computer-assisted), network analysis, and/or an emerging method from the computational social sciences. It is not uncommon for a dissertation to be composed of multiple studies that rely upon different but compatible methods. Whether the dissertation is based on one investigation or several, the research must be founded upon a clear line of thought that explores an important question or tests a specific thesis.

The student's dissertation must be prepared following the principles and standards of academic writing, as well as a widely accepted style; most dissertations in our program are written in accordance with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

A dissertation typically is divided into chapters. For example, a dissertation based on a single investigation usually consists of four chapters, titled "Introduction," "Methods," "Results" and "Discussion." A dissertation that reports three smaller studies might be divided into five chapters, titled "Introduction," "Study 1," "Study 2," "Study 3," "General Discussion." The Dissertation and Final Oral Examination Committee will work with the student to identify the structure that best satisfies his or her specific project.

Final Oral Examination

The Graduate Council has established the procedures for the final oral examination, as reported verbatim here:

1.   All members of the Dissertation and Final Examination Committee shall conduct a final oral examination of the candidate. This examination shall be held after oral presentation of the dissertation to the Dissertation Committee, but before final action has been taken on it. The final oral examination shall consist primarily of questions arising out of the relationship of the dissertation to the general field of study in which the subject of the dissertation lies.

2.   Admission to the final oral examination may be restricted, wholly or in part, at the discretion of the Graduate Program. If admission is restricted, it shall include all members of the Dissertation and Final Examination Committee, and may include other members of the Academic Senate and/or guests of equivalent rank at other institutions.