Communication, PhD

Annenberg is interdisciplinary by design. Members of the faculty and students come from a wide range of backgrounds, including Communication, Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology, History, and Law. Students are also encouraged to supplement their Communication courses with those offered through one of Penn’s 11 other distinguished schools. The result is a vibrant intellectual experience that trains students to apply and adapt diverse theories and methods to the cutting-edge communication issues of the twenty-first century. 

All doctoral students are fully funded for up to five years, including tuition and fees, health care, teaching and research fellowships, and dissertation research fellowships. All students also receive yearly research and travel funds, allowing them to develop their research and present it at major national and international conferences. In addition to formal classes, students are able to work with faculty on grant-and center-supported projects, attend and participate in frequent colloquia and workshops, and engage in research and learning opportunities around the globe — all designed to enhance their intellectual growth and professional training. 

Annenberg alumni go on to productive and fulfilling careers in academia as well as in research-oriented private and public-sector institutions. 

The Annenberg Ph.D. program represents a five-year commitment. In addition to satisfactory completion of the core courses, all students are required to take an Annenberg faculty proseminar as well as introductory classes in research methods and statistics. To progress to dissertation stage, candidates must complete the following milestones: First year review, Qualifications Evaluation, Comprehensive Exams, Dissertation Proposal and Oral Defense.

View the University’s Academic Rules for PhD Programs.

Required Courses 

Core Requirements
COMM 5000Proseminar1
COMM 5220Introduction to Communication Research1
COMM 5230Qualitative Ways of Knowing1
Approved Statistics Course1
Introductory Statistics for Educational Research
Quantitative Methods I
Applied Regression and Analysis of Variance
Other Statistics course chosen in consultation with advisor
Open Electives
Select 6 course units anywhere at Penn or use transfer credits6
Distribution Requirement
Select 5 classes with five different Annenberg Professors 15
COMM Electives
Select 2 COMM courses2
Total Course Units17

COMM 5220 and COMM 5230 may count for this requirement

The degree and major requirements displayed are intended as a guide for students entering in the Fall of 2024 and later. Students should consult with their academic program regarding final certifications and requirements for graduation.

Sample Plan of Study 

​​​​A typical course plan for a student entering the program without a Master’s degree includes these components: 

  • Six semesters of courses, typically three courses per semester 

  • Three required classes:  COMM5000, COMM5220, COMM5230

  • A Qualifications Evaluation (see below) at the end of semester 4 

  • Comprehensive Exams in semester 5 

  • A dissertation proposal defense in semester 6 or 7 

  • Dissertation research in semesters 7 through 10 (assuming no transfer credit) 

  • Dissertation defense and graduation at the end of semester 10 

Program Milestones 

  • First Year Review: is a review of every first year student’s grades and fellowship progressThe Graduate Dean will send letters to each student and advisor informing them of their progress, noting any concerns. 

  • Qualifications Evaluation (QE): is a dossier review conducted to ensure doctoral students have the requisite skills, creativity, initiative, and plans to successfully complete their degree, including their dissertation. The portfolio should also include a statement of what they plan to work on in the future. The advisor should write a letter to the Graduate Studies Comm with their evaluation of the student’s work. The QE must be completed at the end of the semester during which the student accumulates 12 classes (at least eight of which must be acquired at Penn) toward the degree, but no earlier than the end of the first year. 

  • Comprehensive Exams: In order to advance to candidacy, become eligible to defend the dissertation proposal and to receive a dissertation research fellowship (DRF), students must successfully pass a comprehensive examination in the third year. This exam covers theory and methodsThe same exam is given to all third-year students over the course of a week and then defended individually via an oral exam.The written and oral exams would be reviewed by the student’s proposed dissertation committee. 

  • Dissertation Proposal and Oral Defense: Before beginning work on the dissertation, the student must submit and defend a proposal for dissertation research to his or her Dissertation Committee. This should be done by the end of the third year or beginning of the 4th year. The proposal is a full statement of the research problem, including its theoretical rationale and methodology.