Reese Phifer

Doctoral Program

The doctoral program in the College of Communication & Information Sciences prepares students for top positions as researchers, scholars and thought leaders in academia, industry or government. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, PhD candidates work alongside world leaders in the field to develop research proficiency, breadth and a depth of knowledge.

Leveraging state-of-the art research facilities and world-class faculty from the College’s four departments, you may design your own study plan or select one of several concentrations. Through your work, develop research, leadership and teaching skills that expand and diversify the communication and information science fields.

Doctoral Program

Program Overview

Alongside concentrations, the program allows students to pursue interdisciplinary research led by world-class graduate faculty. We encourage students to pursue their own research in tandem with their coursework.  Our doctoral students study in small classes and work closely with faculty mentors. They also have access to word-class research and teaching facilities and +70 graduate faculty members.

Doctoral students also develop a teaching portfolio by teaching undergraduate courses that align with their research. C&IS is one of the 10 largest and most comprehensive colleges of its kind, supporting more than 2,500 undergraduate students. Because of this, the pedagogical mentoring and teaching opportunities doctoral students experience here are unlike any other.

For details about program requirements and curriculum for the doctoral program in Communication and Information Sciences, visit the UA Graduate Catalog.

Concentrations

Advertising & Public Relations

Applied communication through Advertising & Public Relations equips students to understand strategic communication management in a variety of settings, including corporate, health, nonprofit, sports and politics. Gain expertise in industry-wide communication issues and learn to approach them through a critical lens.

Book and Publishing Studies

Study the past and future of books and other published artifacts, as well as the processes of their generation and dissemination.

Health Communication

Health Communication combines communication studies, journalism, information science, advertising and public relations to craft a multidisciplinary program that examines how communication shapes the understanding, promotion and practice of individual and community health.

Learn how to conduct cutting-edge research and engage in community-based projects. Alongside coursework, students also have an opportunity to work on projects in the Health Communication Lab and the Standardized Patient Communication Lab.

Interpersonal Communication

The Interpersonal Communication concentration provides a theoretical and methodological foundation for verbal and nonverbal communication.

Learn the history, empirical developments and practical applications of interpersonal communication research, aligning with ongoing research with the Interpersonal Research Group (IRG) and the Alabama Life Institute.

Media Processes and Effects

The University of Alabama is a pioneer in the field of media processes and effects. Our faculty and alumni include past and present editors of Communication Research, Media Psychology and the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.

Through coursework and hands-on experience, gain insight into the processes behind mass media content creation and how media exposure affects beliefs, attitudes, emotions and behavior.

Rhetoric and Political Discourse

Rhetoric and Political Discourse focuses on shaping identities, communities, nation states and public culture. Establish expertise in classical and contemporary critical approaches to rhetoric and political discourse and use those lenses to understand how communication contributes to and resolves modern problems.

Ultimately, the program aims to develop engaged citizen-scholars equipped with the skills to understand, critique, and invent influential communication.

Social Justice and Inclusion Advocacy

Social Justice and Inclusion Advocacy fosters fairness, equality and empowerment among diverse peoples. This concentration explores how information and communication intersects to advance social justice and make the world a better place for all.

Examine the development of information and communication infrastructures, technologies, institutions and polices as sites of power that harbor and support inequalities. Explore socially just outcomes and interventions, and investigate how to develop better systems for underserved populations.

Online PhD

Online PhD students can pursue a focused area of study in library and information studies in either school library media or social justice. For the online degree, courses may be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous courses from CIS as well as the College of Education.

Online PhD students are ineligible to complete a formal concentration in the program and are unable to pursue a focused area of study in any area other than library and information studies. For more information on the Online PhD, please visit the OTide website.

Contact the C&IS Office for Graduate Studies for more informaton.

Prospective PhD Students

Admissions

Applicants must meet the admission criteria of the C&IS doctoral program and the Graduate School.

Normally, an applicant will have completed requirements for a master’s degree in a communication or library studies-related field, but C&IS considers individuals with advanced degrees in other fields if they can make clear cases showing how their previous graduate work applies to doctoral study in the program.

We do not require applicants to submit test scores such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), but we encourage applicants to include all materials that bolster their applications, including scores.

Application Requirements

  1. Graduate application form

    Graduate School application

  2. Statement of Purpose

    SOP guidelines

  3. Writing sample

    Writing sample guidelines

  4. Three academic references*

* Letters of recommendation are required only if you would want to be considered for University-wide fellowship opportunities. Note: if you list references in the “letters of recommendation” section, those references will receive an automatic request to submit a letter.

Non-native English speakers are required to provide English Language Proficiency Test Scores (TESOL).

