Doctoral Degree

Pitt's PhD program in Critical and Cultural Studies cultivates interdisciplinary and innovative approaches to English and offers a concentration in Composition. Doctoral students who affiliate with the Composition program also move fluidly across English courses in Literature, Film, and Writing. They take electives from a wide variety of courses in History, Linguistics, Anthropology, and Communication, among others. The interdisciplinary emphasis of the PhD encourages students to think across and beyond disciplinary and programmatic boundaries, and to engage with issues in cultural history, knowledge formation, creative intellectual practice, media studies, and critical pedagogy.

The Composition program's graduate faculty work within Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy Studies, and collaborate with researchers in Linguistics, Computer Science, Film, Biology, and Engineering; engage in digital and transnational research and pedagogy; and work with community organizations through research and pedagogical initiatives. Our faculty’s strengths include: the teaching and study of student writing; digital production and analysis; transnational literacies; technology and materialities of composition; large-scale textual analysis; and approaches to research that combine the critical with the production of artistic and creative work. We have taken the lead in founding journals in cultural rhetorics and interactive pedagogy. Faculty have also initiated projects such as Pitt Prison Education Project, the Writing Studies Tree, an interdisciplinary art and biotechnology exhibit, as well as service learning student exchanges and a major in Digital Narrative and Interactive Design. We have strong publication records and are committed to mentoring PhD students through coursework, independent research, and a variety of career trajectories. 

Our robust teacher training program provides PhD students with opportunities to teach first-year writing and upper level courses in the Composition Program's Public and Professional Writing major as well as the department's Digital Narrative and Interactive Design major. Students enjoy a fellowship in their first year, which releases them from teaching so they can focus on their own coursework. Additionally, our students teach one course per term in subsequent years during their trajectory through the program. 

Composition PhD students frequently win internal fellowships, hold Graduate Student Assistantships in research, or work for the Writing Center to round out their experiences. They have opportunities to develop leadership and administrative skills through the leading the Comp/Rhet reading group, Rhetoric Society of America Chapter, or Writing Program Administration positions. The Humanities Engage Program at Pitt supports innovative dissertations, community collaborations, and professionalization activities for our graduate students across a range of career plans.

Admissions for the doctoral program in Composition is through the English Department's Critical and Cultural Studies PhD. For more information about admissions, please visit the English department graduate admissions page. Contact the Director of Composition (Annette Vee) for questions about doctoral study in Composition at Pitt. 


Program Strengths

Our strengths as a program can be encapsulated through these concepts: Interdisciplinarity; Methodological Diversity; Career Flexibility; and Technological Dexterity. 


Designed to provide students with the freedom to follow their interests and passions as they chart their path through our program, our PhD model is ideal for students who seek to work across fields, as well as students who value other fields as enriching their understanding of Composition. Our program provides doctoral students in Composition with opportunities to take courses and engage with faculty and students in a variety of disciplines, including the four programs that constitute the Pitt Department of English—Composition, Film and Media, Literature, and Writing. Students often augment their work in English by earning certificates in Digital Studies and Methods, Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, and Cultural Studies. They earn TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification, learn to program computers, and do research abroad. 

Methodological Diversity

From archival research to ethnographic interviews to distant reading to methods that combine creativity with criticality, our faculty encourage students to think across qualitative and quantitative approaches to answer their own research questions. Our seminars cover data analytics, distant reading, generative text with large language models, creative approaches to biology, ethnographic inquiry into writing across contexts and disciplines, evidence-based teacher/scholar inquiry, digital filmmaking and more. Students gain additional methodological support through seminars in other departments. Recent dissertations have used game-making, digital modeling, literacy interviews, and rhetorical analysis to chart paths forward in the field of Composition and Rhetoric.   

Career Flexibility 

The fact that we have few required core courses in our program means that—with guidance from their advisors—students chart their own paths of interest as they navigate their doctoral studies. Beyond our flexibility in the kinds of courses students take, our program is committed to providing students with flexible skills whether they decide to stay in academia or venture into the public, private, and/or non-profit sectors upon graduation. As we prepare students for a variety of possible professional outcomes, we value open scholarship and publishing and invite students to become proficient in several digital technologies and research methodologies that result in skills that make them adaptable in multiple professional settings. Through this variety of exposure, students develop an elastic way of approaching knowledge and knowledge production that often results in dissertations that blend creativity, critical thinking, public engagement, and digital making. 

Technological Dexterity

We apply a broad definition of what it means to compose, recognizing and celebrating the multiple forms that academic and creative knowledge can take and the myriad rhetorical purposes such knowledge can serve. Our faculty have expertise in technology and media studies and offer seminars that support students' learning in digital composition and comparative media. Displaying an array of digital work and deep engagement with materialities of composition, recent student projects have drawn on practices from “technogothic conjuring” and dance to the keeping of homing pigeons as communicative devices as inspiration for Composition scholarship and pedagogy. In addition to the expertise Composition program faculty offer in digital literacies, filmmaking, mobile technologies, editing of digital journals, social media, and biological technologies, doctoral students also have the opportunity to benefit from several labs affiliated with our department and the campus more broadly, including the Vibrant Media Lab and the Digital Media Lab. Our students are also given the chance to teach in our Digital Narrative and Interactive Design Major. Beyond English, Pitt's Center for Creativity holds events and provides space to make pottery, typewrite, typeset, paint, weave, and 3D print. The OpenLab maker space supports 360 video, laser cutting, and virtual reality design. 


If you have any questions about Pitt's doctoral program in Composition, please contact the Director of Composition, Annette Vee. Read more about the Pitt PhD in Critical and Cultural Studies on the English department website. For general questions about doctoral study at Pitt English, contact the graduate assistant at