StudyQA — PhD: Communication and Rhetoric — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Communication and Rhetoric

Study mode:On campus Study type:Full-time Languages: English
Foreign:$ 68.8 k / Year(s) Deadline: Jan 2, 2023
501–600 place StudyQA ranking:1435 Duration:

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For more than thirty years, our Ph.D. graduates have been the leaders in the study of the relationship between communication and technology.

As new forms of technologically mediated communication emerge, research and scholarship are needed to describe their nature and account for their unique effects.

The mission of the Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric at Rensselaer is to enable students to make a contribution with rigor, depth, and creativity on issues related to communication in technologically mediated contexts. Our approach draws on the insights of rhetoric, technical communication, composition, communication studies, human-computer interaction, game studies, and graphic design.

We are uniquely positioned to provide an environment for graduate study in communication and technology. We combine the resources of a premier technological university with a faculty strongly grounded in theory and research as well as technology and media.

The Core

To provide a foundation for contributions on issues related to Communication in Technologically Mediated Contexts, students are required to take two core courses, each combining a horizontal disciplinary base in communication and rhetoric with depth on issues of communication in technological contexts:

  • Communication Theory (currently Fall term annually)
  • Rhetoric, Culture, and Technology (Spring term annually)

Directed Research

To enable students to prepare for the independent work of the dissertation, each student is required to take, under the direction of the dissertation advisor, at least three credits of directed research of the sort that might enable a student to satisfy the requirement for Public Presentation/Publication (see below). These credits may be taken as a three-credit block in a single semester or as one- to two- credit blocks over several semesters. 

If a student completes project work under one advisor. 

Outside Courses

To support the breadth of perspectives required to study Communication in Technologically Mediated Contexts, students are required to take at least one course at Rensselaer outside of the Department of Communication and Media. Students may use this course to identify an outside member of their dissertation committee. Students may elect to take courses outside the Department as well, but at least twenty-seven of the thirtysix credit hours of required course work beyond the master’s degree must be taken within the Department.

Application Courses 

To enable the creative study, practice, and teaching of Communication in Technologically Mediated Contexts, students are encouraged to take up to three courses aimed at applying theory and research to design and practice in areas such as graphics, human-computer interaction, hypermedia, web design and development, or writing


  • MS/PhD track 90 credit hours
  • PhD 60 credit hours 

Formal Presentation/Publication 

Ph.D. students are required to produce three examples of submitted, peer-reviewed professional presentation and writing and to attend one grant-writing workshop prior to completion of the Ph.D. degree. These requirements may be satisfied with different options. In all cases, students must (A) attend a grant-writing workshop sponsored by the Department or School or as approved by the advisor, (B) present a paper at an approved conference and (C) publish an article (or submit one under conditions below) in an approved publication. The one remaining presentation and writing requirement is up to the student and may be completed from categories (B), (C) or (D). Further specification of these options follows: 

  1. Students must attend one grant-writing workshop
  2. One or two single-authored, conference presentations in venues outside of Rensselaer.
  3. One or two published, in-press, or submitted scholarly articles or essays in an edited book (sole or co-authored) to a publication approved by the advisor. Students are encouraged to review articles with their advisors prior to submission. If the student does not have a published paper, the submitted paper must be one that the advisor has reviewed and approved prior to submission.
  4. (Optional) One grant and/or fellowship proposal to sources outside of Rensselaer

For example, a student could complete (A), one of (B), and two of (C). Or (A), one of (B), one of (C), and one of (D). Other combinations are possible.

Professional Development (20 hrs.)

To support professional growth and development, students serve twenty hours each term as a curricular requirement in T.A., R.A., or other support roles. T.A. and R.A. support roles are governed by Institute policies and procedures. Other professional development activities are supervised by Department faculty and support a variety of research, teaching, and service activities, including the Center for Communication Practices and other administrative and service activities.

Credit-Hour Requirements

The Ph.D. degree requires satisfactory completion of ninety credit hours beyond the bachelor's degree. Students who have completed (or are about to complete) an appropriate master's degree prior to entry into the Ph.D. program (for a Post-Master’s Doctorate) will ordinarily have completed thirty of the required ninety credit hours. Students who enter the Ph.D. program without an appropriate master’s degree (for a Post-Baccalaureate Doctorate) are required to fulfill the requirements for the master’s degree. Students with an appropriate master’s degree are required to complete an additional thirty-six credit hours of course work at Rensselaer following completion of the master’s degree. Students without an appropriate master’s degree are required to complete either the M.S. in Communication and Rhetoric or the M.S. in Technical Communication. They are also required to complete an additional thirty hours of course work at Rensselaer following completion of the master’s degree. Students without an appropriate master’s degree are not permitted to fulfill the M.S. requirement by completing the M.S. in HumanComputer Interaction without prior approval of the Graduate Program Director. Some plans of study may require additional course work beyond this thirty-six credit-hour minimum, typically not to exceed fortytwo credits. 

