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Graduate Rhetoric, Composition and the Teaching of English, RCTE



The English Department maintains four degree-granting graduate programs:

Literature (M.A., Ph.D.)

Creative Writing (M.F.A.)

Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English-RCTE (M.A., Ph.D.)

English Applied Linguistics--EAL (M.A.)

While there are many areas of coordination among these programs, each one is separately administered and has individualized assessment procedures appropriate to its own particular mission and goals.

Expected Learning Outcomes: 

By progressing through the curriculum as described in earlier sections of this handbook, developing effective mentoring relationships, and demonstrating satisfactory levels of achievement through the program's review processes, RCTE graduate students will recognize the following program outcomes.


Research Methodology

  • identify and critically evaluate the research methods of other scholars
  • critique and reflect upon research methodologies in one's own work
  • write a focused research question
  • address a research problem with appropriate methodologies
  • develop projects through a process of highly generative and imaginative inquiry

Theoretical and Historical Perspectives

  • develop an interpretive vocabulary informed by related scholarship
  • synthesize established theories and histories into a coherent interpretive framework
  • demonstrate an ability to iteratively develop theory from practice and practice from theory
  • map broader historical and socio-ideological trajectories that inform one's own research
  • conduct scholarly work (research, teaching, service, administration) that demonstrates facility with co-existing and emerging disciplines


  • articulate a teaching philosophy that draws on research and theories of teaching and learning
  • understand assessment at classroom and program levels
  • develop curriculum that incorporates scholarly and reflective teaching
  • design pedagogical approaches which assume a diverse student population
  • demonstrate proficiency in multiple instructional modalities

Writing & Public Presentation of Work

  • draft and revise a professional quality text that is capable of contributing to scholarly, professional, and/or public conversations
  • identify appropriate publication venues and submit scholarly, professional, and/or public writing and projects to them
  • prepare and deliver quality academic talks at local, regional and national levels
  • demonstrate practiced expertise in multiple types of presentation styles (e.g., standard talks, round-tables, poster sessions, demonstrations)

Professional Development

  • engage in professional behavior (e.g., being respectfully candid, offering and receiving constructive criticism, practicing self-care)
  • attend professional development workshops offered through the program, department, and university
  • participate in and contribute to the programmatic, departmental, and broader academic community

Civic & Community Engagement

  • conduct collaborative work in, for, or with a community (e.g., NGOs, community organizations, religious institutions, libraries)
  • develop an ethics of the reciprocal nature of our work and how it relates to broader contexts



Assessment Activities: 




All students in RCTE except (1) those in the incoming class, and (2) those completing their Qualifying Portfolio, must complete an Annual Review, which is to be submitted not later than the first day of classes in the fall semester. 

In the three parts of the Review, the student is asked to: 

  • Write (or revise) their Curriculum Vitae. 
  • Locate their position in the program. 
  • Write a reflective essay on their professional growth in the previous year. 

If the student is preparing to take the Comprehensive Exam, they submit their CV, the reflective essay, and a list of potential faculty members with whom the student would like to work on the dissertation.

If the student is in the process of writing their dissertation, they submit their CV, a short memo characterizing where they are with the dissertation and when they expect to finish, and the Annual Review cover sheet.

If the student is on the job market, they submit their CV, a draft of a letter of application, and the Annual Review cover sheet.





The Graduate College allows for considerable latitude in how individual programs conduct the

Qualifying Exam, from formal timed exams to relatively informal assessment processes. The Qualifying Portfolio is a key mentoring opportunity for doctoral students. It is due the first day of classes of the student’s fourth semester. 

Three objectives drive the Qualifying Portfolio in RCTE:

  1. retain the important mentoring component that occurs for students who have completed their first year in the Program;
  2. establish the Qualifying Portfolio as a bridge between the important formative work done in the first year with the more advanced scholarly and professional identity-building work done
  3.  in subsequent years;
  4. encourage students’ development of wider faculty connections within the Program.


