Rhetoric and Professional Communication (PhD)

An Overview of the RPC Program at Iowa State

Our PhD program in Rhetoric and Professional Communication (RPC) was founded in 1991, making it one of the first PhD programs in the United States to feature the role of rhetoric in professional communication. Faculty in the program founded—and continue to edit—one of the leading journals in the field: Journal of Business and Technical Communication.

The RPC program provides a strong foundation in rhetoric to undergird the study of professional communication. Some students focus their coursework and research squarely on professional communication. But students can focus their studies in various ways; the program has strengths in public rhetorics, multimodal composition pedagogy, and visual communication.

What coursework does the RPC program require?

Students admitted to graduate study for the PhD in Rhetoric and Professional Communication (RPC) must complete 72 credits beyond the BA or BS of required and elective coursework according to the program of study (PhD RPC Program of Study Requirements). The POS contains core coursework, research methods coursework, RPC and English Department electives, as well as electives outside the English Department. A portfolio assessment is required as well as written and oral preliminary examinations.

Engaged and Collaborative Faculty

Our faculty interact closely with graduate students in the classroom and in dissertation committees. Faculty and students regularly present collaborative research at conferences, for example, ATTW, CCCC, ABC, NCA, and RSA. In addition, faculty and students publish together:

  • (in press). Jo Mackiewicz and Zachary Gasior, “NES and NNES Student Writers’ Very Long Turns in Writing Center Conferences,” The Writing Center Journal.
  • (in press). Jo Mackiewicz and Colin Payton, “The So What of So in Writing Center Talk,” The Writing Center Journal.
  • (in press). Anne C. Kretsinger-Harries, Kate Challis, Ali Garib, and Elizabeth Helmick, “Navigating Uncertainty Together: Lessons Learned from Teaching Public Speaking for the First Time and Training New GTAs amid the Pandemic,” Post Pandemic Pedagogy: A Paradigm Shift, ed. Joseph M. Valenzano. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
  • (2021). Tina A. Coffelt, Raeann Ritland, and Leah LeFebvre, “Revealing and Receiving Sexual Health Information,” Health Communication36(2), 136–145.
  • (2019). Tina A. Coffelt, Dale Grauman, and Frances L. Smith, “Employers’ Perspectives on Workplace Communication Skills: The Meaning of Communication Skills,” Business and Professional Communication Quarterly82(4), 418–439.
  • (2018). Amanda Arp, Philip Gallagher, Mariah Kemp, and Stacy Tye-Williams, “‘Um, Diversity Definition? That’s Hard’”: College Student Perceptions of Diversity,” Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity, 19(1).
  • (2016). Jordan Smith, Jo Mackiewicz, Derek Hanson, Shannon Fanning, and Sara Doan, “The Communicative Work of Figure Captions: Lessons for Technical and Professional Communication,” Technical Communication Quarterly, 25, 260–277.
  • (2016). Tina A. Coffelt, Matthew J. Baker, and Robert C. Corey, “Business Communication Practices from Employers’ Perspectives,” Business and Professional Communication Quarterly79(3), 300–316.

Award-Winning Faculty

Faculty members have won national awards for outstanding research. For example, Charlie Kostelnick recently won the following awards:

  • 2020 Frank R. Smith Award for Outstanding Journal Article (from Technical Communication): “The Art of Visual Design: The Rhetoric of Aesthetics in Technical Communication.”
  • 2018 Kitty O. Locker Outstanding Researcher Award, Association for Business Communication.
  • 2016 Frank R. Smith Award for Outstanding Journal Article (from Technical Communication): “The Re-Emergence of Emotional Appeals in Interactive Data Visualization.”
  • 2016 Ken Rainey Award for Excellence in Research, Society for Technical Communication.

In 2020, Tina Coffelt won a Fulbright to Uzbekistan Grant from UniCEN (Central Asia University Partnerships Program) for professional development of faculty in Uzbekistan.  And in 2019, Jo Mackiewicz’s book, Writing Talk over Time: A Mixed-Method Study won the International Writing Center Association’s Outstanding Book award.

Graduates and Job-Placement Rate

Our doctoral students have become faculty themselves at myriad universities. Graduates include Elizabeth Wardle (Miami University) and Clay Spinuzzi (University of Texas). Recent graduates have attained tenure-track positions at University of North Texas (Jordan Smith and Vince Robles), Brigham Young University (Matt Baker), Clarkson University (Erik York) and Elon University (Li Li). Indeed, the RPC program has a 100% placement rate among our alumni who have looked for an academic position.

Opportunities for Interdisciplinarity

The English Department at Iowa State is large, with programs in Creative Writing and Environment, Literature, English Education, Teaching English as a Second Language, Applied Linguistics and Technology, Communication Studies, and Speech Communication. Students in the RPC program have the opportunity to integrate electives in these fields into their coursework and to work with faculty with a wide range of expertise. In recent years, some students have pursued double majors in RPC and human-computer interaction (HCI) and in RPC and applied linguistics and technology (ALT).

Information for Applicants

Applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree prior to their first semester in either program and must meet stated application preferences and English proficiency requirements (for nonnative speakers of English only). See our How to Apply page for more information.

Financial Aid

Iowa State and the English Department offer a variety of financial aid for graduate students. The majority of our students are funded through graduate assistantships, which provide a full tuition waiver (PhD) or half tuition waiver (MA), a monthly stipend for teaching courses or for conducting research, and health insurance benefits. Applications for assistantships are part of the process for applying for admission.