The Advising Process

The Ph.D. advising process is intended to assist students in their preparations for the qualifying examination and dissertation, both to ease them through the process and to ensure that they are well prepared.

  1. Each Ph.D. student is assigned an initial advisor upon admission into the Ph.D. program, usually the Graduate Program Director. The student is encouraged to identify an appropriate advisor and is permitted a change of advisor upon request by the student and consent of the new advisor. Each student is required to complete a Nomination of Advisor form in the first year of Ph.D. study or by the end of the Third Semester at the latest (see form below). A student may nominate an advisor of his or her choice, including either the initial advisor or a new advisor.
  2. Each student is required to develop a Graduate Plan of Study (POS) in consultation with his or her advisor, prior to the end of their second semester of coursework (see below).
  3. Each student is required to obtain approval of the proposed plan of courses from the entire dissertation committee before registering for the final six credit hours of courses* . The committee may stipulate additional courses, readings, or activities necessary to prepare the student to undertake original scholarship, research, and/or creative work for the Ph.D. Each student is encouraged to obtain committee approval of the proposed plan of courses as early as possible during his or her coursework but no later than the time of registration for the final six credit hours of courses. 

Graduate Plan of Study 

Prior to the end of your second semester of full-time Ph.D. study, you must meet with your advisor to complete the Office of Graduate Education’s Plan of Study (POS). The purpose of this Graduate Plan of Study is to help you to design a series of courses that will prepare you to complete a dissertation in your chosen area of study. Graduate students who completed the master’s degree at another institution should list the degree and institution for a total of thirty credit hours (and no more than thirty credit hours) plus all of the courses competed at Rensselaer, not to exceed the total of ninety credit hours required for the degree. Additional dissertation credits beyond the ninety hours should not be shown on the Plan of Study. Graduate students who completed the master’s degree at Rensselaer should list all of the courses that count toward the master’s and the Ph.D., plus any additional certificates, not to exceed the total of ninety credit hours required for the degree. The Plan of Study should also indicate any approved transfer credit. The Graduate Plan of Study may be modified if your scholarly interests change. But these modifications may require that you take additional courses to ensure that you have completed the kinds of course work that are important for a dissertation in a given area. The Plan of Study must be signed by you, your advisor, and the departmental Graduate Program Director. Any modifications are subject to the full approval process. The final Graduate Plan of Study must include your M.S./M.A. credits and must list all course titles and numbers, including dissertation credits and semester completed. The course titles and numbers must match your transcript precisely.

Research with Human Subjects/Institute Review Board 

All research involving human subjects must be reviewed and approved by Rensselaer's Institutional Review Board. Both faculty advisors and graduate student are obligated to review IRB policies and procedures and monitor research judiciously to ensure that these policies and procedures are followed in all instances and, specifically, in doctoral dissertations and other published work. Failure to obtain IRB approval for the use of human subjects can result in administrative penalties, including formal reprimand, loss of funding for research, and/or rejection of theses and dissertations for student work. For a detailed explanation of IRB proposal and renewal procedures, proposal guidelines, templates, and timelines, please refer to 

The Dissertation Process

Each candidate for the doctorate pursues, under faculty direction, an original investigation of a problem or problems in a field of concentration and presents the results of the investigation in a dissertation. The doctoral dissertation, including the qualifying examination and the dissertation prospectus, must be the work of each individual student and must meet the highest standards of academic integrity. Direct contributions by others, either in person or through electronic media, must be approved by the Doctoral Program Director prior to their use or implementation.

The Dissertation Committee 

Sometime toward the end of your second semester of study or early in your second year, you should enter into an agreement with the faculty member who will most likely chair your dissertation committee. The basis of the agreement will be mutual intellectual interests and the faculty member's willingness to guide you through your planned dissertation research. You should establish this informal relationship early because your dissertation advisor will need to review and possibly modify your Plan of Study. You and your prospective dissertation committee chair will select the other members of your committee. You must then propose your committee to the Department Head for approval and formal appointment by the Head and the Dean of the Office of Graduate Education. The dissertation committee must consist of at least four tenured or tenure-track Rensselaer faculty members, one of whom must be an “outside” member who is appointed by the Graduate Program Director in consultation with the student’s dissertation advisor. Whenever possible, “outside” shall be “outside the university,” but in all cases this person must come from outside the Department. At least three of the Committee members must be members of the Department, including the committee chair. The outside member is expected to be a recognized authority on the subject of the dissertation. For appointments of committee members who are not members of the faculty, the Graduate Program Director will forward to the Office of Graduate Education a letter appointing the individual to the Committee. This letter should explain the basis for the appointment and must include the address of the appointee.

