Humanities Graduate Seminar Presentations

Rhetoric, Theory and Culture

The MS and PhD in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture

The Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (RTC) program at Michigan Tech provides innovative, broad-based, interdisciplinary degrees that draw students into study across a range of fields, focusing on the complex interactions among rhetoric and communication within their social and cultural contexts. Special attention is given to the changing role of technology, communication, and representation in contemporary societies.

RTC Program Description

The RTC program is designed to challenge and prepare students both broadly and deeply to consider important issues of communication and rhetoric in a rapidly changing technological world. The program seeks flexible, intellectually curious, highly motivated students who are interested in working with faculty who offer challenging, advanced study, and intensive mentoring. Students consult closely with advisors to build a coherent program of study.

Recognizing that today's challenging issues often require analysis from across disciplinary perspectives, the RTC program is designed to draw on the diverse talents of some thirty-plus distinguished graduate faculty members.

Students choose groundwork courses in five areas:

  • Writing, Literacy and Technical Communication
  • Philosophy and Rhetoric
  • Technology, Media, and Visual Studies
  • Language, Literature, and Globalization
  • Communication and Culture

RTC Curriculum

Effective Fall 2014

The RTC curriculum consists of preparatory courses providing for general instruction in scholarly work and two types of content courses:

  • Groundwork courses providing an intensive study of a topic in one of the five interdisciplinary areas
  • Focus courses providing advanced and specialized topics of study.


Preparation for graduate work, scholarly roles, ethical conduct of research, and teaching responsibilities and skills is an important feature of the RTC program. The following courses address these concerns.

Introduction to Graduate Studies

taken in the student’s first year

First semester
  • Introduces students to the structure, processes, and timelines of the RTC program and to expectations and skills for graduate-level inquiry
  • Introduces graduate faculty and their scholarly specializations
  • Involves students in department’s academic life (colloquia, speakers, graduate forums, job talks, etc.)
Second semester
  • Surveys methodologies/methods for interdisciplinary humanistic inquiry
  • Assists students to identify a focus of interest, generate research ideas, and articulate a defensible research question
  • Involves students in department’s academic life (colloquia, speakers, graduate forums, job talks, etc.)

RTC Colloquium Series

This series features presentations by advanced RTC PhD students who have completed drafts of their research questions in preparation for their third year dissertation proposal defense requirement. There may be presentations by faculty as well highlighting current research projects and emerging research questions.

The series demonstrates the expectations for successful graduate student work and work within the academic profession. All current faculty and RTC students are expected to regularly attend as many presentations as possible.

Composition Practicum (HU5931)

3 credits in a student's first semester and follow-up lab in the second semester

This course is designed for GTIs teaching UN1015 Composition for the first time.  Weekly readings and assignments are designed to support continuous improvement as a writing teacher/scholar.

Other Practica (all are 1-credit)

Available in Technical Communication, Modern Language Pedagogy, Communication (by consent of instructor)

These pedagogy courses are offered as needed in order to prepare graduate students for teaching a variety of courses other than the Composition course. Practica may be dedicated to teaching Technical Communication, Modern Languages, Communication, or other undergraduate courses.

Sample Practica Contents:

  • Read current research on best pedagogical practices within a specific academic field

Observe undergraduate teaching by faculty and advanced graduate students

  • Design syllabi and assignments
  • Attend courses taught by graduate peers and reflect on practices
  • Participate in group grade norming

Responsible Conduct of Research

Basic and Advanced courses required by the Michigan Tech Graduate School

In addition to the preparatory courses required within the program, the Graduate School requires all graduate students to complete two Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) courses. The Basic course is offered during the new graduate student orientation prior to the start of classes each semester. The course is also offered online. The Advanced RCR requirement can be fulfilled by taking one of the courses offered by various departments. (All are 1 or 2 credits. There are 3-credit courses that have been authorized as Advanced RCR courses including HU5711 Bioethics.) The department offers a Research Integrity Workshop each summer that fulfills this requirement. Learn more about available RCR training resources.

Supplementary Coursework Options

  • 4000-level courses: MS and PhD students are limited to taking one 4000-level course, with the additional stipulation that they consult with the professor of the course on appropriate additional readings/papers, etc. This must be approved by RTC Director, in consultation student’s advisor.
  • Coursework outside RTC: All coursework outside the RTC program must be approved byRTC Director, in consultation student’sadvisor.

Independent Study Approval

To sign up for any 59xx or 69xx courses or to take a 4000-level course or a course outside the Humanities department, students must complete a request for approval.