Expedited Admission Track

The expedited admission track grants admission to qualified students without a master’s degree. Such students will begin graduate coursework in a C&IS master’s degree program and pursue their PhD without needing to reapply or transfer credits. Candidates may count as many as 24 master’s hours toward their doctoral degree.

We encourage expedited track students to apply to receive their master’s degree when they have completed all of the requirements. Students must complete the requirements for master’s degree to be awarded a PhD.

Graduate assistants on the expedited track must complete the requirements for the master’s degree in four contiguous regular semesters to hold a graduate assistant position in their fifth (or subsequent) semesters.

Application Deadlines, Admission Timelines and Funding Considerations

DateDeadline Information
December 1 of the year preceding fall admissionPriority fall semester admission application deadline to be considered for nomination for university-wide fellowship awards.
December 31Fall semester admission applications will be assessed by the program admission committee in days following December 31. Priority fall semester admission application deadline to be considered for graduate assistantship positions. Applications received after the priority deadline with be considered for graduate assistant positions as resources permit.
January 11 – April 15Fall semester applications to be assessed on a rolling basis within 30 days of the application being received. April 15 is the deadline for fall semester applications.
April 1 of the year preceding spring admissionSpring semester admission applications received by April 1 will be assessed prior to May 15.
After April 1 of the year preceding spring admissionSpring semester admission applications received after April 1 will be assessed by September 15. September 15 is the deadline for spring semester applications.

Financial Assistance

We offer a limited number of graduate assistantships to qualified students along with nominating students for University-wide fellowships.

Upon admission, students will receive an invitation to complete a Graduate Assistant Interest Application to gauge their interest in becoming a graduate assistant. Funding offers are sent between January – April within the year of admission.

Current PhD Students

Program Requirements

Scholastic Requirements

Curricular requirements are listed in the UA Graduate Catalog. A student must maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.00 on a 4.00 scale for graduate courses undertaken following admission to the doctoral program. A doctoral student whose grade point average falls below 3.00 at any time after 12 semester hours have been completed will be placed on academic warning by the Graduate School and the College of Communication and Information Sciences.

A student on academic warning will not be permitted to apply for admission to candidacy and may not hold an assistantship. A student who earns a grade below “B” in more than two courses or who remains on academic warning after completing nine semester hours subsequent to being placed on academic warning is subject to removal from the program at the discretion of the college’s associate dean for graduate studies.

Students who are dropped from the program may petition the college for readmission. The college may in turn make a request to the dean of the university Graduate School for approval of the student’s readmission.

Comprehensive Exams

A comprehensive examination is required of all doctoral students. This examination is given after

  • any foreign language/research skill requirements are met;
  • two full years of graduate study are completed; and
  • the Dissertation Committee deems the student to have adequate preparation in the major and minor fields of study.
More on comprehensive exams

The examination is overseen by the student’s Dissertation Committee Chair, who has discretion on the individuals involved in the examination committee to include no fewer than 2 other members of the student’s Dissertation Committee. The chair may call on other faculty members associated with the student’s coursework for assistance in preparing the examination questions.

Whereas one of the purposes of the comprehensive examination is to determine the student’s research competence to begin work on a dissertation, the examination should be completed at least nine months before the degree is to be awarded. A student may take the examination only twice. Failing the examination twice results in dismissal from the degree program and the Graduate School.

The student must demonstrate, through written and oral components, a capacity to understand, synthesize, and apply theory and research techniques in communication and information sciences, as well as demonstrate knowledge of the pertinent literature, issues, and recent advances in the student’s concentration or focused area of study and cognate area of study. In other words, the examination must cover the student’s (1) theory core, (2) research methodology core, (3) concentration or focused area of study, and (4) cognate area.

Comprehensive exam questions may be answered exclusively in a controlled “in-house” format in the College, exclusively as a “take-home” format, or some combination of both “in-house” and “take-home” formats depending on the examination committee’s decision about the best way to examine a particular student. The oral component of the exam must be scheduled as quickly as possible following the written component. Oral components are determined by the examination committee, and examples include, but are not limited to, a formal defense by the student of each examination question, an academic discussion about theory and methods between the student and examination committee, or an academic conference-style presentation which includes a question and answer session.

Comprehensive examination questions that are assigned as “in-house” are closed book—meaning students must answer those questions on campus without reference material or internet access. No individual “in-house” examination question can exceed 4 hours, and the total time assigned for “in-house” examination questions cannot exceed 16 hours.



Comprehensive examination questions that are assigned as “in-house” are closed book—meaning students must answer those questions on campus without reference material or internet access. No individual “in-house” examination question can exceed 4 hours, and the total time assigned for “in-house” examination questions cannot exceed 16 hours.

Comprehensive examination questions that are assigned as “take-home” are open book—meaning students may answer those questions from any location and may use any available reference materials. No individual “take-home” examination question can exceed 5 days, and the total time assigned for all “take-home” examination questions cannot exceed 21 days.

