First Year Review Exams & Dissertation

First Year Review

At the end of a student’s first year in the PhD program, she will participate in a review of her work. The review is a 90-minute session during which the student and two professors in her area discuss her portfolio. The portfolio should include the following:

  • two unrevised seminar papers completed during the academic year,
  • reading list of 10-15 books (many of which are drawn from the year’s course work), and
  • self-evaluation (no more than four double-spaced pages) in which students assess the strengths and weaknesses of the included seminar papers, reflect on their growth over the year, and identify issues, practices, or areas of study they wish to explore in more depth during the coming year.
First Year Timeline
Date To Complete
Wk 5 of 2nd Semester Students should select a first year review committee by this point and begin assembling a reading list.
Wk 10 of 2nd Semester Set a date for the first-year review and finalize reading list.
End of 1st year Complete first-year review by August 1.

Second Year Conference

After the student’s second year in the PhD program, she will meet with the two faculty serving on her comprehensive exam committee to reflect on coursework and build momentum toward exams. The 60-minute conference will allow the student to articulate emerging lines of inquiry influenced by course work, the exam reading list, teaching experiences, and other factors. The committee will help the student fine-tune a summer reading plan and discuss possible directions for the dissertation.

Qualifying Exams and Dissertation

The goal of the qualifying exam is to ensure that students have both broad and deep knowledge of the field and are prepared to begin work on the dissertation. Students will work with a faculty member in the area to select 24 core readings from the Exam Guidelines & Core List and to develop an individualized reading module (or set of smaller modules). The module, however configured, should include approximately 24-26 texts. Thus, with the core of 24 texts plus module readings, the Rhetoric & Composition exam will cover approximately 50 texts total. See Sample Reading Lists for helpful models.

Please note that students take exams in at least two areas, so the Rhetoric & Composition exam would constitute one area. For a student working toward a PhD with concentration in literature or creative writing, the other area would be in one of these broad areas; for a student working toward a PhD with concentration in Rhetoric & Composition, the second exam list will be developed in consultation with an advisor, and will likely include areas of study in Rhetoric and Composition not covered in the Core List. It may also include literary and/or creative texts/issues.

Students will ask a third faculty member to serve as an additional examiner, who reads the written exams and ask questions about them, but from the fresh perspective of someone outside the list-making process. It is also permissible to split the second exam between two examiners. In this case, each examiner handles one half-list (the construction of the list, the written exam, and the oral portion). Students should work closely with the examiners during the entire exam process—in assembling the lists and rationales and also in reviewing for the exams. 

Approximately two weeks prior to taking exams, students should submit a double-spaced, six-to-eight-page rationale that describes the central themes and/or critical viewpoints made available in each area of study, articulates interrelationships between areas, and addresses the overall relevance of the exam to the student's future work.

The exam itself consists of a two-day or four-day writing period, followed by a ninety-minute oral defense. Students are expected to produce 32-40 pages of exam writing at the end of the exam period (double-spaced, 12” font, and 1” margins). For the two-day option, students compose essay(s) totaling 16-20 pages each exam day. For the four-day option, students might aim to produce 8-10 pages per day. After successful completion of the qualifying exams, students in Rhetoric and Composition will write a dissertation proposal before beginning work on the dissertation. Please adhere to the Dissertation Proposal format.

Second Year Timeline
Date To Complete
Wk 10 of 1st Semester Form exam committee.
Wk 10 of 2nd Semester Approval of areas and lists by exam committee due.
Hold second year conference by August and make significant progress on exam reading.
Third Year Timeline
Date To Complete
Wk 2 of 1st Semester Set exam date.
March 1 Complete exams by this date.
March 15 Finalize dissertation committee.
June 1 Submit Dissertation Proposal Form to committee.
Fourth Year Timeline
Date To Complete
Sept. 1 Submit one dissertation chapter to committee by today.
Dec. 1
Submit one dissertation chapter to committee by today.
Nov.-Jan. Prepare Taft & URC dissertation fellowship applications.
Feb.-July Complete dissertation in time for August commencement.