Groundwork Courses

The RTC program is centered on coursework organized within five (5) clusters, with two (2) courses per cluster:

Writing, Literacy, and Technical Communication

Rhetoric and Composition

Technical and Scientific Communication

Philosophy and Rhetoric

Continental Philosophy

History and Theory of Rhetoric

Technology, Media, and Visual Studies

Theoretical Perspectives on Technology

Visual Theory and Analysis

Language, Literature, and Globalization

Critical Approaches to Literature and Culture

Critical Perspectives on Globalization

Communication and Culture

Communication Theory

Cultural Theory

Focus Courses

Focus courses develop in-depth understanding of a delimited scholarly area. Examples of Focus courses include the following.

  • Feminist Philosophy
  • Cyberactivism and Social Change
  • The Body in Visual Representation
  • Community Literacy
  • Feminist Critiques of Technology and Science
  • Critical Aesthetics from Analog to Digital Color
  • Technical and Scientific Communication in/and the Humanities and Liberal Arts Traditions

Masters Options for Fourth Semester

Thesis (proposal defense and public defense)

A proposal defense with the full committee (including the external member) should be held at the end of the 3rd semester or the beginning of the 4th semester. This defense is not public but should include all committee members.

  • Fourth semester: 6-9 credits HU5990 (plus coursework if necessary to equal 9 credits)
  • Work for the Thesis Option requires in-depth analyses of some issue or question on extensive research. The scope of the research and writing should be appropriate to the time allotted for 6-9 hours of research credit. The Thesis paper should be 50-70 pages. The Thesis must include a reference list of works cited and works consulted.

Project (proposal defense and public defense)

A proposal defense with the full committee (including the external member) should be held at the end of the 3rd semester or the beginning of the 4th semester. This defense is not public but should include all committee members.

  • Fourth semester: 3-6 credits HU5991 + coursework to equal 9 credits
  • Work for the Project Option may take the form of a small communication product or research and analysis of a limited issue or question.
  • The scope of the project should be appropriate to the time allotted for 3-6 hours of research credit. The Project Report should be 30-40 pages. The Report must include a reference list of works cited and works consulted.

Coursework (proposal and defense; not public)

Students draw from their graduate coursework and demonstrate their ability to argue significant issues or questions in a final paper. This paper either synthesizes material in 3 or 4 of their courses or is a revision of one of their coursework papers so that it becomes a longer, more substantial argument that is well-focused and that draws on readings done in courses.

  • Fourth semester:  2 courses + HU5992 Independent Study (3 cr.) with advisor.
  • Coursework paper is not to exceed 20 pages + works cited list.
  • Coursework examinations will be open only to members of the examining committee.

PhD Third and Fourth Year Requirements

  • Required Methodologies and Methods (M/M) Certification
  • Required Modern Language Certification
  • Qualifying examination
  • Proposal defense

Required Methodologies and Methods Requirements

A Methodologies/Methods certification is required of all Ph.D. students (M.S. students as appropriate for theses/projects). This requirement can be satisfied by a methods course or a groundwork or focus course that includes methods instruction

Students must consult with their advisors during their coursework preparation in order to determine which M/M preparation would be most appropriate for their focus of study, and be advised into appropriate means of preparing for their dissertations, theses, or projects.

By the start of the third year, a Ph.D. student’s advisor must certify that the student has achieved sufficient preparation to undertake advanced PhD dissertation research (internal Department of Humanities form). Preparation can be completed by at least one of the following means:

  • Explicit Research M/M preparation within existing Groundwork courses—These are identified specifically by modules (as spelled out in syllabi) for those courses, or as specified in a memo from the professor of that course.
  • Completion of appropriate M/M courses—Students must meet with their advisors to determine the best avenues for their own preparation, not just take any offered M/M course in order to complete this requirement. (Note that new M/M courses might need to be designed, and that there may not presently be an appropriate M/M course offered.)
  • Independent studies—If there are insufficient avenues for student preparation via coursework options, students may need to engage in (limited) independent studies that focus on M/M preparation.

Required Modern Language Competence Certification

All incoming Ph.D. graduate students must satisfy a two-part language and global intercultural coursework requirement before completion of qualifying exams.

  • Demonstrate second-year reading proficiency (consult with the Modern Language Director for details)
  • Complete Global/Intercultural course:
    • HU5005 Critical Perspectives on Globalization
    • Advanced Graduate Seminar in Modern Language & Film (to be developed)
  • Waivers are possible for ML native speakers or those holding ML degrees

Frequently Asked Questions

Qualifying Examination

Qualifying exams should be taken during the student’s fifth semester (third year). Students should have their committees in place by the end of the fourth semester so they can begin the qualifying exam process. The committee consists of 3 faculty advisors from the Humanities Department.

