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Thurgood Marshall College
Communication Building, Room 125B
(858) 534-2379

All courses, faculty listings, and curricular and degree requirements described herein are subject to change or deletion without notice.

The Graduate Program

The Department of Communication offers a program of study leading to the doctor of philosophy degree. Communication at UC San Diego seeks to combine modes of analysis from the humanities and social sciences to explore the history, structure, and process of communication. The graduate program is conceived as a blending of the theoretical tradition of critical communication research with the empirical tradition of ethnographic and multimodel scholarship. Historically, the department grew out of an interdisciplinary program jointly sponsored by the Departments of Drama (currently, Theatre and Dance), Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology.

The study of communication at UC San Diego places major emphasis on historical, comparative, and ethnographic approaches to mediated human communication. Study is organized around the following three analytic perspectives: communication as a social force, communication and culture, and communication and human information processing. In addition, the department believes that investigation into communication requires a blending of theory and practice.

Communication as a Social Force examines the relation of communication institutions to structures of power in society. In this part of the curriculum, we examine institutional arrangements and structural characteristics regarding

  • Communication and political systems: state, law, regulation, social movements and political parties, democracy
  • Communication and economic systems: markets, ownership, access; “demographics” and class/gender/racial and national stratification
  • The production of content within media industries

Faculty research includes the following topics:

  • The study of news as public information and political ideology
  • Intellectual property and the flow of culture between global North and South
  • The relationships among law, communication technologies, ownership, democracy, and the public sphere.
  • Comparative analysis of media systems
  • Communication, globalization, and economic development

Communication and Culture examines the cultural artifacts and discourses through which we experience our everyday lives, including popular music, films and television shows, advertisements, museum displays, landscape and urban design, and health and identity documentation systems. How can we understand the histories and changing practices associated with these forms of representation? What is the role of media (print, visual, electronic, material) in forming ideas about social identity and in shaping subjectivity? This part of the curriculum draws on the humanities, anthropology, history, political theory, cultural studies, and the sociology of culture to offer students a range of methods and theoretical frameworks for interpreting the production and circulation of artifacts, discourses, and meanings in a range of local, national, transnational, and diasporic cultural contexts.

Faculty research includes the following topics:

  • Collective memory and the struggles over the meaning of the past
  • The cultural politics of reproduction and kinship networks
  • Political violence as performance
  • Disability and culture in historical and contemporary perspective

Communication and The Person examines the ways in which our experience as human beings is created by the communicative practices of the societies in which we live and the cultural practices of our families and communities with which we interact from the earliest days of life. With a sociocultural lens, we study the role of communication through language and other organized symbolic media. Because both individuals and their environments are constantly changing, the study of culture and the person pays special attention to the cultural and historical contexts of personal experience and the practices that constitute the proximal environments of individual development. This part of the curriculum draws particularly on the fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, and education to examine such processes as learning and cognition, language structure and language use, the construction and negotiation of meaning, and the organization of mental worlds.

Faculty research includes the following topics:

  • The evolution of language and communication in human beings
  • The role of new communicative practices in human development
  • Human cognition as distributed among people and coordinated in communicative practices
  • The development of reading and writing in young children
  • The use of technology to study human thought
  • Bilingual and bicultural development in a globalized world
  • The use of information technology in work and leisure

Communication and Media Practice faculty work in video, film, and interactive media production as well as in research scholarship. Graduate students as well as undergraduates are offered the opportunity to integrate creative practice in media production into their program of study.

Some communication faculty production interests include

  • Hybrid documentary and narrative forms
  • Alternative representation of gender, race, and ethnicity in film and electronic media
  • Distributed and networked media production
  • Digital media based on game-like forms
  • Development and use of media technology in and for educational contexts
  • Global media networks
  • Experimental approaches to cinematography and sound design
  • Media as a tool for social and political activism

PhD Requirements

  1. 200A-B-C (Introduction to the Theory of Communication as a Social Force, Communication and Culture, and Communication and the Individual).
  2. 294, The History of Communication Research.
  3. At least three methods courses from the 201 methodology sequence (see course listings).
  4. Four courses in communication history and theory (see course listings).
  5. 280, Advanced Workshop in Communication Media.
  6. 296, Communication Research as an Interdisciplinary Activity.
  7. First-Year Exam and Evaluation: At the end of the spring quarter of the student’s first year, the student must pass a comprehensive written examination based on course work completed during the first year.
  8. Language Requirement: All students are required to demonstrate proficiency in one language other than their native language.
  9. Qualifying Examinations: Before the end of the fourth year the student must take and pass an oral qualifying examination. The exam will be based on two papers concerning two of the subfields covered in the program. The student will also present a separate dissertation proposal at the examination. At this time, the faculty will examine the proposal for appropriateness and feasibility.
  10. Teaching Requirement: In order to acquire teaching experience, all students are required to participate in the teaching activities of the department in two courses from the Department of Communication curriculum prior to completion of their PhD as follows:
    • One quarter of COMM 10—Introduction to Communication
    • One quarter of any one of the following three courses:
      • COMM 100A—Situated Practices
      • COMM 100B—Interpretive Strategies
      • COMM 100C—Social Formations
      • COMM 101—Introduction to Audiovisual Media Practices
  11. Dissertation: Acceptance of the dissertation by the university librarian represents the final step in completing all requirements for a PhD. The dissertation committee must be approved by the department chair and the dean of Graduate Studies.