  1. In the Spring semester of their first year, all students take the Inquiry & Innovation seminar, an advanced form of the Colloquium.
  2. One objective of this course will be for students to explore the disciplines in which they are interested professionally, and to craft a preliminary statement of specialization that will inform their selection of courses in subsequent years.
  3. By an agreed upon date determined by the faculty (approximately Week 10), all Inquiry & Innovation Seminar students will have a complete draft of their Preliminary Specialization Statement, which will have been vetted by the course instructor. These statements will be no more than 750 words long. The Preliminary Specialization Statement will include:
    1. a description of the student’s possible area(s) of specialization;
    2. an explanation of why it’s an important avenue of inquiry;
    3. a list of 3-5 representative questions that indicate the sorts of research directions the student hopes to pursue;
    4. a reflection on personal location in which the student considers their own subjectivity in the world and comments briefly on how this might impact the ways in which she or he approaches research and teaching;
    5. a projected list of courses the student plans to take to fulfill the requirements of the program and to develop their area of specialization.
  4. Each student will consult with their Faculty Mentor (assigned by the Graduate Director at the beginning of the first year) to receive feedback on the Preliminary Specialization Statement. When appropriate, students are encouraged (but not required) to reach out to a scholar outside the Program to make an inquiry about some aspect of the specialization.
  5. The Faculty Mentor’s feedback should include both written comments (modest) and at least a 30 minute meeting with the student to discuss the proposed area of specialization. This discussion should address issues such as (but not limited to):
    1. feasibility of pursuing the specialization within the Program (i.e., with whom will the student work?);
    2. importance of the specialization for the discipline;
    3. impact of the specialization in the world;
    4. marketability of the specialization when conducting a job search.
  6. Once the Faculty Mentor has offered feedback on the Preliminary Specialization Statement (comments and meeting), she or he may ask the student to revise the statement to reflect important elements of their discussion.
  7. When the Faculty Mentor feels the Preliminary Specialization Statement is ready to be included in the Qualifying Portfolio, she or he will sign off on it.
  8. Please be sure your Qualifying Portfolio contains the following materials:
    • Curriculum Vitae
    • Preliminary Specialization Statement
    • Reflective essay that includes an assessment of the your perceived strengths and weaknesses as an academic writer and researcher, and a description of your plans for further development;
    • Sample of academic writing that demonstrates strong research, writing, and critical thinking skills (graded, with comments from a faculty member), including a description of a possible venue for the work (e.g., a conference, a journal, a CFP);
    • Proposal for fulfilling the Immersive Cultural Requirement
  9. Possible result of the faculty evaluation of Qualifying Portfolio are:
    1. Pass
    2. Pass with Minor Revisions;
    3. Pass with Major Revisions.




The Comprehensive Exam Portfolio is tightly interwoven with every other element of the doctoral curriculum: coursework, qualifying portfolio, and dissertation, as well as more administrative and developmental elements such as time-to-degree considerations, mentoring, cohort building, and professional development. As a result, rather than the conventional reading list and timed exam approach, this Program requires each student to assemble a portfolio of materials collected over the course of her or his first two to three years as a doctoral student, take a common readings exam that is included in the Portfolio, and then take an oral exam on the contents of the Portfolio.

In the year that students plan to submit their Comprehensive Exam Portfolio (CEP), they will discuss their plans in their annual review and then follow up to share drafts of their materials in at least one meeting with their mentor in the fall. The mentor is chosen by the graduate student in consultation with the Director of the RCTE program. The instructor of the Comprehensive Exam Portfolio Workshop and/or the RCTE Director will hold an orientation meeting in the spring and fall semesters prior to submitting the CEP to share the reading list, help students understand the requirements for submitting their CEP, and discuss strategies for preparation. In the spring semester that students complete the Comprehensive Exam Portfolio, they will enroll in the CEP Workshop, which will meet at least six (6) times before the written exam is taken in the tenth (10th) week of the semester. An additional meeting time may be added for oral exam preparation time. 

Students should prepare to submit their CEP by working informally in peer mentoring groups and with their mentors in the months leading up to the exam.

