Search the Graduate POS Manual
- 1.1 Graduate Program Resources
- 1.2 Academic Information
- 1.3 Program Advisers, Major Professors, & POS Committees
- 1.4 Degree Progress, Planning, and Time Limits
- 1.5 Minors and Co-majors
- 1.6 Course Policies
- 1.7 Registration
- 1.8 Graduate Assistantships
- 1.9 Professional Travel Funding
- 1.10 Graduation
- 1.11 Graduate Faculty Members
- 2.1 About the MA programs
- 2.2 MA in English Degree Requirements
- 2.3 MA in Rhetoric, Composition, & Professional Communication Degree Requirements
- 2.4 MA in TESL/Applied Linguistics Degree Requirements
- 2.5 Minoring and Co-majoring in the MA Programs
- 2.6 The Program of Study Committee and the POSC Form (MA)
- 2.7 Guidelines for Thesis and Creative Component (MA)
- 3.1 About the MFA program
- 3.2 MFA in Creative Writing & Environment Degree Requirements
- 3.3 The Program of Study Committee and the POSC Form (MFA)
- 3.4 Minoring and Co-majoring in the MFA Program
- 3.5 Guidelines for Thesis (MFA)
- 4.1 About the Doctoral programs
- 4.2 PhD in Applied Linguistics and Technology (ALT)
- 4.3 PhD in Rhetoric and Professional Communication (RPC)
- 4.4 Minoring and Co-majoring in the PhD Programs
- 4.5 The Program of Study Committee and the POSC Form (PhD)
- 4.6 Preliminary examination requirements and ABD Status
- 5.1 About the Concurrent BA and MA Degree Programs
- 5.2 Concurrent BA in Linguistics/MA in TESL/Applied Linguistics Degree Requirements and Curriculum Plans
4.3.1 RPC Degree Requirements
4.3.2 RPC Curricular Policies and Guidelines
4.3.3 RPC Portfolio Assessment: Qualifying Examination
4.3.4 RPC Preliminary Examination
4.3.4a RPC Preliminary Written Examination
4.3.4b RPC Dissertation Proposal and Prospectus
4.3.4c RPC Preliminary Oral Examination
4.3.5 RPC Dissertation Guidelines
4.3.6 RPC Final Oral Defense of the Dissertation (Final Oral Examination)
4.3.7 RPC Student Learning Outcomes
4.3.1 RPC Degree Requirements (Effective Spring 2021)
- Complete the doctoral degree within five years (seven years if admitted with only a bachelor’s degree)
- Complete 72 credit hours of graduate coursework beyond the BA or BS. These hours must include one 600-level RPC course taken at ISU, not including 602.
|Area of Coursework||Courses||Credits|
|CORE COURSEWORK ||Engl 506|
Engl/Sp Cm 547
*Courses are repeatable
Students may complete courses in one area or in any combination of the listed areas.
|Multimodal composition and speech communication|
Engl 500, Sp Cm 513, Engl 503, Engl 504, 603, 631,
Engl/Sp Cm 592B*
Engl 505, 529, 542, 549, 586, 587, Engl/Sp Cm 592C*
Engl/Sp Cm 548, Engl 586, Engl 611*, Engl/Sp Cm 592A*
*Courses are repeatable
Engl 602 cannot be used to fulfill the program’s requirement to complete at least one 600-level RPC course at Iowa State University.
And two courses from:
Engl 602A Qualitative
Engl 602B Quantitative
Engl 602C Rhetorical Analysis
A set of courses (15 credits) from a coherent assembly of courses within the English Department (and may include RPC courses) approved by the POS Committee.
|OUTSIDE ENGLISH ELECTIVES|
A set of courses (6 credits) from a coherent assembly of courses outside the English Department approved by the POS Committee.
|Note: The POS must include at least one 600-level RPC course taken at Iowa State University (cannot be transfer credits). This course may not include Engl 602, but can include an RPC Elective, English Elective, or Outside English Elective.|
|DISSERTATION RESEARCH||Engl 699||12|
- Pass both a portfolio assessment and (following the completion of coursework) the preliminary examinations.
Note: The prelims consist of two components: a preliminary written examination and an oral examination.
- Write and defend a dissertation that makes a contribution to the discipline.
- a Master’s degree from an accredited institution.
- a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Each year, the RPC program will consider for admission a limited number of students with bachelor’s degrees. These students must meet doctoral-level application requirements for GRE scores and writing ability, as shown in the GRE Analytical Writing score, as well as in submitted writing samples. Letters of recommendation must attest to the student’s ability to do doctoral level work.
*Students entering with a bachelor’s degree will take the portfolio assessment in or before their fourth semester of graduate study and will have two chances to pass. If the student fails, s/he can elect to write a thesis/creative component in their last semester and receive the M.A. degree in RCPC. Those who pass will continue to move forward in the doctoral program.
4.3.2 Curricular Policies and Guidelines (RPC)
Annual reviews are a means of communicating expectations, providing feedback to students, and helping students progress towards degree completion. Each graduate student will complete required documentation and submit it for review to their assigned program adviser or major professor by the announced deadline (early April) each year. The student’s assigned program advisor or major professor will determine whether or not the student has made satisfactory progress towards the benchmarks on the benchmark summary chart. Appropriate action will take place as described in the “RPC PhD Student Annual Review Process” document downloadable from the English Department graduate program Forms website or the Graduate College website.
Program of Study Committee and the POSC Form
The RPC PhD Program of Study (POS) committee consists of at least five members of the ISU Graduate Faculty with a minimum of three faculty members (including the major professor) from within your major. Below are specific requirements for the composition of the committee (See committee make-up for co-majors if applicable.):
- It must include three members, including the major professor, from within your major area.
- It must include a fourth member which can be from within the major, inside the Department of English, or outside the Department of English.
- It must include a fifth member from outside the Department of English.
A faculty member from a major area other than the student’s major may co-chair the committee. Information about English Department graduate faculty, their major areas, and their areas of research and teaching can be found in the Graduate Faculty section of this manual.