PhD Time Limit Policies

Students must be advanced to candidacy by the end of four years. Total university support cannot exceed seven years. Total registered time at UC San Diego cannot exceed eight years.

Interdisciplinary Programs of Study

Science Studies Program

The Department of Communication offers a PhD specialty that emphasizes the role of various communication technologies in science studies, from languages and maps to television and computer networks, in mediating human experience and shaping social and material environments. The curriculum in communication is organized into three fields: communication as a social force, communication and culture, and communication and human information processing. Science and technology studies in communication considers how human beings, individually or institutionally, use communication systems to make sense of the world, define and design material artifacts (or the environment itself), or respond to the imposition of categories or discourse on people and things. Students may seek participation in the Science Studies program at the same time they apply for admission to the Department of Communication, or may, in certain circumstances, request to be accepted into the program at some point after entering the University of California San Diego.

The requirements of the Science Studies program compliment those of the student’s home graduate department. However, there are some distinct curricular requirements, including Introduction to Science Studies Part I (COGR 225A), Introduction to Science Studies Part II (COGR 225D), the Seminar in Science Studies (COGR 225B) to be taken twice, and two years of attendance in the Science Studies Colloquium (COGR 225C). In addition, there is an internship requirement.

For more information about the Science Studies Program, please visit

Specialization in Critical Gender Studies

Students in the doctoral program in communication may apply for a specialization in critical gender studies to complement their course work and research in communication.

The Critical Gender Studies Program is built on the intellectual foundations of intersectional feminist thought and queer studies, and incorporates the interdisciplinary methodologies, intersectional frameworks, and transformational epistemologies central to contemporary gender and sexuality studies. The graduate specialization in critical gender studies provides specialized training in gender and sexuality for students currently enrolled in a UC San Diego doctoral program. Through advanced course work in critical gender studies and its affiliated departments, graduate students in the specialization develop an understanding of gender as necessarily linked to other social formations, including sexuality, race, nation, religion, (dis)ability, and structures of capital. At the same time, doctoral students engaging gender and sexuality studies have the opportunity to develop their work among peers who take up similar questions in their scholarship.

Admitted students are required to complete five courses in addition to their home department’s core requirements, consisting of two core courses and three electives. The core courses are Advanced Studies in Critical Gender Studies (CGS 200), to be taken shortly after admission to the specialization, and Practicum in Critical Gender Studies (CGS 299), to be taken in the student’s final two years of dissertation writing. Electives may be chosen from a list of preapproved seminars in participating departments (students may petition other courses with significant gender/sexuality studies content) and may be taken at any time during the student’s tenure at UC San Diego. Admitted students must also include at least one member of their dissertation committee from the list of CGS core or affiliate faculty.

For more information about the graduate specialization in critical gender studies, please visit

Interdisciplinary Degree Program in Cognitive Science

The Interdisciplinary PhD Program in cognitive science includes faculty from a number of UC San Diego departments including the Departments of Anthropology, Biology and Neurobiology, Cognitive Science, Communication, Computer Science and Engineering, Linguistics, Music, Neurosciences, Philosophy, Psychiatry, Psychology, and Sociology. There are four aspects to graduate study in the interdisciplinary program: (a) a primary specialization in one of the established disciplines of cognitive science, (b) a secondary specialization in a second field of study, (c) familiarity with general issues in the field and the various approaches taken to these issues by scholars in different disciplines, and (d) an original dissertation project of an interdisciplinary character. Students may apply for admission to the interdisciplinary program any time after entering UC San Diego, preferably in the second or third year.

Admitted students must complete a primary area of study (the requirements of the communication PhD), plus a secondary area of study consisting of six courses from outside the home department. In addition, they must complete three quarters of Cognitive Science (COGS) 200, and two out of the three graduate introductory Cognitive Science courses: COGS 201, 202, 203.

For more information about the interdisciplinary degree program in cognitive science, please visit

Specialization in Computational Social Science

Computational Social Science (CSS) integrates large-scale data analysis with formal, causal models from social science domains, to not only improve predictions but also guide extrapolation and intervention beyond existing data. Students pursuing the specialization will find a clear path to accessing training in computational social science, a formal mechanism for recognizing their efforts, and access to a broad network of relevant scholars.


The graduate specialization in computational social science is only available to students currently enrolled in a PhD program at UC San Diego in the following School of Social Sciences departments: anthropology, communication, cognitive science, economics, education studies, ethnic studies, linguistics, political science, psychology, and sociology. Doctoral students in these departments may apply for the specialization through the CSS administration, housed in the Department of Psychology, with the endorsement of the student’s primary research adviser and department chair. Students are eligible to join the CSS specialization at any time pre-candidacy; post-candidacy requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and may require additional justification relating to time to degree.


In addition to the PhD requirements of their home department, admitted students are required to complete the following requirements:

  • Three quarters of CSS 209. Computational Social Science Research Seminar.
  • Three courses from a list of electives, at least one of which must not count toward the home department PhD requirements, with at least one of these electives drawn from the subset of “advanced data” courses.
  • Appointment to the dissertation committee of at least one CSS affiliated faculty member not affiliated with the student’s home department.
  • Satisfactory completion of a dissertation including a technical and/or computational social science component.