Doctor of Philosophy in Composition and Applied Linguistics

What is the Culminating Evaluation and Who is Eligible for It?

The Culminating Evaluation is the defense of the student's first three chapters of the dissertation. Students are eligible for the Culminating Evaluation, provided they have:

  • Passed the Qualifying Evaluation (due in January or February following the first summer or semester of course work)
  • Completed all required courses with 3.5 GPA or higher
  • Submitted the Research Topic Approval Form
  • Have sufficient time to complete and defend the dissertation before the seven-year limit.

Preparing for the Culminating Evaluation

During the last semester of course work, students should register for two credits of ENGL 995 Dissertation for the following semester. Students do not need to register for Dissertation during the summer.

When a student approaches the end of coursework, he or she should organize a dissertation committee. The committee consists of three faculty members from the Composition and Applied Linguistics Program. One serves as their dissertation advisor (must be a member of the Composition and Applied Linguistics Program Committee); two additional faculty members serve as readers for the dissertation. One of the readers may be a non-Composition and Applied Linguistics faculty member; the permission of the Composition and Applied Linguistics director is required.

During the first semester following course work, the student works with their advisor to develop a six-to-eight page proposal, not including references, for the intended research project. The proposal should identify the sub-field, topic, and specific line of inquiry for the dissertation. It should also include a rationale, methods of study, materials, and estimated timeline for completing the project. The proposal should be attached to the Research Topic Approval Form (available in the Graduate English office) and circulated among the committee members for approval and signature, beginning with the student's advisor. Finally, the student should write a one-two page abstract of the study, attach it to the completed Research Topic Approval Form, and deliver it to the Graduate English Office to be signed by the Composition and Applied Linguistics program coordinator and forwarded to the Graduate School. A copy of this form is kept in the student's file in the Graduate English office.

The Culminating Evaluation Meeting

Once the Research Topic Approval Form is completed, the student begins work on his or her first three chapters, working primarily under the guidance of the dissertation advisor. When the advisor agrees that the first three chapters are ready for the Culminating Evaluation (also known as the Three Chapter meeting), the student delivers the three chapters to the readers and the Culminating Evaluation meeting may be scheduled.

The Culminating Evaluation meeting will address two criteria:

  • Breadth of knowledge: The breadth of the student's knowledge of the field as required to successfully complete the dissertation
  • Readiness to complete the dissertation: The specific knowledge and readiness the student shows to undertake the dissertation research project as demonstrated by the presentation of three chapters of the dissertation.

These criteria will be assessed according to the student's oral and written performance at the Culminating Evaluation meeting. The meeting affords an opportunity for the student to demonstrate command of the literature in the selected areas of specialization in addition to the readings cited in the references for the three chapters. The meeting also creates an opportunity for the student to demonstrate a command of the theory, previous research, rationale, and methodology involved in the dissertation research project. The entire committee evaluates the dissertation at the Culminating Evaluation, which covers the first three chapters, and at the final defense.

The three chapters under review at the Culminating Evaluation should reflect the best work the student is capable of. Readers expect these chapters to be complete and polished drafts, not working drafts. When final chapters of the dissertation have been written, the student must return to the first three chapters and revise them in light of the findings, conclusions, and newly published literature.

The organization of the three chapters to be presented to the committee at the Culminating Evaluation meeting will be determined by the dissertation advisor. The three chapters will vary with each dissertation. For example, an empirical study and a theoretical study might present chapters that are organized quite differently. In all cases, the three chapters must show the student's breadth of knowledge of the field and their readiness to undertake the dissertation research. The student's oral performance at the meeting must do the same. The three chapters brought to this meeting should represent the highest quality work to demonstrate the student's ability to complete the dissertation research successfully.

In most dissertations, whether qualitative or quantitative, the three chapters will address the Significance of the Project (Chapter 1), Review of Related Literature (Chapter 2), and Methods (Chapter 3). Dissertations that are primarily theoretical, historical, or narrative in nature will be organized differently.

All dissertations should thoroughly address the significance of the research project for the field. To do this, the student must provide a well organized and focused review of the literature, offering a cogent argument for why the research is needed.

The student will defend the three chapters at the Culminating Evaluation meeting. Prior to the Culminating Evaluation, the input of committee members may be sought if the advisor approves.

The advisor and the committee members will evaluate the student's written documents and oral performance at the meeting. The student will be evaluated on each criteria (e.g., breadth of knowledge and readiness to do the dissertation). There are these possible outcomes:

  • Pass. The student continues the dissertation process, including completion of an application to the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB) if the project involves human subjects.
  • Major Revisions Required. This decision means that the student must rewrite significant portions of the document and make all revisions called for by the committee. This decision may be used only once and may require a second Culminating Evaluation meeting between the student and their dissertation committee.
  • Fail: This decision may be used when the student has revised and the committee meets for a second time and determines that the revisions were not satisfactory. A Fail at this point means that the student has demonstrated that he or she cannot produce a successful dissertation under the given constraints and, therefore, cannot complete the program.

When the committee decides that the student is ready to move forward with the dissertation, the faculty members sign the Research Topic Approval Form. The student must attach a two- to three-page summary of the study (approved by the faculty advisor) to this form. This form is then given to the doctoral program coordinator who signs it and sends it to the college dean and to the Graduate School for other approval signatures.

Outside Readers

If a student and dissertation advisor think it would be appropriate, it is possible to invite an outside scholar to be a reader on the committee. However this invited outside reader must meet the same criteria to be a reader on the dissertation committee as professors at IUP (e.g., be published, give conference presentations). If a student and faculty advisor would like to invite an outside reader to join the dissertation committee, they need to provide the doctoral program coordinator with this person's curriculum vitae and an email requesting approval of the outside reader; this letter should include a brief justification as to why the scholar is being invited to be an outside reader. The program coordinator will then take the request through the approval process and notify the dissertation advisor and student when the scholar has been approved.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense will cover the entire dissertation, though it is generally assumed that the first three chapters have already been closely examined. The possible outcomes are as follows:

  • Pass with Distinction (for an outstanding accomplishment)
  • Pass, with minor revisions (to be worked out between student and advisor)
  • Decision Pending, with major revisions (to be worked out with between student, committee, and advisor, culminating in a second meeting and a final decision of Pass or Fail)
  • Fail

Roles of Composition and Applied Linguistics Program Coordinator, Dissertation Advisor, and Dissertation Readers

The dissertation committee consists of three members: the dissertation advisor and two readers.

The Composition and Applied Linguistics Program coordinator's role is to provide advice to the candidate and committee about regulations, policies, and procedures as well as to facilitate or mediate communication about the committee's work. In rare cases, the program coordinator may exercise the option to preside over the meeting of the dissertation committee.

The dissertation advisor's role is that of leading member of the dissertation committee. Students work closely with the dissertation advisor from the inception of the topic through all the stages of the proposal and the dissertation. During the actual research and writing of the dissertation, students work mainly with the dissertation advisor. Readers may be consulted about questions that fall in their fields of expertise, but they normally respond in writing only to the final draft. At the defense, the readers again play an important role in responding to and approving the final draft of the dissertation.

As indicated on the Research Topic Approval form, the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences may elect to serve on the committee, to appoint someone to serve in their place, or to appoint no one.