The Program of Study and Committee Form is required to be completed by no later than the announced deadline in your fifth semester (or the equivalent). See Program of Study Committee and the POSC Form (PhD) for more information.
Students may complete courses in one area or combination of these areas: multimodal composition and speech communication, professional communication, and rhetoric.
Students must choose two of three research methods courses in Engl 602.
Note: 602 cannot be used to fulfill the program’s requirement to complete one 600-level course at ISU.
- Engl 602A. Qualitative
- Engl 602B. Quantitative
- Engl 602C. Rhetorical analysis
English Electives (including RPC)
Students will select a set of courses (15 credits) from a coherent assembly of courses within English (including additional RPC courses) to be approved by the POS committee.
Outside English Electives
Students will select a set of courses (6 credits) from a coherent assembly of courses outside English to be approved by the POS committee.
The POS must include at least one 600-level RPC course taken at ISU (cannot be transfer credits). This course may not include Engl 602, but can include an RPC elective, English elective, or outside English elective.
Doctoral students must complete a minimum of 36 graduate credits at Iowa State University. Students may transfer up to 36 credits, but the actual number of transfer credits approved will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Requests for transfer credit consideration must be made by completing the Transfer Credit Petition form accompanied by required paperwork. Refer to the section regarding transfer credits earlier in this manual for more information.
4.3.3 RPC Portfolio Assessment: Qualifying Examination (RPC)
Doctoral candidates in Rhetoric and Professional Communication must submit a portfolio for diagnostic assessment of their scholarly writing.
All candidates for the PhD in Rhetoric and Professional Communication must submit a portfolio for assessment no later than the announced deadline in their third semester in the program (not including summer terms; fourth semester if admitted with a bachelor’s degree). However, students enrolled in the program on a part-time basis (registered for fewer than 9 credits per semester and not appointed on a graduate assistantship), must submit a portfolio for assessment no later than the announced deadline in the semester immediately following the completion of 12 POS credits used toward meeting degree requirements. If admitted directly from a bachelor’s degree, the part-time student must submit a portfolio for assessment in the semester immediately following the completion of 18 graduate credits used toward meeting degree requirements. Failure to submit by the deadline will constitute lack of satisfactory progress toward the degree.
The RPC Examinations Committee consists of four RPC faculty members and sets the precise deadlines each semester. Portfolios will be evaluated twice a year (fall and spring semesters only). The dates will be posted on the graduate program Deadlines website by the Graduate Program Administrative Assistant (email@example.com) no later than the third week of the fall semester.
If for any reason you wish to request a change in the procedure for the portfolio assessment (for example: extending the deadline), you must make a written request to the DOGE before the second Tuesday of the semester in which the exam is due, specifying the request and providing a rationale for it. The DOGE will decide if such requests will be granted. The chair of the RPC program area and the chair of the RPC Examinations Committee will be advised of the request made if approved by the DOGE. Normally, extensions are not granted except in extenuating circumstances.
The portfolio presents your best scholarly work in the discipline of rhetoric and professional communication up to this point. The portfolio assessment
- determines your readiness to complete research and writing tasks in the discipline,
- evaluates your proficiency in academic writing, and
- gives you feedback on your potential for achieving the PhD.
To prepare for the portfolio exam, you will, at the end of your first academic year, receive collective advice from RPC graduate faculty with whom they have studied so far. During an RPC faculty meeting at the end of the academic year, faculty with whom you have studied will provide oral feedback to your assigned program adviser on the strengths of your work so far, how you might improve, and what courses you might consider in the future. The adviser will then be responsible for meeting with you to present a written summary of this advice so that you can begin preparing for the portfolio assessment. In preparing for the assessment, you are also encouraged to seek more detailed advice from other professors, as well as peers.
You will choose representative samples of your work to include in the portfolio according to the following requirements. The entire portfolio should be no shorter than 25 pages and no longer than 50 pages.
You are encouraged to consult with your adviser, as well as your peers and professors, about selecting and revising the appropriate artifacts in order to demonstrate a range of academic interests and abilities. When revising your work, instructor’s comments and grades should be removed. You are encouraged to respond to previous feedback from professors and refine your ideas to reflect your most current thinking about the subject matter and demonstrate your ability to communicate clearly in an academic style.
- Submit three papers as a single typewritten Microsoft Word or PDF document in the order below, double-spaced, 12-point font format. To ensure that your electronic file is anonymous, you should remove your name from the papers and file via the author identification from the properties for each file (i.e., in Windows, right click on the file> “Properties” > “Details” > “Remove Properties and Personal Information”). You should also realize that members of the RPC Examinations Committee may recognize papers even after your name has been removed because they know your work. In lieu of this identification, you choose one five-digit identification number that you will use for all three papers.
- Submit a 1,000- to 1,500-word reflection paper which explains the contents of the portfolio in terms of how it reflects your intellectual development in the program so far. It should also be used to highlight possible paths for forthcoming research. You are encouraged to consult with peers, professors, and assigned program advisers about this portfolio overview.
- Submit two artifacts of your choice, drawn from materials produced in an RPC master’s or doctoral course at Iowa State University. At least one of these artifacts must have originated in an RPC doctoral course. These materials might include such artifacts as book reviews, conference presentations, research articles, scholarly websites, and other evidence of scholarly expertise, but must keep in mind the criteria listed in the “Evaluation” section below.
- Each paper must include title pages with the following information:
- The same student-selected 5-digit identification number for all 3 papers;
- One of the following three titles clearly identifying which paper it represents:
A) “Reflection Paper”
B) “Artifact 1”
C) “Artifact 2”
- The file name for the combined single document must follow the following format:
(“Term” is replaced by Fall or Spring; X’s are replaced by year; Y’s are replaced by the student-selected 5-digit identification number).
- Upload the combined single electronic Microsoft Word or PDF portfolio document to the RPC Portfolio Assessment: STUDENT SUBMISSIONS folder in CyBox (students will have upload only access so you cannot view or access other submissions).
