Student Handbook

SLA Ph.D. Major Requirements
Note: please also see Policies and Guidelines and Forms and Assessment Rubrics

Students in the Doctoral Program in Second Language Acquisition engage in a transdisciplinary academic experience designed to satisfy program learning goals and to prepare students to meet their professional goals. The requirements for the Doctoral Major in Second Language Acquisition (each described in detail in the tabs below) consist of coursework for the major, a coursework statement, a language requirement, preliminary examinations, and the dissertation (comprising the dissertation proposal, the dissertation, and the dissertation defense). Students must consult with their advisor before registering for courses.  In addition, students for whom English is not the first language are required to take the SPEAK test, administered in the Department of English, for purposes of helping to determine what funding possibilities might be open to him/her.

Learning Goals
In Fall 2016, an SLA committee consisting of core faculty and students approved the following as learning goals for students in the program:

1. Students will demonstrate a strong overall understanding of the scope of the discipline of SLA (e.g., the theories on which research in the field is based; the types of questions that researchers in SLA address; and the variety of techniques used to answer these questions). Students will demonstrate an in-depth understanding of theories and research findings related to their focal areas of interest.

2. Students will develop an original research plan that advances a specific area of SLA. Students will retrieve, evaluate, and interpret academic publications, and use this information to identify a gap in the extant research and to develop theoretical frameworks and research designs for their own research projects. Students will learn to design realistic and feasible research projects and to prepare necessary protocols.

3. Students will collect data following relevant protocols and analyze/interpret the resulting data. Students will reflect on the procedures and results of their own projects to identify strengths, limitations, and implications.

4. Students will develop skills for disseminating their research in a variety of professional venues and domains through both presentations and manuscript preparation.

5. Students will participate in and communicate effectively as members of a professional community. Students will seek opportunities to engage in service to the program, the university and/or the wider community.

Because the Doctoral Program in Second Language Acquisition is interdisciplinary, courses are taken from different departments to meet requirements for the degree.

Students are required to take 51 credits.

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 6 credits of graduate course work taken prior to their admission to the SLA PhD Program toward meeting this requirement. Course work earned ten years or more prior to admission to the program are not eligible. Students wishing to count prior graduate coursework toward meeting SLA PhD Program requirements should provide a copy of the course syllabus and a record of their letter grade in the course to their advisor, who will then bring the request to the SLA Steering Committee for approval.

At least half of degree credits must be completed in courses numbered 700 or higher.

Doctoral Major Required Courses/Credits
Required Courses (4 courses/12 credits)
Elective Courses (minimum 30 credits)
Dissertation Credits (minimum 9 credits)
Total: 51 credits

Required Courses (12 credits):
English 318 Second Language Acquisition (3 credits)
English 711 Research Methods in Applied Linguistics (3 credits)
One course in quantitative research methods (3 credits)
One course in qualitative research methods (3 credits)

Considerations when planning required courses:

  • English 318 and 711 should be taken at the earliest feasible time based on consultations with your advisor.
  • English 318 and 711 may only be offered in certain semesters (e.g. fall semesters) and seats may need to be reserved. Please consult your advisor and respective course instructors to make the best possible plan for you.
  • Please choose one quantitative research methods course and one qualitative research methods course in consultation with your advisor. Courses that have been pre-determined to count toward the fulfillment of the quantitative/qualitative research methods requirement are listed below. You may proposal additional courses to your advisor for approval. Your advisor may seek consultation with the SLA Steering Committee.

Pre-approved quantitative research methods courses (please choose one 3-credit option): 

Education Psychology
Educational Psychology 760: Statistical Methods Applied to Education I
Educational Psychology 761: Statistical Methods Applied to Education II

Sociology 360: Statistics for Sociologists I

Pre-approved qualitative research methods courses (please choose one 3-credit option): 

African Cultural Studies
926 Seminar in Research Methods in African Cultural Studies (with appropriate topic)

Curriculum and Instruction (C&I)
714 Research and Evaluation Paradigms in Curriculum and Instruction
715 Design of Research in Curriculum and Instruction
719 Introduction to Qualitative Research
916 Special topics in Research & Evaluation in Curriculum and Instruction (with appropriate topic)

703 Research Methods in Composition Studies

Electives (30 credits)
Elective courses enhance and extend course work in the “required” and “research methods” categories and help students explore additional areas that relate to their planned dissertations and professional careers.

