School of Information Sciences - Information Science & Technology Program

PhD Program Details

There are three stages of admission to the doctoral program: admission to graduate study when the student first matriculates, admission to doctoral study following successful completion of the preliminary examination, and admission to candidacy following successful completion of the comprehensive examination and approval of the dissertation proposal. A minimum of 48 credits, including 30 course and seminar credits beyond the master’s degree, and at least 18 dissertation credits are required. Students without a Master’s Degree will be required to take a minimum of 12 additional credits of coursework or seminars, for a total of 60 credits beyond the Bachelor’s degree. Students who did not take the prerequisite courses as part of earlier studies should expect to complete admission requirements or equivalent courses.

A student pursuing a PhD degree is first admitted to graduate study in Information Science. During the first year of study and in preparation for the preliminary examination, PhD students should complete initial course work and attend the PhD orientation session (a two-hour review of requirements for the PhD degree).

1. Residency Requirements

Full-time residency, in addition to requiring full-time study, affords the student the opportunity for daily professional interaction with faculty and other PhD students. This interaction is a major component in the student's preparation for research. Despite the benefits that full-time residency affords, it is recognized that students may have off-campus responsibilities as well.

The PhD degree, therefore, can be completed by a combination of full-time and part-time study. Two terms of full-time study are required. Full-time study is defined as nine or more graduate credits per term. All students, whether on campus or away, must maintain active status by registering according to the requirements stated below. No matter your status, you must meet with their advisor at least once per year. Annually, students will submit an annual progress report to the PHD Program Chair, the Program Secretary and the advisor.  This will take place on the second Friday of January.

2. Registration Requirements

Students must register each term for the number of credits of course work, independent study, or research equivalent to the anticipated use of faculty time and University facilities. A student who has not registered for at least one credit during a 12- month period will be transferred automatically to inactive status and must file an application for readmission to graduate study (and pay the application fee) before being permitted to register again. Upon readmission, the student is required to adjust the program of studies to meet current PhD degree program, School, and University requirements.

In keeping with University policy, all graduate students must be enrolled for a minimum of 1 credit in the term in which they graduate.

Doctoral students who have completed all credit requirements for the Ph.D. degree, including minimum dissertation credit requirements, and are working full time on their dissertations, are encouraged to register for "Full-time Dissertation Study," with a fixed-fee registration per term, currently $500 plus fees. [Enrollment in this course fulfills the University requirements for registration in the term of graduation.]

2.1 Transfer of Credits. Upon petition to the Graduate Information Science (GIST) faculty and with the consent of the student’s advisor, a student may be granted up to 6 credits of advanced standing. This credit for graduate course work completed at another institution may be granted if the credit has not been applied to a previous degree, has been earned within the 6-year statute of limitations, and is relevant to the student's doctoral studies in the School of Information Sciences. Advanced standing is granted at the time of admission or during the first term of course work, if approved. Petitions for transfer of credits must be received at the time of application or during the first term of attendance. Transcripts verifying the graduate courses must accompany the petition along with sufficient documentation to permit the faculty to evaluate their relevance to the doctoral program.

Transfer credits must be earned at an accredited institution granting degrees at the doctoral level. No credit will be granted toward doctoral degrees for work completed in extension courses or in off-campus centers of another institution unless those credits are approved for graduate degrees at that institution. Transfer credits will not be accepted for courses in which grades lower than a "B," or its equivalent, has been received.

Universityof Pittsburgh Policy on transfer of credits.

Please note these transfer credits will not be applied to core courses, independent study or doctoral seminars.

2.2 Probation and Termination. All students pursuing the doctoral degree are required to maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.3 after admission to graduate study and for all course work applicable to the degree. Students are automatically placed on academic probation when their cumulative GPA falls below 3.3. The graduate faculty may choose to terminate students on probation for two consecutive terms. A cumulative GPA of 3.3 or better is required for admission to doctoral study and for the award of the doctoral degree. In addition, students must show adequate progress through an annual review to be held on the 2nd Friday of January.

3. Preparation for the Preliminary Examination

In preparation for the preliminary examination, which is described below PhD students will complete the following course work.