- Download from the Forms website under “Program Specific Forms and Documents” the PhD Portfolio Assessment: STUDENT ID Memo document, fill it out with the requested information, and save it with a file name following the required file name format:
(“Term” is replaced by fall or spring; X’s are replaced by year; Y’s are replaced by the student-selected 5-digit identification number.)
- Upload the completed STUDENT ID MEMO document as a separate Microsoft Work or PDF document to the RPC Portfolio Assessment: STUDENT ID Folder in CyBox (students will have upload only access so you cannot access other submissions).
- The Graduate Program Administrative Assistant will place the student portfolio submissions in the RPC Portfolio Assessment: Exams Committee Review folder in CyBox for the committee to evaluate submissions.
- The appropriate assigned program advisers will also be given access to the RPC Portfolio Assessment: Exams Committee Review folder in CyBox. The Graduate Program Administrative Assistant will email each of them regarding the Student ID number for their advisee’s portfolio submission in order for them to participate in the evaluation.
- If your assigned program adviser also sits on the RPC Examinations Committee, another appropriate person will be selected from the RPC faculty at large, to augment the RPC Examinations Committee.
- The RPC Examinations Committee chair will request access be given to the RPC Portfolio Assessment: STUDENT ID folder in CyBox by contacting the Graduate Program Administrative Assistant only after evaluations and decisions are completed in order to communicate results to students correctly according to the student-selected 5-digit identification numbers.
The RPC Examinations Committee members and the assigned program advisers will access the student portfolio documents in CyBox. If your assigned program adviser also sits on the RPC Examinations Committee, another appropriate person will be selected from the RPC faculty at large, to augment the committee. Your assigned program adviser attends the evaluation meeting and participates in the discussion but does not vote on the success or failure of your portfolio.
Portfolios will be evaluated according to these criteria:
- Proficiency in academic writing. Regardless of the mode, genre, or medium submitted, you must display graduate-level ability to
- Define a problem or issue
- Make and support claims and subclaims
- Cite and synthesize sources
- Sustain a coherent argument, and
- Use standard scholarly conventions.
- Ability to explain and contextualize scholarship in the introductory overview for the exam
- Potential promise for completing work for the degree
After a portfolio has been evaluated, the RPC Examinations Committee will rate it as either pass or fail. The RPC Examinations Committee chair will request access be given to the RPC Portfolio Assessment: STUDENT ID folder in CyBox by contacting the Graduate Program Administrative Assistant (firstname.lastname@example.org) only after evaluations and decisions are completed in order to communicate results to the appropriate students according to the five-digit student-selected identification numbers. A letter communicating the results as well as a written rationale for the decision will be provided to you by the RPC Examinations Committee within one week of the evaluation meeting. A copy of the results letter and rationale will be uploaded by the RPC Examinations Committee to the RPC Portfolio Assessment: Exams Committee Evaluation folder in CyBox following the file name format:
(“Term” is replaced by Fall or Spring; X’s are replaced by year; “a” represents first submission; “Results” is replaced by Pass or NoPass)
At their discretion, program advisers can notify students immediately of the committee’s decision; however, relaying the decision this swiftly is not required. Your adviser and one member of the RPC Examinations Committee must meet with you in a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible after you receive written notification of the results to discuss the written rationale and to provide additional feedback on your scholarly writing.
Second portfolio submission
In the case of a portfolio that does not show sufficient mastery of the scholarly writing essential for achieving the PhD, you will be asked to submit a second portfolio, which, at the direction of the RPC Examinations Committee, may include different papers and analyses, or revisions of one or both of the original papers. This second portfolio must be submitted by the announced deadline following the same procedures and requirements the following semester (does not include summer semester). The file name for this document must follow the file name format:
(“Term” is replaced by Fall or Spring; X’s are replaced by year; “b” represents second submission; Y’s are replaced by the student-selected 5-digit identification number).
The same evaluation, feedback, and results procedures will be used as those for the first submission. However, the DOGE will also participate in the evaluation and discussion of the second portfolio, but only the members of the RPC Examinations Committee will vote on the success or failure of the second portfolio. The results letter and written rationale will be transmitted to you in a face-to-face meeting that will include your assigned program adviser and at least one member of the RPC Examinations Committee within two weeks of the RPC Examinations Committee’s decision. A copy of the results memo and rationale will be uploaded by the RPC Examinations Committee to the RPC Portfolio Assessment: Exams Committee Review CyBox folder following the file name format:
(“Term” is replaced by Fall or Spring; X’s are replaced by year;”b” represents second submission; “LnameFname” is replaced by the student’s name)
You are permitted to submit portfolio papers only twice, and a passing portfolio is necessary for you to continue in the PhD program. If you do not pass the portfolio assessment, you can serve out your graduate assistantship contract for the remainder of the current semester.
Grievances regarding the portfolio assessment
If you believe that you have legitimate reasons to appeal the decision of the ALT Examinations Committee, you may follow the grievance procedure outlined in the Graduate College Handbook (see Grievances Related to Scholarly and Professional Competence).
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4.3.4 RPC Preliminary Examination
Doctoral candidates in Rhetoric and Professional Communication must take the preliminary examination, which is composed of two parts—the preliminary written examination and the preliminary oral examination.
Before you begin the dissertation, you will take the preliminary examination. Although this examination may be taken during the last semester of coursework, most students spend considerable time following their coursework reading and otherwise preparing for the prelims. You and your POS committee should discuss what procedures will be in place should a failure occur for all or any parts of the preliminary examinations.
If for any reason you wish to request a change in the procedure for the preliminary examination, you must write a memo to the Director of Graduation Education before the date of the exam specifying the request and providing a rationale for it. The DOGE will decide whether or not the request will be granted.
Upon successfully completing both the written and oral parts of the preliminary examination, you will be ready to pursue work on the dissertation (see additional requirements for “ABD Status”).
Time limits and other restrictions
The Graduate College requires that a student’s POSC Form is approved for the first time (does not apply to modifications) by the Graduate College (not simply submitted and routing) by November 1, April 1, or July 1 of the semester before taking the preliminary written examination. Also, you are required to have the preliminary oral examination at least six months prior to your dissertation defense (final oral examination). Several other requirements must be met as well (see Preliminary examination requirements for more information).
