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Ph.D. Program

IST offers a flexible Ph.D. program that can be tailored to fit your research interests. All students build a broad understanding of the interdisciplinary methods that comprise information sciences and technology research, but at the same time develop in-depth expertise in specific research topics. Interdisciplinary breadth is obtained through core courses and research methodology; in-depth expertise is acquired through specialized research courses and personal research activities. These general requirements are summarized in the requirements table; information on specific courses listed in the table can be found in the IST graduate course listings provided as part of Penn State’s Graduate Bulletin.

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. For examples, please browse the information about recent alumni.

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.

Research context

Each Ph.D. student is given a desk and working space within the IST building. In some cases this is a shared student office space; in others the students are housed in research labs. Computer equipment including printers, etc. is also available if needed, either through IST or research supervisors.

In addition to individual or shared research labs, IST is host to four University Centers:

As University Centers, the scope of these research units extends beyond individual faculty or labs and includes extensive interaction with research groups across the university and beyond.

Ph.D. Course Requirements
Core courses An introductory course, followed by courses in computational informatics, social and organizational impacts, and human-computer interaction (15 credits).
Graduate colloquium Two semesters of practicum aimed at research skills and professional development (2 credits).
Research methodology Methods-intensive courses offered in IST or elsewhere to complement emerging dissertation focus, including at least one course covering issues in philosophy of science (12 credits).
Specialty courses Advanced courses covering research topics or skills, chosen to support the dissertation research (12 credits).