The challenges we face today—social and environmental injustice, climate change, precarious work, surveillance, and a shrinking public sphere—are big, complex and multifaceted. Among their many other dimensions, they are questions of communication and culture, which demand urgent engagement. The Ph.D. in Communication, New Media, and Cultural Studies (CNMCS) is for creative students who embrace complexity, love difficult questions, and hunger for intellectual, artistic, and pedagogical risk-taking driven towards positive social change.
This program brings together three interdisciplinary fields that all originated in attempts to understand and debate big problems using tools from the arts, humanities, and social sciences: cultural studies began by trying to articulate the significance of culture beyond the privileged space of the university, communication studies wanted to understand how mass media was changing modern society, and new media scholars and artists wanted to probe how computing and digital communications were changing human knowledge and creativity. Each of these fields understands that the problems we face today, with all their varied technological, economic, ecological, and political implications, are, fundamentally, problems of communication and culture. Learning to read, critique, and create culture, media, and communication is critical to seeing things, and doing things, in new ways.
The Ph.D. in Communication, New Media, and Cultural Studies (CNMCS) is a joint program between the Departments of Communication Studies and Multimedia (CSMM) and the Department of English and Cultural Studies (ECS). Our many complementary strengths are in areas including new media arts, performance, policy, visual culture, digital culture, music/sound, gender and sexuality, critical race studies, indigenous studies, postcolonial and diasporic studies, transnational culture and international communications, critical environmental studies, political economy, professional communication, and media analysis and strategy. The program draws faculty members from CSMM and ECS as well as other departments in the Humanities to act as supervisors of CNMCS doctoral students.
Sam McGhee / Unsplash
Students of the program must complete 18 units of approved coursework by the end of the second year, including 4 courses, for a total of 12 units, to be completed in year 1; and two 3-unit doctoral seminars, taken in year 1 and year 2. At the discretion of the program’s Advisory Committee, those students lacking relevant experience in a minimum of two of the program’s three disciplines will be required to take 1-2 theory and methodology courses offered by ECS (CULTR ST 732) or CSMM (CMST&MM 700, 707 and/or 712), as part of the 4 courses to be completed in year 1. With the permission of the CNMCS Ph.D. Advisory Committee, students may take 3 units of electives from graduate courses offered by programs other than CNMCS.
Students in the program will be required to take the Comprehensive Examination in the area of their intended thesis research. This will involve writing two papers, a Field Survey and a Topic Paper, and defending both in an oral examination. The Field Survey should show broad expertise in the wider field of knowledge the candidate’s research will engage, i.e. one or more of the fields of Communication Studies, Cultural Studies, or New Media/Media Arts. The Topic Paper describes how the candidate’s thesis intervenes in the chosen field(s) and the particular contribution it will make. Both papers are to be researched and written concurrently by the candidate, are to be between 25 and 30 double-spaced pages in length, and are due in February of the second year of study. The Oral Examination of both papers will follow within 10 days of submission. The candidate’s mark in the Comprehensive Examination will be calculated on the average of the grades for the Field Survey, the Topic Paper, and the Oral Examination.
Over the course of their graduate study, students in the program will develop a qualifying dossier in consultation with their supervisory committee. Possible components of the qualifying dossier, of which the student will complete at least six, include:
- A grant application.
- Presentation of a conference paper or artist talk.
- A revision and submission of an article or artistic piece for peer-reviewed publication or juried exhibition.
- A research ethics proposal.
- A syllabus and a teaching philosophy statement.
- An op-ed or other knowledge translation project (e.g., a blog, performance, artwork, website, new media project, etc.).
- Education 750 (offered by McMaster’s Macpherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching).
- Participation in four professionalization workshops (academic or non-academic), offered by ECS, CSMM, or the Faculty of Humanities.
- A published book review/exhibition review in a scholarly journal.
- A community-engagement project.
- A guest lecture.
- Participation in conference organizing.
Work completed as part of course requirements may be included in the dossier at the discretion of the supervisory committee.
The candidate will complete a thesis in one of the following forms:
- A traditional thesis, which will normally be between 200 and 250 pages (not including bibliography).
- A research-creation or project-based thesis, which will consist of a body of work and written commentary on that work of between 100 and 150 pages; such a thesis may involve arts-based research, or it may involve the creation of such things as tool kits, social interventions, learning platforms, databases, new media archives, documentary films, or podcasts.
- A sandwich thesis, which, in accordance with McMaster’s Thesis Preparation Guide, must consist of a minimum of three scholarly works on a unified theme, either previously published or exhibited, submitted for peer-review, or prepared for publication/exhibition but not yet submitted (in CNMCS, these works may include journal articles submitted for peer review or art/media/performance pieces submitted for peer-adjudication); these works must be accompanied by substantial introductory and concluding chapters, addressing the methodologies, theories, and approaches that unify and inform the research. If the sandwich thesis is used for a series of research-creation projects, the student will present an explanatory narrative that connects the projects and argues for their significance. The typical length of a sandwich thesis will be about 200 pages, plus bibliography.
With the guidance of their supervisory committee and their peers in the year 2 doctoral seminar, students will develop a long proposal (10-15 pages plus bibliography), to be submitted for approval by June 30 of year 2. By January 15 of year 1 of the program, students will submit a short proposal (1000 words plus bibliography) for the thesis, identifying the area of their intended thesis research, for the approval of the Admissions and Review Committee. The proposal should be signed by a proposed supervisor and first reader. Should the committee feel a proposal needs further development, the student will be asked to revise and resubmit it within three months.
Years 3 and 4 of the degree will be dedicated to the completion of the thesis, which must be defended in an oral examination.
Admission to the Program
The Ph.D. Degree Program normally entails four years of study. The admission requirement is a completed M.A., M.Sc., M.F.A., or Master of Communication Management (M.C.M.) degree in a relevant field (e.g. Communication Studies, Cultural Studies, New Media). We also welcome applications from students with a Master’s degree in a related field (e.g. Music, Digital Humanities, Visual Culture, Visual and Fine Arts, Sociology, Anthropology, Women’s and Gender Studies, English, Philosophy, Interdisciplinary Studies, etc.) who have focussed on research germane to the program, and can demonstrate, in their letters of application, how their graduate work to date has prepared them for a Ph.D. in Communication, New Media, and Cultural Studies. While students must have expertise in at least one of New Media, Communication, or Cultural Studies, the committee will look particularly favorably on students who have demonstrated fluency in two or more program areas. A successful applicant from an MA program with a coursework component will have grades of at least A- in two-thirds of their courses. Students whose training has not included graded coursework are encouraged to submit a dossier of work completed during their Master’s program.
English Language Requirements
For applicants who do not hold a post-secondary degree from a program whose language of instruction was English, you will be required to provide an official record of the Test of English as a Foreign Language. A TOEFL score of 600 on the paper-based test, 250 on the computerized test, and 100 on the Internet-based test are required. If you are submitting the IELTS test, a score of 7 is required.