Purpose and nature
The preliminary examination serves two important functions. First, it certifies that you have the general knowledge necessary to engage in conversations of the discipline. Comprehensiveness is required by both the Graduate College and the RPC program. Second, the examination helps you prepare to work on the dissertation. To fulfill these two functions, the preliminary examination consists of two parts.
The preliminary written examination component
A preliminary written examination is the first part of the preliminary examination. There are two purposes of the preliminary written examination. The first is to demonstrate your ability to make scholarly arguments involving the comprehensive range of knowledge sufficient to engage the conversation of the discipline. The second is to prepare you to write a dissertation proposal and pursue dissertation research.
The preliminary oral examination component
A preliminary oral examination is the second part of the preliminary examination and consists of both written and oral components. The Preliminary Oral Examination is required of all PhD candidates at Iowa State University. As formulated within the English Department, the oral exam is designed to help you prepare for dissertation work in a specific research area of your choosing. Though the format can vary widely, the preliminary oral exam often consists of a written dissertation prospectus and reading list on which you will give an oral presentation during a POS committee meeting.
Both types of exams are discussed in further detail in the following sections of this document.
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4.3.4a RPC Preliminary Written Examination
Overview of preliminary written examination
The preliminary written exam is an opportunity to claim expertise in relatively broad subject areas related to rhetoric, composition, and/or professional communication. It may help to think of this exam as a middle space between your coursework and your dissertation. While you will likely draw from readings completed in coursework, you should also extend beyond coursework. And while the exam will likely help you set up your dissertation project, the exam should not be so niche or project-specific that you are the only person who could complete it. In short, you will identify, recount, and extend relatively broad scholarly conversations for the sake of beginning to identify the kind of researcher you are and to establish a foundation for your future scholarly work.
The preliminary written examination is a multi-stage process that takes approximately a semester to complete. To accurately determine an appropriate timeline for this process, you need to consult with your major professor to ensure that you have scheduled a proper amount of time between the events in the process. The overview that appears below is followed by more detailed sections about various stages of the process.
- Checking for Program of Study and Committee Form (POSC) Approval Status—Check your AccessPlus account to make sure that you have a POSC Form approved by the Graduate College. The Graduate College requires that a student’s POSC Form is approved for the first time (does not apply to modifications) by the Graduate College (not simply submitted and routing) at least three months before to the preliminary oral examination.
- Changes to your POS committee membership or revisions in your POS coursework that were originally approved on your POSC Form must be modified in AccessPlus. No part of the preliminary examination process should begin until all changes are approved by the Graduate College.
- Checking potential exam dates—Discuss potential exam dates with POS committee members and determine possible dates for taking the exam (see “Scheduling the preliminary written exam” later in this section).
- Before setting dates, be aware that certain restrictions exist concerning scheduling dates and times for the exam. You should keep in mind that most faculty members will not be available during semester breaks and University Holidays to read and evaluate exams.
- Summer exams—Because faculty are not available during the summer to evaluate exams and because we want to avoid long delays in completing evaluations, you may not submit comprehensive exams for evaluation during the summer. They may, however, be turned in during the first week of fall semester. Effectively, this means that students can receive comprehensive exams from their major professor 17 days before the first day of fall classes.
- Negotiating and Submitting the Reading List—Compiling a reading list and having it approved as the basis for your exam is a dialogic process involving you, the major professor, and POS Committee. The reading list needs to be compiled and approved before exam questions are negotiated and submitted (see “Reading List” information later in this section).
- Submitting proposed reading list—You submit a proposed reading list to your POS Committee.
- Revising the reading list—You revise the list according to POS committee comments in line with the committee’s deadline.
- Evaluating reading list—Your major professor submits reading list to the POS committee for its approval.
- Finalizing reading list—Your POS committee, working with you, makes revisions and finalizes the reading list.
- Submitting approved reading list—You submit the approved reading list and the RPC Reading List Approval Memo containing POS committee member electronic signatures as one PDF file to the designated Cybox folder before you can begin the comprehensive written exam.
- Exam Questions (see “Exam questions and structure” later in this section.
- The POS committee and especially your major professor (without your involvement) bear primary responsibility for drafting, revising, and finalizing your exam questions.
- You major professor constructs the final exam document using the exam template.
- Taking the Exam (see “Taking the preliminary written exam” later in this section)
- Cybox Prelim Exam folder—The major professor contacts the Graduate Program Administrative Assistant (email@example.com) and requests that the preliminary examination Cybox folder be created and access be given to POS Committee members (provide names of all committee members; full access for evaluation) and the student (upload only access).
- Receiving the exam—The major professor sends you the exam document electronically via email. The major professor uploads a copy of the exam document to your prelim exam Cybox folder (Lname, Fname: PRELIM WRITTEN EXAM) which is created by the Graduate Program Staff Assistant for students to upload only and POS committee members to have access).
- Completing the exam—You have 17 days to answer the exam questions (17 days of 24-hour periods) which allows for the inclusion of three weekends, depending on the date of the exam and the day of the week it is distributed to you. You must answer three of the six questions with each answer being no longer than 3000 words or about 10 double-spaced 12-point font typewritten pages (including the reference list).
- Returning the completed exam—By no later than the deadline, you must submit answers to three of the four questions as a single Microsoft Word or PDF document to your prelim exam Cybox folder (Lname, Fname: PRELIM WRITTEN EXAM). You must make sure that all pages of the exam include a running header containing the question number, your name, and page number. The file name for this document must follow the following format:
- Evaluating the Exam (see “Evaluation criteria and process” later in this section).
- Scheduling the evaluation POS committee meeting—You are responsible for scheduling a meeting with your POS committee to take place approximately two weeks after you finish your exam. You and your POS committee will meet either in person or virtually to discuss your exam.
