The Ph.D. program is designed for students with backgrounds in communication or a related field such as psychology, sociology, political science or the social aspects of computer science.

Qualifying Examinations

Students typically take the doctoral qualifying examination during the winter quarter of the third year.

Qualifying Examination Committee

After verifying that all required coursework has been completed satisfactorily (i.e., with a minimum GPA of 3.0), or that all coursework will have been completed by the end of the quarter in which that qualifying exam will be taken,  the Graduate Adviser (in consultation with the student and the student’s Major Professor) will recommend a Qualifying Examination committee to the Office of Graduate Studies for approval ( The QE Committee will consist of four members, with at least three members from the program’s faculty and at least one member external to the program’s faculty. Affiliated faculty members can serve as the external committee member. The QE Committee will have a Chair that is from the program’s faculty but is not the student’s intended Dissertation Chair (also known as the Major Professor). The intended Dissertation Chair should, however, reside on students’ QE Committee. The suggested QE Committee must be finalized no later than the first week of the Fall quarter of the student’s third year.

Because required coursework should be completed before engaging in the QE, students should have all coursework finished by the end of the Fall quarter of their third year, after which the Graduate Adviser will submit the completed QE application. Students not conforming to this schedule must meet with the Graduate Adviser and Department Chair to discuss and provide an explanation for their deviation from the expected schedule timeline. Such students will be considered on a case-by-case basis but likely deemed as not making satisfactory academic progress and as either progressing marginally or unsatisfactorily. This status will be reflected in students’ Graduate Student Progress Report that is conducted annually in the Spring quarter.

Qualifying Examination

General Information: The Qualifying Exam (QE) in Communication is intended to confirm and certify that students are academically qualified to generate a theoretically derived research project, effectively engage in independent research, and successfully complete a Dissertation required for a doctoral degree. The QE also provides an opportunity for the Committee to provide important guidance to the student regarding his or her Dissertation work and future academic and professional development. The QE will consist of a written exam and an oral exam with the QE committee. Along with the written exam, the student is also required to assemble and submit an academic portfolio as supplementary materials. Because the Communication QE policy is meant to reinforce and provide details to the general UC Davis QE policy, students should be familiar with the graduate council policy that applies to all QEs:

Written Portion of the Exam – Dissertation Prospectus: The written portion consists of a carefully-written and researched answer to a question that concerns the student’s specialized area of study and is directly related to their Dissertation objectives. The question, which may include sub-questions, will be written by the QE Committee Chair in consultation with the student and the student’s Major Professor and will need to be approved by the remainder of the Committee. While students can start preparing for the written exam as early as they can (e.g., consulting with the QE committee to determine the focus of the written question and constructing the relevant reading list), they will be given 4 weeks from the time they receive the exact question from the Committee Chair to complete the written QE.

The QE Chair, in consultation with the committee, will determine and make available to students no later than the 2nd week of the quarter in which the QE is taken (Fall or Winter quarter of the student’s third year) the exact dates, timing, and procedures for making the written QE question available and receiving students’ responses. For example, students may have access to a question via the Internet or email at a set time on a scheduled date and have exactly 4 weeks to submit their response to the question via the Internet or email. Students can access whatever materials they wish during the 4-week period, but should maintain academic integrity and uphold the University’s code of academic conduct. The QE Chair should also provide the student with guidelines regarding the length and format of response to the written QE question.

Oral Portion of the Exam: The oral portion of the qualifying exam will be 2-3 hours in length and is intended to assess the student's critical thinking ability, powers of synthesis and application, and broad knowledge of the field of study. The oral portion is a verbal exam that interactively assesses students’ command of the concepts and research germane to the written portion of the qualifying exam, as well as the student’s command of the discipline more broadly. The QE Committee members may feel free in the course of the oral examination to address issues of mastery of fundamental knowledge of communication theory and research, especially that relates to the student’s area of research.

The oral exam will take place approximately two weeks after the student submits the written exam. Students should schedule the oral exam in a manner that accommodates all Committee members’ schedules. Committee member selection should also consider possible schedule conflicts.

Portfolio Portion of the Exam: The student will submit, by the due date of the written portion of the qualifying exam, a portfolio including the student’s CV, graduate transcripts, and research publications and writings. The portfolio is a required element of the qualifying exam, and is intended to provide the QE Committee with a complete view of the student’s accomplishments and abilities that relate to eligibility as a doctoral candidate and likelihood of success as a PhD professional.

Outcome of the Exam: The committee will reach a decision on the student’s performance immediately after the oral exam. The committee, having reached a unanimous decision, shall inform the student of its decision to:

  • Pass” (no conditions may be appended to this decision), or
  • “Not Pass” (the Chair’s report should specify whether the student is required to retake all or part of the examination, list any additional requirements, and state the exact timeline for completion of requirements to achieve a “Pass”), or
  • “Fail”.

If a unanimous decision takes the form of “Not Pass” or “Fail”, the Chair of the QE committee must include in its report a specific statement, agreed to by all members of the committee, explaining its decision and must inform the student of its decision. Having received a “Not Pass” the student may attempt the QE one additional time; the QE report must list the specific conditions and timing for the second exam. After a second examination, a vote of “Not Pass” is unacceptable; only “Pass” or “Fail” is recognized. Only one retake of the qualifying examination is allowed, and only on condition of an initial ‘Not Pass”. Should the student receive a “Fail” on the first or second attempt at the exam, the student will be recommended for disqualification from the program to the Dean of Graduate Studies.