The CEP will include the following (all in MLA format):

  1. A Reflective Essay (1250 words)

Offers an overview of your intellectual and professional growth thus far in the RCTE Program, and comments specifically on your development within the areas of research, teaching, and service;

  1. A Revised Specialization Statement (750 words)

The Revised Specialization Statement is based on the Preliminary Specialization Statement developed during the Year 1 Inquiry & Innovation Seminar. This brief document describes your primary research and scholarly focus, explains differences between the initially proposed specialization and its current instantiation, and comments on how this specialization will contribute to the development of your dissertation. Also included in the Specialization Statement is a bibliography of up to 10 sources meant to help you prepare to write your dissertation proposal and position yourself within a particular sub-field for the next decade.

  1. The Immersive Cultural Requirement Report (1250 words)

A rigorous narrative that reflects your rich experiences during your field work completing the ICR. Be sure to reflect upon the literature/research that connects to your fieldwork, the context of being a graduate student and the institutional privilege it brings, and how you imagined a plan for reciprocity. Lastly, it should connect to the Program’s General Learning Outcomes.

  1. One seminar paper or submitted journal articles/book chapter

A representation of your best thinking and writing to date. One of these must be within your declared specialization and revised based on feedback from at least one faculty member. You must also identify a venue for sharing your work (e.g., a conference, a journal, a CFP).

  1. Answers to a Common Readings Exam (see below for more detail)

The Common Readings Exam consist of 3 questions total with 2500 words max. allowed per essay. See section on “The Common Readings Exam” for more information.

Each of the five components of the CEP has been selected for particular reasons related to doctoral degree preparation, and together they enable the faculty to assess students’ readiness to begin the dissertation process, begin an academic job search, and perform effectively as a skilled researcher, teacher, and community contributor. 

The CEP will be developed gradually throughout the first two or three years in the Program, and finally assembled and discussed as a work in progress during the Comprehensive Exam Portfolio Workshop. This workshop, taught by one faculty member (who serves as Director of the CEP) every spring semester, will be designed to help students assemble high quality CEPs, establish good study practices for the Common Readings Exam, and prepare for the Oral Exam.

The Comprehensive Exam Portfolio Workshop

All students who are preparing for their Comprehensive Exam are required to sign up for this course and 3 dissertation units (thereby fulfilling the required minimum of 6 enrolled hours for GTAships). 

The CEP Workshop will meet at least six times during the spring semester to:

  • Help students assemble the materials for their CEPs;
  • Facilitate students’ development of their specialization reading list and questions;
  • Review the Common Reading Exam list;
  • Discuss study strategies for the Common Reading Exam;
  • Provide students with the opportunity to practice for the oral exam;
  • Answer questions about the exam process to clarify the process for students and help them prepare.

At other times, the facilitator will help students prepare for the CRE by leading discussions, offering practice questions, and providing other forms of feedback, support, and guidance for developing a successful Comprehensive Exam Portfolio.

The Common Readings Exam

The Common Readings Exam (CRE) is designed to ensure that students are familiar with topics and methods that the Program’s faculty have determined are particularly and currently important to scholars in the conjoined and varied disciplines represented in RCTE. The CRE will be offered once a year in approximately the seventh week of the spring semester. 

  • The common sections of the Common Readings Exam list are generated each May from the syllabi of the core courses that students took when they entered the program. Readings will be taken from the following courses:
    • ENGL 591: Preceptorship
    • ENGL 595A: Colloquium
    • ENGL 595A: Inquiry & Innovation
    • ENGL 597R: Research Methods in Rhetoric and Composition
    • ENGL 696T: Rhetorical Theories
    • ENGL 510: Theory and Practice of Composition
  • The Common Readings Exam List will be divided into three topic areas, and questions will be written for each of the three areas. Students will select one question from two of the three common areas to respond to for the CRE.
  • The Common Readings Exam List will also include 10-20 texts of the student’s choosing (specialization list). Students will draft possible questions for their Specialization List. The faculty may select or revise these questions for the CRE, and the student will select one question from the Specialization List to respond to during the CRE.
  • If students in the CEP Workshop come from different cohorts, their Common Readings Exam lists will be different. Each student will be examined using the Common Readings Exam list and questions that were generated for their incoming cohort.