- Evaluating the exam—Members of your POS committee will access the documents in your prelim exam Cybox folder (Lname, Fname: PRELIM WRITTEN EXAM) after the deadline in order to evaluate the exam. They will meet to discuss and evaluate your exam. For you to pass, a minimum of four out of the five of your POS committee members must vote to pass the exam. If the POS committee is larger than five members, all but one of the members must vote to pass the exam.
- Communicating the exam results—Following the POS committee’s meeting, your major professor communicates the committee decision in writing to you in person or via email and uploads a copy of the results to your prelim exam Cybox folder (Lname, Fname: PRELIM WRITTEN EXAM) following the file name format:
- There are three result options: pass, conditional pass (with substantive revisions), or fail.
- If you receive a pass or conditional pass (with substantive revisions), the major professor will communicate the exam results to you in writing. After you receive written acknowledgement of a pass or conditional pass result, you can schedule your Preliminary Oral Exam by submitting the Request for Preliminary Oral Exam to the Graduate College. This request must be submitted at least two weeks prior to the date of the exam.
- If you do not pass the preliminary written examination, you will be required to take a second, different exam on the same reading list at a later date to be determined by your POS committee. The major professor will write commentary that identifies problems with your exam and offers you advice in preparing to take the second exam. The POS committee will approve and sign this letter within two weeks of the POS committee evaluation meeting.
- The major professor uploads a copy of the results letter to your preliminary written exam Cybox folder (Lname, Fname: PRELIM WRITTEN EXAM) following the file name format:
- There are three result options: pass, conditional pass (with substantive revisions), or fail.
The preliminary written examination is based on a reading list you and your POS committee construct. The reading list should be divided into at least three relatively broad subject areas for which you want to claim expertise. (To be clear, you could identify all three of your subject areas within “rhetoric”; you could identify two in “composition” and one in “professional communication”; or you could make some other combination.) You could also include an additional subject area connected to your outside committee member, such as design studies, sustainability studies, classical history.
Make sure you have created a POS committee with relevant expertise so that the members are capable of advising and assessing this exam. If not, you will need to either adjust your committee or your subject areas.
Each of your three subject areas should be prefaced by a brief focus statement (approximately 200 to 300 words) that explains the parameters or framework of each category. The challenge is to identify a subject area that is neither too broad nor too narrow. For example, claiming “rhetoric” as a subject area is almost certainly too broad for your exam. Claiming “Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address” is almost certainly too narrow for your exam.
- For rhetoric, you might identify subareas such as classical rhetorical theory, visual rhetoric, feminist rhetoric, or bodily rhetoric.
- For composition, you might identify subareas such as writing center administration, composition theory, or feminist composition pedagogy.
- For professional communication, you might identify subareas such as user experience, technical editing, or organizational communication.
Imagine introducing yourself to a fellow academic: “I’m working toward my PhD in Rhetoric and Professional Communication. Within this program, my specialty is in subject area #1, subject area #2, and subject area #3.”
Try to identify the key sources that someone claiming expertise about this subject area ought to have read. For guidance, look at works cited pages to identify the sources that are regularly cited. Also consult with your committee members. For some subject areas, the “key sources” are likely to be subject to debate, especially where certain people or perspectives have been unduly marginalized. However, the phrase “key sources” also means that you do not need to clutter your list by including sources that are only tangentially related to your subject area. In general, you might aim for approximately 25 to 40 sources per list (x 3 lists = 75 to 120 sources total), though the precise length of your list will ultimately depend on your subject area, your committee members’ feedback, and the ratio of books to articles or book chapters. Make sure to cite specific chapters in edited collections.
Reading lists are considered public documents and, as such, are kept in a Cybox folder where they may be viewed by faculty and students. Before the preliminary written examination can begin, you must submit as one PDF file: 1) an electronically signed RPC Reading List Approval Memo and 2) the approved reading list to the designated Cybox folder.
Examination questions and structure of the preliminary written exam
Your preliminary written examination questions will be based on your approved reading list. There will be four questions, and you must answer three. As a default, your committee members (especially the major professor) bear primary responsibility for drafting, revising, and finalizing your exam questions. However, your major professor might ask you to write the first draft of your questions, though your POS committee will review and approve these. In either case, you, your major professor, and your committee members should collaborate to formulate useful questions. No exam questions should be a complete surprise.
Ideally, questions will be relatively brief, direct, and focused on big-picture issues related to one or more of your subject areas. Your major professor will put the final approved questions into the exam template.
When you are constructing your list and starting to develop questions, these relatively basic prompts might help:
- Scholars are talking about X. What are they saying? Where do you stand?
- Explain the development of X in the field.
- Imagine you are teaching an undergraduate class in X. What do you do and why?
Here are a few sample questions:
- Rhetorical Nature of Visual Language in Professional Communication
Visual language has a long history in professional communication. From Enlightenment engineering drawings and technical visuals to Minard’s charts, U.S. Statistical Atlases, and maps of poverty and war, how has the rhetorical nature of visual language in professional communication evolved? Drawing on the work of at least three different scholars, discuss the significance of analyzing, defining and categorizing visual language in professional communication for the purposes of understanding rhetorical history and/or delineating a theory of visual rhetoric.
- Visual Communication Pedagogy
In their introduction to Designing Texts: Teaching Visual Communication, Brumberger and Northcut assert that “Our students must be visually literate if they are to succeed in their professional careers as well as in their roles as critically aware participants in society.” What theories or teacher preparation (or alternatively, what technologies or empirical research) will best help us teach visual communication? In your answer to this question, draw on at least three scholars in the field and argue for or against their positions relative to your own.
- Methodologies of Visual Rhetoric
Breaking from the Parisian school of semiotics, some scholars (e.g., Kress and Van Leeuwen, Harrison, Jewitt) have advocated for a visual social semiotic framework for understanding and analyzing visual language, holding that the sign is fully motivated within cultural and social realms. Compare this social semiotic framework with other frameworks for analyzing visual artifacts. Which are the most productive and why? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each framework? What questions and contexts are they best able to respond to?
