Ph.D. Program | College of Information Sciences and Technology
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Ph.D. Program

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About the Ph.D. Program At Penn State’s College of IST, you will receive multidisciplinary training to prepare you to address complex issues related to technology and society. We welcome applicants from diverse academic backgrounds including computer science, behavioral sciences, cognitive and brain sciences, engineering, environmental sciences, information sciences, law, life sciences, health sciences, management, philosophy, physical sciences, policy, mathematics, statistics, social sciences (sociology, economics).

In our Ph.D. program you will engage in cutting-edge research areas with our graduate faculty. To succeed in any of these areas, as a graduate student in IST, you will develop important skills in computer and information sciences as well as social and behavioral sciences. You will learn how to analyze qualitative and quantitative effects in data and to understand, test and contribute to scientific theory.

Ph.D. Course Requirements

The Ph.D. in Informatics is a 32-credit degree program, which takes around 5 years to complete on a full-time basis. A complete discussion of degree requirements can be found in our IST Graduate Degree Roadmap.

Core Courses

As a Ph.D. IST student you are expected to develop a broad understanding of foundations, theories and methods across the disciplines that constitute the research landscape of the College. To accomplish this breadth in knowledge, students take these courses during their first year:

  • IST 501: Interdisciplinary Research Methods for Information Sciences and Technology (3 credits, fall) 
  • IST 510: Foundations in Computational Informatics (3 credits, spring) 
  • IST 520: Foundations in Human-Centered Design (3 credits, spring)
  • IST 530: Foundations in Social Informatics (3 credits, fall)
  • IST 590: Colloquium (1 credit Fall, 1 credit spring)
Specialty Courses

You will complete a minimum of 12 credits of specialty coursework. These courses can be in IST or other units that provide in-depth concepts and skills related to support your dissertation project.

Research Methodology

You will complete a minimum of 12 credits of research methodology coursework. These courses will guide you to acquire and practice research methods relevant to your dissertation project. These courses can be in IST or other units that are linked to the information sciences; a set of potential methodology courses can be found in this course list.

Research Credits

Under the direction of your adviser, you will complete research credits relevant to your dissertation project.

Program Milestones

In addition to coursework, the Ph.D. program includes several milestones:

  • The first is the qualifying exam, taken after the first year of study. In this College exam, we assess your ability to understand and apply critical thinking across several different disciplinary perspectives, and to demonstrate proficiency in research writing and oral competency.
  • After successful completion of the qualifying exam and before the comprehensive exam, you will formally select your Ph.D. doctoral committee.
  • The comprehensive exam is taken within 12-18 months of passing the qualifying exam. You will develop and defend a dissertation proposal to your doctoral committee. 
  • The final defense occurs when you defend your dissertation project to your doctoral committee. 

Funding Opportunities

All Ph.D. students are funded their first and second semesters in the form of research assistantships, teaching assistantships or fellowships. Graduate assistantships include a stipend sufficient to cover living expenses in this region, full tuition coverage and health benefits. While we cannot guarantee funding beyond this first year, historically we fund students through at least their fourth year in our program as long as they are making acceptable academic progress.

Additionally, the College of IST provides funding to support students for professional travel. These funds are intended to assist graduate student travel to present results from their research at professional meetings or to present their creative work in a professional venue. 

For other financial aid, such as loans and grants, contact the Office of Student Aid's Loans. In addition, the Office of Graduate Fellowships and Awards has information on internal and external fellowships.

Our Research

Our faculty are engaged in cutting-edge research in areas such as artificial intelligence and cognition, big data analytics, human-computer interaction, informatics and data sciences (including health informatics, bioinformatics, social informatics, security informatics), data privacy and security, and socio-technical systems. They collaborate extensively with faculty within and outside the college on cutting edge interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary research.


We solve society's most challenging problems

Our students are solving society’s most challenging problems that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries from responding to natural disasters to improving human health and well-being, from protecting national security to making sense of big data, from exploring the connections between gender and technology to utilizing GIS for humanitarian efforts. Precise computational models are needed to learn from the vast data sets available. Scientific theory needs to describe the complex relationships we encounter in the ecosystem we live in, networked with an increasing number of virtual friends, collaborators, and customers.

Research Centers and Labs

The College's research centers and labs include national and international scholars which cover a broad spectrum of research areas. In addition to our own facilities, we have an affiliated research center and relationships with related centers and labs across the Penn State campus.

