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Have you transitioned from Lit to Rhet/Comp? I want to hear how that goes


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I have been summarily rejected from this year's applications and am moving with my wife, who got in elsewhere. As I'm looking at my future options and what I want to do, I am pondering an attempt at switching to Rhet/Comp for my PhD. I will have an MA in Lit and my research interests are postcolonial literature (especially poetry), comics studies, maritime and pirate studies, and Irish studies. 

 

If you've transitioned or tried to transition from Lit to Rhet/Comp, I'd love to hear how that went, what you did to move over, and any advice, warnings, or questions you might have.

 

Thanks, all!

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You have hit the nail on the head. Bousquet's chapter on "Composition as Management Science" is a damning indictment of this subfield, which seems infatuated with writing about Foucault at the same ti

WPA work exists because institutions and stakeholders continue to value the importance of teaching college students how to write, despite the terrible assault the humanities has endured for decades. A

Perhaps a touch off-topic, but at UMD's open house yesterday, it was made very clear that they are thirsty for more rhet/comp folks, and are actively trying to build that section of the department. I had a couple of people try to coax me in that direction, in fact, based on my interest in writing and pedagogy etc. I'm sure that ProfLorax can tell you more details on that front if you're interested, but despite the fact that I've heard of a recent slowdown elsewhere in comp/rhet, that's definitely not the case at Maryland.

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The PhD programs I have come into contact with seem open to literature MAs. Maybe that's because there are more MA-Lit programs than MA-Rhet/Comp programs? At a campus visit yesterday, the RC program head mentioned that a lot of MFAs pursue Rhet/Comp degrees. 
 
I'm just starting my MA in Rhet/Comp, so I may be completely wrong about this, (and please tell me if I'm completely wrong about this. I like learning!) but I thought I had to learn the trends in the field before applying to MA programs. My literary interests are different from my Rhet/Comp interests, and I had to relate what I knew about to what I wanted to know about. 
 
If you decide to be a Rhet/Comp-er, that's awesome! The folks on the Rhet/Comp thread are a happy bunch.

 

Perhaps a touch off-topic, but at UMD's open house yesterday, it was made very clear that they are thirsty for more rhet/comp folks, and are actively trying to build that section of the department. I had a couple of people try to coax me in that direction, in fact, based on my interest in writing and pedagogy etc. I'm sure that ProfLorax can tell you more details on that front if you're interested, but despite the fact that I've heard of a recent slowdown elsewhere in comp/rhet, that's definitely not the case at Maryland.

Thanks for sharing! I'll keep that in mind!

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Yes, switching to rhet/comp after getting an MA is literature is quite common. Just from the list of interests you mentioned, comic studies, multimodality, etc. is definitely a "thing" in rhet/comp. The rest may carry over, sometimes in surprising ways. R/c is a heterogeneous field. I wish I could give more specific advice for you.

 

@empress, my experience has been that many undergrads don't have as much exposure to rhet/comp as they do to lit. So they may not have a very clear idea of what they want to do in rhet/comp, or what a "map" of the field would look like, when they apply to MA programs. They just know that they're into it, somehow. That was true for me at least. My writing sample when I applied to my MAs was from a literature class and only tangentially related to rhet/comp. 

 

Of course, all this may be changing, quickly, as r/c undergrad programs and classes grow. But it does create a unique challenge for MA admissions committees.

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So I'm doing this right now as an MA student and it's very difficult. It's sort of like learning a new language in preparation for writing a dissertation in that language a year later, when you've only studied the language at the beginner or intermediate level (via your composition methodology course, if you've taken one). One thing I've noticed about the field is that it leads to more opportunities to do administrative and service work within the department or university. At my program there are 4 rhetcomp faculty members; 3 of which do part of their work in administration. I'd imagine that with literature there just aren't as many administrative positions that fit with one's research interests. This can be good or bad depending on what kind of job you want, because it seems to me like if you want to work as a WPA then it would be helpful to have a RC degree instead of a lit one. But it also works against the perception of the field. Marc Bousquet writes a lot about this; whereas literature is pigeonholed as elitist and snobby, RC is pigeonholed as not being a real field given that it is complicit with the ongoing trend of eliminating full time teaching jobs and replacing them with full time administrative jobs (or pulling professors out of the classroom to devote part of their time to manage the writing center or the first year writing program).  

