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University of Pittsburgh    
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 24, 2024
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog

Information Science, PhD

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PhD Admissions Requirements

IS PhD applicants must either have or demonstrate the following prerequisite knowledge. These courses or their equivalents should be taken before seeking admission but may be taken during the first four terms of study. All courses must be at the graduate level and may have been taken in the course of pursuing another graduate degree:

  • Systems Analysis and Design (INFSCI 2510  - INFORMATION SYSTEMS ANALYSIS AND DESIGN)
  • Data Structures (INFSCI 2500  - DATA STRUCTURES)
  • Database Management (INFSCI 2710  - DATABASE MANAGEMENT)

Applicants must have a Master’s degree from an accredited university, a recognized international program, or the equivalent is required and have attained a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.3 (on a scale with an “A” having a value of 4 points per credit). Exceptional students with a technical Bachelor’s degree may also be admitted. Such students must still satisfy all other requirements that follow. An international student’s GPA will be calculated on the basis of equivalency from universities that use a different scale.

Your application should include:

  • Letters of Recommendation: identify and seek the recommendations of three individuals (e.g., professors, employers, information professionals) who are in a position to evaluate your academic performance or your potential as an information professional. Two must be from professors, preferably with PhDs.
  • Transcripts: Only scanned copies of official transcripts will be accepted and processed at the application stage.
  • Other Required Documentation: Please include the following with your online application:
    • CV; and
    • Statement of Intent (not to exceed 1,000 words) indicating, as specifically as possible, you’re your academic and professional goals related to the Information Science doctoral program and identifying potential areas and/or topics in which the student expects to pursue dissertation research.
  • For International Applicants: Graduate students must possess sufficient knowledge of English to participate successfully in graduate study. International applicants must submit either the TOEFL or the IELTS (taken within two years of the date of application). 

PhD Degree Requirements

There are three stages of admission to the doctoral program:  

  1. admission to graduate study when the student first matriculates
  2. admission to doctoral study following successful completion of the preliminary examination 
  3. admission to candidacy following successful completion of the comprehensive examination and the 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 24 additional credits of coursework or seminars, for a total of 72 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). 

Preliminary Examination Requirements

Preparation for the Preliminary Examination

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.

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.

Doctoral Seminars

Three doctoral seminars (9 credits), including a required INFSCI 3005  - INTRODUCTION TO THE DOCTORAL PROGRAM, are required. INFSCI 3005  is offered every fall 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.

While the preliminary examination can be taken before the completion of the core courses and doctoral seminar, the preliminary examination requirement will not be considered satisfied until all core courses and doctoral seminars are completed. 

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:

  • presents work you have done under the direction of a graduate faculty member in the department;
  • demonstrates your ability to conduct research and clearly report the results of that research;
  • shows your mastery of the subject matter, both in the written paper and in your oral presentation and defense.

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.

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.

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.

Comprehensive Examination Requirement

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:

  • successfully completed the preliminary examination;
  • completed the 1-term residency requirement; and
  • notify via e-mail the Chair of the PhD Committee and Department administration 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.

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 INS selected by the student with the approval of the adviser. To gain this approval, the student should complete and send the “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 INS 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 list of topics on the areas of concentration form, 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 SCI community on the School’s website. As soon as finalized, forward this information with “Comprehensive Exam Submission Approval for Web Publishing” form to the staff, 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.

All required forms are available on the School’s Current Students webpage

Candidacy and Dissertation Requirements


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.


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.

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 plus applicable fees. Enrollment in this course provides a student with full-time status and fulfills the University requirements for registration in the term of graduation.

Dissertation Advisor 

Students must gain the agreement of a member of the INS 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 IS PhD Program Approval for the change and the selection of another dissertation advisor is placed in the student’s file.

The student’s dissertation advisor together with the student:

  • assists in choosing the dissertation committee and in confirming the eligibility of all members selected;
  • arranges with the staff to schedule the dissertation proposal presentation;
  • reviews progress toward completion of the research;
  • arranges with support staff to schedule the dissertation defense;
  • chairs the dissertation defense;
  • secures appropriate signatures from dissertation committee members and assures that all required paperwork is submitted in accordance with School and University procedures.

Dissertation Committee 

The dissertation committee composition is dictated by SCI regulations; see the Doctoral Committee section of the SCI Catalog for details. The dissertation committee is responsible for monitoring the research, conducting and evaluating the oral defense of the dissertation, and approving the final written presentation of the dissertation. The dissertation advisor directs the dissertation research and writing, but all committee members have the responsibility to assist the student as consultants.

