PhD in Film Studies

This section outlines the rules and practices that apply to candidates for the Doctor of Philosophy in Film Studies. In addition, Graduate College rules apply to all students enrolled in a Graduate College program, including those in Film Studies.

If the MA degree may be characterized as a learning experience, a process in which interested students visit major sections of a film territory that has already been mapped, the PhD may best be understood as a voyage of discovery, in which talented and dedicated students set off to chart unknown regions. The MA involves, primarily, the dissemination of existing knowledge; the PhD, at its best, aims at the creation of new knowledge.

The Iowa Film Studies PhD has several traditions and goals with which all candidates should be familiar. This program is dedicated to the questioning of received knowledge and the creation of new knowledge about film, defined in the broadest possible way. Understanding film, we are convinced, depends on an ability to chart the ways in which film shares (or challenges) devices, processes, and situations with other forms of art, communication, and culture. It also depends on an ability to share insights with scholars and practitioners around the world. The Iowa Film Studies program, particularly at the PhD level, thus actively encourages students to be independent, interdisciplinary, and international.

Students are encouraged throughout their program of study to consult faculty and students across the University in search of ideas and advice regarding diverse and rewarding intellectual opportunities. In developing an appropriate plan of study, students should consult their advisor and committee members regularly.

Following are the provisions governing the PhD in Film Studies:

Students entering the PhD program in Film Studies with a BA (exceptional cases) must complete all of the requirements for the UI MA in Film Studies.

Requirements for students entering the PhD program in Film Studies with an MA in Film Studies or a closely related field, including an MA in Film Studies from the University of Iowa:

General Requirements:

  • Adherence to all applicable Graduate College rules.

  • A minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.25 for graduate coursework taken at the University of Iowa.

  • At least one year of supervised teaching or independent research.

  • A minimum of 72 hours of graduate courses and seminars relevant to major areas of interest, at least 39 of which must be post-MA coursework.  No more than 33 s.h. of M.A. transfer credit can be applied to the 72 s.h.

  • At least 4 hours of dissertation credit to be taken no earlier than the semester when the student takes the Comprehensive Examination.

  • Presentation of an acceptable Plan of Study in the first semester of the first year in the PhD Program.

  • Development of a research tool or skill chosen in consultation with the candidate's committee (see information on Language Study – MA in Film Studies).

  • Successful completion of the written and oral Comprehensive Examination, following committee approval of submitted reading lists and filmographies for the three areas.

  • The writing and approval, following a meeting with a dissertation committee, of a Dissertation Prospectus.

  • The writing and satisfactory oral defense and final deposit of a Dissertation.

PhD Distribution Requirements (may be satisfied by previous coursework):

At least 2 credits in each of the following areas:

  • U.S. cinema

  • European cinemas

  • World cinemas

  • Production or documentary or animation or experimental film

PhD Required Courses (must be satisfied at the UI):

  • CINE:5673 Advanced Film Theory (taken at least twice post-MA)

  • CINE:5675 Advanced Film History (taken at least twice post-MA)

  • A 7000-level seminar (taken at least once post-MA):  7615 Seminar: Film Theory or 7616 Seminar: Film History

Note: The Head of Film Studies may waive or adjust the Required Course and Distribution Requirements in specific circumstances.

Plan of Study:
In the first semester of the first year, students should identify and meet with the Head of Film Studies. Students should submit a draft, based on the provided template, of their Plan of Study to the Head of Film Studies by the middle of the semester. . During the Plan of Study meeting in the latter half of the semester, the Film Studies faculty will evaluate questions of transfer credit, total credits required, and research skills. The final Plan of Study document serves as an agreement between the candidate and the Department, guiding future expectations of both. Copies of the final document, approved by all members of the Film Studies faculty, will be placed in the candidate's academic file.

Comprehensive Examination:
The purpose of the Comprehensive Examination is to assess each candidate’s mastery of the major areas of learning designated by the Plan of Study, and other knowledge and skills important for research in their particular fields. The Plan of Study committee determines at the Plan of Study meeting when the Comprehensive Examination will take place. The Comprehensive Examination consists of a four-hour written examination on each of the three major Plan of Study areas.

In a two hour meeting with the candidate within two weeks after the written examination, the committee will report one of the following possible outcomes: Satisfactory, Reservations (requiring successful completion of a specific task set by the examining committee in order to officially lift the reservations to make the exam Satisfactory), or Unsatisfactory (two unsatisfactory votes make the report unsatisfactory and it would be considered a first failure). In the case of a report of unsatisfactory on a comprehensive examination, the committee may grant the candidate permission to attempt a reexamination not sooner than four months after the first examination. The examination may be repeated only once, at the option of the department.

Within one week following the committee meeting, the Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair will summarize in writing the collective judgment of the committee concerning the candidate's examination performance. Copies of this document will be given to the candidate and placed in the candidate's academic file along with the Report of Doctoral Comprehensive Exam.