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The number of rhet/comp MA programs is small compared to the number of general English and literature MA's out there.

 

My MA is in "English," which where I went meant "Literature." My thesis is on postcolonial theory and reception studies, and my PhD emphasis is rhet/comp. It hasn't actually been a huge transition for me. I've always been more interested in authors using texts to accomplish goals/readers using texts to accomplish goals/interactions between authors and readers, and that sort of thing, which literary studies is not really keen on most of the time. It sounds like a lot of your interests would be equally at home in rhetoric and in cultural/literary theory.

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So I'm doing this right now as an MA student and it's very difficult. It's sort of like learning a new language in preparation for writing a dissertation in that language a year later, when you've only studied the language at the beginner or intermediate level (via your composition methodology course, if you've taken one). One thing I've noticed about the field is that it leads to more opportunities to do administrative and service work within the department or university. At my program there are 4 rhetcomp faculty members; 3 of which do part of their work in administration. I'd imagine that with literature there just aren't as many administrative positions that fit with one's research interests. This can be good or bad depending on what kind of job you want, because it seems to me like if you want to work as a WPA then it would be helpful to have a RC degree instead of a lit one. But it also works against the perception of the field. Marc Bousquet writes a lot about this; whereas literature is pigeonholed as elitist and snobby, RC is pigeonholed as not being a real field given that it is complicit with the ongoing trend of eliminating full time teaching jobs and replacing them with full time

administrative jobs (or pulling professors out of the classroom to devote part of their time to manage the writing center or the first year writing program).  

 

You have hit the nail on the head. Bousquet's chapter on "Composition as Management Science" is a damning indictment of this subfield, which seems infatuated with writing about Foucault at the same time as it "manages" adjuncts. I know Bousquet defends his field on its merits, but it is hard for me to see how diluted cultural studies translates into helping students in the writing classroom. It was ingenious when full-time literature faculty cooked up this sub-discipline to shirk teaching first-year writing (I think all English Department faculty should teach writing). But the monster now has a life of its own that terrorizes the pages of College English and the adjuncts who must submit to the latest pedagogical trend in CCCCCC. 

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You have hit the nail on the head. Bousquet's chapter on "Composition as Management Science" is a damning indictment of this subfield, which seems infatuated with writing about Foucault at the same time as it "manages" adjuncts. I know Bousquet defends his field on its merits, but it is hard for me to see how diluted cultural studies translates into helping students in the writing classroom. It was ingenious when full-time literature faculty cooked up this sub-discipline to shirk teaching first-year writing (I think all English Department faculty should teach writing). But the monster now has a life of its own that terrorizes the pages of College English and the adjuncts who must submit to the latest pedagogical trend in CCCCCC. 

 

I know you're bitter about feeling led-on by your PhD work, but come on. 

 

(I started a more elaborate defense of rhet/comp studies, but you're clearly just trolling the conversation.)

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You have hit the nail on the head. Bousquet's chapter on "Composition as Management Science" is a damning indictment of this subfield, which seems infatuated with writing about Foucault at the same time as it "manages" adjuncts. I know Bousquet defends his field on its merits, but it is hard for me to see how diluted cultural studies translates into helping students in the writing classroom. It was ingenious when full-time literature faculty cooked up this sub-discipline to shirk teaching first-year writing (I think all English Department faculty should teach writing). But the monster now has a life of its own that terrorizes the pages of College English and the adjuncts who must submit to the latest pedagogical trend in CCCCCC. 