Dissertation Proposal 

After successfully completing the comprehensive examination, the student, in consultation with the dissertation advisor, must prepare a dissertation proposal. The written proposal is presented to the dissertation committee and defended in a hearing before the dissertation committee.

Students must demonstrate their potential to complete a sound project of original research by presenting and defending the dissertation proposal to their dissertation committee. The dissertation committee must unanimously approve the dissertation topic and research plan before the student may be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree. Approval of the proposal does not imply either the acceptance of a dissertation prepared in accord with the proposal.

Originality may be reflected in a number of ways. For example, a candidate may pose an important new problem or formulate an existing problem in a novel and useful way. A candidate may investigate previously ignored material or develop new techniques for investigating issues. Extensions of previous investigations are acceptable provided they incorporate important new elements in the design or execution of the research.

The student must submit the dissertation proposal to the committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled hearing. Copies of the dissertation proposal are made by the student at their own expense. When the proposal has been successfully defended, the student’s dissertation advisor shall notify the Chair of the PhD Committee, the Chair of the Information Science Program, and the Dean that the student has achieved formal candidacy. After approval of the dissertation proposal, major changes may not be made without approval of the student and the dissertation committee. The student is responsible for filing a copy of the approved proposal in the IS Program office.

Electronic notice of the student’s meeting with the dissertation committee to approve the proposal will be distributed to the INS faculty at least two weeks ahead of time. The notice will contain the student’s name; the title of the proposal; the date, time, and place of the meeting; and a link to the electronic version of the dissertation proposal.

The dissertation proposal meeting is open to all INS faculty and PhD students who wish to attend and others by invitation of the student.

Once the comprehensive examination is successfully completed, the student is officially a doctoral candidate. After becoming a doctoral candidate, the student can propose and defend a dissertation topic.


For admission to candidacy for the PhD degree, a student must have: 

  • passed the preliminary examination; 
  • completed a minimum of 30 credits beyond the master’s degree with a GPA of 3.3 or higher; 
  • passed the comprehensive examination; 
  • successfully presented a dissertation proposal and received approval of the dissertation proposal by the dissertation committee. 

Admission to candidacy must be at least eight months before the defense of the dissertation in order to provide an opportunity for the members of the doctoral committee to review, criticize, and monitor the proposed research.

When these steps have been taken, and the dissertation advisor has notified the Program and the School, the Program Chair will notify the student in writing of his admission to doctoral candidacy. A copy of the notice will be placed in the student’s folder. The student is expected, at this time, to schedule and present a colloquium on their research to the Program and the public. 

Meetings of the doctoral candidate and the dissertation committee must occur at least annually from the time the student gains admission to doctoral candidacy. During these meetings, the advisor should assess the student’s progress toward the degree, discuss objectives for the following year, and project a timetable for completing degree requirements.

Eligibility for the Dissertation Defense

To be eligible to defend the dissertation, a student must have: 

  • completed the residency requirement; 
  • at least four weeks before the date of the defense, requested the formal announcement of the defense in the University Times; 
  • at least two weeks before the date of the defense, distributed copies of the dissertation to the dissertation committee and make it available to the School’s faculty. These copies are provided by the student at their own expense. 

Preparation for the Defense

Procedural Requirements 

The student should work with the advisor to ensure that the dissertation will be produced in an acceptable style and format. Document preparation materials are located here.The student must submit all forms, letters, and questionnaires related to the dissertation research to the departmental members of the dissertation committee for approval before any such documents are publicly distributed.The student is also responsible for meeting University requirements when human subjects are used in research. These requirements are found in the University of Pittsburgh’s Reference Manual for the Use of Human Subjects in Research  . The school has a faculty representative on the Institutional Review Board who may be contacted with questions of procedure.

The student must prepare a final copy of the dissertation conforming to the University of Pittsburgh’s Style and Form Manual for the format of the dissertation. Since the bibliographic style is best determined by the subject of the dissertation, a style manual of the student’s choice may be used for the content of the dissertation and must be applied consistently throughout.

If University facilities and/or faculty time are being used in dissertation research and/or the writing of the dissertation, then students are required to register for at least three credits per term or such greater amount as the School deems appropriate or Full-Time Dissertation Study.

Registration Requirement 

Students completing their research work for the dissertation will be required to register for at least one credit in the term during which they expect either to complete degree requirements or have the oral defense. Students who have completed all credit requirements for the PhD degree may register for “Full-Time Dissertation Study.”  If the student is a doctoral candidate and off-campus, not using University facilities and/or faculty time, the candidate need only register for 1 credit per academic year to maintain active enrollment status.

