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Graduate Student Handbook

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Program Overview

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There are three graduate majors available at the Valenti School of Communication: mass communication studies, public relations studies and health communication studies. You select your degree program when completing the graduate school application form.

Considering one of our other master’s degrees? Keep in mind the following:

  • Your choice is registered with the Office of Graduate Programs and cannot be changed unless you formally petition our director of graduate studies.
  • Changing your degree may require leveling courses to make up any deficiencies in course work.

As a graduate student at the Valenti School of Communication, you must demonstrate mastery in your area of study in order to graduate. You may do this through one of the following options:

  • The thesis option (30 credit hours) allows you to conduct and present original research in your area of study.
  • The comprehensive exams option (36 credit hours) allows you to demonstrate mastery of all the course content you’ve taken in our graduate program.
  • The project option (36 credit hours) also allows you to demonstrate mastery of your area of study by designing and implementing a project.

All options require the formation of an advisory committee, which will guide and evaluate your mastery.

Our Courses

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Required Courses

Once accepted into the graduate program, all students pursuing a Master’s degree are required to take the following three graduate core courses:

  • COMM 6300 - Quantitative Research Methods 
  • COMM 6305 - Qualitative Research Methods
  • COMM 6335 - Health Communication Theory & Research (health communication students)
  • COMM 6310 - Mass Communication Theory and Research (mass communication students)
  • COMM 6371 - Public Relations Theory (public relations students)

For a complete list of courses, please visit the UH Graduate Catalog.

Leveling Courses                       

Graduate students who do not have an undergraduate degree in communication are required to complete up to 12 hours of undergraduate leveling courses. These courses do not count toward our graduate degree. The selection of these courses is somewhat flexible and dictated by the area in which the student intends to concentrate at the graduate level.

Courses typically include COMM 2300 and 6-9 hours at the 3000 or 4000 level in the area of study. Some students may prefer to enroll as post-baccalaureate to complete part or all of this work before starting their graduate program.

Leveling Courses for Public Relations Majors:

  • COMM 3368 - Principles of Public Relations
  • COMM 3369 - Public Relations Writing (which has a prerequisite of COMM 2310)
  • COMM 4368 - Public Relations Campaigns

Leveling Courses for Mass Communication:

  • COMM 1301 - Media and Society
  • Courses in media studies at the 3000 and 4000-level, such as:
    • COMM 3372 - Gender and Media
    • COMM 3376 - Media Effects
    • COMM 4372 - Media, Power and Society
    • COMM 4375 - Propaganda
    • COMM 4370 - Social Aspects of Film
Concurrent enrollment may be permitted. Please also be aware that undergraduate courses are very popular and therefore typically close early in the registration process. If you require leveling courses, please contact our graduate director to help you create an undergraduate program plan in order to enroll.

Program Length

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Our master’s program is designed to be completed in four semesters (two years). You may take up to five years (from the time you took your first course for graduate credit) to complete your degree. If you must take a leave of absence due to health or employment, you may file for a one-time, one-year leave. Otherwise, continuous enrollment is expected. Coursework is typically not offered during the summers.

Hours of Enrollment

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To maintain full-time student status, you must be enrolled in nine hours.

  • Thesis credit hours may count for six hours.
  • Students taking comprehensive exams may only take one course in addition to comps (COMM 6398). The maximum number of hours is six.

Transfer Credits

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We do not allow graduate students to transfer more than nine credit hours from another college or university to count toward their degree.

Post-Baccalaureate Status

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  • Post-baccalaureate status does not count as undergraduate courses credited to the graduate program. A petition must be submitted two weeks prior to enrollment and to allow for the multiple signatures required. The completion of a petition does not guarantee acceptance.
  • Unless authorized by the Director of Graduate Studies, post-baccalaureate students will not be allowed to take graduate-level course work in the Valenti School of Communication.
  • Post-baccalaureate students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.00 in their graduate course work.
  • Post-baccalaureate courses will not be considered for graduate credit until the student is admitted to graduate status. No more than 12 graduate hours will be accepted for graduate credit in the case of post-baccalaureate students who are subsequently admitted to graduate status.
  • Students are limited to one semester of post-baccalaureate status. If, by the end of one semester a student has not achieved admission to the graduate program, he/she will not be allowed to take graduate courses for graduate credit.
  • Students must petition to have courses changed from Post-baccalaureate to graduate status.

