Ph.D. in Communication

Program Overview

This program creates a cadre of scholars and practitioners capable of engaging with academic and professional communities to meet the challenges of our increasingly interdependent and globally diverse social worlds.

Dynamic and Flexible Curriculum
We encourage students to develop a program of study that meets their unique professional goals. Students may take courses from any of our three areas of study: Rhetoric and Civic Engagement, Relational and Organizational Communication, and Film and Media Studies. We don’t track students into one of our specializations. Instead, we emphasize the ways in which students can take advantage of faculty members’ complimentary and overlapping areas of expertise. Our PhD program prepares students for a variety of careers: academic jobs at research institutions, academic jobs at teaching institutions and community colleges, and practitioner/consulting jobs in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Superior Faculty and Graduate Student Support
We have a track record of success in graduate education. Our award-winning faculty has established national reputations, and our small PhD cohort ensures that you will receive focused attention from your advisor. Our graduate program has won two program-level awards from divisions of the National Communication Association based on the stature of our faculty and our mentorship of graduate students. Graduate students are supported with the following benefits and opportunities: extensive training and support in teaching, funds for conference travel, summer RA stipends, opportunities to teach and assist in a variety of classes, graduate certifications in gender studies, teaching, and other subjects, and health insurance and parental leave.

Unique Programmatic Features and Opportunities
We have distinctive programmatic features that you won’t find anywhere else in the nation, including the Center for Public Deliberation and the ACT Human Rights Film Festival.

Rigorous and Supportive Academic Community
We believe that scholarly productivity is facilitated by healthy community. Faculty and students work collegially with one another in an environment that is rigorous, intentional, and humane.

Areas of Departmental Emphasis

  • Rhetoric and Civic Engagement: Since the classical era, rhetorical studies have explored public engagement and community building, examining the role of communication in civic life. The resurgence of rhetorical studies in the humanities is founded on a renewed sense of the importance of rhetoric to engaged citizenship in the 21st century. Professors and students in this area explore the role of public communication in creating, maintaining, and undermining civic culture. Our faculty specialize in political rhetoric and public deliberation, public memory and rhetorics of space and place, and gender studies and queer theory.
  • Relational and Organizational Communication: For many individuals, engagement with the public world grows out of their relational lives and is expressed in the organizations to which they belong and in which they work. Professors and students in this area explore communication in relational or interpersonal systems, organizing and work contexts, and within national and global arenas. Here, the focus is on exploring how individuals respond to and participate as active members in various forms of community, paying special attention to the ways in which communicative actions can create, sustain, and disable engaged citizenship.
  • Film and Media Studies: In the contemporary, globalized world, engaged citizenship often flows through media and is represented and enacted within
    popular culture. Professors and students in the area explore the mediation of public culture with particular attention to film, television, media history, and the globalization of media institutions. Here, the focus is on the construction of critical media literacies and understandings of how our mediated forms of communication engage or disengage individuals as community members, empowering or disempowering them as political agents.

Although these three areas of departmental emphasis are distinct, one strength of our program is the ways in which our specializations overlap, informing and enriching our scholarship. Rhetorical critics examine the ways in which political identity is constructed and contested in popular media. Interpersonal communication scholars study the ways in which face-to-face communication facilitates or inhibits public deliberation. Media studies scholars assess the ways in which digital discourses promote or disrupt democratic engagement.  Although our faculty is well trained in their disciplinary specializations, we feature a cutting-edge doctoral program that takes advantage of the synergies produced by our collective efforts.

Program Requirements


The Ph.D. in Communication is a four-year program with the following requirements:

