Javascript is currently not supported, or is disabled by this browser. Please enable Javascript for full functionality.

Skip to Main Content
University of Pittsburgh    
2019-2020 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jan 31, 2023
2019-2020 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Intelligent Systems, PhD

Return to School of Computing and Information Return to: School of Computing and Information

Requirements for the PhD

The student’s adviser must be a member of the ISP faculty. Note that each new student is initially assigned an administrative adviser. A student’s administrative adviser will not necessarily be the student’s MS or PhD adviser.

To obtain a degree, a student must also be in good standing and at full student status (not provisional). To remain in good standing, a student must make sufficient progress on their degree requirements, and also attend all but two (2) of the scheduled AI Forum talks per term and sign in so they get credit. Failure to meet this requirement will affect their application for various fellowship candidacies, GSA funding, travel grants, and similar funding. In the case of extenuating circumstances, the student should communicate the possible absence to the ISP director and administrator.

Students pursuing the Doctor of Philosophy degree in ISP must adhere to the SCI requirements for graduation and complete a minimum of 72 credits as outlined below. Students must earn a grade of B- or better in each of the courses in the appropriate ISP curriculum (the general track or the Biomedical Informatics track) and maintain a QPA of at least 3.0

Course Requirements

Prerequisites: Students are expected to have the undergraduate prerequisites needed to take the graduate courses required by the ISP. These may be required if not taken. 

General Intelligent Systems Track

First-year students



Applied or mathematical statistics.  Choose one of the following:

Theory of computation, algorithms. Choose one of the following:

One additional course required. Any of the theory courses listed above are acceptable.

Advanced courses

Four ISSP advanced lecture courses, numbered 2000 or higher and approved by the PhD adviser.

Biomedical Informatics Track (ISP/MI)

This assumes that a student already has training in a health care field; if this is not so, then the faculty will select a set of courses that teach the student basic medical knowledge, and the student may take these courses as electives.

First-year students


Then choose;

One of the following:

AND choose one of the following:

AND choose one of the following:

AND choose two of the following:

Advanced Courses

Three Graduate-level Courses (2000 or higher, three credits or more) ISSP lecture course that has your adviser’s approval as being relevant to your studies in the ISP required.


TA any biomedical informatics (BIOINF) course that is cross-listed as an ISSP course.

MS Project and PhD Preliminary Examination

For this requirement, the student must complete a research project, approved by the student’s preliminary evaluation committee, involving (1) significant research, design, or development work, (2) a written report, and (3) an oral presentation. Students must form an MS project committee (MS) or a preliminary evaluation committee (PhD) consisting of three faculty members, two of whom must be ISP faculty. The student’s adviser chairs the committee and must be an ISP faculty member. 

Preferably, the research project is completed by the end of the summer term of the second year. Students who have not defended their research project by end of the fall term of their third year in the program will be placed on provisional status in the program, unless extenuating circumstances warrant an extension, as judged by the student’s preliminary evaluation committee. 

Although not a requirement, it is strongly suggested that the student submit the project report for publication in a refereed journal or conference. Thus, the scope of the research project is intended to be at the level of a paper that is of publishable quality in a peer-reviewed AI journal or conference. 

The steps to completing the project are as follows: 

  • Submit a project proposal to your committee for its approval. 
  • Perform the work, and write a project report. 
  • Submit your project report to your committee at least two weeks in advance of your oral presentation of the work. 
  • Present your work in a talk given to your committee. As a guideline, you should give about a 30-minute talk and leave about 30 minutes for questions and discussion. The ISP faculty should be invited to the oral presentation. General questions relating to the field of AI are appropriate at this examination. The oral presentation may take place in an open forum, such as the ISP AI Forum, followed by a closed session with just your committee and any other ISP faculty members who wish to be present. 

The committee will evaluate the project and presentation. The following criteria should be considered: The project and presentation should represent independent research, design, or development work; they should be technically sound; and they should be relevant to the ISP. Also, the student should display the breadth of knowledge, understanding of the significance and motivation of the work, and understanding of the relationship of the work with prior work; and, the presentation should be clear. The committee will combine that evaluation with an evaluation of the student’s progress in coursework to arrive at an overall evaluation of one of the following: 

  • Pass at the PhD level. 
  • Provisional pass at the PhD level: Must complete additional requirements specified by the committee in order to obtain a pass. 
  • Pass at the MS level: Student obtains a terminal MS degree, once all course requirements for the MS are completed. 
  • Fail. 