Upon completion of the comprehensive exam, the examination committee will convene to determine whether the student has passed, must perform additional work to demonstrate understanding of competency, or has failed the examination. All questions must be passed in order to pass the examination.

In the case of a clear failure, the re-examination must take place after six months and before twelve months have elapsed. Each question on the comprehensive exam may be taken only twice, and the examining committee may only rule either pass or fail on the second examination.

Residency Requirement

The University of Alabama recognizes that doctoral students should be immersed in advanced study and inquiry, interact extensively and meaningfully with faculty and peers, engage with the academic community in their field, and have access to the educational resources of the university. To achieve these goals, a minimum of 50 percent of coursework hours to be counted in a student’s doctoral program must be from The University of Alabama (exclusive of dissertation research hours and subject to the Graduate Catalog’s Transfer of Credit policies). Additionally, 100 percent of dissertation credit hours must be from The University of Alabama. Diverse academic traditions, rapidly changing instructional modalities, and new student populations are acknowledged and accommodated with this policy.

Academic Advisors and Dissertation Committees

Academic Advisors

The Academic Advisor supervises the planning and completion of a student’s program of study. Students will be assigned an academic advisor upon enrollment in the doctoral program. The Academic Advisor will serve in the advisory role until such time as a dissertation chair is established. The Academic Advisor will meet the following criteria:

  • Regular UA faculty member in the College of Communication & Information Sciences
  • Full or associate member of the UA Graduate Faculty
  • Holds a Ph.D. degree

Dissertation Committees

The Dissertation Committee, directed by its chairperson, leads the student through the preliminary examination and evaluates the dissertation proposal and dissertation proper. Students are encouraged to establish this committee at least six months before the preliminary examination is to occur. Students are not permitted to schedule the preliminary examination before this committee is established.

The dissertation committee for the Ph.D. in Communication and Information Sciences must conform to the following policies:

  • Not fewer than five members
  • All members appointed as UA Graduate Faculty
  • The committee chair is a full member of the UA Graduate Faculty
  • A majority of members are full or associate Graduate Faculty members in the College of Communication and Information Sciences
  • At least two members of the committee are full members of the UA Graduate Faculty
  • At least one member is from outside the College of Communication and Information Sciences
  • No more than one member holds an affiliate appointment to the UA Graduate Faculty
  • A majority of members are regular UA faculty
More on dissertation committees

Following the successful completion of preliminary examinations, both the proposal and the completed dissertation must be defended before the committee. Students must successfully defend a dissertation proposal before conducting dissertation research. The successful dissertation defense is the last formal step to reception to the Ph.D. degree.

A dissertation committee, with the director of the dissertation as its chairperson, supervises the preparation of the dissertation. The graduate dean’s approval of the proposed dissertation committee is expected to be obtained before significant progress is made on the dissertation–typically just before or just after the dissertation proposal meeting. For this purpose, the student submits the form for Appointment/Change of a Doctoral Dissertation Committee, available online at the Graduate School website.

Students are advised to consult Graduate School policies related to dissertation committees, available in the UA graduate catalog. In addition to the policies of the Graduate School, the Ph.D. program in Communication and Information Sciences (a) prohibits more than one affiliate member of the university Graduate Faculty from serving on a dissertation committee; (b) requires that at least two members of the committee be full members of the university Graduate Faculty; and (c) requires that at a majority of committee members be full or associate Graduate Faculty members in the College of Communication and Information Sciences.

The dissertation committee shall have not fewer than five members.  Four members will serve as preliminary exam question writers and evaluators (see the Preliminary Exam policy under Program Requirements). All members of a dissertation committee must be members of the UA Graduate Faculty. The committee chair must be a full member of the Graduate Faculty. A majority of the dissertation committee members must be regular UA faculty. One member must be from outside the College of Communication and Information Sciences. If the outside member is not a full or associate member of the UA Graduate Faculty (e.g., a highly qualified person from another university, a business or industry), that member must be appointed an affiliate member of the UA Graduate Faculty for the specific purpose of serving on the student’s dissertation committee. Students and dissertation committee chairs who wish to nominate a highly qualified person from beyond UA for an affiliate Graduate faculty appointment begin this process by contacting the college’s associate dean for graduate studies.

Admission to Candidacy

A student is certified by the Dean of the Graduate School for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. in Communication and Information Sciences after meeting the following requirements:

  • Completion of the program of coursework and other requirements prescribed by the student’s program advisory committee, approved by the CIS associate dean for graduate studies, and approved by the dean of the UA Graduate School on the Plan of Study and Admission to Candidacy forms.