3.1 Core Courses: Four graduate-level courses, one in each of the following areas. Students, who have taken two or more of these courses (in any cluster described below) as part of a degree at the University of Pittsburgh, may take additional courses from the remaining areas. Prerequisites for the core courses are not counted as part of the PhD course requirements.

Research methods cluster:

Foundations cluster:

Design cluster:

Information cluster:

3.2 Independent Research: Six credits of independent study focused on a research project are required. This research will normally be supervised by the student's advisor over two terms, but any IS faculty member who is a member of the graduate faculty may supervise the student. The student may opt to have different faculty supervise different parts of the independent study. The result of this research will be an original, publishable quality research paper, which will serve as the basis of the preliminary exam (see below). Previously published work may not be used to fulfill this requirement, although the independent research project might build upon previous work done by the student.

3.3 Doctoral Seminars: Three doctoral seminars (9 credits), including a required Introduction to Doctoral Research (IS 3005), are required. IS3005 is offered every fall/spring and should be taken during the first year of study. This course will cover the scope of research in Information Science. Advanced doctoral seminars will be focused on single research themes.

4. Preliminary Examination

The goal of the preliminary evaluation is to assess your breadth of knowledge and ability to conduct research in information science. The evidence of your breath of knowledge is your performance in the core courses and seminars. The evidence of your ability to conduct research is provided by authorship, presentation, and public defense of a publishable quality research paper that:

4.1 Research Project and Paper. During the first year of doctoral study, under the direction of your advisor (or another full or adjunct member of the department graduate faculty), students will design and complete a research project. The project should reflect only those activities undertaken during the first year of study. A previous master's thesis or other work completed prior to the start of doctoral study may not be submitted for this requirement. While much research involves working in a larger team, your role in the project and in writing the paper should be significant. You must be the primary author, and ideally you will be the sole author. You should seek a project or a part of a project in which you take the lead in conducting the research and writing up the results under the direction of your advisor. However, unlike a dissertation or thesis, the research paper submitted for the preliminary evaluation may include co-authors. In this case, the role of each co-author should be clearly stated in writing by the student and submitted along with the research paper. Furthermore, the paper may be integrated with other work and later submitted for publication with a longer list of authors.

4.2 Research Paper Components. Research papers take many forms, and some venues require particular nomenclature or forms. The paper submitted to the faculty to meet this requirement should include the following components:

  1. a clear statement of the problem
  2. an innovative idea that addresses the problem
  3. a survey of the relevant research literature
  4. an explication and implementation of a methodology for addressing the problem
  5. evidence that the described idea achieves its goal
  6. analysis and evaluation
  7. discussion of the research, including but not limited to shortcomings of the work and directions for future work.
  8. a list of references

While it is possible to deviate from this structure, this should only be done with the support of your advisor.

4.3 Submission and Presentation of Research Papers. Submission and presentation of your paper must be made not later than in January following your second fall semester in the program. Students must complete the 6 credits of Independent Research Study and IS 3005 before taking the preliminary examination. The due date for submission of the paper is the second Friday of January. On the fourth Friday of January, papers will be presented orally to the IS graduate faculty in a public forum. Each student will give a 20-minute long oral presentation of his/her paper to the faculty, followed by a 20-minute discussion. All presentations will be made on a single day. Faculty will meet the same day to grade the written and oral performance. The result of the exam will be: (a) pass, (b) fail with one more chance to re-take the exam the following year, or (c) fail with no chance to re-take the exam. While the submission and presentation of your paper may be made before the completion of the core courses and doctoral seminar, the preliminary evaluation will not be considered satisfied until all core courses and doctoral seminars are completed.

5. Preparation for the Comprehensive Exam

Students will have successfully completed the preliminary examination. In preparation for the comprehensive exam, it is expected that the student will complete 3 credits of advanced statistics.

To be admitted to the comprehensive examination a student must have:

  1. successfully completed the preliminary examination;
  2. completed the 1-term residency requirement; and
  3. notify via e-mail the Chair of the PhD Committee and Program Chair/Secretary of the Committee of the comprehensive examination at least two weeks before the exam.