Considerations when planning elective courses:

  • For elective courses to count toward the degree, they must be approved by your advisor prior to registration.
  • Courses that have been pre-determined to be suitable electives for an SLA degree are indicated as such in the listings below. However, even these courses may carry specific pre-requisites; may not be offered regularly or predictably; and may have a specific topic that does not repeat under the same course number. It may be advisable to consult with the course instructor in addition to your advisor so as to determine whether a particular course corresponds with your preparation or objectives.
  • Every semester, the SLA program seeks to identify additional courses offered by a variety of departments that may be of interest to SLA students. These listings are intended to assist your curricular planning but require the approval of your advisor, who may seek consultation with the SLA Steering Committee. Please discuss possible selections from this list with your advisor.
  • Similarly, if you identify a course of interest that is not listed below, consult with your advisor, who may seek consultation with the SLA Steering Committee to review your choice.
  • Research methods courses listed under ‘required courses’ (above) that you did not select to fulfill the 12 credits of ‘required courses’ may be taken as elective courses.

As part of your elective course work, you may take up to two 3-credit (each) independent studies with the approval of your advisor and (if different from your advisor) the sponsoring faculty member. Faculty members may choose to offer independent studies in addition to their regular teaching load but will not be able to do so regularly and repeatedly or without a specific objective that cannot be achieved through other means. Interested students should inquire about a possible independent study during the registration period prior to the semester of proposed study. Students interested in independent study should develop a suitable syllabus and reading list for approval by the supervising faculty. Independent studies may not substitute for timetable courses (e.g., to enable taking the course at a different time or in a different semester.)

Students, in consultation with their advisors, may choose to complete an Option A doctoral minor in a related field and count these courses toward their elective course work. Please know that many doctoral minors require specific sets of courses and/or may require you to work with a faculty advisor in the minor program. Consult the Graduate Catalog for information about individual Option A minors.

Elective courses that have been pre-approved as counting toward the degree:
430 Language and Culture (Cross-listed with Linguistics, S Asian 430)
545 Psychological Anthropology

Asian Languages and Cultures 
431 Introduction to Chinese Linguistics
434 Introduction to Japanese Linguistics
741 Studies in Chinese Syntax and Morphology
775 Studies in Japanese Linguistics (with appropriate topic)
932 Seminar in Chinese Linguistics (with appropriate topic)

Communication Arts 
402 Psychology of Communication
560 Communication Theory
572 Interpersonal Communication

Curriculum and Instruction (C&I)
630 Workshop in School Program Development (with appropriate topic)
673 Learning Second Language and Literacies
675 General Seminar (with appropriate topic)
676 Bilingualism and Biliteracy in Schools
714 Research and Evaluation Paradigms in Curriculum and Instruction
715 Design of Research in Curriculum and Instruction
719 Introduction to Qualitative Research
916 Special topics in Research & Evaluation in Curriculum and Instruction (with appropriate topic)
964 Seminar in World Language Education
975 General Seminar (with appropriate topic)

Educational Policy Studies
755 Methods of Qualitative Research (cross-listed with Rural Soc, Soc)

