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Ph.D. Handbook and Roadmap

The Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics provides students with a broad theoretical grounding and research experiences in examining the nature of language and language learning, how language is used to construct our sociocultural worlds, and how, in varied learning contexts, we learn to use language and learn about the world through language.


1. Coursework

The program consists of a minimum of 63 credits beyond the B.A. and 45 credits beyond the M.A. degree. Up to 8 credits can be doctoral dissertation credits. You are strongly encouraged to audit courses when you are writing the dissertation. You are also strongly encouraged to apply for outside dissertation grants as part of your program of study.

A. Foundations (7 credits)

These courses are required for all students.

APLNG 580  - Proseminar in Applied Linguistics
APLNG 582  -  Seminar in Approaches to Language in Use (or equivalent)
APLNG 591 -  Seminar in Second Language Acquisition (or equivalent)

B. Research Methodologies (12 credits)

You are required to take a minimum of 12 credits, part of which included the 6-credit 2-course sequence APLNG 577 and APLNG 593:

APLNG 577  - Language Analysis (required)
APLNG 578  - Computational and Statistical Methods for Corpus Analysis
APLNG 581  - Discourse Analysis
APLNG 586  - Analyzing Classroom Discourse
APLNG 592  - Qualitative Research in Applied Linguistics
APLNG 593 - Experimental Research on Language (required)

Other course with approval of your advisor (e.g. APLNG 597 Special Topics)

C. Additional Courses (18 credits)

In consultation with your academic advisor, you are required to take a minimum of 18 credits of additional courses.

APLNG 510 – Health & Aging in Multilingual Contexts
APLNG 511 – Applied Linguistics & Health Sciences
APLNG 512 – Language and Adult Lifespan Development
APLNG 570 – Second Language Reading
APLNG 572 – Communication in Second Language Classrooms
APLNG 574 – World Englishes: Pluralizing Policy, Pedagogy, & Proficiency
APLNG 575 – Language Ideology
APLNG 576 – Language Socialization across Home, School, & Community
APLNG 578 – Computational and Statistical Methods for Corpus Analysis
APLNG 581 – Discourse Analysis
APLNG 583 – Methods of Language Assessment
APLNG 584 – Sociocultural Theory and L2 Learning
APLNG 586 – Analyzing Classroom Discourse
APLNG 587 – Theory & Research in L2 Teacher Education
APLNG 588 – Design & Research of Technology-Mediated Language Learning
APLNG 589 – Technology in Foreign Language Education: An Overview
APLNG 592 – Qualitative Research in Applied Linguistics

Other course with approval of your advisor (e.g. APLNG 597 Special Topics)

D. Other

  • APLNG 600 Register for this course when preparing for comprehensive exams.  If you are appointed on an assistantship, you must be registered for nine credits of APLNG 600 to maintain your full-time status with the Graduate School.  You must complete a drop/add form and return it to the departmental staff to register for this course.  The course cannot be added on LionPath.
  • APLNG 601 – Register for this course after passing the comprehensive exams.  You must register for this course continuously during the fall and spring semesters to maintain your full-time status with the Graduate School.  You must complete a drop/add form and return to the departmental staff to register for this course.  The course cannot be added on LionPath.
  • APLNG 602 – If you are apprenticing to teach a 200- or 400-level course, you must register for one credit of 602. Please note: this is a graded course. The grade will appear on your transcript.

E. Teaching Apprenticeship

Teaching apprenticeships provide you with the opportunity to team-teach with faculty members. In these experiences, you work with your faculty mentors to design course materials, prepare classes and assess student learning. You must register for one credit of APLNG 602 in the semester you are team teaching. 

F. Important Information About Coursework

  • While you may register to audit or take 400-level courses, note that they will not count toward the doctoral degree.
  • No more than one non-APLNG 500-level course taken within any given academic year may count toward the doctoral degree, and no more than two total non-APLNG 500-level courses may count toward the doctoral degree. These restrictions do not apply to non-APLNG 500-level courses taught by APLNG faculty with appointments in other departments (currently Suresh Canagarajah, Sinfree Makoni, Susan Strauss, and Ning Yu).
  • You are expected to complete all coursework (excluding 600, 601, 602) by the end of your fourth semester (sixth semester if you entered with a Bachelor’s degree). Deferred grades ("incompletes") are only permitted for extenuating circumstances and may not be used to extend a course beyond the end of the semester or to raise a grade. All deferred grades must be settled within 12 weeks after the course end date. You are encouraged to consult the Graduate School Handbook concerning academic information and procedures relative to coursework and grading.
  • All funded 3rd-year doctoral students will be required to register to audit one 500-level APLNG course each semester. All funded doctoral students who graduate in 4 years will be required to audit one 500-level APLNG course in the 4th year. All funded doctoral students who graduate in 5 or more years will be required to audit a minimum of two 500-level APLNG courses in the 4th and 5th years combined. For students entering with a Bachelor’s degree, add one year to each number of years mentioned herein. After passing the comprehensive exams, you will not be required to register for APLNG 595 (if you are assigned to work as a TA) or APLNG 602 (if you are apprenticing to teach a course) in the semesters you are auditing a 500-level APLNG course. In such semesters you will only register for 3 credits of APLNG 601 and 3 credits of the 500-level APLNG course you are auditing.