 

I mean, among other things, this is just pure historical illiteracy. Literature departments vociferously fought against the creation of separate departments of writing, they still do, and the MLA constantly agitates against rhet/comp. One of the fiercest battles was right here at Purdue. I mean, I've seen the documentation. I've talked to Janice Lauer. She was told not to put some of her pedagogical work in her tenure file, that's how resistant lit was to treating student writing as a subject that matters. 

 

To no avail, though; even with r/c's downturn, we're on the order of 4% of English PhDs and yet 33% of annual hires. Which, you know, cuts against the whole adjunct crack; a far higher percentage of lit PhDs are out there adjuncting than r/c PhDs. But then, you knew that, didn't you?

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I mean, among other things, this is just pure historical illiteracy. Literature departments vociferously fought against the creation of separate departments of writing, they still do, and the MLA constantly agitates against rhet/comp. One of the fiercest battles was right here at Purdue. I mean, I've seen the documentation. I've talked to Janice Lauer. She was told not to put some of her pedagogical work in her tenure file, that's how resistant lit was to treating student writing as a subject that matters. 

 

To no avail, though; even with r/c's downturn, we're on the order of 4% of English PhDs and yet 33% of annual hires. Which, you know, cuts against the whole adjunct crack; a far higher percentage of lit PhDs are out there adjuncting than r/c PhDs. But then, you knew that, didn't you?

 

Granted, I am no scholar of rhetoric and composition, so I'll amend my post to exclude the historical claim:

 

You hit the nail on the head. "Composition as Management Science" is a damning indictment of the WPA who manages adjuncts and often dictates pedagogy to them. And it seems most Rhet/Comp PhDs are groomed to be WPAs. 

 

Yes, I am envious of the placement stats, but I don't think I could stomach the work.

 

I am burning with anticipation to see what GIF will now be used to admonish me. Is this a new pedagogical tool suggested by CCCCCCC?

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Granted, I am no scholar of rhetoric and composition, so I'll amend my post to exclude the historical claim:

 

You hit the nail on the head. "Composition as Management Science" is a damning indictment of the WPA who manages adjuncts and often dictates pedagogy to them. And it seems most Rhet/Comp PhDs are groomed to be WPAs. 

 

Yes, I am envious of the placement stats, but I don't think I could stomach the work.

 

I am burning with anticipation to see what GIF will now be used to admonish me. Is this a new pedagogical tool suggested by CCCCCCC?

 

WPA work exists because institutions and stakeholders continue to value the importance of teaching college students how to write, despite the terrible assault the humanities has endured for decades. And thank god that they do, because it is the teaching of writing, above and beyond anything else, that keeps the lights on in English departments writ large. It is the teaching of writing that pays our bills. You might find the teaching of writing to be unglamorous "service" labor; I find it to be invigorating and important. But then, I'm a member of my field, and we take writing seriously. Part of taking writing seriously means acknowledging that running a writing program effectively-- developing curricula and training teachers and assessing our progress-- requires specially trained labor. That's not the only work of rhet/comp, but it's valuable work that can have a deep, meaningful impact on the lives of the students who go through our writing programs and whose future academic and professional success requires strong writing skills.

 

As far as not being able to stomach the work-- well, nobody asked you to. I don't go around medievalist threads and insult their discipline because it's none of my business. Perhaps you should consider doing the same.

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WPA work exists because institutions and stakeholders continue to value the importance of teaching college students how to write, despite the terrible assault the humanities has endured for decades. And thank god that they do, because it is the teaching of writing, above and beyond anything else, that keeps the lights on in English departments writ large. It is the teaching of writing that pays our bills. You might find the teaching of writing to be unglamorous "service" labor; I find it to be invigorating and important. But then, I'm a member of my field, and we take writing seriously. Part of taking writing seriously means acknowledging that running a writing program effectively-- developing curricula and training teachers and assessing our progress-- requires specially trained labor. That's not the only work of rhet/comp, but it's valuable work that can have a deep, meaningful impact on the lives of the students who go through our writing programs and whose future academic and professional success requires strong writing skills.

