TCR Grad Blog

Graduate director's blog for the Technical Communication and Rhetoric Program at Texas Tech University

Archive for the ‘program’ Category

Curriculum Survey Results, Fall 2012

Posted by Joyce on August 11, 2012

As has been my custom for the past 5 or 6 years, I have surveyed the graduate student body to ask about classes (their value and ideal frequency), meeting times, the culture of the program, and general demographics, all of which I use to schedule events, tweak our offerings, and attempt to address deficiencies of the program. Here are the results:

TCR Curriculum Survey On-Campus 2012 (N=13)

TCR Curriculum Survey Online 2012 (N=17)

The faculty and I will be studying the results as we plan for the 2013-14 course offerings.  My general (and initial) thoughts about these data more or less mirror last year’s thoughts, so I’ll just link to them and let you decide if you’d like to read these thoughts.


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CPTSC Proposal 2012

Posted by Joyce on May 1, 2012

Having heard grumblings from friends and colleagues at other schools, I felt the time was right to address questions of size and grad program macro-strategy at this fall’s CPTSC meeting in Houghton, Michigan.  If I get accepted, here’s what I propose to discuss. 

“What’s the Right Size? Graduate Program Growth Strategy in the Context of Academic and Workplace Communities”

Joyce Carter, Director of Graduate Studies at Texas Tech University

When we look at graduate programs, regardless of our roles as faculty, colleagues, deans, or advisory boards, one of the questions we always take up involves the size of the program. Most of the discussion centers on internal factors, such as faculty-to-student ratios, number of semester credit hours generated by the program, the ratio of PhD to masters to bachelors to certificate students, and so on.

Harder to calculate, but equally important, are external factors. Being an entrepreneur and having been trained in business (as well as rhetoric), I see the internal program questions as being akin to cost accounting and operations questions one would encounter in a business, and the external questions being more akin to strategy and macroeconomic factors, and I will spend the bulk of my time looking at those external factors as major part of the way programs may think about size and ratios.

The topic is relevant to the conference theme in the macro sense of viewing graduate programs as integral parts of larger webs of rhetoric and scientific communication programs around the country and globe, employers and internship providers, and the community at large, which interacts with graduate programs in service-oriented projects, among other things.

Questions we may consider include the following:

  • What does the market for rhetors look like? Who are major stakeholders? Competitors? Complementors?
  • What is the role of distance-education graduate programs in this market?
  • How does one gauge concepts like “flooding the market,” bigness, or boutiqueness in general?
  • What does having graduate students who don’t pursue traditional (i.e. MLA) career paths do to our concept of placement?
  • Is it necessary or important to adhere to MLA job listing guidelines and timelines?
  • What is the role of consortiums in discussing program size, discipline size, discipline specialties, certification, among others? Should these questions be “regulated” in a centralized fashion, or should individual programs proceed in a decentralized fashion?

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May Seminar Attendance Policy Revision (21 April 2012)

Posted by Joyce on April 21, 2012

Effective immediately, online doctoral students are required to attend their first 5 May Seminars. Attendance after that point is optional, but highly recommended. “Attend” means coming to Lubbock for the entire 2 week period and participating in professional development, writing, and other knowledge-sharing activities. Your attendance will be documented in your annual review folder, and it is up to you to demonstrate compliance with this policy. If you graduate before attending your fifth seminar, you are clearly waived from this requirement. All students must continue to have an annual review conducted by video conference with their committee during the seminar period.

This policy is meant to supplement existing policies regarding continual enrollment in the program. In other words, students are still required to be continually enrolled in coursework at a level of 4 courses per year while they are taking coursework, and 3 semesters of post-coursework registration in either 7000 or 8000 courses. If students need to request a break in their continual enrollment, they still need to petition the faculty formally, per our existing policy that allows a one-time stoppage for up to one calendar year for good reasons (typically economic hardship and health issues). If you are awarded such a waiver, your “First 5 Seminar” requirement will resume when you return to the program.