2. APLNG Roundtable

In addition to the above coursework, you are expected to participate in regularly scheduled departmental roundtable sessions and the invited lecture series. The purpose is to provide you with opportunities to interact formally and informally with colleagues and more generally, to engage in scholarly pursuits with faculty members. Roundtable sessions include presentations and discussions of research-in-progress by members of the APLNG community and visiting scholars. All events are announced on the departmental website.    


3. Advisors and Committees

A. Initial Advisor Selection

Upon being admitted to the program, you are assigned a temporary advisor who assists in coursework selection and monitors your progress in the program. To the extent possible, assignments are made on the basis of shared research interests.

Candidacy Examination Committee: Early in the semester of the candidacy examination, you select members of your candidacy committee, in consultation with your advisor. The committee consists of a chair (your faculty advisor) and a minimum of two faculty members with appointments in the department. You should contact faculty members directly to ask if they are willing to serve on the committee. Once the committee is set up, you and your advisor, in consultation with the other committee members, schedule a date and time for the exam. The departmental staff assistant can assist in scheduling the venue for the exam.

B. Permanent Advisor Selection

After being admitted to candidacy and at least one semester before you are to take the comprehensive exam, you must obtain the agreement of a member of the department’s graduate faculty to serve as permanent advisor. This person may be your temporary advisor, but need not be. You should inform Ms. Sally Arnold and the Director of Graduate Studies as soon as you have reached an agreement with your permanent advisor. Your permanent advisor serves as chair of the comprehensive examination and dissertation committee. Once you begin the comprehensive exam process, no changes to the advisor can be made except in unusual circumstances (e.g., the faculty member leaves the university). Any change requires written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.

Important: If at some point after candidacy and prior to comps, you and your permanent advisor decide that you would be better served by selecting a new advisor, you must inform the Director of Graduate Studies of the change and select a new advisor within one month of having informed your current advisor of your intention to change advisors.

C. Comprehensive Exam and Dissertation Committee

All doctoral committees must have a minimum total of four Penn State Graduate Faculty members (one of which must be the dissertation adviser).  Graduate Faculty appointments are maintained in a database and displayed on the Graduate School’s website at http://www.gradsch.psu.edu/facstaff/faculty.cfm. This link provides the most reliable source of information for identifying Penn State Graduate Faculty members. 

  1. Two of these four members must represent the major field (one of which must serve as chair of the committee). 
  2. One of these four members must serve as the ‘Outside Field Member’. This member can be a member of the department but with research expertise outside the research expertise of the chair of the committee.
  3. One of these four members must serve as the ‘Outside Unit Member’. This member must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit in which the dissertation adviser’s primary appointment is held.
  4. The Outside Field Member and the Outside Unit Member may be the same individual as long as that person meets the requirements of both positions.

Your advisor assists you in choosing committee members. You should contact faculty members directly to ask if they are willing to serve on the committee. Once you begin the comprehensive exam process, no changes in committee membership can be made except in unusual circumstances (e.g., a faculty member leaves the university). Any change requires written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. A person not affiliated with Penn State who has particular expertise in your research area may be added as a fifth member, upon recommendation of the head of the department and approval of the graduate dean (via the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services).


4. Examinations

A. Candidacy Examination

You must pass a candidacy examination in the third semester of full-time graduate study (or equivalent if you entered with a Bachelor’s degree or are less than full time). The purpose of the exam is to assess your competence as an academic writer, and your ability to carry out research. The exam is given orally and is not to exceed 60 minutes. Prior to the exam [see below for details] you must submit two original research papers to the committee. In compliance with the purpose of the exam, these papers should demonstrate your ability as a scholar and thus point to the likelihood that you will successfully complete the program. During the exam, you will be questioned on the papers, your program of study, and research plans. In the event that you do not schedule and take the exam by the end of the third semester, you will be placed on probation and have until the end of the fourth semester to pass candidacy.