Students who pass will need a card signed by their committee to obtain credit for passing. Contact the ISP program secretary at least two weeks before the oral portion of the preliminary evaluation, so the card can be available at the meeting to be signed. 

PhD Comprehensive Examination

For the PhD comprehensive examination, students should follow these steps: 

Form a comprehensive examination committee consisting of at least three faculty members, two of whom must be ISP faculty. The student’s PhD adviser chairs the committee and must be an ISP faculty member. The faculty members on a given student’s comprehensive examination committee are often the same as the faculty on that student’s preliminary evaluation committee, but they need not be. 

Choose three major subareas of AI. One of these areas is flexible; the other two should be chosen from the ISP list of sub-areas below.  The flexible area must be unanimously approved by the students’ committee (but does not need to be approved by the director). Biomedical Informatics students should choose “Biomedical Informatics” as one of the subareas. 

  • AI and Business/Accounting 
  • AI and Law 
  • AI and Medicine 
  • AI and MIS 
  • Bioinformatics 
  • Case-based Reasoning 
  • Cognitive Architectures (or Subsymbolic Approaches) 
  • Connectionist Approaches 
  • Statistics and Evaluation Methods 
  • Expert Systems 
  • Intelligent Interfaces 
  • Intelligent Tutoring Systems 
  • Knowledge Representation 
  • Machine Learning 
  • Biomedical Informatics 
  • Natural-language Processing 
  • Planning 
  • Reasoning About Uncertainty 
  • Robotics 
  • Vision 

Work with the committee to finalize the reading for the three chosen subareas. Have the committee approve the list. 

Work with your committee members (or their designated administrative assistants) to set the following dates for the examination: 

  • The date and time the written examination is distributed to you. 
  • The date and time you return the examination, which by default is nine days after receiving it. Your committee can designate an examination period of fewer or more than nine days, and through your advisor you may request that they do so. 
  • The date and time you orally defend your examination answers before your committee. You should schedule two hours for your oral exam defense, although typically less time will be needed. 

Your committee will provide a list of written questions. Unless an exception is made by your committee, you will have nine days to provide the written answers to these questions. At the end of those nine days, you should distribute your answers to each of your committee members. Be sure to check that each has received your answers. 

An oral examination will take place after the comprehensive committee has read your answers; the committee should be given a minimum of three days to read your answers before the oral examination. The ISP faculty (only) will be invited. You will be asked questions by your committee about your answers on the written examination, and more broadly, about your knowledge of the material in the three areas of concentration you have chosen. 

At the end of your oral examination, your committee will evaluate your performance as one of the following: 

  • Pass. 
  • Provisional pass: Must complete additional requirements specified by the committee in order to obtain a pass. 
  • Fail. 

An evaluation by the comprehensive examination committee of “fail” will be considered by the ISP faculty at large, who will make a determination as to the status of the student in the ISP, including whether the student is allowed to re-take the examination or whether he or she is terminated from the program. 

Students who pass the comprehensive examination will need a card signed by their committee to obtain credit for passing. Contact the ISP program secretary at least two weeks before the oral portion of the comprehensive examination, so the card can be available at the meeting to be signed. 

PhD Dissertation

In pursuing the PhD dissertation, students should follow these steps: 

  1. Find a dissertation adviser and form a dissertation committee. The composition requirements for the Doctoral dissertation committees is detailed in the Doctoral Committee section  of the SCI Catalog page; see the section for details.  
  2. Write a dissertation proposal. Present the proposal to your committee. Your committee must approve your proposal. You will need a form signed by your committee and the ISP director to complete this process. Contact the program administrator at least two weeks before meeting so the form can be available for signature at the meeting. 
  3. Carry out the research. Write the dissertation. 
  4. An announcement of your dissertation defense must appear in University Times and Pitt Chronicle. Send information to the ISP administrator at least five weeks before your oral defense date. This information will be sent to the University Times and Pitt Chronicle. The announcement includes the student name, the title of the dissertation, and the time and place of the defense. 
  5. Have an oral defense that is open to the University at large. You will need a card signed by your committee to obtain credit for passing the dissertation requirement. Contact the program secretary two weeks before your defense, so the card can be available for signature at the meeting. 
  6. Credit for doctoral research is ordinarily obtained through the  ISSP 3000 - RESEARCH AND DISSERTATION PHD  course. Students who have completed all course requirements, passed the PhD comprehensive examination, completed 72 credits of graduate study, and are working full-time on their dissertations are encouraged to register for FTDJ 0000 - FULL-TIME DISSERTATION STUDY 

Return to School of Computing and Information Return to: School of Computing and Information

Catalog Navigation