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Winter 2011

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Program Notes
William Grabe, PhD

The PhD in Applied Linguistics

Faculty and students join up for dinner at a recent AAAL conference.
AAAL conference

For 22 years, the PhD program in applied linguistics at Northern Arizona University has prepared researchers and teacher trainers to work independently and in leadership positions with the learning and teaching of second languages, the analysis of language, and the design of language-related research.

The applied linguistics faculty at NAU work closely with individual students, helping them to develop as colleagues. “What I like best about the program is the approachability of the faculty,” says 2010 Ruth Crymes Award winner Mark Johnson. “In addition to being very well known in the field of applied linguistics, they are also genuinely nice people who seem happy to share their experience with their students.”

Doctoral student Bethany Gray agrees. “The faculty in our program are incredibly supportive and generous with their advice, guidance, and mentoring. They not only encourage us to become members of the wider applied linguistics community, but also help us pursue this goal by supporting us in our teaching opportunities, independent research and publications, and involvement in professional activities beyond the department.”

As a result, our 20 to 25 doctoral students per year have an outstanding record of publication and participation in major conferences such as the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) and the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) conferences. On average, 12 journal articles and book chapters are published by our PhD students per year, either in collaboration with a faculty member or on their own. Additionally, our students give an average of 18 academic presentations per year at national and international conferences. 

Our students also win national awards and PhD research stipends regularly from TESOL, the journal Language Learning, the TOEFL program at Educational Testing Service, and the International Research Foundation of English Language Education (TIRF). For two of the past four years, our students have won the Ruth Crymes PhD research support award, a single award given by TESOL in an international competition.

Bowling night out.
Faculty and students go bowling.

As a program, we are strongly committed to NAU’s strategic goal of global engagement. Many of our PhD students work in the Program of Intensive English (PIE) as teachers, area supervisors, course developers, assessment specialists, and technology instructional supervisors. Elena Poltavtchenko, doctoral student from Novosibirsk, Russia, says, "While I certainly appreciate the quality of the education that our program provides, I also value the spirit and camaraderie of the students and the collegiality among the professors. Because many (if not most) of the students in our program are international students, it is really this sense of belonging that helps us to persevere and succeed in such a rigorous and intensive course of studies."

We are also a very productive PhD faculty. In the past three years, the nine Applied Linguistics faculty have produced 12 books, 80 journal articles and book chapters, and given over 100 conference presentations in the U.S. and overseas. Faculty members have received research grants from the National Science Foundation, Educational Testing Service, Pearson-Longman Publishers, and the Arizona Board of Regents. Also in the past three years, faculty have received international invitations to lecture in 23 countries spanning South America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand, and the Middle East.

Support through graduation and beyond. (Photos courtesy of P. Heasley and E. Poltavtchenko)

Graduates of our applied linguistics program have been highly successful at obtaining tenure-track faculty positions at major universities including Brigham Young, Carnegie Mellon, Old Dominion, Kent State, the Air Force Academy, and a number of universities within the California state system. Over 70 percent of our total PhD graduates have tenure–track positions at four-year universities in the U.S. or overseas.

Other graduates are working with research institutions, as language program directors, as university administrators, and in one case, as a U.S. Department of State diplomat. 

For more information on the PhD in applied linguistics program at NAU, please contact me at or 523-6274.

—William Grabe, Regents’ Professor of English and Graduate Coordinator for Applied Linguistics