The Qualifying Exam Process
Within a year of completing your coursework, you must take the doctoral qualifying exams and prepare for the dissertation research. Knowledge of the literature of the field is one of the qualifications for conducting research in the field. Your dissertation will have to engage with this literature. Thus, your “qualifying exam” helps to establish and determine your qualifications to proceed to dissertation research. These qualifications involve knowledge of the issues that interest the fields of rhetoric, composition, and technical communication, including achievements and gaps in knowledge. These qualifications also point to a direction for your own research, including mastery of research methods. One of the purposes of preparation for the exams is to launch you into your dissertation research. Thus, you will be examined, in part, over materials related to your dissertation, as well as the materials on your approved reading list.
The typical process follows this timeline:
- Reading list and Preliminary dissertation proposal (at least 4 months before exam)
- Qualifying exam
- Meeting with your committee (2 weeks after exam)
- Final dissertation proposal (6 weeks after exam)
Develop and submit to the committee a reading list of 100 books or the equivalent
in articles (four articles equal one book), including materials for TCR broadly defined
and materials for your area of interest within the field. You may group the items
by themes or issues, such as composition pedagogy, history of rhetoric, audience,
and visual communication. Some of these books and articles you will have read already
in your classes, and some--especially those relating to your dissertation--will likely
be new. The topics of these books and articles should include technical communication
and rhetoric broadly but also items related to your intended dissertation research
and research methods. Your list may incorporate material from your minor, if your
minor department does not require its own examination. To make studying for the exams
easier, begin compiling your reading list during your coursework, and write a summary
of each book or article as you read it for class to study for the qualifying exams.
The committee will discuss with you the possible additions and deletions. When the
proposal and list are finalized, the chair of the committee will report to the DGS
Your reading list needs to be approved by your dissertation committee at least four months before the scheduled exam.
You need to register in advance with the ADGS who will administer the exam and file the Qualifying Exam report with the graduate school once your committee has completed their assessment.
Preliminary Dissertation Proposal
Although you will refine your dissertation topic as you read for your exams, you should
have an idea of the topic and methods when you prepare your reading lists. Consult
with your dissertation committee members to define your areas of interest. Note that
if you have a minor in another department, that department may require a qualifying
exam in the minor area. Based on these discussions with your committee, write a preliminary
dissertation proposal of approximately 2500 words. This proposal will identify the
problem requiring research, review some of the basic literature regarding the problem,
outline goals and methods of research for adding to the knowledge regarding the problem,
and include a tentative outline of chapters. The proposal will also explain how the
materials on your reading lists relate to your dissertation research and serve as
a rationale for the definition of examination fields.
Your preliminary proposal needs to be approved by your dissertation committee at least four months before your exam. You may use this planning template.
In previous years the reading list was completed and approved first, before the preliminary dissertation proposal. Now and in the future, students should develop these two documents in concert to provide the student and their committee with a more synergistic understanding of the student's dissertation and exams preparation.
You must complete all coursework before attempting exams.
Scheduling your Exam
The dates of the qualifying exam are flexible, based on agreement by student and committee. Once your reading list and preliminary dissertation proposal are approved, you can look at a date no earlier than four months away for your exam. During these four months the student reads items on the reading list and otherwise prepares for the exams while the student's committee prepares the exam.
Examinations will consist of three or four take-home questions to be answered over
a four-day period. For example, if you receive your list of take-home exam questions
on Thursday at noon, you will be expected to turn in your answers the following Monday
at noon. You are encouraged to spend approximately 8-12 hours writing the entire exam,
which should have a word count of at least 6000 words for the entire exam. Your answer
to each question should include a works-cited list. Formal citation style applies.
Of the questions, two will typically relate specifically to your proposed dissertation
topic and might eventually serve as dissertation content: one of these might ask you
to theorize your methodology plans, and the other might ask you to elaborate on some
theoretical issue that would relate to the literature you hope to command. The other
questions may not be as directly related to your dissertation topic: typically you
may receive a general question that asks you to demonstrate a broad understanding
of the field of technical communication and rhetoric and one that will address an
area of the field unrelated to your dissertation topic. (For instance, if your dissertation
is in rhetoric of science, you might be asked a question about computers and writing.)
Your advisor will solicit possible exam questions from all committee members and will base the exam questions on this list of suggestions. You might be given a choice of questions in one or more of the areas. You should consult with your dissertation chair about sample exams.
In keeping with the standards of the TCR program and the university's policies regarding academic honesty, you are expected to maintain the highest standard of integrity. Any attempt to present as your own any work not honestly performed will be regarded by the faculty and administration as a most serious offense. You may not have your exam copy edited or proofread by a third party. We expect this exam to be composed of original responses to questions written during your exam time.
Approximately two weeks after the date of the qualifying exams, a meeting between you and your dissertation committee will be scheduled by the dissertation chair. At that meeting, you and your committee will discuss the outcome of your exams and any necessary topics that need to be addressed before moving forward with the dissertation, including the problem statement, methods of research, and scope. If the committees agrees you have passed your exams, the chair will communicate that to the ADGS, who will report this to the graduate school. In the case of exam failure, the post-exam meeting will be used to discuss what's expected when you retake the exams.
When you have passed the qualifying exams and have completed the post-exam meeting with your dissertation committee, the ADGS will recommend to the Graduate Dean that you be admitted to candidacy for the doctorate. You must be admitted to candidacy for the doctorate at least four months prior to the proposed graduation date. Your final dissertation proposal will be due four weeks after this meeting.
If the qualifying exam is not satisfactory, the ADGS will relay this information in writing to the Graduate Dean. Two weeks after the exams, you will meet with your dissertation committee to discuss your performance and to establish a plan for re-taking the exam. You may be permitted to repeat the exam once after a time lapse of at least four months and not more than 12 months from the date of the unsatisfactory examination. Failure to pass the qualifying exam within the specified time will result in dismissal from the program irrespective of performance in other aspects of doctoral study.
Final Dissertation Proposal
Approximately six weeks after your post-exam meeting, your final dissertation proposal will be due to your dissertation chair, who will either ask for revisions or will share it with committee members. This proposal, 10,000 words or more, provides a problem statement, literature review, and outline of chapters as well as an overview of research methods. The final proposal serves as the draft for one or more chapters of the dissertation. It also serves as a roadmap that you and your committee should use to track the direction and progress of your developing dissertation.