We are also ceasing our incentive program that reimburses students’ final May Seminar registration fee after they have successfully defended. Students who have already attended a May event, and who have continued to come to each May Seminar will be grandfathered and will receive a reimbursement if they continue to attend every May until graduation. New students (i.e. those who will be attending their first May Seminar in 2012) are not eligible for this grandfathered policy.

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Dissertation and Defense Expectations Clarified

Posted by Joyce on February 17, 2012

After a year of discussion and revision, the TCR faculty is implementing a clarification of our expectations about dissertation quality, development, and defenses. This “Best Practices” document, along with the dissertation defense routing form, has been developed to clarify the program’s expectations for you, the committee, the dissertation, and the defense.

Please see the following documents:

Best Practices for TCR Dissertations and Defenses

TCR Dissertation Defense Routing Form

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Waivers, Awards, and Reductions

Posted by Joyce on January 15, 2012

In the week just before a semester begins, there is always the urgent email or call from students who are worried that their waivers haven’t showed up on their account.  While it is indeed troubling, this situation is not dire — it always gets fixed. Philosophically speaking, we did not admit you to our graduate program just to let you fall victim to money troubles — if you get dropped or if your waiver hasn’t been applied yet, we’ll re-add you and we’ll find your waiver.  Sometimes you have to pay what you think your proper amount should be, and then the difference will get worked out in the following days.

There are three types of reductions to your fee bill.

GPTI fee and tuition waivers:  If you work for the program as a teaching assistant (GPTI, TA, or RA), then the department (typically my assistant and the dept business manager) submit paperwork that will reduce your tuition and fees by a given amount.  This is the set of waivers that I recently wrote about–the graduate school will limit your out-of-pocket expenses to $600 starting in the Fall 2012 semester.

Online PhD tuition waivers.  Your initial fee bill looks enormous, but that’s because you’ve been charged out-of-state tuition, along with our program’s hefty coursefee.  The tuition gets reversed via an email I send to SBS.  I do this in bulk after everyone is registered, but late season adds and drops may result in your name not being on the list.  Just let me know and I’ll get the tuition reversed.

Scholarships and Fellowships.  These are awarded by the department, the college, the grad school, or some other entity.  They are often applied timely, but sometimes other offices lose paperwork or fail to inform us timely of some sort of requirement.  These usually get applied to your account by the start of school, but if they’re missing, let me know.

Changes on the Horizon.  I do not know what the precise dollar amount of this change will be, but beginning either in Summer or Fall 2012, online PhD non-Texas residents will no longer have to go through all this tuition-then-reversal situation.  You will simply be billed non-resident tuition and the big coursefee will vanish.  What’s unknown is how much non-resident tuition will be for those semesters. I will still put non-residents into X sections and Texas residents into D sections, however, so your residency status will continue to be important.

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What Do You Want From Life?

Posted by Joyce on November 20, 2011

This from an online doctoral student illustrates, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding about doctoral education:

Offer more courses that help students skills related to web pages and other technologies. I think there is too much emphasis on rhetoric, and not enough focus on technology. Many of us will graduate with significant student loans to pay back;in order to compete (especially during these tough economic times), we need to have a deep understanding of emerging technologies.

Similarly, here’s a master’s student with a similar complaint:

I wish I had more chances to learn about the latest trends and tools in multimedia interactive, web-based technical communication such as screencasting, voice-over narration, embedded user assistance. I’ve barely even touched tools that I think will be come more important in the industry, such as help authoring tools (HATs) and screencasting tools. When I did use those technologies, they were not very central to the requirements

Yes, it would be valuable to have many tools and techniques anchoring graduate classes, and it may certainly be the case that this program is deficient in doing so. But there is a danger, it seems to me, also about locating one’s program value in teaching the tools because we don’t feel that that’s really what we do, nor do we feel that’s what our graduate courses are designed to do. One could certainly offer classes in Wordstar, Lotus 1-2-3, or FrameMaker. You may ask, “what are those things?” and that’s the point. They’re defunct tools. Or you might consider offering a course in cut-and-paste, when all you do is drag-and-drop. Instead, I think we’d rather offer courses in design (not Frame, In-Design, PageMaker), editing, methodology, and so on.