 

As far as not being able to stomach the work-- well, nobody asked you to. I don't go around medievalist threads and insult their discipline because it's none of my business. Perhaps you should consider doing the same.

 

I have taught many first-year writers. I value this work, and it's why I think every faculty member in an English department should do it. I do not need you to tell me how to do it, nor do the other highly-qualified writers and critics who have to suffer the endless "training" the WPA imposes.  You're right, the WPA exists as a function of the University's exploitation of labor. A mid-level manager, yes, but a manager nonetheless. 

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And the tenured lit professor who teaches a 1-2, two of which are graduate courses-- that's not an exploitation of the adjunct and graduate student labor that teaches a majority of university English classes? That's not exploitation of the underclass that they wouldn't deign to speak to in the hallway? You can play the class analysis card, friend, but I'm afraid it redounds to the benefit of my field, not yours. It's literature that has perpetuated a two-tiered employment system, literature that employs profs who live in a elevated state above the actual apparatus of teaching undergraduate students, literature that is so riven with class resentment and prestige and envy. A vast majority of rhetoric and composition scholars are employed at community colleges and teaching colleges, a fact that literature people make fun of constantly. Rhet comp people are out there teaching 4/4s while holding down administrative positions and trying to scratch out time to do research. But at least we work, in the academy, in TT jobs or long-term instructorships. We are a more ethical field because a vastly higher portion of our PhDs go on to secure employment in the academy than literature does. In your field, a tiny number of profs live disconnected from the day-to-day work of adjuncts and instructors, enjoying the life of a researcher. Well, good for them. But don't turn around and try to play working class hero when your field is still obsessed with status and prestige while a vast number of its graduates go on to lives of overwork, terrible pay, and perpetual contingency. You don't have a leg to stand on.

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And the tenured lit professor who teaches a 1-2, two of which are graduate courses-- that's not an exploitation of the adjunct and graduate student labor that teaches a majority of university English classes? That's not exploitation of the underclass that they wouldn't deign to speak to in the hallway? You can play the class analysis card, friend, but I'm afraid it redounds to the benefit of my field, not yours. It's literature that has perpetuated a two-tiered employment system, literature that employs profs who live in a elevated state above the actual apparatus of teaching undergraduate students, literature that is so riven with class resentment and prestige and envy. A vast majority of rhetoric and composition scholars are employed at community colleges and teaching colleges, a fact that literature people make fun of constantly. Rhet comp people are out there teaching 4/4s while holding down administrative positions and trying to scratch out time to do research. But at least we work, in the academy, in TT jobs or long-term instructorships. We are a more ethical field because a vastly higher portion of our PhDs go on to secure employment in the academy than literature does. In your field, a tiny number of profs live disconnected from the day-to-day work of adjuncts and instructors, enjoying the life of a researcher. Well, good for them. But don't turn around and try to play working class hero when your field is still obsessed with status and prestige while a vast number of its graduates go on to lives of overwork, terrible pay, and perpetual contingency. You don't have a leg to stand on.

 

I am not standing, but you certainly are--does that box say METHOD? Re-read what I wrote: "I think every faculty member in an English department should teach it." Besides, it was never my contention that literature faculty are not implicated. My problem with rhet/comp is the WPA and the specific scholarship that underwrites that work, which I find intellectually troubling (Bousquet agrees). I take issue with the pedagogical "research" that is used to boss around qualified adjunct faculty who do not need to have their teaching managed. And that seems like a lot of it. You'll forgive me for not sobbing at that fact people teach 4/4 and make on average over 60k to do it; these same people turn around and justify that position by "training" the adjunct who is making a fraction of that salary to do the same thing. At the very least, the WPA could leave the adjunct's pedagogy to the adjunct. A terrifying thought, I know. Of course, these people--the unemployed and unethical literature PhDs-- need to be managed or else the students might not learn anything! 