The student prepares 2-3 reading lists in consultation with the faculty committee (readings may overlap). The reading lists will draw upon the readings and preparation from the first two years of coursework, with a limited set of additional readings that the faculty and student agree are necessary to enable the student to articulate a general question and response, in order to demonstrate the following:

  • familiarity with the most important research in those areas,
  • familiarity with primary issues and controversies in those areas,
  • ability to articulate a position and argument for one’s own perspective, within the context of those areas

Students and advisors will formulate 2-3 questions based on the reading lists. Each question should provide the student with a framework for making scholarly arguments about issues, theories, and/or traditions central to the area of study to which the question is directed. Students (who are attending graduate school full time) will undertake to complete all of this writing by the end of the first semester of the third year.

Committee advisors should collect the reading lists and questions from all committee members and send them to the RTC Director at least two weeks before the beginning of the exam. These lists and questions will be circulated among the committee members with a sign-off cover sheet so that all members can approve them. (This cover sheet may be signed electronically if necessary.) After the exam, a copy of the lists will be kept in a list file and the questions in a question file as resources for future students/advisors. A copy will also be kept in the student's file.

The student will write the qualifying exams over the course of three weeks. The student should submit 35-50 pages total (about 8,750-12,500 words). There is NO fourth question. This has now become the proposal defense process.

Once the student submits responses, all responses will be distributed to all committee members. The committee will have one week before the scheduled date of the oral defense to review the answers and agree that the student can participate in a defense.

Procedure for taking the Qualifying Examination

On the day the exams are scheduled to start, the student can pick up the questions from the Humanities office assistant in the Humanities Office. The questions can be picked up in person or by sending an email to the Humanities office assistant. Picking up questions must be done during scheduled office hours

Students have 3 weeks to complete exam answers. Once writing is completed, the student must email the answers to the Humanities office assistant who will distribute the answers to committee members.

The committee has one week to review the submitted answers and approve a defense. The student should have this defense date set up with the committee in advance and a room reserved. If the student is not approved to go forward, these arrangements must be cancelled .

The defense is not public and is scheduled for two hours. Students should bring the Graduate School form for reporting on Qualifying Exams and the department's internal program assessment form (available from the Humanities office assistant).

Upon successful completion of the defense, the exam committee is dismissed and the student must reconstitute a dissertation committee. As before, the RTC Director will invite committee members and formalize the dissertation committee.

Proposal Defense

The student should write and defend a dissertation proposal before the start of the fourth year and the semester after qualifying exams. This may be a one-semester process, especially if the student needs to develop expertise in new areas (beyond coursework and the qualifying examination).

The proposal should be 15-20 pages (3,750-5,000 words). Following are guidelines for sections of the proposal, to be adjusted as appropriate for the diverse fields within the department:

Introduction—articulates an area of focus leading to a defensible question

  • Literature review—situates the research question within the context of other current conversations and work in the field
  • Rationale for study
  • Articulation of Research Question(s)
  • Methodology/Methods—articulates an understanding of the appropriate means for undertaking the collection and analysis of data, or the articulation of appropriate rhetorical/hermeneutic approaches, as approved by the student’s committee, that will lead student to contribute productively to their area of interest.
  • Chapter outline, as presently projected
  • Expected significance of project/contributions to the field

All committee members including the external member should participate in the proposal defense. Following a successful defense, the student must submit the Graduate School’s Report on Proposal Defense and the Department of Humanities internal program assessment form (available from the Humanities office assistant).

Upon successful defense of the proposal, the student may register for HU6990 Dissertation Research. Students are encouraged to petition for Graduate School Research status by completing the Graduate School form, “Petition to Enter Full-Time Research-Only Mode.” The semester following approval of this petition, the student should register for HU6975.

Placement History

The graduate program in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (formerly Rhetoric & Technical Communication) has been highly successful in placing graduate students in the kinds of jobs they want. The program boasts a nearly 100-percent placement rate. We have placed graduates in schools such as:

Clarkson UniversitySaginaw Valley State University
California State University (Chico)St. Cloud State University
Grand Valley State UniversityState University of New York (Potsdam)
Illinois State UniversityUniversity of Wisconsin (Stout)
Kings CollegeUniversity of Wisconsin (Milwaukee)
Metropolitan State UniversityUtah State University (Logan)
Michigan State UniversityUtah Valley State College
New Mexico State UniversityVillanova University
Northern Illinois UniversityWashington State University
Penn State UniversityWestern Michigan University

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