You are here: American University School of Communication Communication Studies Doctor of Philosophy in Communication

Professor Filippo Trevisan giving a presentation

At the Intersection of Media, Technology, and Democracy

The AU School of Communication's Doctor of Philosophy in Communication allows you to focus on the intersection of media, technology, and democracy. Our program is designed for scholars who seek to understand how communication and technology interact with democratic life and participation in an open society, with a particular emphasis on the role of new media in civil society—a theme consistent with the core public service mission of American University. 

Our interdisciplinary course of study is solidly rooted in contemporary communications knowledge, theory, research methods, and principles, while drawing from the diverse intellectual resources across American University. The program offers both humanistic and social scientific approaches to the study of communication, tapping into our relationships with NGOs, media companies, foundations, and government institutions throughout the Washington metro area. 

In our doctoral program, you'll produce scholarship, using both quantitative and qualitative approaches, that has real-world connection and impact. You'll organize your studies around your choice of a thematic concentration. Courses covering a wide spectrum of issues will allow you to explore the cultural, technological, economic, and policy forces shaping the media system. 

The accelerated structure of our program offers an 11-month-per-year mentoring and learning environment, enabling you to complete your degree in three years. Our graduates are qualified for tenure-track faculty positions at institutions of higher education in communication, media studies, public relations, journalism, film and media arts, and related fields. You'll also have the advanced qualifications for professional work in public policy, research, communication, marketing, and production at media, nonprofit, advocacy, government, and industry organizations. 

The School of Communication's PhD in Communication advances theory, develops knowledge, and enhances the ability of our institutions, social groups, and professionals to apply that knowledge to address our most pressing political and social challenges today. If you want to be a part of the next generation of communication scholars, professors, leaders, and practitioners for the digital age, this is an ideal program for you.

Demonstrate Your Commitment and Interest

All applicants must hold a master's degree (or be in the process of completing a master's degree) to apply for the PhD in Communication. The degree does not have to be in the field of communication or be research-based, as many of our PhD students have master's degrees in film or journalism. 

Applicants must submit a statement of purpose that outlines the intended research area, what research methods and theories the applicant will use, and which faculty members the applicant hopes to work with.

The candidate must also submit either a master's thesis or another example of substantial research. The GRE is also required. Students should submit their official GRE scores to CEEB code 5007.

The School of Communication's PhD program operates on a hard deadline. Applications must be received by December 15th. Applications received after the deadline will not be considered.

A complete PhD application consists of the following:

  • Statement of purpose
  • Resume
  • University transcripts from all universities attended (transcripts from outside of the U.S. must be evaluated by WES or ECE)
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • GRE scores
  • Master's thesis
  • Proof of English proficiency (100 on the TOEFL, 7.0 on the IELTS, or a bachelor or master's degree from university in an English speaking country)

The admissions committee may ask applicants to interview with the program director and affiliated faculty. Interviews are conducted either on campus or virtually.

Financing Your Education

The PhD in Communication is 54 credit hours. To estimate the cost of tuition, please see the current cost per credit hour for graduate students.

Each year, we welcome several doctoral students with full tuition remission as well as a graduate assistantship. We may also offer admission to top candidates without merit funding. If funding becomes available, students admitted without funding may be eligible to receive a merit package from the school. 

Students whose funding package includes a graduate assistantship will work as research or teaching assistants for 20 hours per week during the fall and spring semesters. 

W. Joseph Campbell

Communications ·

New Book Examines the Messy and Contentious Role of US Presidential Pre-Election Polls

Read More


Focus your Studies

The required core courses offered through our doctoral program will equip you with knowledge and expertise in the major theories and methodologies of the field. You'll work closely with a faculty advisor to create an individualized program of electives. Courses are organized around your choice of a thematic concentration

Sample Concentrations

This concentration focuses on use of the media and technology for public life, civil society, and for addressing social problems. Areas of interest include the role of media and technology in evolution of citizen attitudes, preferences, knowledge, and behavior; media and technology as resources for social change that empower citizens, social movements, and advocacy coalitions; and the function of the media in shaping and reflecting policy agendas and decisions. You’ll gain ample experience in advanced research methods including public opinion and media content research, formative and evaluative research of campaigns, and organizational strategy.