Dissertation and Final Exam

Dissertation

After successful completion of the preliminary examination, degree candidates must submit a written proposal to their dissertation committee. The proposal describes the importance of the proposed topic, outlines the hypotheses to be evaluated, provide an overview of the relevant literature, specifies the methodology to be used, and includes a timetable for completion of the project. The dissertation must make a significant original contribution to the field of communication and information sciences and must demonstrate the candidate’s ability to report that research in writing in a clear, comprehensive, and scholarly manner.

The defense of the dissertation cannot occur in the same semester as the defense of the dissertation proposal. Furthermore, the student must submit the proposal, and later the dissertation, to the Dissertation Committee at least 14 days prior to the defense. After the proposal has been circulated among the members, the student’s dissertation committee meets for the student’s oral defense of the proposal. The candidate must complete the dissertation within seven years of the date of admission to the doctoral program.

Final Exam

The candidate must present a copy of the final draft of the dissertation to each committee member at least two weeks before the scheduled date of the final examination. After the dissertation has been completed and accepted by the candidate’s dissertation committee for purposes of the examination, the candidate will be given a final oral examination by the dissertation committee.

The final examination is primarily concerned with the research embodied in the dissertation and with the field in which the dissertation lies, but it may extend over the student’s entire primary field of study. The final oral examination is governed by the rules of the Graduate School of The University of Alabama. All members of the Graduate Faculty of the College of Communication and Information Sciences are invited to attend.

After the UA Graduate School has approved the dissertation the student is to provide the Office for Graduate Studies a bound copy of the final version of the dissertation. It is also recommended that the student present the chair and committee members a copy of the final version of the dissertation.

Projected Course Offerings

Projected course offerings are subject to change based on curricular changes, faculty teaching availability, and student demand.

Fall 2024 Course Offerings
CIS 603: Quantitative Research Methods
CIS 604: Mass Communication Theory
CIS 605: Cultural and Critical Theory
CIS 608: Qualitative Research Methods
CIS 610: Foundations of Doctoral Study C&IS
CIS 650: Community-engaged Research
CIS 650: Emergent Media Topic
CIS 650: Political Communication Topic OR CIS 673: Political Communication
CIS 662: Mediated Interpersonal Communication
CIS 665: Seminar on Communication Message Analysis
CIS 668: Social Justice & Inclusion Advocacy
CIS 671: Public Opinion
CIS 681: Advanced Quantitative Methods
CIS 683: Advanced Topics in Media Processes & Effects
Spring 2025 Course Offerings
CIS 603: Quantitative Research Methods
CIS 608: Qualitative Research Methods
CIS 610: Foundations of Doctoral Studies C&IS
CIS 650: Health Communication Topic OR CIS 659/664/670
CIS 652: Seminar on Cultural Critical Rhetorical Study
CIS 667: Persuasive Communication
CIS 669: Seminar on Visual Communication
CIS 680: Seminar on Media Processes & Effects
CIS 681: Advanced Quantitative Methods
CIS 682: Seminar on Advertising & Public Relations
CIS 684: Advanced Topics in Advertising & Public Relations

Student Forms

FormTimelineLocationInitiator
Request for Transfer Credits FormBefore 30 hours of credits achievedUA Graduate School Student FormsStudent
Evaluation of Credit FormDirectly after approved Request for Transfer of Credits formClick herePhD Program Lead/ OGS Program Assistant – after receiving completed form via PDF from student
Appointment/Change of Doctoral Dissertation Committee Form6 months before comprehensive exams; anytime committee change is neededUA Graduate Student PortalPhD Program Lead/ OGS Program Assistant – after receiving completed form via PDF from student
PhD Plan of StudyBefore comprehensive examsClick herePhD Program Lead/ OGS Program Assistant – after receiving completed form via PDF from student
Admission to CandidacyAfter completing all coursework on Plan of Study, before registering for 699 dissertation hoursSlatePhD Program Lead/ OGS Program Assistant – after receiving completed form via PDF from student
Comprehensive Exams Results FormAfter comprehensive exams defenseSlatePhD Program Lead/OGS Program Assistant – after committee chair reports to PhD Program Lead
Doctoral Dissertation Final Defense FormAfter dissertation defenseSlatePhD Program Lead/OGS Program Assistant – after committee chair reports to PhD Program Lead
Committee Acceptance For Electronic Thesis/Dissertation FormAfter dissertation final revisions approvalClick herePhD Program Lead/ OGS Program Assistant – after receiving completed form via PDF from student
Alternative Core Course ApprovalPrior to Plan of Study (if applicable)Click hereStudent
Conference/Research Funding RequestPrior to attending conferenceUA Graduate Student PortalStudent

Note: Send forms to be initiated by PhD Program Lead or the OGS Program Assistant at cisgradstudies@ua.edu.