Important: Failure to successfully complete the exam by the end of the fourth semester (or sixth if you entered with a Bachelor’s degree) will result in your termination from the program.

Arranging the exam

One month prior to the date of the candidacy examination, you must submit to your advisor the following:

  • A program timeline detailing semester by semester the courses that you have already completed, those left to take, and a timeline for completing the program. 
  • A one-page description of research interests articulating the likely direction of your doctoral research, including possible research questions and theoretical frames that interest you as well as some reflection on the kind of data you might like to collect.
  • Two academic papers you produced in courses taken at Penn State, at least one of which should reveal your competence to conduct research. Both papers should follow the APA or LSA Style Sheet.

At least three weeks prior to the examination, you are responsible for informing Ms. Sally Arnold (sah4@psu.edu) of the time, date, and location of your candidacy examination.  All required paperwork will be filed with the Graduate School at that time.

At least two weeks prior to the examination, you are to submit the program timeline, the one-page description of research interests, and the two academic papers to the full committee. Unless otherwise agreed upon by the committee, you must submit the documents in hard copy (rather than in electronic format).

Exam results

The outcome of the examination consists of one of the following recommendations:

  1. Continue in the program; admitted as candidate
  2. Do not continue in the program

The chair of the committee is responsible for communicating the results of the exam to Ms. Sally Arnold (sah4@psu.edu) within a week following the exam.

Important: The Graduate School will admit no student to Candidacy until she/he is of regular status. This means that all evidence of previous university degrees must be in order and no outstanding deferred grades remain on the transcript. If this occurs, you must work with the Director of Graduate Studies to resolve the issue before you take the exam. If you are not recommended to continue in the program, your status as a graduate student will be terminated at the end of the semester in which you take the exam.

B. Comprehensive Examination

This examination is designed to determine your competence to interpret the theoretical assumptions and research findings in your area of concentration and your ability to do empirical research in that area.  The exam will comprise two components: data analysis and a critical theoretically grounded discussion of the existing research that addresses the topic of your contemplated doctoral dissertation.

The Initial Comprehensive Exam Meeting

By no later than the summer prior to the start of your fifth semester (or seventh if you entered with a Bachelor’s degree) in the program, in consultation with your advisor, you should identify a previously unanalyzed data set that relates to the problem to be addressed in your dissertation.  “Previously unanalyzed” implies that you have not already conducted the same kind of analysis on these data that you would perform in the exam.  Data sets can be drawn from any relevant source, including the Internet, classrooms, corpora, interviews, field notes, video recordings, etc.  Human subjects/IRB approval is not required since the dataset will be used exclusively for purposes of the comprehensive examination.  (IRB approval may be necessary for the dissertation project). 

You are responsible for setting up the initial comprehensive exam meeting. At least one week prior to the initial comprehensive exam meeting:

  • Contact office staff to arrange a room for the meeting, if necessary.
  • Ask Ms. Sally Arnold (sah4@psu.edu) to prepare your doctoral committee form so that you can bring the form to the initial comprehensive exam meeting for your committee members to sign. You will need to send her the names and departmental affiliations of all committee members and specify who will serve as the Chair, Co-chair (if applicable), Major Field members, Outside Field Member, and Outside Unit Member in your committee. The doctoral committee form must be returned to Ms. Sally Arnold promptly after the meeting.
  • Submit to the full committee a 1-2 page description of the data set and a one-page statement that articulates the focus of your potential dissertation project.

Data Analysis.  At the pre-comps meeting your committee, in discussion with you, will formulate a data analysis question.  You will then have seven calendar days to develop and submit to the doctoral committee a written analysis of the dataset. Both you and your committee must agree that the proposed question can be thoroughly addressed within seven days, and both must agree on the format of the written analysis. 

Theory and Literature.  Also during the pre-comps meeting, you and your committee will discuss the relevant literature and key issues relating to the dissertation topic. Based on this discussion, the committee will formulate a question, and you will have 30 calendar days to write an examination paper addressing this question in the form of a literature review or theoretical paper. This paper must be a full-length paper using an established formatting style (APA, LSA), and it must include bibliographies of the references cited.

At the pre-comps meeting, you and your committee will discuss which question you will work on first. The committee communicates the first question to you within 72 hours after the pre-comps meeting, and the second question to you within 48 hours after receipt of your first paper. You should consult with committee members as to whether they wish to receive paper or electronic copies.