It’s not unlike computer science, which doesn’t like teaching C++, Viisual Basic, COBOL, Java, or any specific programming tool, but prefers teaching algorithms for sorting and searching, artificial intelligence, pattern matching, robotics, or any one of a number of higher-level skills.

I could check almost half the list here but I am only allowed 4. Having said that, all of these things are things I’ve been teaching for 15+ years or with which I have career experience. It’s slightly insulting to sit through a class on these things when I already feel my expertise level is sufficient for — and I am already producing work in — the business world.

I think the best answer to this complaint is “don’t sign up for such a class.” If there is nothing to learn and you don’t want/need the graduate credit, please take some other course. If the problem is deeper, and if nothing we have to offer by way of coursework suits you, and all you want is the initials PhD after your name, then I’d further suggest you drop out and buy a doctorate from U of Phoenix.

While I think the history of rhetoric is important, my time was better spent on courses where I can actually apply what I learn.

Because of my comp/rhet focus, classes that are very focused on tech com are the least valuable to me.

This is a master’s student, offering a complaint that’s certainly not uncommon over time:

I have little interest in the theoretical classes. Although I realize they are a required part of the degree program, they offer little practical use in my everyday life as I am not planning to go into academia or research upon completion of my degree.

Yes, I know you don’t like theory and methods courses. However, since you came to us asking for a master of arts, and not a technical certificate from your community college, theory and methods are going to be a major part of your degree activities. And by major, we’re only talking a 3-course requirement (out of 12), so the theoretical footprint seems pretty paltry compared to what could be required in other circumstances. Why theory? Well, a theory is a story about why things are the way they are. It’s a worldview that helps us put our mundane and repetitive activities into patterns we recognize (and thus may manipulate to the benefit of ourselves and others). Without theory, all of our practical activities proceed randomly.

Rhetoric or Argumentation: How do we communicate effectively and how have we arrived at this point historically? How do we persuade and argue our cases effectively?

Feminism: What is the role of sex and gender in social activities, communication, design?

Methods: How do we make sense of stuff we see happening around us? What do we do about X?

Ethics: How do we behave in our organizations as communicators, designers, rhetors?

Theories of Technology: Why do we worry about tools and techniques so much? Is the world going to hell in a handbasket? What is my role as a communicator/teacher/citizen in a technical world?

Rhetoric and (Science/Healthcare/Law/YourFavoriteSphereInsertedHere): How does communication work in technical and specialized fields and spheres? What are the impediments to good communication when dealing with disparate technical realms? What is the role of communication as facilitating social action, knowledge creation, improved processes within this technical field?

As I write this list above, I find myself confused about the Theory/Practice dichotomy, or rather the label “Theory/Practice.” I am not at all convinced that these bullet points above do not also constitute a type of practical study. Isn’t the question “What type of argument is best suited to making my case in this multi-disciplinary group?” a practical one, not much different from “What typeface is most pleasing AND utilitarian given the publication I’m working on?” or any number of so-called practical questions? Unless you’re a trained monkey, how can you answer even the simplest practical question without understanding the context that gives rise to your question in the first place? And isn’t that context borne out of a theoretical understanding of culture, communication, rhetoric, economics, fields of discourse, quality of production, ethical practices, and fundamental differences among types of people?

If you want to learn specific tools, please go ahead and do so. Nothing’s stopping you. It’s just that we don’t want to give graduate credit for what can be learned from an Idiot’s Guide in a few weeks.