Research Areas

  • Artificial Intelligence: Knowledge Representation, Machine Learning, Data Mining, and Casual Discovery
  • Big Data: Search, Retrieval, Analytics, Modeling and Informatics
  • Health Informatics and Bioinformatics
  • Cognitive Science
  • Community and Social Informatics
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Human-Centered Design (HCD)
  • Information Economics and Policy
  • Information Fusion and Visualization
  • Network Science
  • Security and Privacy


Past Dissertations

  • Elizabeth V. Eikey,  The Health Journey of Women with Eating Disorder Behaviors: A Qualitative Study on the Use and Unintended Consequences of Mobile Weight Loss Applications,  adviser Lynette (Kvasny) Yarger

  • Neelam DwivediHigher Education as a Cyber-Cultural Institution: An Investigation Into the Emerging Logic, adviser Xiaolong (Luke) Zhang

  • Shuai WangAdvanced Reverse Engineering Techniques for Binary Code Security Retrofitting and Analysis, adviser Dinghao Wu

  • Prakhar Biyani, Analyzing Subjectivity and Sentiment of Online Forums, adviser Prasenjit Mitra 
  • Kyungsik Han, Understanding the Application of Mobile Technology to Local Communities, adviser John M. Carroll
  • Jungyoon Kim, Real-Time Ventricular Fibrillation Detection for Pervasive Health Monitoring, adviser Chao-Hsien Chu
  • Haibin Liu, Exploiting User-Generated Data for Knowledge Discovery and Recommendation, adviser Dongwon Lee
  • Jeremy Lothian, Game Features and Trust Belief Formation: A Study in a MMORPG, adviser Andrea Tapia
  • Jung-Woo Sohn, A Study on How Market Policy Affects Human Market Selection Decision, adviser John Yen
  • Smitha Sundareswaran, GABE: A Cloud BrokeraGe System for Service Selection, AccountaBility and Enforcement, adviser Anna Squicciarini
  • Yu Zhang, Discrete Distribution Clustering in Big Data and a Method for Storm Prediction Leveraging Large Historical Archives, adviser James Wang
  • Bin Zhao, Identifying Private Data Leakage Threats in Web Browsers and Smartphones, adviser Peng Liu

Career Placement

Ph.D. Career Placement

Our Ph.D. graduates go on to careers in academia, industry and government agencies. Today you will find them in faculty positions, conducting post-doctoral research at leading universities or contributing their expertise to companies like Google. 

ACADEMIA = 48%         INDUSTRY = 41%        GOVERNMENT= 2%

Mark PfaffAlumni Spotlight

Mark Pfaff, lead human-centered engineer at the MITRE Corporation, leveraged his Ph.D. in Information Sciences and Technology to transistion from a career in photography and later in media production, into his current work at MITRE, a non-profit research company that runs several federally funded research and development centers across the country. 


What You Can Do With a Ph.D. Degree in IST

  • California State University
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • Columbia University (Top Ranked)
  • Harvard University (Top Ranked)
  • Indiana University (Big10)
  • Iowa State University (Big10)
  • King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology (Thailand)
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Korea)
  • Michigan State University (Big10)
  • Purdue University (Big10)
  • Southern Illinois University
  • Sun Yat-Sen University (China)
  • Texas State University
  • University of Arkansas
  • University of Baltimore
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Western Ontario
Software Engineer:  
  • Google
  • IBM
  • Oracle
  • Facebook
  • General Electric
  • Google
  • HP Lab
  • Nokia
  • Microsoft
  • PayPal
  • SRA International
  • Yahoo! Labs
Postdoctoral Research:
  • Arizona State University
  • Harvard University
  • IBM
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Ryerson University
  • University of Cambridge 
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Texas
  • University of Maryland
  • US Army Research Lab
  • Xerox
Research Scientist:
  • Amazon
  • AOL
  • Cisco Systems
  • Microsoft
  • Samsung 
  • Yahoo! Labs

How to Apply

Apply for Graduate Studies in IST

The Fall 2020 application cycle is now OPEN! Start your application here.

Application Timeline

  • December 15, 2019: Final deadline for applications, including test scores, recommendation letters and supplemental application materials. 
  • January 2020: The Graduate Recruiting Committee begins reviewing applications.
  • February, March and April 2020: Admission offers will be sent via email. Only those applicants with a complete application will be sent an offer.
  • April 15, 2020: Reply deadline for admitted applicants.
  • April 30, 2020: Admission non-acceptance will be sent via email.

How to Apply

  1. Complete the online application to The Graduate School of Penn State University. All applicants must satisfy the graduate admissions requirements of the Penn State Graduate School. The Ph.D. program will be listed in Major* as Informatics (INMAC), and Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) when filling out the online application.
  2. Upload a one to three page Statement of Research Background and Goals. The statement should detail your personal motivation for obtaining an advanced degree in Information Sciences and Technology. 
  3. Arrange for three letters of recommendation to be submitted. Using the electronic application, applicants will enter referee contact information. The Graduate School will contact the referee with instructions on how to upload a letter of recommendation. 
  4. Upload a complete resume or curriculum vitae to include current position and publications. 
  5. Upload an applicant writing sample. Examples of acceptable documents include a journal article, conference paper, or final paper for a course.
  6. Upload official transcripts from each institution attended. Upon an acceptance of an offer of admission, hard copies of official transcripts must be sent directly from the institution(s) attended to The Graduate School for verification. International applicants should submit transcripts in English and their native language.
  7. Record your self-reported GRE test scores, taken within the last 5 years, to be submitted for application evaluation. GRE test scores must be sent electronically from ETS to the Penn State Graduate School (institution code 2660).
  8. International applicants must arrange for TOEFL iBT scores to be sent electronically from ETS to the Penn State Graduate School (institution code 2660). Please visit the Graduate School for English proficiency exceptions. The College of IST will accept IELTS scores, but we prefer applicants to submit TOEFL iBT scores.