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Graduate Degrees and Requirements

As a matter of principle, the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences undertakes to adapt each program of study to the needs of each graduate student.  Beyond a few specific requirements, graduate students work with their graduate committees to determine the program of study that will best prepare them for their scholarly and professional careers.

With few exceptions, the requirements of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees are identical to those of the Graduate School.  In no instance do departmental requirements supersede those of the Graduate School.  Each graduate student is responsible for ensuring that he or she meets all Graduate School requirements.

Explore the links below to learn about the courses offered by faculty in the Department and to locate details on the requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. Degrees.

Program Requirements

Penn State’s Scholarship and Research Integrity (SARI) Training

All graduate students at Penn State are required to complete an instructional sequence relating to scholarship and research integrity. In the fall semester following matriculation, M.A. and Ph.D. students are required to complete two non-credit on-line courses offered by the Graduate School, one on human subjects research and the other on the responsible conduct of research. Students receive information concerning enrollment and the content of the two courses, and the required date of completion, before the beginning of the Fall semester.

Ph.D. students also take part in five additional hours of instruction concerning the responsible conduct of research and research integrity, with one hour completed outside the Department and offered by the Graduate School. The Department complements and facilitates completion of this requirement through two two-hour discussion sessions focused on topics related to scholarship and research integrity. M.A. students who advance to the Ph.D. Program are required to complete the discussion portion of the requirement as doctoral students, but will not have to retake the online courses.

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Independent Study and Research Credits

What are the options for independent study or research credits?

There are several options at the graduate level to earn credit for devoting time to research activities, including work on the master’s thesis or the doctoral dissertation.

CAS 594: Research Topics

CAS 594 allows students to earn credit for supervised activities on research projects conducted either individually or as part of a research team under the direction of a member of the faculty.

CAS 596: Individual Studies

CAS 596 allows students to earn credit for individual (non-thesis and non-dissertation) research projects that are supervised by a faculty member.

CAS 600: Thesis Research

CAS 600 allows students to earn credit for time and effort devoted to their thesis research.

CAS 601: Ph.D. Dissertation Full-Time

CAS 601 allows students to earn credit for time and effort devoted to their dissertation research.  Enrolling in CAS 601 also allows students to meet The Graduate School’s requirement that students be continuously enrolled through the completion of their degree.

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M.A. Requirements

What are the requirements for the M.A.?

  • A minimum of 30 credits (Except in unusual circumstances, credits earned for independent study [CAS 496 and 596] may not be counted toward fulfilling M.A. degree requirements. In addition, credits beyond the minimum of 30 do not automatically count toward the minimum specified for the Ph.D. degree for those who advance to the Ph.D. program.)
  • At least 3 credits of course work in communication outside the area of specialization
  • At least 3 credits of course work in communication focusing on a research methodology relevant to the student's research area (appropriate course work to be designated by the student's committee)
  • A total of 6 hours of CAS 600 within the minimum of 30 for the M.A. degree
  • An M.A. thesis
  • An oral examination in defense of the thesis. The candidate and at least two members of the M.A. committee (including the chair) must be physically present at the thesis defense. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing.
  • Satisfactory academic progress. Consistent with Graduate School regulations, a graduate student who fails to maintain satisfactory scholarship or to make acceptable progress in a degree program will be dropped from the program. Satisfactory progress for full-time students normally implies the completion of all degree requirements within a period not to exceed two consecutive calendar years. A cumulative grade-point average below 3.00 for any semester may be considered as evidence of unsatisfactory scholarship. Action to address this situation may be initiated by the department Head, the Graduate Officer, or by the chair of the student's committee.

Download the M.A. Thesis Option outline here (DOCX).

Download the M.A. Thesis Option outline here (PDF).

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What are the requirements for the Ph.D.?

  • At least 3 credits of course work in communication focusing on a research methodology relevant to the student's research area (appropriate course work to be designated by the student's committee)
  • A total of at least 36 course credits beyond the M.A.
  • At least 9 of these 36 total credits outside the Communication Arts and Sciences Department. When the candidate's adviser and committee consider it appropriate, course work completed in an M.A. program may be counted toward the 9 credits. If such course work is applied, the candidate is still expected to earn a minimum of 36 credits beyond the M.A. degree.
  • A minimum of 21 credits in communication arts and sciences beyond the M.A. degree.  A total of 6 independent research credits in communication [CAS 596] may be counted toward the 21-credit minimum. Credits earned with a member of the approved CAS Graduate Faculty who reside in a different department may be counted as "internal" or "external" credits at the discretion of an adviser and committee.
  • A candidacy examination in the student's second semester.
  • A written and oral comprehensive examination
  • A dissertation (see document)
  • An oral examination in defense of the dissertation
  • Satisfactory academic progress. Consistent with Graduate School regulations, a graduate student who fails to maintain satisfactory scholarship or to make acceptable progress in a degree program will be dropped from the program. Satisfactory progress for full-time students normally implies the completion of all degree requirements within a period not to exceed three consecutive calendar years. A cumulative grade-point average below 3.00 for any semester may be considered as evidence of unsatisfactory scholarship. Action to address this situation may be initiated by the department Head, the student's committee, or by the chairperson of the student's committee.

Download the Ph. D. option outline form here (DOC).

Download the Ph. D. option outline form here (PDF).

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Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and Bioethics

What are the requirements for the Dual-Title Ph.D. in CAS and Bioethics?

Issues of ethical concern arise frequently regarding communication about scientific, technological, and medical pursuits. The Dual-Title Ph.D. in Communication Arts & Sciences and Bioethics—the only one of its kind in the United States—provides communication arts & sciences graduate students with the theoretical and applied knowledge necessary to address ethical issues within the field of health communication as well as to conduct original bioethics research and to produce bioethics-related scholarship.

Students earning the dual degree would have access to growing employment opportunities that require expertise in bioethics (e.g., in addition to the same job markets available to other communication arts & sciences graduates).

Admission Requirements

Students who have been admitted to the CAS Ph.D. Program prepare a statement of purpose for why they wish to pursue the Dual-Title degree as part of their program planning process. The student’s doctoral committee will then consult with the student regarding the plan.

Doctoral Committee Composition

Students in the program are required to have an advisor from the Bioethics faculty. If the primary advisor in Communication Arts & Sciences is not a member of the Bioethics faculty, a second advisor from the Bioethics faculty will be required.

For more information on this degree, read about:

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