PhD in Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

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Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

The Ph.D in Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture offers students the opportunity to pursue advanced, interdisciplinary study in a number of areas within the fields of rhetoric, writing, and textual and cultural studies. In addition to providing a robust core in theory, methods, and pedagogy, the program encourages students to develop a specialized research skill and engage in experiential learning options that prepare them for the workplace--in administrative roles, for teaching in a range of educational contexts, and as participants in the broader profession of English studies.

At NDSU, doctoral students work with faculty who have professional expertise in a variety of specialized areas: writing assessment, writing program administration, curriculum development, the impact of globalization on writing, technical and professional writing, usability and user experience, medical rhetoric and disability studies, feminist rhetorics, pedagogy, teaching English in the two-year college, applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, critical theory, women’s and gender studies, and textual and cultural studies.

Together, our faculty prepare students to become active participants in research and pedagogical conversations within the fields of rhetoric, writing, and cultural studies. We help to cultivate our students' ability to test and question hypotheses, to insist on deep inquiry, to navigate complex research problems, to use ethical and rigorous research methods, and to participate in scholarly conversations within the profession.
Students who complete the PHD in Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to interdisciplinary engagement across rhetoric, writing, textual and cultural studies
  • Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of major conversations, theories, and theorists in rhetoric, writing, and textual and cultural studies
  • Demonstrate an ability to design and apply specific disciplinary and interdisciplinary research methodologies, such as:
    • Qualitative methods
    • Quantitative methods
    • Historical analysis
    • Discourse analysis
    • Rhetorical analysis
    • Cultural analysis
  • Identify significant texts central to their major strands of study within the field and develop and support arguments on questions important to scholars
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major pedagogical theories and debates within rhetoric, writing, and cultural studies
  • Engage in experiential learning that transfers and applies theoretical skills to practical, real-life work environments, be they academic, pedagogical, or professional
  • Demonstrate a trajectory for continued growth as a professional, including a sustainable research, writing, and teaching agenda

Our graduates most typically move into positions as writing program administrators and faculty in English and Communications departments. Click here to read some of our students' success stories. 

Degree Requirements

The PhD program requires 90 credits beyond the baccalaureate degree and a minimum of 60 graduate credits beyond the MA. 

  • Students must take a minimum of 30 credits at the 700- or 800-level. 
  • Students must take 48 of 60 credits at NDSU from within the Department of English. 
  • No more than 10 credits may be transferred into the program. 
  • Students with a master's degree in another discipline may be required to complete additional graduate course work in specific areas of English, as specified by their advisor and supervisory committee.

For more information, download our PhD Planning Worksheet and Curriculum Guide.

Program of Study

A. PhD Core, 12 Credits
English 760: Graduate Scholarship
English 755: Composition Theory
English 762: Critical Theory
English 756: Composition Research

B. Other Research Methods, 3 Credits
Students select, in consultation with their advisor, at least one of the following methods courses.
English 4/649: Usability and User Experience
Sociology 700: Qualitative Methods
Sociology 701: Quantitative Methods
History 701: Methods of Historical Research
Communication 704: Qualitative Methods in Communication
Communication 767: Rhetorical Criticism
Other (needs to be approved by advisor and Director of Graduate Studies)

C. Pedagogy, 3 Credits
Students select, in consultation with their advisor, at least one of the following pedagogy courses.
English 764: Classroom strategies for TAs*
English 765: UDW - Pedagogy, Practice, and Technology
English 766: Teaching Literature

D. Additional Courses, 21-51 Credits
Students select, in consultation with their advisor, additional courses inside the English department that match their research and deepen their understanding of the field. Three additional methods, pedagogy, or theory courses may be taken from outside the English department, as approved by advisor and graduate director. Courses in this category may be at the 600-, 700-, or 800-level. Note that students with no background in English studies must include courses in literature and linguistics in their plan of study and that topics and studies courses may be repeated.

E. Experiential Learning, 6 Credits (see guidelines below)
Teaching Mentorship (0-6 credits); may be take twice but total may not exceed 6 credits.
Students work with faculty to read theory and co-teach 200, 300, or 400 level class.
Internship (0-6 credits); may be taken twice but total may not exceed 6 credits.
Students work in administrative, editing, consulting, or writing roles.
Life experience (0-3 credits).
Students submit, in consultation with their advisor and the graduate director, a portfolio that reflects their professional experience prior to enrolling in the program.

F. Comprehensive Exams (see guidelines below)
Comprehensive exams are taken after the successful completion of 72 credits (grade B or higher) and are administered by the student’s supervisory committee, which is comprised of a committee chair and two readers from within the depart­­ment. The exams consist of two timed, written exams and conclude with the defense of the dissertation proposal.

G. Proficiency in Language or Research Skill (see guidelines below)
Students are required to demonstrate foreign language or research skill competency by the time they begin to write the dissertation

H. Dissertation, 15 Credits (English 899)
The dissertation proposal concludes the comprehensive exams and precedes formal work on the dissertation. The supervisory committee is comprised of the three members of the exam committee, plus a Graduate School Representative (GSR) from outside the department.

