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University of Pittsburgh    
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 14, 2024
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Intelligent Systems, MS

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The Intelligent Systems Program (ISP) is a degree-granting program in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Arts and Sciences that enables graduate students to pursue diverse interdisciplinary studies in applied artificial intelligence.  The scope of the program is broad, but encourages students to explore concentrations in specific areas, such as medical diagnosis, knowledge representation, machine learning, intelligent tutoring, natural language generation and discourse, planning, case-based reasoning, and problem solving.

Many of Pitt’s acclaimed schools are represented through our associated faculty, including the School of Medicine, the School of Law, the School of Education, and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.  There are especially strong connections to research groups in the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Biomedical Informatics, the Learning Research and Development Center, the Department of Linguistics, the Swanson School of Engineering and the Department of Psychology.

The program offers Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees and an area of concentration in medical informatics.

Contact Information

Director: Diane Litman
Administrator: Michele Thomas
Main Office: 5113 Sennott Square
Fax: 412-624-8561

Admissions Procedures

Before You Begin

The application form is online. You will find the application process easier if, before beginning the process, you:

  • Prepare a personal statement and gather relevant information. See Admissions Requirements.
  • Contact three persons who know you well and are familiar with your academic accomplishments, and request that each person write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. At least one of these persons should be familiar with the field of intelligent systems. Recommenders are required fill out the recommendation form online, so make sure to obtain e-mail addresses for each recommender.
  • Have Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores sent to the University of Pittsburgh. The University’s college code is 2927. Applicants with MDs may be admitted without GRE scores; however, we stress that since most applicants do submit scores, having these could strengthen your application.
  • Note for non-native English speakers: Have your TOEFL scores sent to the University of Pittsburgh. The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences has TOEFL or IELTS minimum requirements for admission. Effective for 2013-2014 applicants:  The required TOEFL score of 90 (with at least a score of 22 in all of the four sections of speaking, listening, reading and writing). The required minimum IELTS of 7.0 (with at least 6.5 in each of its four sections).  The University of Pittsburgh’s college code is 2927.
Previous transcripts

Contact the registrars’ offices at each college or university you attended previously and request that they send your official transcript to:

University of Pittsburgh
Intelligent Systems Program
5113 Sennott Square
210 South Bouquet Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Deadlines and Important Notes

The deadline for receipt of applications with consideration for financial aid is January 15 every year. Please note that your recommenders may choose to send their supporting materials by regular mail, as will your previous academic institutions. However, letters of recommendation arriving in the mail will not be accepted unless they are sealed and signed across the back of the envelope. Please ask your recommenders to mail/submit their letters before the deadline. You should also complete your application early enough to ensure that we receive all materials supporting your application promptly.

If you are interested in fellowship support, note that Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences fellowships are competitively available to students who apply to the Intelligent Systems PhD program. The admissions committee will automatically consider incoming students for such a fellowship. If you are admitted into the program, you will be notified in your admission letter whether you have received a fellowship award. You do not need to submit additional documents to apply for the fellowship award.

Note on GRE scores: Some applicants, particularly those with MDs, sometimes elect to apply without GRE scores. While we do consider such applications, please note that GRE scores are required for applicants and not supplying these could hurt your application. We emphasise that submitting GRE scores is essential for those wishing to be considered for admission and fellowship opportunities.

Filling Out the Application

Fill out the standard School of Computing and Information application form available online.

Transfers from Other Institutions

There is no preset limit on the number of cross-registration credits that can be counted toward a PhD. For other institutions, a maximum of 24 transfer credits may be counted toward a PhD. Up to six credits may be counted toward the MS for work completed at another institution or for work previously completed at the University of Pittsburgh.

However, the explicit approval of the student’s advisor and of the ISP director are required. To apply, the student should submit the following information to the ISP director: (1) institution, (2) whether the class is a graduate or undergraduate class, (3) exactly which requirement(s) the course is meant to satisfy (see below), (4) an indication of approval by the student’s advisor, (5) what grade the student received in the class (for completed courses), (6) justification, if the class was not taken prior to entering the ISP program, and (7) sufficient information about the course syllabus for the director to judge whether the transfer or cross-registration is appropriate.

For (3): the student should specify whether the course is meant to count only toward the 72 (PhD) / 24 (MS) hours required for graduation, or whether it is also meant to satisfy a requirement in the ISP curriculum. If the latter, please clearly identify which requirement.

Cross-registrations With Other Institutions

Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Robert Morris University, and the University of Pittsburgh offer graduate students the opportunity for cross-registration in graduate programs in the five institutions in the fall and spring terms. Credits earned by cross-registration in graduate courses at Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne University, the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and Robert Morris University, when approved in advance by the student’s graduate advisor, are accepted as University of Pittsburgh credits for the calculation of the grade point average and the completion of degree requirements. Each department at each institution retains the authority to establish the prerequisites for admission and the maximum enrollment in its own courses and to grant priority in registration to its own graduate students.

Cross-registration is only available in the fall and spring terms. Only fulltime students may cross-register. That is, to cross-register for a course in a particular term, students must be registered for at least nine credits at their home institution. Students who cross-register during the spring or fall term do not pay tuition to the host institution; however, they are responsible for any additional fees associated with the course such as laboratory fees, books, and the like. During the summer, students may attend one of the above colleges as guest students, but they must pay that institution’s tuition and fees. Students are discouraged from cross-registering during their term of graduation to avoid any delays in the receipt of course credit needed to graduate. Students should meet with their advisor before they cross-register. The forms to cross-register are available at the Registrar (Thackery Hall) or at the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Graduate School (5141 SENSQ).  See the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education (PCHE) Web site for organization history and available program information.

Substituting Other Courses at the University of Pittsburgh

Similarly to the above, course substitutions require approval of the student’s advisor and the ISP director. To apply for a course substitution, a student should first obtain the approval of his or her advisor. Then, the student should submit the following information to the ISP director: (1) whether the class is a graduate or undergraduate class, (2) exactly which requirement the course is meant to satisfy, (3) an indication of approval by the student’s advisor, (4) justification for the substitution, and (5) sufficient information about the course syllabus for the director to judge whether the substitution would be appropriate.

Financial Assistance

Students in the ISP program are funded through a variety of sources, including externally supported research and training grants, University fellowships, and program funds.

Requirements for the Master’s Degree

The degree requirements described here are subject to change by the ISP faculty. A student has the option of meeting all of the requirements in effect when he or she entered the ISP or meeting all of the prevailing requirements of the program. Please check here periodically for changes and speak to your adviser or the ISP director if you have any questions about degree requirements or related issues.

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 application for Andrew Mellon Fellowship candidacy, Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences Program funding candidacy, summer GSA funding, ISP Travel Grants and similar funding.  In case of extenuating circumstances, the student should communicate the possible absence to the ISP director and administrator.

To earn the Master of Science (MS) degree in the ISP, a student must successfully complete all of the following:

Course Requirements

  • Students must earn a grade of B- or better in each of the courses in the appropriate ISP curriculum (the General Intelligent Systems Track or the Biomedical Informatics Track ).
  • Students must complete at least 30 (MS) credits (including coursework and research) with a QPA of at least 3.0

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 Curriculum:




Theory of computation, algorithms

Choose One of the Following:

Advanced courses

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

Biomedical Informatics Track Curriculum (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

*The following three courses are encouraged, but not required


AND 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

3 Graduate-level Courses (2000 or higher, 3 credits or more) ISSP lecture course that has your adviser’s approval as being relevant to your studies in the ISP required.

MS Project and PhD Preliminary Evaluation

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

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