Undergraduate access to graduate courses

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  • Senior undergraduate students may, in exceptional cases, begin their graduate program while completing their degree. They may take up to six hours of graduate coursework in their last semester before graduation.
  • Undergraduate students must present the requisite petition to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval.
  • Undergraduate students will be allowed to take graduate courses only under the following conditions: (1) they must have no more than 12 semester hours needed to complete their bachelor’s degree and (2) the last semester course load is limited to 15 semester hours maximum including graduate work.
  • Undergraduate students must also have achieved an overall GPA of 3.00 and a GPA of 3.25 in Communication.

Course Withdrawal

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If a student wishes to drop a class or withdraw, they must actively do so using myUH self-service and/or completing the required paperwork.

Track Requirements

Thesis Track Requirements

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  • Students who intend to pursue the thesis option are required to file an application to the Director of Graduate Studies after the completion of 12 hours indicating that intention. If this petition is not filed, the Graduate Committee will assume that the student will pursue the non-thesis option.
  • The student must complete a minimum of six thesis hours and maintain continuous enrollment during the formal research and writing of the thesis.
  • The student must enroll in both COMM 6399 and COMM 7399 in the semester she/he intends to graduate.

Procedures for submitting and recording the various stages of the thesis project:

  • The student in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies will select a thesis chair who will then help the student in selecting the Thesis Committee. The Thesis Committee must contain at least three members--the chair, one member representing an outside field (outside the School of Communication), and another member selected from the student's area of concentration (inside the School of Communication). The student must consult with each member to determine that she/he will serve on the committee.
  • The student must present a Thesis Prospectus (typically the first three chapters of the thesis) to his or her Thesis Committee for approval. The content of the prospectus should ordinarily include the title page, chapter one (Introduction) that details the context and significance of the study, chapter two (Literature Review or Conceptualization) that reviews and integrates relevant literature as well as proposes research questions and/or hypotheses, chapter three (Methodology) that details the research methods to be used, references, and appendices (interview protocol, survey questionnaire, solicitation letter, informed consent form etc.). The student then defends the prospectus before their committee.
  • Once the prospectus has been successfully defended and the signed copy is in the student’s file, the student may complete the remainder of the thesis, i.e., data collection, data analysis, thesis write-up, and schedule a final thesis defense.
  • The student must provide a final Thesis Defense to the Thesis Committee. The title page of the thesis is a formal document that must be signed by each member of the committee and a copy placed in the student's file. (Guidelines for completing the thesis can be obtained from the graduate administrative assistant or the office of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, 402 Agnes Hall. For more information, click here .                  
  • Students must note the deadline for submission of completed theses to the dean’s office and schedule their defense date, accordingly. As a professional courtesy, the thesis prospectus and the completed thesis are required to be delivered to committee members at least one week prior to defense dates (two weeks prior is preferred). Thesis students are encouraged to examine bound theses completed by former Valenti graduate students, located on the 3rd floor of the M.D. Anderson Library. A form with instructions on how to prepare the thesis (margins, paper type, fonts, etc.) is available in 101 COMM or from the CLASS dean’s office (402 AH).
  • The meetings dealing with the Thesis Prospectus and Thesis Defense may be open, and the time, date and venue may be advertised beforehand to encourage graduate faculty and especially graduate students to attend.
  • The responsibility for selecting the thesis topic and completing the thesis in a timely manner rests solely with the student.
  • If a thesis involves the collection of data, the study must be approved by the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects before any data collection can occur.

Comprehensive Exam Track Requirements

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Students must pass a comprehensive written examination administered by the Advisory Committee. The exam consists of written questions related to core coursework and the student’s major and minor areas of study.

Enrollment for comprehensive exam hours

  • Students must obtain the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies before proceeding to take the comprehensive exam. The Director must be informed of the student's intention to take the exam in the semester prior to taking the exam.
  • The student must list all courses taken and indicate whether all prerequisites, if any, have been fulfilled.
  • Approval will be based on the prospect that the student has already completed at least 33 of the 36 hours of coursework required for completion of the degree and that the student has taken five courses in the major area of study and three courses in the minor area.
  • The major area of study must be selected from one of the following: Health Communication Studies, Mass Communication Studies, or Public Relations Studies. The minor area must be selected from one of the remaining options.
  • The student must register for COMM 6398: Comprehensive Examination during the semester they take the comprehensive exam. The course will be graded Satisfactory (S) or Unsatisfactory (U), and will comprise the last 3 required hours of coursework.            

Selecting an Advisory Committee

  • Upon acceptance into the graduate program, the Graduate Director will serve as the student’s advisor.
  • The Graduate Director will recommend courses to take in the first semester based upon the student’s stated interests and suggest faculty for the student’s committee.
  • By the end of the first semester, the student will submit the “ Advisor Selection ” form to the graduate director. This form formally states who the student wishes to serve as his or her advisor. That advisor will be responsible for suggesting courses to be taken. The student has the option to change advisors at any point up until the final semester when he or she registers for the comprehensive exams.
  • Before the student registers for comprehensive exams, he or she must select a three-member Advisory Committee, which will be responsible for administering the final exam and granting approval for the degree.
  • It is expected that the student have a relationship established with the faculty committee members, such as having completed coursework with each. Of the three committee members, two (2) have to be from the student’s area of study and one (1) has to be from the student’s minor.
  • At least two (2) of the committee members must be from the Valenti School of Communication, and it is acceptable for all three members to come from within the school.
  • It is also permitted for the graduate director to serve on the committee, although this is not required. The graduate director may also serve on the committee if the student is unable to find a third member of the committee.
  • It is up to individual committee members how specific his or her guidance will be, but it is expected that the faculty will provide general questions that will help the student organize his or her knowledge and studying around specific content areas.
  • Once the committee is determined, the student completes the “Comprehensive Exam Committee” form and gives it to the Graduate Director.

General Procedures for Taking Comprehensive Exam            

Timing:
  • Comprehensive exams are taken after the completion of all coursework, including completion of all incompletes.
  • Exams cannot be scheduled until grades of “Incomplete” are removed from the student’s transcript.
  • The timing of the exam is to be worked out between the student and his or her advisor. It is expected that the exam typically fall in the second half of the semester, either in October or early November for the fall, or in March or early April in the spring.
  • Students should coordinate written exam dates with their Committee members first. The students should then contact the Graduate Director to let him or her know of the exam schedule.
  • The student will have one week from the designated start time to complete all responses. The student’s responses will be emailed back to his or her advisor.

Questions:

  • By the beginning of the exam semester, the student will have met with each member of the committee to discuss the parameters of the comprehensive exam questions. The student will determine what is to be studied based upon the meetings with the committee members.
  • Each committee member will submit two questions to be asked. The questions should be coordinated among the committee members so that there is not excessive overlap.
  • Faculty committee members must submit exam questions to the student’s advisor electronically at least two weeks prior to the exam.
  • Primary responsibility for formulating the content boundaries and procedures for the examination resides with the committee members. However, it expected that each student will be asked a total of six questions, two of which come from each committee member. Three questions should be directed toward the major area of specialization (one general and two specific), two questions should be directed toward the minor area of specialization (one general and one specific), and one question should addresses research methods.
  • It is ultimately up to the committee members to decide who should ask what questions.
  • Students and committee members should also discuss expectations prior to the exam. Specifically, they should discuss the procedures to be followed before, during, and after the examination as well as preparation strategies for each question.
  • Exam procedures are established by the committee in consultation with the student. Exams will usually be take-home, open-book exams. Responses to open-book and take-home exams are expected to be detailed, substantial, and comprehensive in scope.

Following the completion of the comprehensive exam:

  • Within one business day from the completion of the exam, the student’s advisor forwards the student’s exam responses to all members of the committee.
  • Within one week of receiving the student’s responses, each committee member submits a grade (pass/fail) to the advisor.
  • All committee members must agree that the student passes in order for the student to graduate. The advisor then notifies the student as to whether he or she passed.
  • If the student fails one or more of the written exams, he or she must retake that portion (i.e., the failed portion(s)) of the exam the following semester.
  • Should the student fail any sections of the exam, the student has the option to change committee members for the failed section(s) at the discretion of the thesis advisor.               