Experiential Learning Credits

Experiential learning (EXL) can be a very important part of your graduate program because it allows you to expand and explore your classroom skills, by taking them out into the workplace or into a new type of classroom and by applying them in a practical work environment. 

Through experiential learning you might learn what it is like to teach your own literature, writing, or linguistics course; how to work as a communicator in a nonprofit or for-profit setting; and how to adapt to an organizational culture. You will gain practical experience in working with and for others. 

You may also discover new strengths about yourself and uncover areas that need improvement.Perhaps most important, experiential learning allows you to bring experiences from outside the regular degree curriculum into your program of study. It may help you practice and apply skills you learned in a practical work environment; it may help you network with professionals in the field; and it may help you reach decisions about the type of work you would like to pursue. 

Experiential learning is a way to gain valuable practical experience that may lead to a job offer after graduation. Note that all experiential learning credits require approval by the student's academic adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies prior to enrollment. EXL Credits can be gained by several methods:

  • Graduate Teaching Mentorship (0-6 credits), may be taken twice.  Students work with faculty to read theory and co-teach 200, 300, or 400 level class.
  • Internship or Field Experience (0-6 credits), may be taken twice. Students work outside or inside academy in administrative, editing, consulting or writing roles. 
  • Life Experience (0-3 credits). Students submit a writing or teaching portfolio reflecting professional experience prior to enrolling in the program. 

For more information on EXL credits, consult the Coursework section, talk to your academic advisor, and contact the Director of Graduate Studies

Language & Research Skill Proficiency

MLA Statement on Language Learning and United States National Policy

Students are required to demonstrate foreign language or research skill competency by the time they begin to write the dissertation. There are different ways to achieve and demonstrate this competency: 

  • Provide an official transcript that certifies that secondary or higher education was completed in a language other than English. It is the responsibility of the student to provide the Department of Modern Languages with all necessary, untranslated, official documentation.
  • Demonstrate advanced reading competency (300-level, 6th semester) in one foreign language by successfully completing a second-semester, third-year college language course or passing the final exam for said course, with a grade of C or above.
  • Demonstrate advanced reading competencythrough a translation exam, supervised by the Department of Modern Languages and administered by qualified faculty or staff members.* Evaluator must hold at least a master’s degree (in any discipline) and be full-time employees at an accredited college or university.**
  • Demonstrate intermediate reading competency (200-level, 4th semester) in two foreign languages by successfully completing two second-semester, second-year college language courses or passing the final exams for said courses, with a grade of C or above.
  • Demonstrate intermediate reading competency (200-level, 4th semester) in one foreign language by successfully completing a second-semester, second-year college language course or passing the final exam for said course, with a grade of C or above and intermediate competency (equivalent to 9 credits of specialized course work) in a special research skill that is pertinent to the dissertation project and informs its methodology. The research skill needs to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, and a written rationale (in form of a letter and signed by the student’s academic advisor) will be required at time of request.
  • Demonstrate advanced competency (equivalent of 18 credits of specialized course work) in one special research skill that is pertinent to the dissertation project and informs its methodology. The research skill needs to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, and a written rationale (in form of a letter and signed by the student’s academic advisor) will be required at time of request.  

*The test will consist of one language, involve one extract totaling 700 words, and last 2 ½ hrs; dictionaries will be allowed. Students are required to provide the evaluator and the Department of Modern Languages with three relevant, foreign language articles (one article may be fictional; the others have to be secondary research); an extract from one of these articles will be chosen by the designated evaluator for the timed translation.
**Note that students need to make arrangements for languages not taught/tested at NDSU on their own, and that all non-NDSU evaluators will have to provide the Department of Modern Languages with copies of the exam, their evaluation, and their credentials.

Note that language & research skill proficiency need to be certified by the Chair of Modern Languages and and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. The appropriate form to collect signatures can be found on the Forms page. 

Comprehensive Exam Process

Overview

•Determine three discrete areas of study
•Establish chair and supervisory committee members, including the Graduate School Representative (external member)
•File Plan of Study•Meet with supervisory committee to discuss exam process/evaluation criteria, roles of each member, and timelines
•Create/confirm reading lists with each committee member; supervisory committee approval of all reading lists
•File Notification of Scheduled Exam (two weeks before exams begin), listing dates for the two timed exams (a week apart) and the oral exam meeting (at least a week later)
•Complete two four-hour timed writing sessions (a week apart)
•Evaluation of timed writing responses during oral exam with supervisory committee; with supervisory committee approval, student earns PhD candidacy