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Faculty Position in Technical Communication and Rhetoric

Posted by Joyce on November 11, 2011

Texas Tech University seeks a specialist in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. Open rank. Tenure-line. Graduate and undergraduate courses in the specialization; service on thesis and dissertation committees. We invite applications from all areas of technical communication and rhetoric. Ph.D. and publications or strong research potential required. It is expected that new faculty will be engaged in scholarship or creative activity that attracts outside funding in the form of fellowships, grants, exhibits, and similar kinds of support.

The Department of English is large (52 faculty, 400 undergraduate majors, 200 graduate students), dynamic, and diverse, with B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in English and B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in Technical Communication. We lead the university in online education. The department cooperates in interdepartmental programs in linguistics and comparative literature at both graduate and undergraduate levels. The department supports. three scholarly journals (including Technical Communication Quarterly) and three literary journals as well as the Digital Humanities Lab, LetterPress Lab, Multiple Literacies Lab, and Usability Research Lab.

For more information, please visit

Texas Tech University is a growing state-supported institution, with a law school and medical school and colleges of Arts and Sciences, Agriculture, Architecture, Business Administration, Engineering, Human Sciences, Mass Communications, and Visual and Performing Arts. The College of Arts and Sciences represents 35% of the total enrollment of 32,000.

Candidates must apply online at with letter of application and vita. Letters of recommendation will be solicited later from exceptionally qualified candidates. Applications accepted till the position is filled. Screening starts December 15. Direct inquiries to Miles Kimball (

TTU is an Equal Opportunity /Affirmative Action Employer, and it encourages applications from minorities and women.

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Grad Applications Reviewed Yearly, effective immediately

Posted by Joyce on October 4, 2011

Effective Fall 2011, the graduate program will no longer take applications twice a year. Beginning with the January 15, 2012, deadline, we will look at applications ONLY every January 15th. This new policy applies to online and on-campus programs, to the MATC and PhD equally.

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Curriculum Survey Results, Fall 2011

Posted by Joyce on August 28, 2011

As has been my custom for the past 5 or 6 years, I have surveyed the graduate student body to ask about classes (their value and ideal frequency), meeting times, the culture of the program, and general demographics, all of which I use to schedule events, tweak our offerings, and attempt to address deficiencies of the program. Here are the results:

Survey Results: On-Campus Graduate Students, 2011 (N=8)

Survey Results: Online Graduate Students, 2011 (N=24)

I have studied the results and offer the following observations.

First, while I don’t include it here, I have examined the results by degree program, as well as modality, so as to see if there are material differences in PhD and MATC. There are, as you can imagine, but the list of “to do” items reveals itself in your answers to open questions. Thus a) I don’t think it’s worth having a formal report that distinguishes among the populations and b) since the MATC N is rather small, I think it’s better for anonymity to have those results folded into the larger questions.

Second, and this has come up in various ways over the past 5 years, while there is a modality difference in the online programs and the f2f programs, that difference in no way corresponds to one being more valuable than the other. This assertion/fear/hunch is simply not true, as I believe is demonstrable in our plans and actions since the inception of the online programs 8 (PhD) and 12 (MATC) years ago. Recruiting, applications, and admissions are variable across all four programs, and naturally if you look at one year, you may be tempted to assign meaning to the fact that X students versus Y students got admitted or graduated or got a job. But if you take a longer view of our program’s trends, I simply don’t think you will see any favoritism among programs or any significant differences in quality trends between programs. The only trend that matters is to increase quality, and I think we can demonstrate steady progress in this mission over the past 5-10 years.

Third, although the numbers of negative feedback are small, I certainly recognize a need to keep trying to improve our programmatic communications with you. Someone rightly says that they get a welcome letter and a link to our official website, but that specific advise is in short supply. One often has to get information from other students, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for culture and knowledge, it also frustrates many of you. I’m going to do my best to make dates, procedures, and specific steps more available to you, and I thank you for your honest feedback.

Fourth, I always study the class-offerings questions very carefully each year as I plan the next block of courses. I’m in the midst of recommending classes for Summer 12, Fall 12, and Spring 13, and these data are really important to me in this endeavor. There’s always tension around the frequency of required courses, and I always make sure that foundational and methods courses appear in the rotation every year. As for electives, your feedback has a very large impact on my decisions, and you can rest assured that the courses you really, really want will show up in the next block.

Fifth, some online students really do not like the MOO, but year in and year out, the MOO has received very high marks, probably because it’s easy, it’s text, and it’s used heavily. A key concept for you is also the cost of tools, as we have to pay for software and hardware out of course fees if we want to upgrade. The MOO’s cost has been virtually free for years, as has WebBoard, but cheapness isn’t the only reason to keep a tool.  We could upgrade to any number of tools, and we evaluate them all the time — but the ones that involve the most money always give us pause because we are sensitive to how much you pay in fees and tuition. In any event, know that this topic is constantly revisited by the faculty, and while it’s unlikely we’ll adopt a uniform platform, it is very likely we’ll adopt (and support in-house) a couple of new tools this year or next.

Sixth, I probably fixate too much on your negative feedback, but I really do study the final two questions of the survey every year very carefully. I’m very keen to learn about your perspectives on what we’re doing poorly and what your ideas are regarding priorities going forward. Many of you dislike our online presence, and while it’s not fair to blame tools, I blame our CMS, which the department adopted 4 years ago, and which is quite uncreative. I think we’ll move away from that this year, and we’ll also try to move a lot of program information into more accessible places.

Seventh, many of you are concerned about the size of the program, the faculty-to-student ratio, and the availability of your faculty, all of which are related. This year, for the first time in quite a while, the overall size of the combined programs decreases as we admit fewer students and graduate more, and I think this seems like a reasonable level to sustain or shrink slightly. I don’t know if holding the line at this level will address your concerns about size, but I think it’s unlikely we will shrink the program any more than 10-15% percent from current levels. It is also unlikely that we will be in a position to hire any new faculty, so we are going to have to address questions of communication, access, and general culture by adjusting our practices.

A final thought about communication and knowledge silos. I get this every year, and I try to address the issue in different ways each year, but complaints about program communication always interest me. On the one hand, of course the program should have better communication. We’re communicators and we have the tools and know-how to operate at a high and useful level for you. And I’ll keep trying to improve. On the other hand, I am not sure how smart it is to shift information into a centralized location when all the literature on knowledge and speed of information tells us that what makes social networking (and decentralized information exchange in general) powerful is that it doesn’t rely on one person or one centralized process. One of you writes that you had to learn about what to do from other students as if it’s a bad thing—from a theoretical perspective, I think it’s probably the case that information about the university, the professors, and the general know-how of being a graduate student ought to be faster and more accurate if it is generated not only from me and my fingertips, but also from you as you scour the university bureaucracy to answers and solutions related to getting your degree. In fact, you comprise a much, much larger research force than I do, especially when it comes to dealing with the university, and I would encourage you to help yourselves as much as possible, rather than looking to me to produce an org-chart and a how-to sheet on how to navigate the treacherous waters of the university. If you learn something valuable in dealing with a certain office (like Financial Aid or the Registrar) for example, please don’t sit on that knowledge, but push it to your classmates using the listserv, the facebook page, our twitter hashtag, or any number of other fast means. Similarly, when I learn the answer to a question that one of you asks me, I don’t reply to you directly, but instead push the answer to the listserv, the facebook page, this blog, and so on. I know it’s sloppy, but I honestly believe it’s the best way to deal with the complexity of our current situation.

Which is not to say I’m giving up on my responsibility for being one of those sources of information for you. On the contrary, I will continue trying to add value to the communication spectrum by sharing my thoughts, our program policies, and various announcements—the things that I know more directly and what I can learn more efficiently.

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The Cost of the PhD

Posted by Joyce on March 25, 2011

I often get requests to  provide someone with the “cost of the degree,” and while I understand that there are some schools, some disciplines, and some systems that treat the degree as one thing with a set price, it is certainly not our model.  Why?  Because there are so many variables for a given individual’s progress that a standard cost would be impossible to provide.