Review Panel Instructions and Policy 

As required by the UA Graduate School, a four-person faculty review panel will read and score the exams. The four-person review panel will be comprised of:

1) A core committee of three RCTE faculty appointed to review all portfolios in a given year.

2) A fourth faculty member (either within or outside of RCTE) selected by the student to represent their area of focus or minor. Students must let the CEP Workshop Director know who they would like to invite as a fourth member of the review committee within the first three weeks of the exam semester. Upon approval, students are then able to reach out to the fourth committee member.

Scoring of the CRE

Each member of the panel will cast a vote either to Pass or Fail (or pass with minor or major revisions) for each CRE under review; a simple majority rules. Once a decision has been reached, the results will be given to students.

If a Pass w/minor or major revisions is assigned, the student will have one full week to complete the revisions and resubmit the exam. The committee will then review the revisions and rescore the exam. The committee has one week to rescore the revised exam.

To prepare for the CRE, students will:

  • Receive the Common Readings Exam List in May of the year prior to the CRE;
  • Schedule a day and time for an oral exam with the CEP Review Committee the fall semester before the exam (see below).
  • Submit (in week 4) a combination of 10-20 books/articles to add to the common reading list for their exam. This list would be submitted as a one-page document in MLA formatting during the CEP workshop, consisting of 1) a one paragraph explanation of the specialization; 2) 10-20 books/articles; 3) a list of three (3) specialization questions;

Fill out UA Gradpath forms before the CRE is taken;

  • Meet at least once with their mentor to discuss their reading list and specialization questions; 
  • Attend the spring and fall meetings about the CEP in the two semesters before they take the exam;
  • Attend the CEP workshop in the semester they take the exam;
  • Participate in at least one practice exam exercise in the CEP workshop.


Written Portion of the CRE

The written part of the CRE will take place in approximately week 7 of the Spring semester. Results will be given in approximately week 10 and oral exams will generally be held in week 12-14 of the Spring semester. The CRE will be the same for all students in the cohort, with the exception of the readings and questions designed for the student’s area of specialization. 

On the day the written exam begins, the students will be given the questions.

(*Questions that appear on the exam are selected by the committee.) 

  • 5 questions for List 1, 
  • 5 for List 2, 
  • and 5 for List 3.

Students will choose two out of 15 questions (one from two different sections) given by the committee.  

The third question will come from the student generated list of sources and questions that reflect her/his specialization. The Committee will review and revise the questions, and the students will receive these revised questions upon the day of the exam. 

Students will have one week   (9 a.m. of the day submitted to students – 11:59 pm the day of submission) to compose their answers. Answers will be limited to 2500 words each. Special needs can be accommodated.  

In Week 10 of the semester, the CEP Review Committee receives the full portfolio of student materials.

The Comprehensive Exam Portfolio as outlined helps to ensure that the comprehensive exam builds on interconnectedness of the curriculum to provide students with an opportunity to synthesize and reflect upon their studies in collaboration with faculty who have designated time to support students through the process. 

The CEP also clearly and helpfully cements the Program’s Learning Outcomes to a major milestone in the arc toward the Ph.D., an advantage that is both informative to faculty of the Program, and reassuring to the Dean of the Graduate College and the Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs, who are together responsible for ensuring the quality of all graduate programs within the University of Arizona.



The RCTE faculty will make every effort to schedule all Oral Exams between Weeks 12 and 14 of the Spring semester. There will be two possible outcomes for the CEP and Oral exam:

  • Pass;
  • Fail: Student is advised to leave the Program.



Assessment Findings: 

In progress (new curriculum implemented for fall 2017).

Change in Response to Findings: 


Updated date: Thu, 05/18/2017 - 10:50