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Areas of Study

As an interdisciplinary field, study in Rhetoric and Composition might involve work in other departments, programs, or schools as well as English, including, for example, Communication Studies, Linguistics, Education, Psychology, American Studies, Women’s Studies, or History.

Comprehension of modern composition studies entails knowledge, primary and/or secondary, of the history, research, theories, methods, debates, and trends of scholarship in the field. Students should be able to discuss traditional and current issues by drawing upon their knowledge of the field’s emergence and development.

Comprehension of rhetorical history entails knowledge of major themes, concepts, issues, figures and events in the field, with a demonstrated awareness of their relevance to modern composition studies.

Comprehension of one of several theories that bears demonstrable relevance to composition studies: genre, discourse, cultural, feminist, literary, critical, dialogic, pedagogical, theories of composing, etc. In consultation with appropriate faculty, students will choose a theoretical emphasis and will be expected to discuss the significance of their chosen theories for composition studies.

Comprehension of English language and linguistics entails an overall grasp of the field’s theoretical concepts, research, and current issues, as well as a familiarity with significant works within given sub areas (the specific topics of which will be arranged through consultation with appropriate faculty).

Comprehension of one of the following literary emphases: period (e.g. nineteenth-century British), movement (e.g. Romanticism), genre (e.g. fiction), author (e.g. Chaucer, Donne), author grouping (e.g. the Beats, the Bloomsbury Group), or specialty (e.g. Caribbean literatures, Native American literatures). In consultation with an appropriate faculty member, students will choose a specific emphasis and be able to demonstrate knowledge of both primary and secondary works relevant to that selection.

Comprehension of the historical, social, and political implications of literacy, especially as these relate to a broad understanding of written literacy. Students will be expected to demonstrate knowledge of methods and developments in recent literacy scholarship, and should be able to discuss the significance of such research for composition studies.

Comprehension of one of several institutional programs related to university writing instruction: writing program administration, writing centers, writing across the curriculum, service learning, English as a second language. In consultation with appropriate faculty, students will choose a single program focus and be expected to discuss the significance of its published literature for composition studies.

[Return to Graduate Handbook index]

Doctoral Exam

The recommended time between completion of course work and the doctoral examination is two semesters.

The doctoral oral examination has the following purposes:

1.To establish goals, tone, and direction for the pursuit of the Ph.D. in English  for the Department and for individual programs of study;

2.To make clear the kinds of knowledge and skills that, in the opinion of the Department, all well-prepared holders of the degree should have attained;

3.To provide a means for the Department to assess each candidate’s control of such knowledge and skills in order to certify that the candidate is prepared to write a significant dissertation and enter the profession; and

4.To enable the Department to recommend to the candidate areas of strength or weakness that should be addressed.

In consultation with the Graduate Director, a student will ask a member of the Department’s graduate faculty (preferably his/her advisor) to be the chairperson of the examining committee. The choice of examination committee chair is very important, for that person’s role is to assist the candidate in designing the examination structure, preparing the Review of Literature (see below), negotiating reading lists and clarifying their purposes, and generally following procedures here outlined.  The other three English Department members of the committee will be chosen in consultation with the committee chair. (At some point an additional examiner from outside the Department, who serves as the Graduate School representative, will be invited to join the committee).  Any unresolved problems in negotiation between a candidate and his or her committee should be brought to the attention of the Graduate Director, who may choose to involve the Graduate Committee. A student may request a substitution in, or a faculty member may ask to be dismissed from, the membership of the examining committee.  Such requests must be approved, in writing, by the faculty member leaving the committee and by the Graduate Director.

Copies of some approved reading lists and Reviews of Literature are available from the Graduate Secretary. Despite the goal of fairness and equity, some unavoidable unevenness and disparity will appear in the length of these lists. It remains, however, the responsibility of the examining committee, and especially the student’s chair, to aim toward consonance with the most rigorous standards and expectations and to insure that areas of study are not unduly narrow.

The Doctoral Dissertation

Normally, the dissertation will present the results of the writer’s own research, carried on under the direction of the dissertation committee. This means that the candidate should be in regular contact with all members of the committee during the dissertation research and writing process, providing multiple drafts of chapters, or sections of chapters, according to the arrangements made between the student and each faculty member.  Though accepted primarily for its scholarly merit rather than for its rhetorical qualities, the dissertation must be stylistically competent. The Department has accepted the MLA Handbook as the authority in matters of style. The writer may wish to consult also the Chicago Manual of Style and Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Dissertations, Theses, and Term Papers.

Naturally, both the student and the dissertation committee have responsibilities and obligations to each other concerning the submitting and returning of materials.  The student should plan on working steadily on the dissertation; if s/he does so, s/he should expect from the dissertation committee a reasonably quick reading and assessment of material submitted.

Students preparing their dissertation should be showing chapters to their committee members as they go along, for feedback and revision suggestions. They should also meet periodically with committee members to assess their progress. Prior to scheduling a defense, the student is encouraged to ask committee members whether they feel that the student is ready to defend the dissertation. Ideally, the student should hold the defense only when he or she has consulted with committee members sufficiently to feel confident that he or she has revised the dissertation successfully to meet the expectations of all committee members.

Students should expect that they will need to revise each chapter at least once. This means that all chapters (including introduction and conclusion) are shown to committee members once, revised, then shown to committee members again in revised form to assess whether further revisions are needed, prior to the submitting of the final dissertation as a whole. It is not unusual for further revisions to be required and necessary after the second draft of a chapter; students should not therefore simply assume that a second draft is necessarily “final” and passing work.

If a substantial amount of work still needs to be completed or revised at the point that the dissertation defense is scheduled, such a defense date should be regarded as tentative, pending the successful completion, revision, and receipt of feedback on all work. Several weeks prior to the defense, students should consult closely with their dissertation director about whether the director feels that the dissertation as a whole is in a final and defensible stage. If the dissertation has not clearly reached a final stage, the student and dissertation director are advised to reschedule the defense.

Prior Publication of the Doctoral Dissertation

Portions of the material written by the doctoral candidate may appear in article form before completion of the dissertation.  Prior publication does not ensure the acceptance of the dissertation by the dissertation committee.  Final acceptance of the dissertation is subject to the approval of the dissertation committee.  Previously published material by other authors included in the dissertation must be properly documented.

[Return to Graduate Handbook index]


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