This concentration emphasizes the social, economic, political, and technological characteristics of media industry structure and practice. You'll investigate the complex interrelationships among nonprofit organizations, news media, government, and business. Research and applications include the role of digital technologies and public policy in civic participation and in evolving relationships among media content producers and their audiences; the social and political implications of changing business models; structures of public media; and the media industry's impact on issues of technology, responsibility, and social equity in areas such as personal freedom, diversity, government transparency, social surveillance, privacy, trade, and corporate responsibility. You'll build strong skills in advanced research methods such as comparative and historical analysis, quantitative analysis, case study approaches, ethnography, and interviewing.

This concentration features the application of critical theories from the humanities and social sciences to examine the construction of media expression in emerging digital culture, particularly how new forms of media are created as tools for public life and civil society. Scholarship combines theoretical approaches from philosophy, history, sociology, film studies, and cultural studies to address a spectrum of issues, including the role of communications media in the construction of identity, stereotypes, and perception; social, economic, and cultural norms of emerging digital media; changing creative practices and their social and policy implications; the interplay of democratic processes and technological change; and the significance of media in public ritual, social control, and propaganda. You are encouraged to combine media theory with production practices in the fields of journalism, documentary film, and social media.

Course Progression

Complete your degree in three years

In contrast to the traditional 9-month-per-year schedule, your annual course of study takes place over 11 months, including faculty supervision and mentoring via formal course work, organized research group meetings, and online collaboration. The accelerated structure of your program allows you to complete your degree in three years.

You'll take six required courses, three each in the fall and spring semester. Depending on your past master's coursework and professional experience, you may be able to petition for credit for methods and/or statistics course work, substituting an advanced methods course or other elective. The required teaching seminar prepares you to work as a teaching assistant in an undergraduate course during your second year of coursework. Students who have prior college teaching experience or who have already taken a similar teaching seminar as part of their master's program can place out of this course, substituting an additional elective. In the summer immediately following your first year, you'll enroll in one course for credit and participate in research group meetings.

In the fall, you'll take two electives plus a teaching seminar. By the end of your fall semester, you'll be expected to have gained approval and to have finalized the four faculty members of your doctoral committee, with at least one member being from outside of the School of Communication. At the beginning of your spring semester, you'll begin your qualifying exams. This process takes approximately one month from the assignment of questions to a successful written and oral defense. You will also take a seminar, "Advanced Research and Project Development," that will guide you in developing your dissertation proposal. By the end of the spring semester or beginning of the summer, students are expected to have successfully defended their dissertation proposals and to spend the summer focused on dissertation research.

In the fall and spring semesters, you'll register for dissertation research credits and also participate in a seminar titled, "Principles of Doctoral Research," which will provide a collaborative setting to gain feedback, guidance, and mentoring on approaches to project design, data collection, analysis, interpretation, writing, and time management. During the fall and spring semesters, you are also expected to be applying and interviewing for jobs, with your research groups serving as outlets for "mock" job interviews and other forms of professional development and guidance.

A Passion for Storytelling

There are a lot more opportunities out there to create something that matters.

Nesima Aberra loves storytelling, but believes we need to expand where and how stories are told and who tells them. At AU, she explored how media shapes the way we understand our world through innovative, thoughtful, and relevant stories. Through her Dean's Internship at VOX, she's learned how to find compelling human interest angles in more complex news events. Now she's more excited than ever to use literary journalism to change the way people think and feel and help make our society more informed and empowered.

Frequently Asked Questions

Applicants could be interested in tenure track, faculty positions in academia, or seeking careers at prestigious institutions in government, industry, and/or the nonprofit community.

In addition to the teaching seminars and teaching assistantships that are part of the regular doctoral curriculum, The Art of Teaching is a one-credit course offered each spring semester for PhD students who want to learn more about educational pedagogy. The course was originally designed by American University's former provost, Milton Greenberg.

Previously known as the Greenberg Seminars for Effective Teaching, this course complements the PhD academic experience, providing hands-on, practical introduction to professional development and classroom techniques. PhD students can participate at any time during their PhD program. There is no tuition fee for the course.

Still have questions? Send us an email: