The Doctor of Philosophy program in film studies requires a minimum of 72 s.h. of graduate credit, of which 39 s.h. must be earned at the University of Iowa after a student has received their M.A. degree. Semester hours are earned through coursework, and eventually work focused on the completion of a dissertation. Students must earn a minimum g.p.a. of 3.25.

The program's coursework is broadly concentrated in film history and film theory, with specific courses offered on a wide range of topics. With the regular consultation and guidance of a faculty advisor and committee, students formulate and pursue a plan of study during their first year in the program, prepare and conduct a written and oral comprehensive examination typically in their second or third year, write and present a dissertation prospectus to a carefully selected committee, and complete a dissertation in an area of advanced, original research that is defended orally in a meeting with the student’s committee prior to final deposit. 

Listed below are the general categories of coursework required to earn the degree; for more specific information on courses, curriculum, and requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy in film studies, visit the UI General Catalog.

Degree Requirements
Title Hours
Core Requirements 20-22
Film Studies seminar 3
Distribution Requirement 8
Comprehensive Examination (see below) -
Dissertation work and electives (see below) -
Total Hours 72

Graduate Handbook / Advising Worksheets and Forms

Important Deadlines

Application Deadline: January 15th (for Fall semester enrollment)


A faculty committee chaired by the head of film studies evaluates applications to the Ph.D. program. Application materials should include undergraduate and/or graduate transcripts, a personal statement, a writing sample, three letters
 of recommendation, test scores, and samples of creative work when relevant. Admission decisions are based on the full range of
 an applicant's accomplishments and evidence that the applicant will fit the elements of the program and thrive in the department.

Previous experience in the area of film studies 
is desirable but not required. Applicants usually enter the program with a B.A. in film studies, an M.A. in film studies from the University of Iowa, or an M.A. in an unrelated field.

Applicants for admission to the graduate program must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College on the Graduate College website. For more information, see the Graduate Admissions Process page.

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 potential transfer credits, 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.

Forming Exam and Dissertation Committees

In close consultation with their advisor and as soon as possible, students should begin to select and request appropriate faculty members to serve as their upcoming Comprehensive Examination Committee, and, later, Dissertation Committee: a record of these committees will be maintained in each student’s professional file. Adhering to Graduate College rules, at least four of the five faculty members for each committee must be members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty, and at least four must be members of the major department (which may include faculty with 0% appointments). Comprehensive Examination committees (and directors) do not have to match Dissertation Committees, but it is advantageous for the student’s progress if these closely resemble one another.  Changes to committee membership are often necessary, and can be made at various stages in a student’s program, but should always be done in close consultation with their advisor and/or the Director of Graduate Studies.

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. A required meeting with students planning for Comprehensive Examinations will be held by the Director of Graduate Studies and/or Head of Film Studies at least one semester in advance of the exams. 

In a two hour meeting with the candidate at least one week after the last written exam question and 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.