314 Structure of English
315 English Phonology
316 English Language Variation in the United States
414 Global Spread of English
415 Introduction to TESOL Methods
416 English in Society
420 Topics in English Language & Linguistics (with appropriate topic)
514 Introduction to the Syntax of English
515 Techniques and Materials for TESOL
516 English Grammar in Use
700 Introduction to Composition Studies
701 Writing and Learning
702 Perspectives on Literacy
703 Research Methods in Composition Studies
704 Intellectual Sources of Contemporary Composition Theory
708 Advanced English Syntax
709 Advanced English Phonology
710 Interaction Analysis: Talk as Social Organization
713 Seminar: Topics in Contemporary English Linguistics (with appropriate topic)
715 Advanced Second Language Acquisition
900 Seminar: Topics in Composition Study (with appropriate topic)
905 Seminar: Topics in Applied English Linguistics (with appropriate topic)
906 Seminar: The English Language

French and Italian 
340 Structures of Italian
350 Applied French Language Studies (with appropriate topic)
429 Introduction to the Romance Languages
French 820/Italian 821 Issues in Methods of Teaching French and Italian

722 Theory of Teaching German
727 Topics in German Applied Linguistics (with appropriate topic)
758 Topics in Contemporary German (with appropriate topic)

620 International Communication
621 Mass Media in Developing Countries

510 Phonological Theories
522 Advanced Morphology
530 Syntactic Theories
540 Advanced Semantics
561 Introduction to Experimental Phonetics

512 Methods of Logic
516 Language and Meaning
517 Special Topics in the Philosophy of Language (with appropriate topic)
526 Philosophy and Literature
545 Philosophical Conceptions of Teaching and Learning

406 Psychology of Perception
414 Cognitive Psychology
421 Psychology of Language
550 Animal Communication and the Origins of Language
715 Language and Cognitive Development
720 Speech Perception and Reading
733 Perceptual and Cognitive Sciences (with appropriate topic)

Slavic Languages and Literature
802 Structure of Russian

535 Language and Social Interaction
544 Introduction to Survey Research
545 Ethnomethodology
960 Current Methodological Issues in Social Psychology: Conversation Analysis (topics course; number may change)
965 Recent Developments in Social Psychology: Ethnomethodology (topics course; number may change)

630 Topics in Hispanic Linguistics (with appropriate topic)
815 Seminar in Language: Modern Spanish (with appropriate topic)
(note: Spanish courses may be taught in Spanish; contact instructor)

Dissertation Credits (9 credits min.)
Students take a minimum of 9 dissertation credits (3 semesters); in most cases 4 or more semesters of enrollment in dissertator credits is likely. Students enroll in dissertator credits in their advisor’s department and will likely need to obtain authorization from the department to register. An advisor, under certain circumstances, may permit the student to replace the 3 dissertation credits with another 3-credit graduate course that directly supports the dissertation.

Students must submit a short statement (2-3 pages) at the end of their third semester to their advisor, discussing how the courses that they have taken so far, as well as those that they plan to take in the future semester(s), inform their dissertation research and their envisioned career path. Once approved by the advisor, the statement should be submitted to the program coordinator.  The coursework statement will be available to members of the preliminary exam committee should they wish to consult it as they develop exam questions.

The language requirement for the SLA PhD Major contains two parts: oral proficiency and reading proficiency, which must be in two languages, including English. Students may not be recommended for preliminary exams until they have fulfilled both parts of the language requirement.

Typically, the student must demonstrate an advanced level of academic oral and reading proficiency in two languages prior to taking preliminary exams. A plan for meeting this requirement is developed by the student and advisor within the first semester of the student’s program. The plan must be approved by the advisor and the SLA Steering Committee by the end of the first academic year.

Students must take preliminary exams, as described below, within one semester of completing doctoral coursework (see this webpage for enrollment requirements). The objectives of these exams are to determine if students have developed a strong overall understanding of the scope of the discipline of SLA (e.g., the theories on which research in the field is based; the type of questions that researchers in SLA address; and the variety of techniques used to answer these questions), as well as more in-depth understanding of the theories and research findings related to questions of specific concern to them. The preliminary examination committee may choose to use a preliminary exam rubric to assess student performance. It is expected that students take and pass the preliminary exam within 3 years after the start of their doctoral studies. 