Master Degree Credit Students must have earned an M.A. in communication or a related field. Up to 27 credits may be accepted toward the Ph.D. As part of those 27 credits.The following Ph.D. prerequisite courses should be included. Students who earned their M.A. in our department will have completed all prerequisites. Students who earned an M.A. in Communication in a different department likely will have to take 2-3 prerequisites. Students who earned a master’s degree in a different field may have to take all program prerequisites. Because we want all Ph.D. students to be able to complete their program of study in 5 semesters or fewer, students who have to take one or more of the following courses as Ph.D. students may count up to 9 credits toward their 24-elective credit minimum on their Ph.D. program of study. 27 
SPCM 601 History of Rhetorical Theory
SPCM 612 Rhetorical Criticism
SPCM 638 Communication Research Methods
SPCM 639 Communication Theory
SPCM 646 Media Theory
SPCM 675 Speech Communication Pedagogy
Ph.D. Core
SPCM 701 Seminar in Academic Writing 3
SPCM 702 Professional Writing and Public Scholarship 3
SPCM 712 Critical/Cultural Analysis in Communication 3
SPCM 793 Seminar: Communication Research Methods 3
SPCM 798 Research (qualifying exams) 6
SPCM 799 Dissertation 12
Electives Take 24 graduate credits (500 and above). No more than 6 credits from outside the department may be
counted toward your Ph.D. plan of study. The plan of study must be approved by the student’s committee,
and students may not make changes without their advisor’s approval.
Total Credits 81


Notes on Curricular Requirements

Advanced Research Methods: Given the increasing importance of multi-methodological research inside and outside of academe, we want our Ph.D. graduates to be experts in a variety of research methods. We require all students to take advanced research methods courses grounded in both social science and critical/humanistic perspectives.

Advanced Writing: Given our program’s emphasis on engagement, we want our Ph.D. graduates to be able to write successfully for scholarly and lay audiences. Our Ph.D. core includes instruction in academic and professional writing, as well as in adapting scholarly information for extra-disciplinary and lay audiences (e.g. public scholarship, scholarly blogging, digital engagement, etc.).

Elective Courses: Doctoral students choose graduate electives from the department in consultation with their advisor. Our program is designed to serve students who appreciate our programmatic breadth and flexibility. Students will need to choose electives from more than one of our areas of study.

Preliminary Exams and Dissertation: Doctoral students’ third year is devoted to the qualifying exam and dissertation process. Students whose dissertation research extends beyond the third year may register for continuous registration credits until they complete their dissertation.

Conference Submission and Departmental Colloquia: Ph.D. students must submit their research to and engage in professional development at scholarly conferences. They also must participate in departmental research colloquia and conference preparation sessions.


Elective Courses

Elective Courses

The following graduate elective courses are currently being offered and are available to students in either track:

  • SPCM 508 Deliberative Theory and Practice
  • SPCM 538 Relating & Organizing for Health
  • SPCM 604 Rhetoric of Everyday Life
  • SPCM 611 Topics in Public Address
  • SPCM 620 Rhetoric and Public Affairs
  • SPCM 623 Feminist Theories of Discourse
  • SPCM 632 Theories of Interpersonal Communication
  • SPCM 633 Discourse, Work, and Organization
  • SPCM 634 Communication and Cultural Diversity
  • SPCM 647 Media Industries
  • SPCM 648 Media Texts
  • SPCM 549 Media Audiences
  • SPCM 649 Media Audiences
  • SPCM 650 Contemporary Issues in Media
  • SPCM 792A Topics in Rhetoric and Civic Engagement
  • SPCM 792B Topics in Relational and Organizational Communication
  • SPCM 792C Topics in Media and Visual Culture

How to Apply

To apply to the Ph.D. program in Communication at Colorado State University, prospective students must submit an online application and application fee.

  • Applications are accepted for Fall admission only.
  • Deadline for applying to the Department of Communication Studies is December 31st.

The following items are required for application to the Ph.D. program:

  1. Official transcripts from all colleges or universities attended
  2. Statement of Purpose
  3. Writing sample
  4. Resume/CV
  5. Three letters of reference

Apply Online

Applicants will upload a variety of supporting documents directly to the online application.

After submitting your online application and paying your fee please have your official materials submitted to complete your application.

  • To submit official transcripts, contact all previous institutions to request they submit official transcripts to Colorado State University (use institution code 4075). Your institution can also send official transcripts directly to
  • To submit test scores, contact the testing agency to request that scores be sent to Colorado State University (use institution code 4075).

For any documents that cannot be uploaded, submit paper copies directly to the Office of Admissions at:

Graduate Admissions
Colorado State University – Office of Admissions
1062 Campus Delivery
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1062

Ensure your application checklist is complete and check updates by logging in here.

If you have questions about application procedures please contact the Graduate Studies Support Coordinator at or by phone 970-491-4123.