This notification should include the title of the Comprehensive Exam, the date, and the Committee members.

6. Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination requires successful completion of the preliminary exam. The student will propose three areas of concentration. These areas must be approved by the examining committee, which will consist of the advisor who will chair the examining committee, and two other full time graduate faculty members from GIST selected by the student with the approval of the adviser. To gain this approval, the student should should complete and send "Comprehensive Areas of Concentration Approval" form to all committee members for their signatures. In exceptional cases, where the student's focus requires outside expertise, one committee member may come from outside the GIST graduate faculty body if recommended by the advisor and approved by the chair of the PhD Program.

The student must meet with the members of the committee to discuss the topics and foci. The student, with the consent of the committee, is free to select areas within information science that are not on the listof topics on the areas of concentration from, so long as the committee is unanimous in approving the topics. Once the committee and the topic areas are selected, the student will prepare an activity and reading list with the advice and approval of the committee members. The student will then proceed with the review of literature, based on the reading list. When the student is ready, he/she will inform the advisor who will ask each member of the committee to submit one or more questions to the advisor. The advisor will be responsible for coordinating the exam with appropriate balance over the three topic areas. The student will be given the questions and allowed one week to prepare written answers to the questions. After review of the written answers, two-hour oral examination will be scheduled and open to the public. The final reading list, questions and answers should be published and available to the iSchool community on the Schools Web site.  As soon as finalized, forward this information with "Comprehensive Exam Submission Approval for Web Publishing" form to the School’s Webmaster (at, with copies sent to the PhD Chair and all comprehensive committee members. The oral examination will normally be within a week of the completion of the written exam, but in all cases no later than within three weeks. The student will make a 10-minute presentation on the key points. The oral questions will cover the answers on the written examination, and more broadly, about knowledge of the material in the three areas of concentration. The result of the comprehensive examination will be a pass or fail. If a student fails, they may retake the exam one more time.

7. Pre-Candidacy

Once the comprehensive examination is successfully completed, the student can propose and defend a dissertation topic. The student and the dissertation advisor should select the dissertation committee.

7.1 Dissertation. Each student must write a dissertation that presents the results of a research project carried out by the student.  This research project involves a substantive piece of original and independent research grounded in an appropriate body of literature.

7.2 Dissertation Credits.  Doctoral students are required to take a minimum of 18 dissertation credits as a part of their study. Dissertation credits should be taken during terms when a student is actively working on the dissertation. Most research activities during the first two years of the program are better completed as part of an independent study or a doctoral seminar. In any term in which a student is enrolled for dissertation credits, the student should meet with their advisor on a regular basis to monitor that appropriate progress is being made towards the completion of the dissertation proposal or the dissertation. The specific activities in a given term should depend on the current stage of the dissertation process. In addition to writing the proposal and dissertation itself, other appropriate activities may include reviewing the literature, programming, prototyping, running preliminary studies, writing grant proposals, preparing journal articles related to the dissertation or presenting preliminary results at conferences.

Doctoral students who have completed all credit requirements for the PhD degree, including minimum dissertation-credit requirements, are encouraged to register for "Full-time Dissertation Study," with a fixed-fee registration per term, currently $500 plus applicable fees, for both Pennsylvania residents and nonresidents. Enrollment in this course provides a student with full-time status and fulfills the University requirements for registration in the term of graduation.

7.3 Dissertation Advisor.  Students must gain the agreement of a member of the GIST graduate faculty to chair the dissertation committee that will advise on the area of research and the design of the dissertation study. The advisor's agreement is recorded in the student's file. Any request to change the dissertation advisor must be submitted in writing to the Chair of the GIST PhD Program Approval for the change and the selection of another dissertation advisor is placed in the student’s file.

In most cases, the student's program advisor continues as the dissertation advisor and chair of the dissertation committee. By University regulations the dissertation advisor must be a graduate faculty member of the Information Science and Technology Program. In the event that either the student or advisor desires a change, another GIST graduate faculty member may serve as dissertation advisor and chair of the dissertation committee.

The student's dissertation advisor together with the student:

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