Dissertation Prospectus:
After successful completion of the Comprehensive Exam, the candidate chooses a Dissertation Advisor, in consultation with whom he/she selects a Dissertation Committee of a minimum of four other faculty, which may include one faculty member from outside the Department, including faculty with 0% appointments in Cinematic Arts. No later than the semester following successful completion of the Comprehensive Exam, the candidate submits to all members of the Dissertation Committee a Prospectus that has been developed in consultation with the Dissertation Advisor. A committee meeting will be held to assess the significance of the proposed Dissertation, the reasonableness of its scope and approach, and the candidate's methodological and substantive preparation to carry out the work. Three outcomes of this meeting are possible: 1) Approval of the Prospectus; 2) Conditional Approval subject to needed adjustments in scope, direction, or method; and 3) Rejection. At the Prospectus meeting, the faculty and candidate agree on the respective roles that the director/s and each committee member will play in advising the candidate and reading drafts of the dissertation.

In consultation with the Dissertation Advisor and other committee members designated during the Prospectus meeting, the candidate drafts and revises a Dissertation. With the Advisor's approval, a Final Examination (Oral Defense) is scheduled. At least two weeks prior to the Defense, a copy of the Dissertation to be defended must be distributed to each member of the Dissertation Committee. According to Graduate College regulations, the Defense will be publicly announced and is open to the public. The Final Examination and Dissertation are evaluated separately. Possible outcomes for the Final Examination are Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. The Dissertation itself may be: Approved: Conditionally Approved (with specification of changes to be made before final approval is granted); or Failed. The Final Examination (Oral Defense) may be repeated once at the option of the Committee.

Continuous Registration Policy:
Regardlesss of location of residence, all doctoral students must maintain continuous registration until the completion of their degree.  All doctoral students are considered to be "under instruction" and are thus considered to be accessing University of Iowa faculty and staff time, and University facilities.  Tuition is to be paid for such access.  Doctoral students will be required to register for course work by their department and pay the appropriate tuition OR for PhD Dissertation (CINE:7992:0IND) and pay 1 sh tuition. This requirement applies to students conducting research, fieldwork or other scholarly activities related to their graduate programs of study including the writing of the thesis or dissertation and consultation with faculty, as well as students taking courses at the University.

Using a form available in the Graduate College, students may petition the Graduate College for the privilege of paying a special Post-Comprehensive Registration only when extenuating circumstances arise that require a temporary lapse in their academic program.  Such circumstances could include, but are not limited to, medical or maternity leaves, personal or family situations, military obligations, etc.  The Graduate College will consult with the student's department regarding the petition, prior to making a decision to grant or deny the petition for the special Post-Comprehensive Registration.  Post-Comprehensive Registration is not to be used for final registration in a doctoral program.

When doctoral students plan to defend their dissertations, students will register for "Doctoral Final Registration” (GRAD:6003:0001)  During this final registration, the student will be required to pay the 1 sh tuition.  The final registration may be repeated if the degree requirements are not completed in this session.


Film Studies PhD Timetable

Year 1:

  • Coursework (minimum of 18 semester hours)

  • Mid-August: All incoming graduate students are assigned an initial faculty advisor. Plan to meet with that advisor during the latter part of the week preceding the start of classes. The advisor can inform you of program rules and practices, discuss your first-semester course selection and long-term aspirations, and field your questions.

  • Thursday or Friday before the first day of classes: Combined Film Studies and Film & Video Production orientation meetings. (Students with a teaching assistantship should also expect to meet with their course supervisor on one of these days and to attend basic training sessions.)

  • August-December: Get to know faculty members who might eventually sit on your committee. Your advisor, the Department web site, and graduate student recommendations are good sources of information about which faculty work on which topics.

  • Fall: incoming students will meet with a Plan of Study committee (consisting of all Film Studies faculty) to determine a) if previous coursework satisfies distribution requirements and b) to plan a course of study for the next two years, leading to the Comprehensive Examination.

  • January: Meet with your advisor to prepare for the spring review of graduate students.

Year 2:

  • Coursework (minimum of 18 semester hours)

  • Early Fall: confer with your advisor regarding the Comprehensive Examination.

  • Late Fall: approval of reading lists and filmographies for the PhD Comprehensive Examination.

  • Late Spring of Year 2 (or early Fall of Year 3): PhD Comprehensive Examination.

  • Spring: select a dissertation advisor, in consultation with whom you will develop a Prospectus and constitute a dissertation committee. The Prospectus should be presented to the full committee no later than the following fall.

Year 3:

  • Additional Coursework (if required)

  • Fall: Dissertation Prospectus Meeting (note: some dissertation research grants require approval of a prospectus by October or November for research in the following year).

Year 4:

  • Spring: First Deposit, Defense, and Final Deposit of Dissertation (according to Graduate College deadlines).

For information on TA and RA appointments, see Film Studies Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant Information