- History of Composition Studies
The social turn in composition history shifted the field away from formalism and toward an understanding of writing and language as a social construction. This shift led to a need to better understand the role of power in writing, language, and the teaching of both. In When Students Have Power, Ira Shor argues, “power is a learning problem and learning is a power problem” (x), a concept echoed in Freire, Dewey, Inoue, hooks, and many other critical theorists. Specifically recent conversations in composition have focused on anti-racism in pedagogy and assessment. Examine anti-racist writing pedagogies in the history of composition theory, specifically focusing on assessment.
- Composition Theory
The rise of feminist theory in rhetoric and composition helped validate the body as a location of knowledge (Berila 37). As emotion is located in both the mind and the body, this shift helped open the door to an examination of emotion in composition classrooms. hooks is one scholar who argues emotions must be accounted for in the classroom, saying, “refusing to make a place for emotional feelings in the classroom does not change the reality that their presence overdetermines the conditions where learning can occur” (133). More recently, Lisa Blankenship has attempted to position emotion as a critical tool through her theory of rhetorical empathy, a form of empathy that both “invents and invites discourse” (5). Using rhetorical empathy as a foundation, explain how the integration of contemplative practice and critical literacy can impact the understanding of and engagement with emotion in composition pedagogy.
- Composition Methodology
Teacher research has been defined as classroom-based research designed to improve teaching practice (Nickoson and Sheridan 101). The goal of teacher research is to merge pedagogical theory with practice, looking first to the classroom as the source of insight and knowledge creation (Ray xii). Ray argues that teacher research is a valid pedagogical research methodology because it expands the types of knowledge valued and the definition of who can create that knowledge (30). Explore the impact of teacher research on the field of composition and the ways qualitative research methods can be used to enhance its effectiveness and impact.
When taking the preliminary written examination, you may not receive any help from anyone. In order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, do not discuss the content of exam questions while you are taking the exam.
Scheduling the preliminary written exam
The dates on which the exam will be administered will be set by you and your major professor. You should also keep in mind that most faculty members will not be available during semester breaks, University Holidays, or the summer to read and evaluate exams. Usually faculty are not available during the summer to evaluate exams and we want to avoid long delays in completing evaluations. Therefore, you may not submit preliminary written exams for evaluation during the summer. Effectively, this means that students can receive preliminary written exams from their major professor 17 days before the first day of fall classes (see “Checking Potential Exam Dates” earlier in this section). To accurately determine an appropriate timeline for this process, consult with your major professor to help ensure a proper amount of time is scheduled between events within the process.
Taking the preliminary written exam
The major professor contacts the Graduate Program Administrative Assistant (firstname.lastname@example.org) and requests that the preliminary written examination Cybox folder be created and access be given to POS Committee members (full access for evaluation) and the student (upload only access). The major professor then sends the exam document to you electronically via email and uploads a copy of the preliminary written exam document to this Cybox folder (Lname, Fname: PRELIM WRITTEN EXAM). You will have 17 days to answer the exam questions (17 days of 24-hour periods each), which allows for the inclusion of three weekends in the exam period depending on the dates of the exam and the day of the week the exam is distributed to you. You must answer three of the four questions with each answer being no longer than 3000 words or about 10 double-spaced 12-point font typewritten pages (including the reference list).
You submit answers to three of the four exam questions as a single Microsoft Word or PDF document by no later than the deadline to your preliminary written exam CyBox folder (Lname, Fname: PRELIM WRITTEN EXAM). The file name for this document must follow the following format:
After the deadline for submission, your POS committee will access the preliminary written exam in your preliminary written exam CyBox folder, evaluate the exam, and then meet to discuss the exam with you. You are responsible for scheduling this meeting with your POS committee (whether in person or virtually) to ideally take place within two weeks of you completing the exam. You and your POS committee will meet either in person or virtually to discuss your exam. The goal of the meeting is for your committee members to ask you questions so that they can clarify your answers, assess your understanding, and provide feedback related to your answers, your writing, and your potential future work.
When evaluating your exam, your POS committee will rely on the following criteria:
- command of the material (g., depth and subtlety of understanding of concepts discussed)
- quality of writing (g., coherence; clear line of argument, where points or claims are advanced and supported; professional style and format, given time constraints)
- comprehensive coverage (g., demonstration across the three essays of a range of knowledge of historical periods, figures, concepts and works; avoidance of duplication—for example, prominently featuring the same figure or concept in more than one answer)
- accuracy (g., accurate representation of research studies, historical and contemporary figures, theories, concepts, and terms; care in answering the questions asked—that is, responding to the question asked within the committee’s reasonable interpretation of the question)
All members of your POS committee will vote on the result and tell you the result during the meeting. Your major professor will upload a memo that states the result of your exam to your preliminary written exam Cybox folder. The file name for this document must follow the following format:
There are three result options available:
Passing the preliminary written examination requires that a minimum of four out of the five POS committee members vote to pass the exam. If the POS committee is larger than five members, all but one of the members must vote to pass the exam in order for you to pass.
Conditional Pass (with substantive revisions)
Two or more of your committee members have identified significant issues with your exam that require substantive revision before you proceed to the dissertation proposal. A conditional pass should not be used to require minor revisions or revisions that the committee is confident you can address in the next stages (the dissertation proposal or dissertation). Revisions should be completed as quickly as is feasible. Ideally, you will make changes within two weeks. The committee will decide whether the entire POS committee or just the major professor needs to approve your revisions.
If you do not pass, you will be required to take a second, different exam on the same reading list at a later date determined by you and your POS committee.
After you receive written acknowledgement of a pass or conditional pass result, you can schedule your Preliminary Oral Exam by submitting the Request for Preliminary Oral Exam to the Graduate College. This request must be submitted at least two weeks prior to the date of the exam.
Second preliminary written examination submission
The same preparation, evaluation, feedback, and results procedures will be used as those for the first submission. However, this second examination will be a different exam but based on the same reading list. You must pass the preliminary written examination before taking the preliminary oral examination.
If you fail to pass the preliminary written examination a second time, you will be dropped from the RPC PhD program. You can serve out your graduate assistantship for the remainder of the current semester.