Eligibility

To be eligible to hold the comprehensive exam meeting, you must 1) have completed all required coursework, 2) satisfied all language requirements, 3) have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at Penn State, 4) have no deferred or missing grades, and 5) be registered as a full- or part-time student for the semester in which the examination is taken.

The Oral Examination

At least three weeks prior to the oral examination, you are responsible for informing Ms. Sally Arnold (sah4@psu.edu) of the time, date, and location of your oral comprehensive examination. All required paperwork must be filed with the Graduate School at that time. The exam will not be held if Ms. Arnold is not informed within the required time frame. 

The oral exam should take place about ten days following submission of the literature review or theoretical paper.  The oral exam is a question and answer session based on both the data analysis and examination papers and your work to date in the program and lasts no longer than two hours. You and at least three members of your committee (including the chair) must be physically present at the oral portion of the exam. No more than one member may participate via telephone.

Results of the Exam

A favorable vote by at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required to pass the exam. The Chair will inform you whether you have passed immediately following the oral component. The Chair will communicate the results to the departmental staff assistant, who will communicate them to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services once the official form has been signed by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Important: If you fail the exam on the first attempt, you may repeat it once and you must do so before the end of the subsequent semester. Candidates who fail the exam a second time will be terminated from the program. Failure to pass the exam by the end of the sixth semester (or eighth if you entered with a Bachelor’s degree) will result in your termination from the program. 


5. Additional Language Competency

You must demonstrate competency in two additional languages other than your first language. One of these languages must reflect intermediate speaking proficiency; the other language may reflect reading proficiency only. The additional language competence requirement may be demonstrated in a variety of ways, including passing a 3rd semester language course, passing an appropriate graduate-level reading course offered in the additional language, passing a Reading Proficiency Examination consisting of a detailed written recall of a passage whose content is relevant to the candidate's area of specialization, and/or an oral interview with a relevant faculty member in the additional language, or equivalent. Students are responsible for demonstrating their additional language competency before they will be allowed to schedule their initial comprehensive examination meeting.


6. Ph.D. Dissertation

A. Dissertation Proposal Defense Meeting

The purpose of this meeting is to defend the written proposal for your dissertation research.  The proposal is typically 25-30 pages in length and consists of the following sections: background and significance of the problem including an overview of the relevant literature, a statement of the research question(s), and an overview of the methodology to be used, including means for data collection and analysis.

When your proposal is completed, notify your chair and committee members in order to schedule a proposal defense meeting.  You must present the completed proposal to your committee members at least two weeks before the meeting. At the proposal defense meeting, committee members will engage with you in assessing the scholarly and scientific merit of research questions, data collection methods, and proposed analytic procedures.  Because these discussions often result in refinements and reformulation of questions, methods, and procedures, you should be aware that data collected prior to the defense proposal may or may not be appropriate for the final dissertation project.  If the dissertation research involves collecting data from human participants, you must obtain approval from the University’s Office of Research Protection.  It is important that you ask your advisor to promptly communicate the outcome of your dissertation proposal defense to Ms. Sally Arnold and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Important: The proposal defense meeting must take place within one semester of passing the comprehensive exam. It may take place in the same semester as the comprehensive exam but there must be at least a two-week time period between the two events.

B. Dissertation Writing Process

At the beginning of the process, the chair, in consultation with you, will decide on the specific procedures for providing feedback to you. All committee members are expected to provide feedback on a complete draft of the dissertation at least once before the final, defendable, draft is completed. In consultation with you and your committee members, the chair will decide when the document has reached the status of a defendable dissertation.  

This version will then be submitted to the dissertation committee for their final review. The committee will have four weeks to review the dissertation and provide their final comments to the candidate prior to the defense.  

C. Continuous Registration

Before taking comprehensive exams, you must have fulfilled the two-semester full-time residence requirement. You must then register continuously for each fall and spring semester after passing the comprehensive exam and until the dissertation is accepted and approved by your committee. You can maintain registration by registering for APLNG 601. You may enroll in APLNG 601 plus up to 3 additional credits of audit by paying only the thesis fee. This is the least expensive option and, for international students, it ensures that they maintain full-time status. If you wish to take more than 3 additional credits of course work, you must register for APLNG 600 or 611.

D. Scheduling of the Oral Defense

A date for the oral defense may not be scheduled until at least three months after you pass the comprehensive exam, although the Dean of the Graduate School may grant a waiver in appropriate cases. The oral examination of the dissertation must take place ten weeks before the end of the semester in which you expect to graduate. You are reminded that a request for the oral examination must be submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School for approval at least three weeks prior to the date of the exam (see Section E).

