The master's graduation requirement (for those not writing a thesis) is an oral examination and defense of a seminar paper. Students will choose one their strongest seminar papers from a CRES course for the capstone experience and will work with the professor of that class to revise the paper, do additional reading on the topic, and defend the work at the end of the semester in which they plan to graduate. To begin the process of the MA capstone, students should contact the CRES professor who taught the seminar and ask if the faculty member would be willing to chair. In consultation with the chair, students will choose two additional faculty members to complete the committee. The chair and student will work together to form a timeline for revising the paper. Students should generally expect to complete a revised draft early in the final semester to allow sufficient time for consultations with the chair and further revisions. The chair will notify the student when the revised paper is ready to go to the committee, and from there the student can schedule the paper defense.
In addition to completing the MA paper, students will generate a reading list of 20-25 items on the paper's topic. Many of these readings will already be listed in the bibliography of the seminar paper, but the student and chair may add additional reading items to round out the list. The list may include articles as well as books, primary as well as secondary texts. This list should place the paper's focus within the broader context of English studies/rhetoric & composition. The student will be responsible for these works during a one-hour oral defense of the paper.
To successfully complete the MA capstone requirement, students should:
- Produce a well developed seminar paper of approximately 20-30 pages that effectively covers the topic, places it in the context of an ongoing conversation in composition-rhetoric or English studies, and has the potential to become a publishable project.
- In the oral defense, be able to
- 1) discuss the paper fluently, addressing broader questions about the importance of the research and its relationship to enduring debates in the field.
- 2) demonstrate an awareness of possible venues for presentation or publication of the work.
- 3) field questions about the reading list, showing familiarity with the individual works and understanding of how their ideas relate to the published authors'.
- 4) discuss the pedagogical applications of the work and practical consequences/implications for teachers & scholars.
The oral defense is also an opportunity for students to talk with the committee about their experience in the program, future goals for teaching/research, and questions regarding professional or academic goals.
PhD Candidacy Meeting
Toward the end of coursework completion, Ph.D. students will meet with CRES faculty as a group to discuss compiling reading lists for the written comprehensive exams, selecting possible areas for dissertation research, and understanding what they can expect in both the written and oral exams.
CRES doctoral students must pass both the written and oral components of the preliminary examination. Students will work with the entire CRES faculty to compile a reading list covering four topic areas in the field and will be responsible for all items on each list. Reading lists must be approved by all CRES faculty members; students will obtain a sign-off list from the CRES field advisor and will be responsible for getting signatures. A committee of three CRES faculty members will read students' written exams and conduct the oral examination. Exam committee members need not necessarily continue as members of the dissertation committee.
Creating a Reading List for the Exam. The first step in preparing for the comprehensive exam is to create a list of four exam topics. For all students the first area will be a general or "canonical" list in rhetoric-composition, but like the other three areas, this list will be student-generated. The second and third areas should focus on matters directly related to composition-rhetoric studies, such as the history, theory, and practice of writing instruction; digital or visual rhetoric, technology and writing; literacy studies; writing across the curriculum; basic writing, ethnography and writing research, assessment, etc. The fourth topic can concern itself with any other matter related to the study or teaching of English or an interdisciplinary area with connections to English.
Students will submit their list of the four exam topics to the field advisor for approval by the CRES faculty. Once the topic areas are approved, students may compile the reading list for the exam. Each of the four areas on the reading list should be clarified in a brief background statement of about 150 words that introduces the topic and explains its significance to the field. The explanatory paragraph should be followed by a list of readings that contains 12-15 sources, at least four of which should be books. Thus, students will have a list comprised of 48-60 works. The bibliography should include books, collections, monographs, or articles that have been widely cited. Students will send their reading list to the field advisor, who will solicit feedback from the CRES faculty and notify students of any required changes.
Students should feel free to speak with any graduate faculty in composition studies regarding their topic ideas and core bibliography, but should do so well in advance of the deadline for submission of their materials. Students should also consult the "CRES PhD Reading List" document on our resources page, which provides a provisional bibliography of the field. This document is a good starting point for assembling the exam; however, candidates should not restrict themselves to the items on the list In most cases it will be essential for students to look beyond the provisional bibliography in order to access the most recent scholarship in a given area. In addition to consulting the CRES reading list, students should also look through recent issues of the relevant journals for their topic areas.
Students must submit the final reading list no later than twelve weeks before the exam, but they are encouraged to submit it even earlier to allow ample time for preparation and study. Students must get signed approval from each CRES faculty member. Once students submit the final version, they should select a date and time for the exam. At least ten days before the exam, students should see Carol Appling to schedule a room for the written and oral portions of the exam.
Once students have compiled the reading list for the exam, they should select a committee of three faculty readers for the written and oral portions of the examination. Students should contact those faculty members to see if they are able to serve. In many cases, the exam committee will go on to form the core of the dissertation committee.
Candidates may petition for exceptions to the guidelines for choosing topic areas and compiling the reading lists.
The Written Component. The written preliminary examination for candidates in CRES will be four hours in duration and will require candidates to respond to two questions from four areas. The exam commitee will compose the questions that will constitute students' written preliminary examination. While these questions will deal with issues central to the four topic areas, the questions may require students to look at material from a new perspective, to refocus their concerns, or even to re-examine their assumptions. The goal is for candidates to demonstrate their ability to write with a seasoned, mature understanding of the topic as a whole, demonstrating both a conceptual grasp of the topic and the ability to identify and refer to relevant sources.
Effective responses should answer the question as fully as possible, taking the role of an expert and addressing a high-level audience that may not be well informed in the particular area--for example, experienced teachers of college composition who have not yet read the texts that candidates have studied. Candidates may want to argue for their own points of view or instead provide a more even-handed critique, but in either case, they should show an understanding of multiple perspectives. Effective responses will be well organized and demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the readings.
The Oral Component. If the candidate passes the written preliminary examination, the committee will conduct an oral examination at the first convenient opportunity for both the candidate and the faculty. For the oral examination, the candidate will be responsible for material from all four topics, the two not covered on the written examination as well as the two that were. CRES candidates must pass the oral exam in order to move on to the dissertation stage.
Students who fail the written preliminary examination may take it a second time. Students who fail the examination a second time will not be allowed to finish doctoral work.
MA students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of one foreign language to satisfy the department's MA language requirement. CRES PhD students must satisfy the English PhD requirement demonstrating a reading knowledge of two foreign languages or advanced proficiency in one.