Committee membership
The student identifies a dissertation advisor prior to taking the preliminary examination and obtains the selected faculty member’s commitment to advise.

The preliminary examination committee is chaired by the student’s dissertation advisor and consists of the chair and two additional faculty/staff members. The advisor, in consultation with the student, invites others to join the committee. At least two members of the committee (including the advisor) must be core faculty affiliated with the SLA doctoral program. Preliminary examination committee members are not assumed to be members of the dissertation committee, but are eligible to serve on the dissertation committee.

Scheduling and registration
Students complete the preliminary examinations over a two-week period. Exact dates are determined by the advisor, in consultation with the other two committee members, and the student.

All committee members and the student need to sign a preliminary examination committee form to indicate their commitment to serve on the committee (faculty) and the dates for the exam (faculty and student). The student is responsible for obtaining signatures of committee members and submitting the form to the SLA program coordinator at least four weeks prior to the beginning of the examination period.  The program coordinator will request a Preliminary Exam Warrant from the Graduate School, which will then be taken to the prelim defense for committee members to sign.

Format and content
The preliminary examination questions are written by the student’s dissertation advisor, with input from and the approval of the other two committee members. The objective is for the student to provide a cogent analysis of issues situated in SLA and to find and include relevant research that supports the student’s analysis.

Exam format
The questions fall into the following two categories:

  1. Question 1: analysis of a ‘big’ question in SLA;
  2. Question 2: analysis of an issue that reflects the student’s specific research interests.

The student’s response to each question should be in the form of a paper of approximately 20 pages, double-spaced, not including references. Strategically placed subheadings that facilitate the reader’s comprehension of the paper’s structure are encouraged. Papers should include a complete list of all works cited and clearly indicate cited work as such. The citation style will be determined by the advisor.

The student may consult non-human resources, including those in print, on the internet, and in databases. During the period of the exam, students may not receive help with writing the responses from or discuss responses or exam questions with anyone, including students and faculty in the program, in related fields, or in related programs.

The student receives the two questions from the advisor and then has two weeks from the time when s/he receives the questions to write and submit response papers. The precise deadline is included with the questions.

The papers should be submitted together and in electronic format to the SLA program coordinator, who forwards the papers to the members of the student’s prelim committee.

Each committee member reads and rates each paper independently, then submits ratings of ‘pass with distinction’, ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ for each of the two questions to the student’s dissertation advisor. A final assessment of ‘pass with distinction’, ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ on each paper is determined by majority ratings.

The prelim committee members have two weeks from the date on which they receive the papers from the program coordinator to evaluate them and to submit their ratings of either ‘pass’ , ‘fail’ or ‘pass with distinction’ to the faculty advisor.

The advisor conveys the results to the student and to the SLA program coordinator.

Exam grades and the remediation process
Each response for the preliminary examination is assessed a grade of ‘pass with distinction’, ‘pass’, or ‘fail’. If a student’s answers to both questions pass, then the student passes the preliminary exam.

If a student’s answer to one of the questions fails (whereas the answer to the other question passes), the committee decides how to proceed, depending on the extent and nature of the failure; options are (a) an oral exam (whose duration is be determined by the committee) for the purpose of clarifying or enhancing the written response, or (b) the provision of a new question, to be answered over the course of one week, with all previous grading procedures applied. The timing of either an oral exam or the assignment of a new exam question is be determined by the committee.

If a student’s second attempt at answering one question fails, or if a student’s answers to both questions fail at the first attempt, the student’s status in the program is determined by the SLA Steering Committee.

Becoming a Dissertator
When a student has fulfilled all of the degree requirements for the SLA Doctoral Program, that is, when s/he has completed all required coursework, passed the preliminary examinations, and fulfilled the foreign language requirement, s/he becomes a dissertator. A student who fails the preliminary examination or is denied admission to candidacy is not making satisfactory academic progress and is placed on academic probation. The probation period begins in the semester following the semester in which the examination is taken.