However, I’ll give it a shot.

First is the amount of coursework you have to take.  It’s more variable for the PhD than for the MATC, but even in the latter case, we do credit you with prior graduate work (we’re limited to 6 hours).  The PhD is a 60 hour degree (post bachelors), so the number of transfer credits has a huge bearing on your cost of coursework.  When figuring costs, the only thing to do is to use averages, and the average number of transfer credit hours realized by PhD students is 21 (or 7 courses).  If you want, you can construct a normal distribution of transfer credits with the average at 21 hours, the left tail at 15 hours, and the right tail at 30 hours, and you’d have a really good picture about transfer credits.  In other words, most students, falling within one standard deviation, would receive 18-24 transfer credits.

The current tuition and fees for one 3-hour course stands at approximately $1200 for Texas residents and $1800 for non-Texas residents.  This is another variable, of course, as the tuition and fees are largely out of our control.  You might use these figures and apply a reasonable rate of inflation during your time in the program if you want to be conservative.

However, using 7 transfer courses as our average, that means that the average number of courses to complete with your TCR faculty is 13, and if we multiply, then we have ~$15,500 for Texas residents and ~$24,000 for non-Texans to complete coursework.  Everyone has to take at least 12 hours of ENGL 8000 by rule of the university, so we might as well use that figure for our cost calculations (realizing that many students, mostly local students, but some online students, will exceed this figure).   12 hours is basically 4 three-hour courses, and we’ll use the same in-state  and out-of-state figures from above to arrive at ~$5000 for Texans and ~$7500 for non-Texans.

Online doctoral students are required to come to the May workshop every year until they graduate.  Taking the best average time to graduation that we have so far (about 4.5 years), then that means 4 1/2 workshops, currently billed at $1600 per, so that’s ~$7000.  You have to get to these workshops, and that’s highly variable, but let’s use a very rough figure of $1000/year, so let’s add a rounded figure of ~$5000 for travel.

Local students don’t have to come to May workshops, obviously, but they have moving costs and living costs while they’re in Lubbock.  I don’t know whether it’s fair to allocate the entire cost of living during one’s approximately 5 years in Lubbock to  the cost of the degree, but if you did, you might use a figure of $800/month for rent/mortgage = ~$48,000 (realizing that if you buy, then you’ve got equity in your investment and will recoup it when you sell), and something like $20,000 for food and other living expenses.  However, you’re going to spend money on food and lodging wherever you live, so I don’t think it’s worth calculating these costs into the cost of your degree.  What might be useful would be to compare the cost of living in Lubbock to another school or the city from which you’re moving to arrive at a differential cost of living.  Lubbock is generally an inexpensive place to live, so there may be slight cost savings for being in Lubbock as opposed to other places.  In any event, I cannot hope to calculate these differences into the cost of the degree, so let’s leave it at that, shall we?

Local students do tend to take more hours of ENGL 8000  because they’re required to register for 9 hours of coursework if they are instructors, so maybe we can just let this difference balance out the May workshop costs for the online students so that we don’t have to have too many final figures.

The subtotal at this point stands at ~$32,500 for Texans ~$43,500 for non-Texans, and let’s be conservative and round that up to ~$40,000 for Texans and ~$50,000 for non-Texans, to account for books, computers, and other educational incidentals.

So there’s the answer to the cost of the doctorate.  If you pay out of your own pocket, then these are reasonable figures for your budget.  I’d be very interested to learn from those of you who have finished, or are about to finish, if these estimates are close  to your actual figures. If you want to be ultra conservative, increase these figures by a safety margin of 10% or 20%, maybe rounded up to $50k for Texans and $60k for non-Texans.

There are many ways of getting someone else to help pay for your degree, of course,  and they’re even more variable than the cost calculations.  I’ll treat them in another blog post.

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