In the event of a split Committee vote, the Chair of the QE Committee will submit to Graduate Studies, with a copy to the student’s file, a written summary of the Committee vote and decision, accompanied by letters supporting the majority and minority viewpoints, and any documentation offered by the student. The letters from Committee members should address the student's performance in the individual are-as of the examination, as well as performance overall. Graduate Studies will render the final decision, as described in the Graduate Advisers Handbook.

In evaluating the student’s performance, no single aspect of the student’s QE or the portfolio should be taken as a determining factor, but rather an attempt should be made to consider all strengths and weaknesses and to determine whether, overall, the student may reasonably be expected to succeed in the PhD program.

Advancement to Candidacy

Before advancing to candidacy for a doctoral degree, a student must have satisfied all requirements set by the graduate program, must have maintained a minimum GPA of 3.0 in every course taken (except those courses graded S or U), and must have passed a Qualifying Examination before a committee appointed to administer that examination. Normally, students advance by the end of the 7th quarter. The student must file the appropriate paperwork with the Office of Graduate Studies and pay the Candidacy Fee in order to be officially promoted to Ph.D. Candidacy. Refer to the Graduate Council website for additional details regarding the Doctoral Qualifying Examination at

The student will file for advancement to candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy immediately after passing the Qualifying Examination. Filing for candidacy should take place as soon as the requirements for candidacy are satisfied and no later than the end of the student's third year of study. At this point, the student and his or her major professor will submit the membership of the student's dissertation committee to the Graduate Adviser for approval. Upon approval, the Graduate Adviser will forward the committee nomination to the Dean of Graduate Studies for final approval.

Course Requirements

The doctoral program requires no less than 56 units of core and elective coursework, as described below.

Core Courses (8 units)

CMN 201: Theoretical Perspectives on Strategic Communication (4 units)

CMN 202: Communication Theory Construction (4 units)

Emphasis Electives (48 units)


CMN 204: Biological Foundations of Communication (4 units)

CMN 220: Persuasion Theories and Message Design (4 units)

CMN 221: Communication and Cognition (4 units)

CMN 230: Social Interaction Theory and Research (4 units)

CMN 244: Organizational Communication (4 units)

CMN 250: Mediated Communication Theory and Research (4 units)

CMN 251Y: Digital Technology and Social Change (4 units)


CMN 210: Experimental Methods and Analysis in Communication (4 units)

CMN 211: Survey Research Methods in Communication (4 units)

CMN 212: Web Science Research Methods (4 units)

CMN 213: Simulation Methods in Communication Research (4 units)

CMN 214: Analysis of Communication Networks (4 units)


Take three graduate-level (200 series) statistics and/or mathematics courses of at least four units, selected in consultation with the major professor or graduate advisor if a student does not yet have a major professor.


Take five graduate level elective (200 series only, ≥4 units) from within or outside of the Department, selected in consultation with the major professor or graduate advisor if a student does not yet have a major professor.

Special Course Requirements

Any student hired as a TA or AI is required to take CMN 396. Students who are not funded as TAs or AIs are encouraged to take this course as well to become eligible to teach in the program. CMN 396 units do not satisfy the unit requirements for the degree.

Sample Four-Year Program

This is a representative sample of how a four-year doctoral program may be structured.

Programs of study vary, to accommodate the scholarly interests and career ambitions of each student.

Fall Quarter Winter Quarter Spring Quarter
CMN 201: Theoretical Perspectives on Strategic Communication (4 units) CMN 202: Communication Theory Construction (4)

CMN 210: Experimental Methods and Analysis in Communication (4), or

CMN 211: Survey Methods in Communication (4) 

(offered in alternating years)

PSC 204A: Statistical Analysis of Psychological Experiments (5) CMN 203: Scientific Methods for Communication (4) PSC 205E: Applied Psychometrics and Measurement Theory – psychological statistics (4)
CMN 396: Teaching Assistant Training Practicum (1–4) PSC 204B: Causal Modeling of Correlational Data – psychological statistics (4) CMN 250: Mediated Communication Theory and Research (4)
Fall Quarter Winter and Spring Quarters
CMN 210: Experimental Methods and Analysis in Communication (4), or CMN 211: Survey Methods in Communication (4) (offered in alternating years)


CMN 221: Communication and Cognition (4)

CMN 231: Tactics in Interpersonal Influence (4)

CMN 252: Computer-Mediated Communication (4)

PSC 204D: Advanced Statistical Inference from Psychological Experiments — psychological statistics (5) or Elective

 CMN 220: Persuasion Theories and Message Design (4)

CMN 244: Organizational Communication (4)

CMN 245: Media Technologies and the Political Process (4)

PSC 245: Social Psychology (4)

CMN 230: Social Interaction Theory and Research (4)

POL 261: Political Behavior (4)

POL 211: Research Methods in Political Science (4)

POL 212: Quantitative Analysis in Political Science (4)

POL 213: Quantitative Analysis in Political Science II (4)



CMN 280: Special Topics in Social Interaction (4)
CMN 299R: Thesis Research (1–12)

Qualifying Examination taken at the conclusion of fall quarter.



CMN 299R: Thesis Research (1–12)

Normative Time from Matriculation to Degree

As depicted in the sample programs, the normative time from matriculation to degree is four (4) years. This estimate assumes that the student is full time and enters the program with no deficiencies. However, students who already have an M.A. degrees in communication or related areas before they enroll in the doctoral program may be able to complete their Ph.D. studies in a shorter time frame, especially if they have received extensive methodological training as part of their M.A. degree work.

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.


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.


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.