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Again: you are simply restating the basic presumption of literature for at least 40 years, which is that writing does not need to be researched and that best practices do not have to be developed in a rigorous way. Fine; you are simply opposed to the basic presumptions of this field. Which again invites the question of why you feel the need to pop in here to troll people who do believe in the need to research student writing and develop best practices for the good of students and instructors alike. It's like going to a philosophy thread and saying that philosophy doesn't need to exist anymore because we have science. A legitimate opinion, but what's the point of sharing it in that forum?

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Again: you are simply restating the basic presumption of literature for at least 40 years, which is that writing does not need to be researched and that best practices do not have to be developed in a rigorous way. Fine; you are simply opposed to the basic presumptions of this field. Which again invites the question of why you feel the need to pop in here to troll people who do believe in the need to research student writing and develop best practices for the good of students and instructors alike. It's like going to a philosophy thread and saying that philosophy doesn't need to exist anymore because we have science. A legitimate opinion, but what's the point of sharing it in that forum?

 

Maybe I'm not following best reading practices, but I do think someone in this thread mentioned the WPA as a concern about whether or not to switch fields. And I'm sorry but "best practices," really? What works for one teacher does not work for another. Every English PhD is qualified to teach college writing (ESL and reading require additional skills). I have found the "best practices" argument to be an excuse for bossing around vulnerable contingent instructors in a way that is fundamentally not collegial (in addition to violating their academic freedom or never granting any in the first place). 

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I think we should not feed the troll.

 

Again: you are simply restating the basic presumption of literature for at least 40 years, which is that writing does not need to be researched and that best practices do not have to be developed in a rigorous way. Fine; you are simply opposed to the basic presumptions of this field. Which again invites the question of why you feel the need to pop in here to troll people who do believe in the need to research student writing and develop best practices for the good of students and instructors alike. It's like going to a philosophy thread and saying that philosophy doesn't need to exist anymore because we have science. A legitimate opinion, but what's the point of sharing it in that forum?

 

Do we not have moderators for this?

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I have taught many first-year writers. I value this work, and it's why I think every faculty member in an English department should do it. I do not need you to tell me how to do it, nor do the other highly-qualified writers and critics who have to suffer the endless "training" the WPA imposes.  You're right, the WPA exists as a function of the University's exploitation of labor. A mid-level manager, yes, but a manager nonetheless. 

 

I'm sure your pedagogy is fully-formed and perfect, developed independently from a century of research into first-year composition. How many five paragraph themes do you assign in a semester? Academic freedom does not entitle you to do whatever you want to the students under your care--nor does it exempt you from professional development. It boggles the mind to see someone educated about literature think that writing is something that just anyone can teach for a general education, first-year student audience. Why not have history and philosophy professors teaching FYC, too? And chemistry professors obviously must know how to write. And the linguists. 

 

I am not standing, but you certainly are--does that box say METHOD? Re-read what I wrote: "I think every faculty member in an English department should teach it." Besides, it was never my contention that literature faculty are not implicated. My problem with rhet/comp is the WPA and the specific scholarship that underwrites that work, which I find intellectually troubling (Bousquet agrees). I take issue with the pedagogical "research" that is used to boss around qualified adjunct faculty who do not need to have their teaching managed. And that seems like a lot of it. You'll forgive me for not sobbing at that fact people teach 4/4 and make on average over 60k to do it; these same people turn around and justify that position by "training" the adjunct who is making a fraction of that salary to do the same thing. At the very least, the WPA could leave the adjunct's pedagogy to the adjunct. A terrifying thought, I know. Of course, these people--the unemployed and unethical literature PhDs-- need to be managed or else the students might not learn anything! 