 

Project Track Requirements

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The applied project will allow students with a professional focus to engage in an in-depth application of communication theory and research methods to a professional setting. It is an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills developed in graduate study to professional practice. Students should be involved in producing some form of material on behalf of an organization or field of practice. Thus, applied projects should meet the following criteria:

  • Work must be conducted on behalf of a particular organization (commercial or non-profit).
  • For students currently employed at an organization, the project must offer a benefit to the organization that goes beyond the students’ current assigned job duties.
  • The applied project is directed at a non-academic audience.
  • The applied project track of the master’s degree will require 36 total credit hours, including 27 coursework hours and a 3-credit capstone project course (6390).

The project is intended to blend theory, research and practical skills, building on students’ learning in the graduate program. Projects may take different forms.

Example Products for an Applied Project:

  • Documentary or Audio/Video Production
  • Practical Guides (i.e. manuals/handbooks)
  • Strategic Campaign
  • Communication Audit
  • Website or New Technology
  • Training Module

NOTE: Be sure to obtain consent from actors/participants who will be in the video, campaign materials, etc.

Process

  1. Before the completion of 18 credit hours (for full-time students this is prior to the end of their second full semester), the student will:
    • Identify a chair for the project committee. This person will function as the project advisor. A chair should only serve if s/he feels qualified to direct that particular type of project.
    • In collaboration with the committee chair, identify one additional faculty member to invite to serve on the project committee from the Valenti School of Communication. This person should be from the student’s minor.
    • In collaboration with the committee chair, identify an organizational member or industry specialist to serve as the third member of the project committee. The organizational member should have credentials that warrant her/his serving as a voting member on a master’s student’s project: a master’s degree in a related field (e.g., communication, media studies, public health, sociology, marketing, advertising, journalism, etc.); a master’s of business administration (MBA); an accreditation in public relations (APR); an equivalent degree; or a significant number of years of experience in the field related to the student’s major. The chair of the committee can help the student evaluate the organizational member’s credentials. This third member will provide input and serve as a consultant for the project, and s/he will be asked to vote on the final project.
  2. In the semester prior to the final semester in the program (for full-time students this is during the third full semester), the student will: 
    • Establish connections with an organization or industry partner for your project.
    • Submit a petition (to the graduate advisor/director) with a proposed project description, rationale, and committee signatures. As with students planning to take comprehensive exams or planning to conduct a thesis, we expect students wanting to conduct an applied project to meet individually with their committee members before enrollment in their final semester. The proposal should be approximately 3-5 pages and include the following material:
      1. An overview of the project that describes the problem to be addressed and the objectives of the project: What is the purpose? Why is it important?
      2. Background research that introduces relevant theories and research: This should not be a full-blown literature review. Instead, the student should discuss/explain the communication theories and research that inform the project. How and why will those theories and that research help guide the work?
      3. An overview of the organization and the relevance of this project for that context
      4. Production plan
        • Conceptualize the project. Create a concrete idea for the project before starting it (in other words, the student shouldn’t jump right into the organization and try to figure the project without a plan). What, specifically, will the project look like at the end? What will the project include? Justify all choices. 
        • For example, if a video will be made, for instance, what/who will be in the video? Why do those components make sense? And how long will the video be? 
        • As another example, if a strategic campaign on behalf of an organization, what will be included in the campaign? Why do those components make sense?
      5. Constraints: What, if any, barriers exist to the successful initiation and completion of the project? Is there technology needed to master, for instance? How do you plan to overcome the barriers?
      6. A detailed timeline for completing the project
      7. A statement from the organization indicating you have permission to carry out your project
  3. Orally defend the proposal at a meeting with committee members either at the end of the penultimate semester or the very beginning of the final semester in the program.
  4. After committee approval of the proposal, students doing research with the intention of publishing the data publicly later will need to submit a research protocol to the Institutional Review Board for approval before moving forward with the project.
  5. In the last semester in the program (for full-time students this is the fourth semester):
    • Enroll in COMM 6390: Applied Project for three credit hours. These hours will be graded as satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Only 3 credits of COMM 6390 will be counted toward a student’s required, graded coursework.
    • Note: Students will be able to register for COMM 6390: Applied Project only by special permission. Students completing an applied project must have a letter of cooperation from their partner organization and submit this letter to the Graduate Director, who will then initiate registration for COMM 6390: Applied Project after the student has successfully defended his or her project proposal (this will be confirmed by the project chair). Students may register for COMM 6390 as many times as needed to successfully complete the project; if more than one semester is needed, the instructor will assign an ‘IP’ grade to the student until the student successfully passes the oral defense.
  6. For all types of projects, students will create a written document reflecting on the work, the choices made, and how communication theory and research informed those choices in the development of the project. The written document will be 8-10 pages in length.
  7. Submit the project product—along with the written reflection paper—to the committee (at least one week before the defense).
  8. Orally defend the project to the committee. The oral defense will be open to members of the organization as well as the committee. The oral defense must be completed by the date identified on the College thesis calendar for the semester.
  9. The committee will decide if the student passes, passes with revisions, or fails. The committee chair will communicate this decision to the Graduate Director. If the student fails, s/he may revise the project and defend it successfully the following semester.
  10. After the defense, the student should submit a short descriptive paragraph on the project that would be “social media” ready, meaning it could be the caption of a social media post. The description should include the 5 Ws of a news story (who, what when, where, why, & how?). Please include any pics of the project, like a pic of the material produced as well as a headshot (or a pic of the student and her/his committee after the defense). The description could also include the title of the project, the organization involved, the purpose of the project, and what you felt were the most important things you learned in conducting the project. Please send to Dr. Vardeman within a couple weeks of the defense so we can promote and archive the project online in a timely manner.