If a student does complete all the work in a given term, including the dissertation defense, and has been cleared for graduation too late to be included on the graduation list for that term, the student may apply to graduate the following term and need not enroll for any courses or any credits, subject to approval by the Dean’s office. Students must submit an application for graduation for the term in which he or she has planned the dissertation defense. The application for graduation and the related deadlines and late fee structure are available on the School’s Current Students webpage.

If a student is unable to complete the work during the expected term of graduation due to some extenuating circumstances related to the School and University (beyond the control of the student and attested to by the Dean’s office), the student will not be required to register for additional credits in the term of graduation.

All requests for exceptions to the policy stated above should be sent to the Program Chair from the advisor for clearance and recommendation and then to the Dean for consideration and approval.

Defense of the Dissertation 

Dissertation defenses must be publicly announced four weeks in advance and are open to the University community, but only the dissertation committee may vote. A student defends their dissertation successfully if the dissertation committee unanimously approves it. Although the dissertation defense is dedicated primarily to the field of the dissertation, other questions relating to information science may be considered at this time. The chair of the dissertation committee serves as the session moderator.

A student who successfully defends the dissertation with conditions to be completed must satisfy those conditions with the approval of the dissertation advisor within one year.

Publication of the Dissertation 

The candidate for a PhD degree is required to pay a fee specified by the University to Student Accounts and submit various items as outlined on the School’s PhD Graduation Checklist.

The abstract must not be more than 350 words (2450 typewritten characters) in length. With 70 characters per line there are at most 35 lines in the abstract. All copies of the abstract must be approved and initialed by the dissertation advisor in the upper right-hand corner of the abstract. The dissertation and abstract will be examined and approved by the student’s dissertation advisor for style, format, and related matters.

Any dissertation may be published after the final defense provided that the dissertation submitted for publication is approved as to form and content by the dissertation advisor and also provided that due acknowledgment is made to the University. No form of publication, however, shall relieve the student of the responsibility for following the University’s Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) formatting and submission guidelines as outlined on the School’s PhD Graduation Checklist.

For ETD formatting guidelines and general information, please visit the University of Pittsburgh Electronic Theses and Dissertations website. For deadlines, forms, and contact information regarding the School’s required graduation and ETD paperwork, please visit the graduation procedures section of the SCI Current Students webpage

Summary of Course Requirements and an Ideal Timeline

All students will complete:

  • Required coursework (30 credits)
    • Four core courses (12 credits)
    • One introductory doctoral seminar (3 credits)
    • Two topical doctoral seminars (6 credits)
    • Two independent research studies (6 credits)
    • One advanced statistics course (3 credits)
  • Dissertation work (18 credits)
  • A minimum of 18 credits of dissertation study

Typical Timeline for Coursework/Exams:




Student Registers in Credits via Enrollment System




INFSCI 3005  

Core Course

Core Course



Core Course

Doctoral Seminar

Core Course

Research Study



Independent Study, research and/or teaching




Doctoral Seminar

Advanced Statistics

Research Study


Preliminary Examination

Dissertation Work - 9 credits



Independent Study, research and/or teaching



Comprehensive Exam

Dissertation Work - 9 credits



Dissertation Proposal Defense

Dissertation Work - FTDJ



Dissertation Defense

Dissertation Work - FTDJ

Note: International students must maintain full-time status in Fall and Spring terms. ALL students must be enrolled in a minimum of 1 credit during their graduation term.

Additional Requirements

Grade Policy 

Doctoral degrees are conferred only on those students who have completed all courses required for the degree with at least a 3.3 GPA. Courses numbered below 2000 do not meet the minimum requirements for doctoral study, although they may be taken to supplement a doctoral program.

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. 

Note: 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, Program administrator and the advisor. The report is due on the second Friday of January. The INS graduate faculty will meet to discuss annual reviews in the last week of January.

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 the current PhD degree program, School, and University requirements.

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

Doctoral students who have completed all credit requirements for the PhD 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 plus fees. Enrollment in this course fulfills the University requirements for registration in the term of graduation.

Transfer of Credits 

Upon petition to the 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 Computing and Information. 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. For details, see the University’s policy on transfer of credits  .

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

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 in the last week of January. 

Statute of Limitations

All requirements for the PhD degree must be completed in not more than six calendar years from the time of first registration. Students may, in extenuating circumstances, submit a formal request for extension of their statute of limitations or for a leave of absence from the program.

Note: All students who are candidates for doctoral degrees are governed by the regulations of the University Council on Graduate Study, which establishes minimum standards for graduate work throughout the University as well as by those regulations established by the School of Computing and Information faculty. See the University’s Academic Regulations  for details.

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