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The Composition and Cultural Rhetoric Doctoral Program (CCR)

Current Students: Comprehensive Written Qualifying Examinations FAQ Reading List

What is the purpose of the Core Reading List?
The Core Reading List is designed to provide an introduction to the broad spectrum of research occurring within the field of Composition and Rhetoric. The CCR program believes that students will gain a familiarity with central issues in the field as well as how their relations to each other by thoroughly engaging with the list. That is, the list provides a thumbnail ecology of the discipline.

When reading the works, then, the aim is not only to understand the specific texts, but also to begin to develop an understanding of how those texts are part of a broad disciplinary conversation. The goal then is not to simply to understand how three essays focused on classical rhetoric intersect theoretically, but how classical rhetoric stands in a disciplinary relationship to works on the list focused on such issues as pedagogy, rhetoric, or digital writing.

Understanding the list, however, should not be considered sufficient knowledge of the field. As you move toward a dissertation and a professional career, you will endlessly be required to position your own unique interests in broader disciplinary terms. You will also be asked to work with students (undergraduate and graduate) who will need you to provide guidance on how their specific projects relate to “composition and rhetoric” as a whole. We are all necessarily generalists. This list also acts as an enactment of this fact.

Therefore, beyond any exam requirements, you expect to consistently read scholarship across the discipline, to stay in touch with issues being discussed in multiple journals, and to continue to fill in your sense of the field. Not only will such continued study ensure that your dissertation deeply engages with relevant issues in the field, it will also ensure that in the future you will be an effective mentor to students and a productive colleague within your department.


How does the Core Reading list relate to graduate classes?
Given the centrality of many of the texts on the Core Reading list, there will necessarily be some overlap between the list and assigned course readings. The Graduate Office also works with faculty teaching core courses to see where Core Reading texts can organically be integrated into these courses as well as to ensure there is not significant overlap among courses. Even with this support through course work, however, the expectation is that students will read the list as part of their own professional development work. Ultimately, it will be your responsibility to gain an understanding of the Core Reading list.


When should I start reading the Core Reading list?
Students should start studying the Core Reading list upon the beginning of their first year in the program—if not the summer preceding their arrival on campus. Since the goal of the list is to provide a skeletal framework to understand the field, beginning the list will initiate the process of developing a deep understanding of the discipline from the beginning of your coursework. That is, you want to immerse yourself in the broadest conversations of the field from the beginning of your education.

Ideally, students would complete the Core Reading list prior to end of their second semester. This would leave the summer after their second semester to review the texts prior to the exam. This will also allow students to spend significant time developing a networked understanding of the materials they have encountered throughout their graduate career. This ecological understanding of the field will ensure the best responses to the exam and the strongest framework in which to develop a dissertation project.


How should I begin to approach the reading list?
To a great extent, students will most likely approach the Core Reading list based upon their previous knowledge of the field. They might also seek advice from faculty on how to proceed. As an overarching strategy, however, it might make sense to read the list in a broadly defined chronological order. This will allow you to trace the influence of certain authors, ideas, and trends within the field. This understanding will also create a framework that allows you to place your non-core list reading into a relationship with the list. As you read, you will no doubt see the failings of a strictly chronological reading strategy. Still, as an opening moment, it might be useful.


What are the features of a strong exam answer?
The Graduate Office will keep outstanding student exam answers on file. You may read them at any time during your preparation for exams. You may also make an appointment with the Graduate Director to talk about how specific features of those exams represented a successful answer.

As a general rule, however, it is useful to think of strong exam answers as demonstrating how different texts (representing different sub-°©‐fields in the discipline) relate to each other. And having developed this nuanced perspective, a strong exam answer will also offer a statement on where you imagine your own commitments as a future scholar. For a response that links three process pedagogy answers would not be as strong as a response that established a relationship between classical rhetoric, process pedagogy and assessment. The former shows a relationship within a subfield of the discipline, the latter a set of relationships between three different sub‐fields. When crafting your answer, then, consider that the Exam Committee is looking for how you understand the “field,” not a specific element of it.

In staking out your own position in the field, the goal is not to announce a strict allegiance to a particular area—digital literacies—through critiquing other areas of the field—community publishing. Rather, you are simply being asked to align yourself with a set of theoretical stances/questions in which you find an affinity. For instance, you might suggest that issues of assessment, as taken up by a range of scholars, pose questions you would like to consider in the future. This does not mean you need to critique other elements of the field that do not address these questions.


How should I gauge my progress through the Qualifying Exams?
There is a somewhat standard calendar that every student is expected to follow —the first two years consist of course work, the third year consists of passing Qualifying Exams, the fourth year consists of completing the dissertation.

The Core Reading List Exam occurs between the summer of the second and third year, typically in August. To this point, every student will be moving at approximately the same pace. As students move through qualifying exams, however, individuals will begin to take on their own unique trajectory through the program. One student might pass the Core Reading list the first time it is offered; another student might need an additional period to study and retake the exam. Several students might pass the final two stages of the exam, Annotated Bibliography and Article, in February; other students might not complete the entire process until March.

Rather than understand this process as a “horse race”—first one done wins—it is better to remember that the goal of CCR is to ensure every student graduates with an outstanding dissertation and professional profile. This may mean that some students spend more time at one stage then another. In fact, this is exactly what will happen. Our goal is not to push students through, but to create a pedagogical environment which ensures the possibility of success. This is the reason for consistent review and evaluation of student work. This is also the reason that you will no doubt be asked to repeat or revise work at key moments in the process. Not to sound cliché, but PhD’s are supposed to be hard work; actually PhD’s are impossible without hard work. So rather than focus on the progress others are making, it is important to make sure at each moment in your journey through the program that you are doing the dedicated and hard labor of producing excellent work.