Grievance Policy

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Every effort shall be made by the student and the faculty members(s) involved to settle their differences amicably and informally to redress the grievance. If appropriate or necessary, the School of Communication director shall participate in this informal effort to resolve the grievance. If appropriate, the aid of a disinterested mediator should be sought to aid resolution.

In the event that an informal resolution is not possible, the student may petition the School of Communication director by filing a formal written complaint within 10 working days after the decision is mutually made that the grievance cannot be settled informally. The letter should provide details regarding the complaint and redress sought. After receipt of the letter, the School of Communication director must respond in writing within 10 working days.

The student must file official notice of an intention to grieve within 30 days of the point in time when the grievant has knowledge or should have had knowledge of the problem being grieved. Within 60 days of filing the intent to grieve notice, the grievant must submit a formal grievance.

In filing the formal grievance, the grievant must state the following:

  1. When he/she discovered the issue being grieved
  2. What issue is being grieved and provide evidence to support the grievance
  3. What is the desired solution. The grievance committee must meet within 10 workings days following receipt of the written complaint.

The Valenti School of Communication grievance committee will consist of 3 members: 2 full- time tenure track faculty who have taught a graduate course within the last five years and 1 graduate student. The director of graduate studies will appoint faculty members and the student from a pool of people willing to serve and who are not involved in any aspect of the grievance. All three committee members will have voting privileges; they will elect their own chair.

The committee will observe the following hearing guidelines:

  • Notification of the hearing schedule to all parties must be done in writing through certified mail with return receipt requested.
  • Attendance is limited to the grievance committee, the grievant, the grievant's witness (if the student requests one be present), the faculty member(s) against whom the grievance is filed
  • The grievant and the faculty member against whom the grievance is filed shall not be in the hearing room at the same time.
  • The grievant's witness is not allowed to speak and cannot provide legal representation.
  • No recording of the proceedings is allowed.
  • Each party is given one hour to present their case, followed by questions from the committee.
  • The committee will review the written grievance and may request other documents as it sees fit.
  • If the grievance is filed against the graduate committee as a whole, the director of graduate studies may speak for the graduate committee.
  • The committee has 5 working days following the committee hearing to provide a written report in which the committee articulates, at a minimum, a brief summary of the allegations made and the respondent's rebuttal, the findings of the committee (i.e. the panel's judgment of the facts), and the recommendations of the panel. The written report must be distributed to the parties involved through registered mail with return receipt requested.
  • The grievant may appeal the grievance committee's decision in writing to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. The appeal must be filed in writing within 10 working days after receipt of registered mail notifying grievant of the committee's decision.