Deadlines for dissertator eligibility generally fall on the first day of each semester. Students must request a preliminary warrant from the SLA program coordinator at least four weeks before the deadline. In general, requests for warrants occur approximately one month before the end of the semester, while degree deadlines are near the last day of classes. Check the Graduate School Degree and Dissertator Deadlines for exact dates for the academic year.

Dissertators must maintain continuous enrollment until completion of the doctoral degree. Dissertators must enroll each fall and spring semester for exactly three graduate-level credits. Typically, these are research credits for dissertation work, taken with the dissertation director and under a 990 course number in the dissertation director’s home department. However, under exceptional circumstances, the three credits can be taken in the form of a graduate course that contributes directly to the dissertation topic and has been approved by the dissertation director. Such courses must be taken for a grade and cannot be audited or taken pass/fail.  For more information, see the Graduate School policy on continuous enrollment for dissertators. Note that fall and spring enrollment are required regardless of whether you are residing in Madison.

Dissertation Proposal Defense
Once dissertator status has been reached but before embarking on dissertation research, the student needs to have a dissertation proposal approved by a committee of at least three faculty members of whom at least two, including the dissertation director (advisor), must be SLA core faculty. Ideally, the three or more faculty members who serve on a student’s dissertation proposal committee are the same who serve on or constitute a subset of the student’s future dissertation committee, which needs to have at least four members (see below).

The dissertation proposal demonstrates the feasibility and value of the research project and its methodology.

The dissertation proposal must be approved by the student’s dissertation proposal committee no later than one calendar year after the student has become a dissertator. If the proposal is not approved by that date, the candidate, with a support letter from the dissertation director (advisor), must petition the SLA Steering Committee for an extension. That petition should include a statement for the reasons for requesting the extension and a description of a plan for making progress, moving forward.

Dissertation Proposal Committee and Procedures
The proposal is prepared under the guidance of the dissertation director and presented to the dissertation proposal committee in an oral dissertation proposal defense that typically lasts between one and two hours. The dissertation proposal rubric is used to assess the quality of the proposal and oral defense. An approved dissertation proposal represents an agreement between the dissertation committee and the student about the focus and the methodology of the dissertation.

The student needs to obtain the dissertation director’s consent to schedule the review and defense of the dissertation proposal and to determine which three or more members need to be present at the defense of the dissertation proposal. It is the student’s responsibility to establish a time and place for the dissertation proposal committee to meet for the formal review and defense of the proposal.

The dissertation director needs to approve the contents of any drafts of the proposal and the timing according to which the student sends drafts to committee members. No less than two weeks in advance of the proposal defense the student needs to send each faculty member the version of the proposal that s/he wishes to defend.  Faculty may request an electronic and/or hard copy.

The review and defense of the dissertation proposal ends with recommendations made by members of the dissertation proposal committee. Recommendations may range from approval without changes to recommendations for changes to the proposal to the request for a new proposal followed by a new proposal defense. Once the committee has approved the proposal, the dissertation proposal defense form must be signed and dated by all dissertation proposal committee members and be filed, with a copy of the approved proposal, in the SLA Program Office, room 1322 Van Hise Hall. The committee must approve subsequent revisions to the proposal in writing.

Scope and Content of the Dissertation Proposal
The scope and structure of the dissertation proposal is determined by the dissertation director. A typical proposal ranges from 5,000 to 7,500 words, not including appendices and references, and includes: research instruments, data samples (e.g., transcriptions) that exceed 250 words, IRB protocol-related materials, and timeline to dissertation typically appear in appendices.

A typical dissertation proposal contains the following components:

  • a description of the rationale of and need for the study;
  • a review of the literature pertaining to key concepts and key theories used in designing the study and/or in analyzing the results;
  • questions to be addressed by the research;
  • methods;
  • a sample analysis, which can be applied to select qualitative and/or quantitative data;
  • based on the sample analysis, a description of next steps, including a timeline to dissertation completion and of any planned alterations in method, data types, or theoretical approaches from the original intentions described in the proposal to the dissertation study.