Relation of written examination to the preliminary oral examination
Once you have passed the preliminary written examination, you will take the preliminary oral examination.
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4.3.4b RPC Dissertation Proposal and Prospectus
Before starting on the dissertation, develop a dissertation proposal/prospectus for POS committee approval. A prospectus typically will
- describe the nature of your project
- provide a rationale for your chosen dissertation option
- provide a rationale for the project itself
- contain a review of significant literature
- outline and justify the research methodology
- offer a chapter outline or equivalent indication of overall structure
- include a bibliography
- propose a work schedule
- identify POS committee members by name and degree program relevant to the dissertation
Discussions with the POS committee may result in a variation of the above commonly held expectations.
After you and your major professor have finalized the dissertation proposal/prospectus, you distribute it to all members of your POS committee as the basis for the preliminary oral examination. Each POS committee member must sign the Report of Preliminary Oral Examination form (see below) at the conclusion of the exam to indicate that he/she has read the dissertation proposal/prospectus and agrees that you are ready to proceed with research. This is regarded as a starting point; that is, the project as represented by the prospectus may, and probably will, change during the course of your research and writing.
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4.3.4c RPC Preliminary Oral Examination
The oral examination, as the second part of the preliminary examination, is the Preliminary Oral Examination. This exam helps you prepare for dissertation work in a specific research area of your choosing. Although the preliminary oral examination will contain both written and oral components, its format can vary. Because the preliminary oral examination as well as its administration and evaluation are the responsibility of the POS committee, you will work closely with your committee to develop a format that will reflect your particular research interests.
Getting your POS committee together for the preliminary oral examination
Consult with your POS committee members about convenient meeting times. The earlier you can do this, the better, since it can be difficult to arrange a time when all faculty members are available (especially in the summer). All committee members must attend the preliminary oral exam. Preliminary oral exams may be held in person, virtually, or a combination, per Graduate College policy.
Graduate College approval must be granted before the exam for permanent replacements (submit a POSC Form modification in your AccessPlus account in plenty of time for routing and final approval by the Graduate College before the exam). For POS committee substitutions in the case of last minute emergencies, find a substitute that fills the same role on the POS committee as the absent member, contact the Graduate College right away, and submit a Request for Committee Substitution at the Preliminary or Final Oral Exam form. See the Graduate College Handbook for complete details and requirements.
Reserving a meeting room / Setting up a virtual exam
For in-person/hybrid oral exams, reserving a meeting room is your responsibility and is not automatically done with the submission of the Online Preliminary or Final Oral Exam Request (see below). Your major professor can access the conference room schedules or you can contact the Graduate Program Administrative Assistant for assistance.
For virtual/hybrid oral exams, you should coordinate with your major professor to set up the virtual meeting space (typically using WebEx) and share the link with your committee members. It is recommended that the major professor host the virtual meeting.
Online Preliminary Oral Examination Request
After the meeting time is established, complete an Online Preliminary or Final Oral Exam Request. You must submit this request in the online system at least TWO weeks before your examination. Your major professor immediately receives an email with a link to go into the system and approve your request before it is reviewed by the Graduate College for final approval. All POS committee members receive an email for their information regarding your exam request date, time, and place. Because the request will specify the date and time of the preliminary oral examination, it should be submitted only after your committee indicates that our proposal and piloting document are ready for the oral defense and you have met all other Preliminary Examination Requirements. You and your POS committee may not hold the exam unless the Preliminary Oral Examination has been approved by the Graduate College.
Conducting the preliminary oral examination
According to Graduate College policy, all POS committee members must be convened for the entire exam (see above for procedures to arrange a substitute member if this is not possible). You should discuss the format of the preliminary oral exam with your major professor. The oral exam typically involves a presentation-based component, a period of questions/discussion with the committee members, a confidential deliberation between committee members (without the student present), and a concluding section in which the committee’s evaluation is shared with the student.
Online Report of Preliminary Oral Examination form
The Graduate College sends an email to your major professor approximately 1 week before the exam; this email contains a link to this online form used to report exam results. The Online Report of Preliminary Oral Examination must be completed with 24 hours of the exam. All POS committee members, the student, and support staff in the graduate program receive a confirmation email that includes the exam results. The student and all POS committee members have 72 hours after the confirmation email is sent to dispute the reported results. Once the 72-hour dispute period has passed, the results are final and will be recorded on the student’s record and the student will be notified via email.
If a student receives a Conditional Pass, the conditions must be included in the Online Report of Preliminary Oral Examination form. All POS committee members and the student agree to the conditions provided by the major professor unless they dispute the conditions within 72 hours of the confirmation email being sent. A Conditional Pass must be removed by the Major Professor submitting a Preliminary Oral Examination Conditions Met form before the Online Final Oral Examination Request form can be submitted.
You must pass the preliminary oral examination at least six months prior to your dissertation defense (final oral examination). Upon successfully completing the specialized examination, you will be ready to pursue work on the dissertation (see additional requirements for “ABD Status”).
Grievances regarding the preliminary examinations
If you believe that you have legitimate reasons to appeal the decision of the POS committee, you may follow the grievance procedure outlined in the Graduate College Handbook (see “Grievances Related to Scholarly and Professional Competence”).
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4.3.5 RPC Dissertation Guidelines
Detailed university requirements for the PhD dissertation appear in several online university documents. These online documents are the basis for the following review of university requirements.
- Graduate College Handbook, Ch. 7, “Finishing Up”
- Electronic Theses/Dissertations (ETDs) at ISU
- Thesis Checklist
According to the Graduate College, a doctoral dissertation must
- follow all requirements detailed in the Thesis Checklist
- “demonstrate conclusively” your ability to conceive, design, conduct, and interpret independent and original research
- demonstrate your ability to analyze, interpret, and organize data
- be written independently (e.g., no co-authorship or joint writing)
- make a significant contribution to the field
- be worthy of publication in professional journals of quality or in book form
As the Graduate College Handbook points out, you, rather than the major professor or the Graduate College, are responsible for writing and editing the dissertation, as well as for completing any necessary paperwork.