Specific Steps

1.Determine three areas of study you will cover in the comprehensive exam.
2.Determine the chair of your supervisory committee by contacting that person to see if he or she will agree to be your chair. This person may be your adviser, but need not be.
3.Work with your chair to clarify your three exam areas and to discuss faculty members who might serve as the primary examiner in the other two areas. Your chair will be one of your examiners. You will also work with your chair to determine who will be the Graduate School Representative (external member) of your committee. In total, you will have four members on your supervisory committee.
4.Contact prospective examiners to serve on your committee and to work with you in developing a reading list in a specific area. Also, with your chair, contact the GSR/external member to see if he or she is willing to be on your committee.
5.When you have commitments from all four supervisory committee members, file your Plan of Study with the Graduate School.
6.Schedule a preliminary meeting with the committee to discuss the exam process, including question design, evaluation criteria, roles of each member, and timelines for completion.
7.Work with your established supervisory committee members on creating reading lists. In most cases, the student generates an initial list and then works with the faculty member to add and delete readings.
8.Send the combined reading list (divided into areas) to the entire committee and ask for/receive committee approval.
9.Read and study, take notes and memorize. Consult with supervisory committee members, as needed.
10.When you near completion of your study time, contact your committee to schedule the exams and offer possible times. When you have an agreement on times, fill out the Notification of Scheduled Examination form at least 2 weeks before exams begin.
11.Exams should be scheduled/taken during fall or spring semesters. Exams follow this process:

  • In your first four-hour session, you will write essays or other responses to a set of questions provided by the committee
  • A week later, in a second four-hour session, you will write essays or other responses to questions provided by the committee
  • After the committee has had time to read all of your exams (at least a week), you will meet with the committee for an oral exam based on all of your written exam responsesIf you pass the entire exam, the Graduate School will be notified of the students formal PhD candidacy via the Report of Preliminary Examination form, indicating approval of all supervisory committee members. If the supervisory committee is not in agreement on passing part or all of the exam, Graduate School policy on retakes will apply.
From the Graduate Bulletin:


Examinations

The supervisory committee shall serve as the examining committee of which the major adviser shall serve as chair.


A comprehensive/preliminary examination will be required of each student after the greater portion of courses has been completed. This examination consists of a written part and an oral part. After passing the comprehensive/preliminary examination, the student will be formally admitted to candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. At least one academic semester must elapse between the comprehensive/preliminary examination and the final examination.

Thefinal examination will be taken after the candidate has completed the course work and dissertation. This oral examination will be concerned primarily with the dissertation, but it may also cover material from course work, especially those courses fundamental to the dissertation. The dissertation in a near final form must be given to the committee members at least seven (7) days prior to the final examination.

Once a date is finalized with the student's supervisory committee, the Notification of Scheduled Examination form must be filed with the Graduate College at least two (2) weeks prior to the examination.


At the conclusion of each oral examination, the examining committee shall record, in writing, its approval or disapproval of the candidate and file the appropriate report of examination form to the Graduate College within 14 days of the exam.

A negative vote by more than one member of the student's committee will signify failure of either the comprehensive/preliminary examination or the final examination. Upon permission of a majority of the supervisory committee members, a candidate is allowed to take each examination twice. The supervisory committee will set a date at least one month after the failed examination. Exception to this time limit will be considered by the Dean of the Graduate College upon presentation of written justification from the chair of the supervisory committee in consultation with the committee members. Should both attempts to pass an examination result in failure, the candidate may request to take the examination a third time. A request for a third examination requires the support of the supervisory committee and program administrator, and the approval of the Dean of the Graduate College after consultation with the Graduate Council.

Continuous enrollment is required (fall and spring semester) until all degree requirements are completed, including Graduate School approval of the dissertation. Students defending in the summer semester must register for summer semester.To participate in commencement, the student must have passed the final examination seven days prior to the commencement ceremony

Recent Dissertations and their Writers

What they wrote about and where they went ...

Massimo Verzella (PhD2016) now Assistant Professor of English at Penn State-Behrend
Reclaiming the Place of Translation in English Composition and Technical Communication: Toward Hospitable Writing
Abstract: The defining characteristic of a pedagogy informed by philosophical cosmopolitanism is  a focus on the dialogic imagination: the coexistence of rival ways of life in the individual experience which incites us to interrogate ...

Heather M. Steinmann (PhD, 2015) now Assistant Professor of English at Western New Mexico University
Energetic Space: The Affect of Literature in a Composition Classroom 
Rhetorical and critical theory have both prescribed and proscribed the way scholars view affect. With the exception of Reader Response Theory, literary and rhetorical theory tend to use a more long-term and permanent ...

Steven R. Hammer (PhD2014) now Assistant Professor of Communication at Saint Joseph's University
Writing (Dirty) New Media: Technorhetorical Opacity, Chimeras, and Dirty Ontology
There is little doubt that emerging technologies are changing the way we act, interact, create, and consume. Yet despite increased access to these technologies, consumers of technology too seldom interrogate the politics, ...

Karen J. Sorensen (PhD2013) now Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at Winona State University
Carl Sagan's Cosmos: The Rhetorical Construction of Popular Science Mythology
Using Carl Sagan's Cosmos as a case study, this dissertation explores the intersection of science with popular culture and builds a new framework for rhetorically analyzing popular science programming. The arguments and ...

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