 

In what possible world does this make sense? Unless your WPA is standing behind you in your classroom, how is being exposed to other pedagogies in any way oppressive to you? Writing is such a complex activity that it needs a field devoted to its study that literature just doesn't cover. You continue to cite Bousquet which leads me to believe that your own education in rhetoric and composition is severely lacking to be making such claims against the discipline. The vast majority of scholarship in the field has nothing to do with WPA work, and most of it is targeted to individual instructors. Why would anyone want to hire you if they knew how much you'd whine about discussions of pedagogy?

 

Maybe I'm not following best reading practices, but I do think someone in this thread mentioned the WPA as a concern about whether or not to switch fields. And I'm sorry but "best practices," really? What works for one teacher does not work for another. Every English PhD is qualified to teach college writing (ESL and reading require additional skills). I have found the "best practices" argument to be an excuse for bossing around vulnerable contingent instructors in a way that is fundamentally not collegial (in addition to violating their academic freedom or never granting any in the first place). 

 

"What works for one teacher does not work for another." Sure. No one teacher is the same and no class is the same, either. That doesn't mean you won't benefit from learning how someone else does something. Thinking explicitly and conscientiously about pedagogy is important. Surely, you must be acting like such an anachronism to make some sort of point. Perhaps your doctoral training was so woefully inadequate or misleading with regard to writing instruction that you actually believe that we don't need to produce scholarship about it. 

 

Why does writing not deserve its own field? History professors read a lot. Shouldn't that make them qualified to teach literature? Just because you write a lot does not mean that you know anything about writing pedagogy, nor does the fact that you "value" that kind of work. A lot of terrible instructors are perfectly nice people. You might not even be terrible, but sticking your head in the sand and claiming oppression is not productive or forward-thinking. 

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Do we not have moderators for this?

We moderators don't like to really police discussion unless it becomes a personal attack, a threat, or plain ol' bigotry.

But also, I don't think VM deserves any response. It's clear they feel comfortable attacking an entire field because they read one chapter about the topic (and maybe had a bad experience with a WPA?). I think there are some legit critiques to be made about rhet/comp as a field, and when someone brings them up, I'll be happy to engage. I just hope the OP returns; I'm really glad I made the switch to rhet/comp and found it mostly easy to do so.

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Forgive the intrusion on this discussion, which will probably just further derail this from the original post.

 

As someone without a PhD in English or Rhet/Comp, I for one am glad that in places where WIC/WID (WAC/WAD?) is done there are also pedagogical workshops on how to teach writing and do it well. Because really, it is everyone's job to ensure that students can write well. I'm in the social sciences but I need students to be able to explain what they've read, report on their research findings, etc. But, I also don't receive any specific training in how to teach writing unless I seek it out for myself. For me, WPAs are helpful because they can look at my syllabus and assignments and help me figure out how to craft things better, what aspects to emphasize in my teaching, etc., so that students become better writers in my course. In fact, one of the best compliments I got from students last semester was that they became better (or stronger) writers in my course. And I don't teach writing. I teach [redacted] social science where writing is in there because they need to be able to think critically and communicate their ideas.

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I know firsthand about the "pedagogy" WPAs value, which has actively crippled me in teaching many first-year students in many writing classes. And yes, I think many other humanities/social science disciplines are qualified to teach writing, and I think they probably should. That is often the way it works at the nation's best schools. I rather have an accomplished historian teach me how to write than one of your "compositionalists" with their "best practices." WPAs frequently impose pedagogy and curriculum; they don't just lead discussions. By making qualified scholars conform to their "best practices," they deprive students of the diverse teaching practices that should be present in the college classroom at the discretion of the instructor leading it.  I know-  I am a troll for calling into question your disciplinary practices on a thread concerned with them. This is exactly the kind of "helpful" officiousness that troubles me about rhet/comp in general. I have no problem with collegial sharing and governance, but as I keep pointing out, that isn't how the WPA system works. Anyways, I leave it to the OP if he wants to join your ranks. I certainly would not.

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