E. The Final Oral Examination ("The Defense of the Dissertation")

At least three weeks prior to the oral defense, you are responsible for informing Ms. Sally Arnold (sah4@psu.edu) of the time, date, and location of the examination and, since an oral defense is open to the public, requesting that the information be announced on electronic listservs and posted on public announcement boards. At this point in time, you will have filed all required paperwork with the Graduate School.  

The oral defense is administered and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee. It typically consists of a 10-minute presentation on your findings and a two-hour discussion period. You and at least three members of the committee (including the chair) must be physically present at the oral defense. No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member can participate via PolyCom. A request for exceptions must be submitted to the Graduate School for approval at least three weeks prior to the date of the oral defense.

During the semester in which you take the oral examination, you must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student.

Important: Oral defenses may only be scheduled during the academic year (August-May) and may not be scheduled during the summer term. The Department makes one exception to this rule. If you have a tenure-track job offer in hand (with a start date in the summer or fall), and you are planning to graduate in the summer term in advance of that job, you may schedule a summer defense. Please consult with your committee about your plans, and please consult the Thesis Office Calendar of the Graduate School to determine the latest dates by which you must have passed the defense and submitted the dissertation.

F. Results of the Exam

A favorable vote by at least two-thirds of the committee is required to pass the defense of the dissertation. If you fail the exam on the first attempt, you may repeat it once. If you fail the exam a second time, you will be terminated from the program.

G. Doctoral Dissertation Submission

After passing the final oral examination, you should revise your dissertation based on the comments from your committee and submit the final draft of your dissertation to the graduate school. Please consult the graduate school's Thesis and Dissertation Information page for information on submission requirements. You will need to plan ahead for collecting signatures for the Signatory Page.


7. Time Line for Completing Degree

Students entering with a Bachelor's degree:

To ensure timely progression to the completion of the PhD, and be eligible for funding in years 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (assuming availability of resources), students are expected to:

  • have no incompletes (DFs) and maintain a grade point average of 3.5 at the end of the 4th semester (year 2)
  • pass the candidacy exam by the end of the 5th semester and complete coursework by the end of the 6th semester (year 3)
  • pass the comprehensive exam by the end of the 7th semester and have a dissertation proposal approved by the end of the 8th semester (year 4)
  • complete data collection by the end of the 10th semester (year 5)
  • complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral dissertation, within six years from the date of entering the program

Students entering with a Master's degree:

To ensure timely progression to the completion of the PhD, and be eligible for funding in years 2, 3, 4 and 5 (assuming availability of resources), students are expected to:

  • have no incompletes (DFs) and maintain a grade point average of 3.5 at the end of the 2nd semester (year 1)
  • pass the candidacy exam by the end of the 3rd semester and complete coursework by the end of the 4th semester (year 2)
  • pass the comprehensive exam by the end of the 5th semester and have a dissertation proposal approved by the end of the 6th semester (year 3)
  • complete data collection by the end of the 8th semester (year 4)
  • complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral dissertation, within five years from the date of entering the program

Important notes for all students

  • Students entering with a Bachelor’s degree who fail to have a dissertation proposal approved by the end of the eighth semester will be placed on academic probation in the ninth semester and will be terminated from the program if the proposal is not approved by the end of the ninth semester. Students entering with a Master’s degree who fail to have a dissertation proposal approved by the end of the sixth semester will be placed on academic probation in the seventh semester and will be terminated from the program if the proposal is not approved by the end of the seventh semester. 
  • If, as indicated in your approved dissertation proposal, your data collection exceeds a one year period, you will be required to establish to your committee that you have made expected progress (as outlined in your dissertation proposal) by the end of the 8th (for students entering with a Master's degree) or 10th (for students entering with a Bachelor's degree) semester to be eligible for funding in the next year.
  • Students entering with a Bachelor's degree who are unable to complete the program within six years from the date of entering the program and students entering with a Master's degree who are unable to complete the program within five years from the date of entering the program will be required to submit the methodology chapter and at least one data analysis chapter to the committee for approval by April 15 of that year in order to continue in the program. Extenuating circumstances will be evaluated on a case- by-case basis. 
  • Students entering with a Bachelor's degree who are unable to complete the program within seven years from the date of entering the program and students entering with a Master's degree who are unable to complete the program within six years from the date of entering the program will be terminated from the program. Extenuating circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.