For committees having more than four members, only one non-approval is permitted. Substitutions in committee membership, once it has been determined, must be approved by the Graduate Program Director in consultation with the student and the dissertation committee chair. Replacements will occur only if a member is unable to serve or if a student’s dissertation topic changes, requiring a new dissertation chair and/or modification in the committee. In cases other than these, approval for changes in committee membership rests with the Dean of the Office of Graduate Education. The dissertation committee will review your proposed plans of study, conduct your qualifying examination, and later review and approve your dissertation prospectus and the completed dissertation. 

The Qualifying Examination

This should be taken toward the end of, or shortly after, the completion of all course requirements. In consultation with your dissertation committee chair and the other members of your committee, you will declare a major area and two minor areas in which you will be examined. Your qualifying examination will consist of written and oral portions. Although only three of your committee members will pose questions for the written portion, all of your committee members read your written examination and participate in the subsequent oral part of the examination. You should keep your entire committee informed throughout your preparation for the examination. The purpose of the qualifying examination is not to test your memory of specific, isolated facts but to permit you to demonstrate that you can develop and defend an informed position on topics or questions that are important in your major and minor areas of study. 

Written Portion

The written portion of your examination consists of a major area and two minor area essays. The exam will assess your ability to review, synthesize, and take ownership of three substantial bodies of literature related to your dissertation work. In addition to consulting with your advisor, you will meet with your other committee members to determine your exam areas and prepare reading lists. Graduate students typically undertake independent reading courses with each examining committee member during the semester prior to the exam. The exam will include a written and an oral portion, as specified below. 

  • The written portion of your examination includes a major area exam and two minor area exams.
  • The major exam is to be written at home and returned to the committee within 48 hours.
  • The minor exam areas are to be written at school, on a department computer, without books or notes (though you may, with your committee's knowledge and consent, use an unmarked copy of your reading lists). Each minor exam is to be completed in 4 hours and is monitored by the Department's staff.
  • All three exams, if you and your advisor agree, may be preceded by work on practice questions that differ significantly from the questions that actually appear on the exam. If you work on practice questions, you must indicate on your examination that you have done so and specify the practice questions

Oral Portion

The oral portion of the exam lasts for about two hours and is conducted approximately one to two weeks after you have completed the written portion. For the oral exam, you may be asked to clarify, defend, or elaborate upon your responses in the written examination, including the options of the extended essay or the published or accepted manuscript, to discuss other topics in the examination areas, and/or to discuss your plans for dissertation research. 


Candidacy must be attained within two years after passing the qualifying exam. In the Department of Communication and Media a student is recommended for candidacy when he or she has successfully passed the prospectus defense. This recommendation comes from his or her doctoral committee and the student is admitted to candidacy upon approval by the Office of Graduate Education. All further degree requirements, including the dissertation, must be completed within three years of attaining candidacy. 

To begin this process, the student will file a prospectus approval form (below), circulate a final prospectus to his or her committee members and subsequently convene for a prospectus defense. 

Institute rules on candidacy:

A student may apply for the candidacy examination, given by his or her doctoral committee, when:

  • His or her course work nears completion.
  • The student has an approved doctoral examining committee.
  • He or she has the approval of his or her doctoral committee to take the candidacy exam. 


  1. Nonrefundable application processing fee of $75.
  2. Statement of Background and Goals
  3. Resume or curriculum vitae.
  4. Two letters of recommendation.
  5. Writing samples, if required by department.
  6. IT Background Evaluation form (IT only).
  7. Copies of official test scores (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE)
  8. Copies of official transcripts and evidence of degrees earned, in English and in the native language, of all post-secondary education (including transcript keys)
  9. Copy of your passport (international students only)
  10. TOEFL score of 230 CBT/88 iBT/570 PBT (IELTS 6.5 or PTE 60)
  11. Statement of Background and Goals should include research interests


Teaching Assistants

Students assist Rensselaer faculty in their classroom and laboratory activities, gaining valuable experience as researchers, scholars, and teachers. Departments provide stipends and full-tuition waivers. Master’s students may spend a maximum of one year with internal support; doctoral students may spend a maximum of two years with internal support. Continued support can then be provided by means of research assistantships.

Research Assistants

Students work with the faculty in research-related tasks that further the student’s own graduate career and development as a researcher, scholar, and professional. Research assistants are paid a stipend and are given a full waiver of tuition.

Graduate Fellowships

Outstanding students may be awarded a university-supported Rensselaer Graduate Fellowship Award, which carries a full-tuition and fees scholarship and a minimum stipend of $21,500 per academic year. Students are nominated by their departments for Rensselaer Graduate Fellowship consideration.

Graduate Education Program (Russia)

Selected GEP Scholarship students are eligible for a renewable scholarship in the amount of 1,38 mln. rubles per year. Students in science and engineering fields are eligible for GEP funding. For application details and deadlines, please visit Applicants must be admitted to Rensselaer prior to finalizing the application for the GEP program.

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