Dissertation Models and Formats
The last step in completing the Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition is the successful defense of a doctoral thesis or dissertation, followed by its deposit with the Graduate School. The dissertation is an original piece of research and follows a canonical structure, usually very similar to the guidelines published in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (current edition). You may wish to consult models, such as prior dissertations written by students in the program, all of which are inventoried electronically and may be found via a database (e.g., LLBA at the UW Libraries) search that uses ‘author’ names. Ultimately, the precise format, scope, and content of your dissertation need to be agreed upon between you, your dissertation director/s, and the dissertation committee.

Make-up of the Dissertation Committee
Typically, the dissertation committee is headed by one director (advisor), who guides the research and dissertation writing process and contributes specific expertise to the project’s development. However, under exceptional circumstances and if the nature of dissertation warrants, two faculty members may agree to co-direct a dissertation. In total, the dissertation committee must include at least four members, including the director and at least one other SLA core faculty member. An advisor may in some circumstances require more than four committee members. The remaining two or more members of the committee may be affiliate SLA faculty, or faculty in other areasOf the four dissertation committee members, at least three must be UW-Madison ‘graduate faculty’, that is, UW-Madison faculty who are tenured or on the tenure track. UW-Madison faculty who retire retain their status as graduate faculty for one year. The fourth member of a dissertation committee does not have to be graduate faculty but should normally hold a Ph.D. In cases in which the proposed fourth member does not hold a Ph.D., the student’s dissertation director may petition the SLA Steering Committee for this individual to serve on the committee.

Forming the Dissertation Committee
As the student prepares for preliminary exams, the student must come to an agreement, by mutual consent, with an SLA core faculty member who directs the dissertation. The student chooses his/her dissertation committee in consultation with the dissertation director. Members are chosen for the expertise that they can contribute to the project. It may be useful for the student, in consultation with the director, to clarify with each committee member the role that the committee member is expected to play in terms of scope and specific areas of expertise. Typically, committee members who are SLA core faculty members are responsible for methodological issues that pertain to the dissertation’s design. Dissertation committee members who are not also members of the SLA core faculty typically contribute expertise on specific languages or regions.  At least three dissertation committee members, including the director and at least one other SLA core faculty member, are present at the defense of the dissertation.

The Oral Dissertation Defense
The oral dissertation defense is an approximately two-hour final conference between the candidate and the dissertation committee, held when the director of the dissertation deems the dissertation complete.  Dissertation defenses are not scheduled during the summer.

Dissertation defenses can only be scheduled with the director’s consent and upon agreement among all participants (committee members and the student).

The candidate must give each member of the committee an electronic copy (or printed copy upon request) of the dissertation’s defense draft at least three weeks before the scheduled defense date. This dissertation copy must be formatted in accordance with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (current edition).

The student must contact the SLA program coordinator at least four weeks in advance of the defense date to provide necessary information for requesting a Final Oral Defense Warrant.

In the defense meeting, the committee reviews the aims, methods, and development of the dissertation. The final oral defense rubric is used in assessing the quality of the dissertation and oral defense. If the dissertation committee is not satisfied, another defense may be scheduled. It is common for defense meetings to end with recommendations for changes to the dissertation, although their scope may vary. The student’s compliance with recommended changes needs to be reviewed by the dissertation director before the deposit of the dissertation although other members of the committee, too, may choose to withhold their signature until specific changes have been made to their satisfaction. Students are advised to plan the deposit of their dissertation so as to allow a sufficient amount of time for changes after the defense.

Rules for Depositing the Dissertation
The Graduate School has stringent guidelines for preparing and depositing dissertations. Dissertations are deposited electronically. For more information, see the Guide to Preparing Your Doctoral Dissertation on the Graduate School website. Candidates should make sure to carefully read the formatting requirements before finalizing their dissertations. Students may also contact the doctoral degree coordinator, Alexandra Walter, 608-262-2433.