Program Timeline

The doctoral program in Cinema and Media Studies typically involves a minimum of two years of coursework, fulfilling language requirements, comprehensive examinations in three fields, a dissertation prospectus, and a dissertation. Following their coursework, students also learn to teach by serving as a course assistant for faculty-taught undergraduate courses, taking the department’s pedagogy course, and serving as the instructor of record in their own undergraduate course. After advancing to ABD status, students will focus on researching and writing their dissertation. 



Course Requirements

Students are expected to complete seventeen (17) courses during their scholastic residency, of which a minimum of twelve (12) courses must be listed or cross-listed in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies. All courses taken to fulfill requirements must be taken for a quality grade - courses taken pass / fail will not be counted towards requirements. 

Four (4) courses in CMS required by all PhD students are:  

  • Methods and Issues in Cinema and Media Studies (CMST 40000; offered in Autumn Quarter each year) – an introduction to research methods, key concepts, and theoretical frameworks, using case studies to introduce students to debates and issues in the field.
  • History of International Cinema, Part I (CMST 48500, Autumn Quarter) and History of International Cinema, Part II (CMST 48600, Winter Quarter) – a two-quarter survey course that is designed as both a beginning-level graduate and an upper-level undergraduate course.
  • Pedagogy: The Way We Teach Film (CMST 69900) (offered in alternating academic years; next offered in AY2021-2022) – an introduction to pedagogical methods in the field of Cinema and Media Studies. This course takes place over the course of one (1) academic year.

Five (5) electives courses that either originate in or are cross-listed with CMS; these courses should ideally fit into the student’s overarching research goals.

Three (3) advanced-level CMS seminars (60000-level) – graduate seminars taught by CMS faculty are the only courses which are given a 60000-level designation. 

Five (5) electives courses that can originate in other departments and may or may not cover cinema related subjects. Student should use this coursework requirement to work with faculty members outside of CMS and add interdisciplinary elements to their own scholarship.

Given the highly international nature of cinema studies, students must demonstrate proficiency in two (2) modern languages in addition to English. The languages should be relevant to the student's area of research and may include programming languages. If a student is working primarily on English-language media, they are encouraged to gain proficiency in French and/or German. These requirements can be fulfilled either through coursework or University-administered language exams. Students interested in fulfilling this requirement through a programming language should get in touch with the DGS. Language courses are not counted toward fulfilling coursework requirements and must be completed before a student will be permitted to begin the Oral Fields Examinations. 


Oral Fields Examinations

By the end of the third year of the program, each student should have taken their Oral Fields Examinations. All coursework and foreign language requirements must be completed prior to taking the oral fields examination. In order to verify these steps have been completed, students must meet with the DGS for approval before beginning the process of scheduling their exams with their chosen committee. The purpose of this examination is to ascertain a student’s readiness to proceed from advanced formal coursework to devising a dissertation project, and they are comprised of five parts – three (3) written exams (one for each lists), a syllabus for an undergraduate course of 10 weeks based on one or more field lists, and an oral exam. The student will select an exam committee consisting of three faculty members in the relevant fields in consultation with the DGS; students should keep in mind that two members of the exam committee must be CMS faculty. Requests to include faculty from other departments in the university on an examining committee can be considered when:

  • no faculty member within the Department of Cinema and Media Studies can examine in the proposed field, and
  • the student can demonstrate that the field in question is essential to his or her future as a scholar and teacher. (Note: field examiners may be different from the dissertation committee the students will later choose, though there is often overlap)

Students should use the selection and preparation of fields both to focus their knowledge and focus the questions they will be asking when they advance toward the dissertation proposal and to secure their mastery of a sufficiently broad range of material to prepare them for teaching.


Advancing to Candidacy

Upon successful completion of all coursework requirements, the relevant language requirements, and the comprehensive examinations, each student will organize a dissertation committee and prepare a dissertation prospectus. Upon approval of the prospectus by their committee, the student formally advances to the status of PhD Candidate and ABD status. 

Students should begin the proposal process by talking with faculty members in their area of specialization about their ideas for a dissertation project and the composition of the dissertation committee. Often these conversations will begin during the preparation of a student’s lists for the field examinations, though the student is free to select different faculty for their dissertation committee (just as faculty members are free to decline).


CMS Department Wiki

A lot of information related to the PhD program - instructions for registration, exams, CFPs, essential forms, examples of syllabi, and the CMS Graduate Student Handbook - can be found on the Cinema and Media Studies Department Wiki; accessing the Wiki requires a UChicago ID.