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More About the PhD in Communication

The growth of the Internet and the proliferation of digital technologies have dramatically altered communications, creating extraordinary challenges and opportunities for communication professionals and scholars. For example, journalism is undergoing a remarkable crisis and rebirth as blogs, cell phones, and other digital media transform an entire industry. Government agencies, nonprofit institutions, and media companies are engaged in major debates over a host of interrelated public policy issues – intellectual property, privacy, media ownership, and network neutrality – whose outcome will determine the nature of the emerging digital media system.  

New media also are reshaping many aspects of contemporary society, fostering innovation in civic engagement and political activism, and significantly affecting public health, the workplace, and the environment. All of the major institutions in our society – from newspapers to nonprofit organizations to businesses to government – are developing new strategies to navigate successfully the rapidly changing media landscape.  

The PhD program in Communication is dedicated to educating the next generation of communication scholars, professors, leaders, and practitioners for the Digital Age.  It fosters scholarship that builds new theory and knowledge, and enhances the ability of institutions, social groups, and professionals to apply that knowledge to undertake salient political and social challenges.  Courses will cover a wide spectrum of issues  addressing the cultural, technological, economic, and policy forces shaping the media system, and emphasizing the role of new media in civil society and democracy, a theme consistent with the core public service mission of American University.

Interdisciplinary Focus

The doctoral program offers an interdisciplinary course of study solidly rooted in contemporary communications knowledge, theory, research methods, and principles, while drawing from the diverse intellectual resources across the graduate curricula at American University. It combines humanistic and social scientific approaches to the study of communication, tapping into American University’s relationships with NGOs, media companies, foundations, and government institutions in Washington, DC. Students take core and required courses offered within the School of Communication designed specifically to equip them with knowledge and expertise in the major theories and methodologies of the field. They work closely with a faculty advisor to create an individualized program of electives. These include communication classes, as well as courses from other units on campus, organized around the student’s choice of thematic concentration


Graduates will be 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. They will also have the advanced qualifications to work in public policy, research, communication, marketing, and production positions at media, nonprofit, advocacy, government, and industry organizations.