PhD Rhetoric and Composition Emphasis


Course Descriptions
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Teaching Assistantships & Funding

Specific Requirements

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The PhD Rhetoric and Composition emphasis is intended for people planning to pursue careers in scholarship, teaching, and program administration at the college or university level. The emphasis offers a core of work in rhetoric and writing theory, coupled with focused study in other fields of English language and literature, with possibilities for interdisciplinary study as well.

Students in the program are active in professional activities of various kinds, e.g., publishing, participating in conferences, and serving as interns in community agencies, educational institutions, or businesses.

1. General Requirements

See the section on general doctoral degree requirements.

2. Course Requirements:

a) Required Course: English 730, The Craft of Writing, or a comparable course at the MA level, is required and should be taken at the first opportunity. It is customarily offered each fall semester.

b) Core Courses: English 731, Research in Composition and Rhetoric; either English 733, Classical through Medieval Rhetoric, or 739R, Renaissance through Contemporary Rhetoric; and English 735, Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition, are required of all students.

c) Elective Courses in Composition and Rhetoric: In consultation with the advisory committee, each student plans a program of study in composition and rhetoric courses. These courses are to be selected from the following list: English 600A, 600B, 601B, 603A, 603B, 604A, 604B, 606A, 607B, 608B, 608C, 609A, 609C, 675B, 705, 728, 729, 732, 733, 734, 736, 737, 738R, 739R, 758, 778. If approved by the student's advisory committee, related course work may be taken in the College of Education, the School of Journalism, and such departments in the College of Liberal Arts as Anthropology, Psychology, and Speech/Theater.

d) Additional Area: The student also develops expertise in another area, typically in a field of literature or language, but with interdisciplinary study possible as well.

e) Internship: The student will complete a practicum or internship approved by the committee, including applied work in the field, documentation of that experience, and writing a paper and participating in a public forum discussing the implications of the internship. The internship may be taken for credit as English 736.

3. Comprehensive Examination (written)

Working closely with the advisory committee, the student will prepare a comprehensive examination portfolio. The student will work on the portfolio throughout his or her time in the program. Some materials will be drawn from the student’s ongoing coursework and professional development; others will be written expressly for the portfolio.

The comprehensive examination portfolio should cover the areas of research, teaching, and administration. Working together, the student and the advisory committee will determine the exact contents of the portfolio (there will be some flexibility according to the student’s career path and related areas of expertise). The following model illustrates the range, quantity, and quality of work to be included.

Research/Writing Practice:

  • a bibliography of texts (including course readings and readings beyond coursework) compiled in consultation with the advisory committee
  • an essay focused on an issue of professional interest that works toward a synthesis of several titles on the bibliography
  • a researched article that has been submitted for publication
  • samples of conference presentations
  • samples of other professional writing
  • reflective commentary on materials included in this section of the portfolio


  • a substantial, current, polished statement of teaching philosophy
  • four short papers that pursue focused study of pedagogical or administrative problems and involve research into how the problems have been and might be addressed (e.g., review of theoretical or observation-based studies, practical approaches, teacher-research)
  • the written version of the student’s internship project
  • samples of syllabi from courses that the student has taught or proposed
  • sample materials from administrative work (e.g. workshop handouts from Core Writing Coordinatorship, tutoring hints from Writing Center, program designs)
  • reflective commentary on materials included in this section of the portfolio

Additional Area of Expertise:

  • a written examination, paper, or syllabus/course preparation, as determined by the advisory committee (syllabus/course preparation must involve research, development of a new syllabus, and a substantial course rationale)

Approval of the Portfolio:

The comprehensive examination portfolio must be reviewed, revised as necessary, and approved by the student’s advisory committee prior to scheduling the oral examination. The committee’s approval will rest on its members’ holistic, cumulative evaluation of how well the portfolio demonstrates:

  • comprehensive coverage in the field’s histories, theories, and pedagogical practices
  • development in understanding of the field’s fundamental professional practices
  • fluent and substantial engagement with the field’s central issues and critical sense of future research needs in the field (historical, theoretical, practical, and/or observation-based)
  • reflexivity of practice in the field’s central inquiries and activities
  • critical sense of rhetorical situations (audiences, purposes, forums) for knowledge-making in the field
  • growing expertise in a specialized area of inquiry that leads to dissertation research

4. Comprehensive Examination (oral)

After the portfolio has been approved, an oral examination will be scheduled. The advisory committee will conduct an oral review of the student’s work in the comprehensive examination portfolio, not to last more than two hours, as described under PhD General Requirements. This examination will focus on the bibliography, the synthesis essay/article, and other aspects of the portfolio as determined by the advisory committee. The student must register for English 795, Comprehensive Examination, one credit, the semester he or she will be completing the oral exam.

5. Dissertation Defense (final oral examination)

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After the dissertation has been accepted by the candidate's advisory committee, the committee will conduct an oral examination dealing with the dissertation and related topics. The defense will be approximately one and one-half to two hours in length.

Click here for a checklist of degree requirements for the PhD English, Rhetoric & Composition emphasis.