Prospective Students

Dear Prospective Student:

Recently a prospective student posed some questions about Purdue’s graduate program in an email exchange. Below are those questions and my answers.

Can you tell me about the research projects your current Ph.D. candidates are involved in?

I assume you mean dissertations here, so I’ll mention the projects of students who are on the job market —

  • Liz — is studying the communication of emergency medical technicians
  • Jen — is inserting affect and embodied cognition into contemporary postprocess debates
  • Cris — is studying how people ask for help in online writing lab spaces
  • Jeff — is building an approach to custom design of websites that repositions users as developers
  • Kristen — is studying a public participation firm in St. Louis who assists the government in gathering public responses during urban planning
  • Ehren — is developing a rhetoric transportation focused on futuristic cars
  • Josh — is studying the rhetoric of social justice movements in the US
  • Megan — is studying the rhetorical traditions of the Tswana in Africa

Some dissertation topics in their earlier stages include —

  • what counts as writing and writing instruction in graduate classes
  • political rhetoric’s moves to deploy unexamined those Enlightenment structures still in play
  • how filmic traditions play out in multimedia writing instruction
  • how a rethinking of sympheron can restructure our notions of deliberative rhetoric
  • defending the need for writing-specific CMS (course management systems)
  • views of women who work as game builders
  • ethos in the use of computers as writing tools and environments
  • how worldviews collide in automated workplace writing

What would you say are the strengths of your program?

One of our strengths is our curriculum. The Purdue curriculum is both coherent and diversified. We view the needs of the field as great but know that a field needs to grow as a group. It is not sufficient for one voice to speak about French literary theory, another to do meta-analyses of technology uses in classroom, another to uncover new understandings of Roman rhetoric, another to develop new approaches to WAC, and another to work on sound compositions IF all those people cannot understand/appreciate the special work of the others. Thus, we build the curriculum with a core [where we introduce multiple approaches to issues and research — field issues, history, philosophy/theory, and empiricism] and have students then go deep in a secondary area or two (one is required by the department but I advise people to take two secondary areas).

Another strength is our care for our students. The Purdue program is built around the students. As students begin the program they are placed in the same mentoring group and take coursework together; students study together for exams; there is post-prelim group to help them start their dissertations; there is a job group for those on the job market that meets weekly for feedback, advice, and support. They connect with more than their classmates through the Hutton Lectures; the program picnic; and the yearly reunion for grads at CCCC. Further, to ensure students are well-advised, we are trying out a yearly review.

I also think our balance is a strength. Purdue aims to produce graduates who balance theory and practice. So, it helps that it is a large university that has a variety of graduate student appointments — teaching for a variety of courses, working in the writing center, for the OWL, as technology support, mentoring new teachers, and serving as assistants for directors.

Are there any professors and/or graduate students that you can put me in touch with so I can ask them about their experiences with the program?

My assistant director, Trinity Overmyer, [] can put you in touch with students for email discussion, and I encourage you to contact any of the faculty directly. Further, Trinity is also happy to arranged a schedule for you should you want to visit campus.

I would also suggest you examine the program’s web site at [though if you are reading this, you have found the website].

On the matter of job/career preparation: what do most graduates of your PhD program in Rhetoric/Composition do after they complete their degree? Also, do graduates tend to stay local or spread out across the country/world?

Most of our graduates become faculty at the college/university level. We focus on helping our students to prepare for the types of positions they want through mentoring along the way and a job group while they search for work. In the past five years our grads have taken jobs at: St. Joseph’s U (Philadelphia), Indiana U (Bloomington), Eckerd College (Florida), Qatar U (Doha, Qatar), St. Louis U (Missouri), Southern Indiana U, Xavier U (Cincinnati), Mount Union College (Ohio), Loyola U of Maryland, East Stroudsburg (PA), U of South Florida (Tampa), U of North Carolina at Wilmington, Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago), Indiana U/Purdue U-Fort Wayne, UNLV (Nevada), Rose Hulman IT (Indiana), Lewis College (Chicago), Peking U (PRC), Saginaw Valley State College (Michigan), Michigan Tech U (Houghton), Clemson U (So. Carolina), St. Xavier U (Chicago), U Texas Pan American (Texas), and Utica C (New York). I encourage them to apply for a range of jobs and to figure out what is the best place for meeting their goals. A few of our grads enter jobs in industry, and if they aim to do so, we work to help them find internships during their time here and to fashion dissertations that would support their interests. Two recent grads are working at IBM in California.

I guess I’m wondering: are your PhD candidates more akin to E.B. White (essayist/writer), William Strunk (scholar/literary editor), or some combination thereof (i.e. academics who also do non-academic writing)?

I think most of our grads would say they are scholars of and teachers of writing [or written discourse or rhetoric]. They also will have a focus related to their special interests: Sean is a publishing poet, Karl programs writing environments, Amy directs a writing program, Tarez studies women in the history of rhetoric, Jingfang does empirical research on workplace writing, Kristen rethinks the enthymeme, Paul revives casuistry to handle public argument, Huiling builds an international rhetoric of the epidemic, Julie studies risk and its communication, Alexis critiques fashion as rhetoric, Meredith studies mobile communication and writing, and so on. They are a bright, diverse group who I think will change the ways that we [by “we” here I mean the field] think about writing in its environments and for its growing purposes. In short, they do Purdue proud.

I hope that these comments address your concerns. Send more questions and comments as you think through your next step.

Patricia Sullivan
Professor of English and Director,
Graduate Program in Rhetoric and Composition
Purdue University