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Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. program provides foundational training that will prepare you for a career in information science, related sciences, and technology research. The first-year core curriculum will give you the skills and background to conduct interdisciplinary technology research. A flexible elective structure will provide customization for your interests and needs. After the first two years of courses, you’ll engage in further research, leading to a comprehensive exam and thesis proposal, followed by a thesis defense. Typically, you will graduate 4–5 years after you enter the program.

As a Ph.D. student, you will typically work on a series of research projects, publishing work with your advisors and fellow lab members in international conferences and journals, effectively beginning a career in research while still a student. As you progress through the program, you will be advised and become self-directed, rather than managed. Given this level of autonomy, students will find the Ph.D. program particularly challenging and rewarding.

Recent Ph.D. graduates have taken faculty and postdoctoral positions at research universities including Harvard, Columbia, Carnegie Mellon and Texas A&M; they work as research scientists at laboratories such as the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, and PARC Innovation Lab (Xerox); and have joined international software companies such as Google and Facebook.

Make an impact

IST Ph.D. student Elizabeth Eikey, co-advised by advised by Dr. Reddy and Dr. Erika Poole, assistant professor of information sciences and technology is a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Eikey’s focus is on using technology to advance research and the understanding of medical conditions, from dyslexia to eating disorders.

Alex Ororbia, IST Ph.D. student advised by Drs. Giles and Reitter, holds a traineeship with the Big Data Social Science IGERT program. Ororbia focuses on artificial neural network models. These models are capable of deep learning from digital, scholarly text. “Nothing is more satisfying than seeing the answers to your questions take the form of tools that can directly impact people,” Ororbia says.

Chris Dancy, Ph.D., who is a former Sloan Scholar graduate of IST’s Ph.D. program and was advised by Dr. McNeese and Dr. Frank Ritter, professor of information sciences and technology, now works as a computer scientist in the U.S. Department of Defense. He describes his research as broadly involving understanding how physiology, emotion, and cognition interact to affect the way we think and behave.

Program milestones

In addition to coursework, the Ph.D. program includes several milestones:

  • The first is the candidacy exam, taken after the first year of study. In this college exam, we assess a student’s ability to understand and apply critical thinking across several different disciplinary perspectives, and to demonstrate proficiency in research writing and speaking.
  • The comprehensive exam is taken when the student has developed and is prepared to defend a dissertation proposal.
  • The final defense occurs when the student defends his or her completed dissertation project to his committee and other interested parties. A complete discussion of these milestones and other relevant issues can be found in the IST Ph.D. Roadmap.

The dissertation is a major component of all Ph.D. programs and generally requires about two years to complete. The topic and nature of IST dissertations vary greatly as would be expected of an interdisciplinary program.

Funding opportunities

Most IST Ph.D. students are funded for at least four years, through a combination of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and other fellowships. The funding available for a given student is specified in the offer letter and may change from year to year depending on funds available. Assistantships and fellowships include a stipend sufficient to cover living costs in this region, a tuition waiver, and access to university-provided health benefits.

In addition to the assistantships available for Ph.D. students, IST often provides additional competitive funding to travel to professional events (e.g., conferences or workshops). Typically these funds are provided for students who are making presentations at the event, particularly advanced students who are on the job market. Other travel funds may be available from advisors or research sponsors.