In addition to general university expectations, there are a number of departmental expectations for students enrolled in the English Department doctoral programs. These expectations involve the dissertation prospectus, POS procedures, the structure and emphasis of the dissertation itself, and the oral defense of the dissertation.
You are responsible for reaching an understanding with POS committee members concerning their respective roles. In discussing member roles, you will find it useful to review such issues as
- whether or not each committee member wants to see every draft
- what your research and writing schedule will be
- how drafts will be submitted (e.g., whether or not the POS chair should see each draft before it’s circulated)
When selecting an option for the dissertation, you and the POS committee will need to reach a consensus regarding both the dissertation’s emphasis and structure.
Although dissertations in the humanities are quite varied, many RPC dissertations fall into one of the following four categories: historical, theoretical, empirical (experimental or descriptive), and hybrid. A dissertation dealing with a problem in pedagogy, for example, might be either historical, theoretical, empirical, or some combination of the three in its emphasis.
Given the expectations of the Graduate College, there are two typical arrangement options for structuring a dissertation: specified chapter option or articles within a framework. In working with your POS committee, you may develop variations on these options or discover additional options for structuring your work.
Specified chapter option
Dissertations as described in Graduate College materials commonly have five chapters; however, the number of chapters in the dissertation can vary depending on the topic and nature of research. The chapter option might feature the traditional dissertation or a monograph. Monographs usually assume outside audiences.
For example, one version of a traditional dissertation is often organized this way:
- Chapter One contains a contextualized statement of purpose or a problem statement, definitions/explanations of terms or concepts, articulation of critical issues, and the research question(s) that will be explored in the dissertation.
- Chapter Two is a review of pertinent literature.
- Chapter Three. Dissertations that include an empirical study might contain a presentation of and rationale for the methodology.
- Chapter Four. If the dissertation includes an empirical study, this chapter might present the results and an interpretation of those results.
- Chapter Five. If the dissertation includes an empirical study, this chapter might discuss the implications and applications of the results.
Another example of a specified chapter dissertation would be a monograph. It might have the following organization:
- Chapter One might identify a problem or a series of related issues.
- Chapter Two might provide a historical context for the problem or issues.
- Chapters Three, Four, and Five might be organized topically and include a review of relevant literature as well as theoretical arguments.
Karen Burke LeFevre’s Invention as a Social Act is an example of a dissertation in monograph form. Her work, which explores a concept theoretically, is organized this way:
- Introduction: introduces the concept and problematizes it; offers definitions and names theoretical approaches.
- Chapter One: establishes the scope and provides overview of the study.
- Chapter Two: develops the problem and demonstrates the inadequacy of the currently dominant theoretical approach to the problem (the Platonic view).
- Chapter Three: demonstrates how another approach (the social perspective) might better address the problem.
- Chapter Four: proposes that the framework offered in Chapter Three (the social perspective) supplant the currently dominant approach (the Platonic view) in our understanding of the concept; dramatizes the new perspective in action.
- Chapter Five: discusses the argument (the problem and the proposal) in a broader theoretical context (the role of language); engages in theory-building.
- Chapter Six: addresses implications.
There are also other alternatives available within the chapter option. For example, dissertations can include an extended narrative that incorporates all of the conventional components of other kinds of dissertations; that is, they include a statement of purpose, a review of pertinent literature, a presentation of methodology and results, a critical interpretation of findings, and a statement of significance(s). The narrative, whether embedded within the conventional dissertation components or acting as a frame for these components, must represent situations and ideas that would lose their essential character and meaning if presented outside a story framework.
It is difficult to argue that a narrative should govern a dissertation’s structure. Whereas narratives can readily be used as examples, writers have a more challenging task if they want to use narrative to shape their arguments. Nevertheless, the extended narrative option provides you with an opportunity for employing this strategy where appropriate.
Articles within a framework option
University regulations allow you, in agreement with your POS committee, to include in the dissertation individual papers submitted or to be submitted to scholarly, refereed journals.
It is very important that you discuss this option with your POS committee before planning to pursue it. Some committees, for example, might stipulate that only articles actually accepted in refereed journals will be acceptable, while other committees might disallow this option altogether.
- a general introduction in which the problem and its background and significance are addressed
- a rationale for the inclusion of the papers
- a statement about the organization of the dissertation
- a literature review
- a cover page for each journal article that includes the article’s title and information regarding the journal to which it has been (or will be) submitted
- each article in its entirety including references and appendices (articles should be judged by the POS committee to be equivalent to chapters in a traditional dissertation
- content of articles should be identical to that submitted to journals)
- if the articles have already been published, written permission extending reproduction and distribution rights to University Microfilms International must be submitted at the time of final deposit
- a general summary discussing results as they apply to the larger problem detailed in the introduction
- works cited for references not included in articles
Whatever the dissertation structure, you will be asked to prepare an abstract of the dissertation. Abstracts of doctoral dissertations nationwide are available in the library. Actual dissertations may be available through interlibrary loan, depending on the policies of the lender.
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4.3.6 RPC Final Oral Defense of the Dissertation (Final Oral Examination)
4.3.7 RPC Student Learning Outcomes
At the time of graduation, RPC students will demonstrate an ability to:
- Demonstrate understanding of theories, research methods, and concepts in rhetoric, professional communication, and multimodal composition.
- Apply these theories, research methods, and concepts in scholarly activity, including research and teaching.
- Use a variety of technologies and media for scholarly research and for developing audience-centered communication.
- Analyze, synthesize, and critique communication in a variety of organizational and public contexts.
- Analyze, synthesize, and critique research related to rhetoric, professional communication, and multimodal composition.
- Develop scholarship that makes a significant contribution to the field.
- Develop communication that helps build a socially just society.
Measures for evaluating a student’s success in meeting these objectives include these:
- Display of an ability to develop a clear and cogent argument using relevant evidence in coursework
- Annual reviews
- Qualifying examination (i.e., portfolio assessment)
- Preliminary exams (written and oral)
- Completion and defense of a dissertation.