Cornell University
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History

The Information Science department began as an interdisciplinary program then grew into a full-fledged department. By our May 2012 graduation, we had undergraduate, MPS and PhD students walking across the stage to receive diplomas.

The Information Science (IS) department at Cornell was born out of the need to provide a home for academics who wanted to study the use of technology rather than to focus on the creation of it. Starting as an interdisciplinary minor in 2002, Information Science grew into a full-fledged major graduating the first five students in 2005. Since that time, the department has continued to grow. 

The Information Science department now offers undergraduate degrees through the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Engineering, as well as an MPS degree and a PhD program. The new Cornell Tech campus also offers Information Science master's programs in Connective Media and Health Tech.

The program has several areas of study within which students can focus their coursework and research:

  • Human Computer Interaction (HCI) involves the study, planning and design of the interaction between people (users) and computers.
  • Design includes the study of web, software and application design and development as well as user experience and interaction studies and creating prototypes of new technologies. 
  • Working with Data involves many aspects of information science from working with databases to developing websites to studying big data. 
  • Information Policy is the study of the laws, rules and policies that have developed from the proliferation of new technologies and the ways that people use them. 
  • Behavior and Technology studies integrate tools from the fields of psychology, sociology and communication, allowing researchers to analyze the ways in which people interact with technology and how that interaction affects their individual well being, their relationships and society as a whole. 
  • Formal Analysis of Social Systems courses allow students to apply social science research methods to problems of information science, looking at how new media and digital technologies are sharing culture and social institutions. 
  • Natural Language Processing studies ways to improve a user's ability to find, absorb and extract information from online text.

Information Science currently has around 150 students enrolled among the three colleges for our Undergraduate program and around 50 students in the Graduate programs, split between the MPS and PhD programs. We have 8 faculty members appointed to Information Science and many affiliated faculty members who work with our students from other “home” departments. We are a small, but growing department where a lot of exciting research is happening addressing a variety of interesting problems in the field.

Our faculty and students research the social, cultural, economic, historical, legal and political contexts of the use of computers, approaching Information Studies from a variety of different fields and looking at the individual, social and institutional impacts of technology. Ross Housewright, class of 2005 (one of the first BS graduates in Information Studies), said, “I wanted to know how to apply technology to change how society works.” Claire Cardie, professor of computer science and the first Chair of the Information Science department said, “The major studies the issues that arise when computing meets people.”

From online lying to the future of digital libraries, Information Science researchers have the benefit of a variety of fields informing their interdisciplinary studies. One project that Cornell students worked on during the 2008 election was to create a wiki-candidate, allowing online users to express their views and engage in political discourse by helping to shape an imagined presidential candidate who reflects many different views and backgrounds, under the supervision of IS faculty member Dan Cosley and others. Another project called ArtLinks collected museum visitors’ impressions of a Buddhist statue at the Johnson Museum at Cornell, giving subsequent visitors an interactive experience with the statue, where they could relate their own impressions to those who came before them. Professors Gilly Leshed and Phoebe Sengers look at how IT solutions can lead to busyness and overwork. Leshed and follow researchers developed GoSlow, an iPhone app that reminds users to build in moments of reflection and relaxation into their day. Professor Michael Macy has projects studying Twitter feeds - one that looks at daily and seasonal mood variations across cultures and the other tracking information related to the spread of the Arab Spring movements. Professor Tanzeem Choudhury and her research team developed a mobile phone app that tracks changes in the user’s voice and monitors moods based on that information, providing instant feedback. Faculty members and researchers in our department have papers published regularly in both mainstream press and academic journals, and these experts in the field have been interviewed by the New York Times, Salon, ABC and CBS News, among others. These are just a few examples of the work that goes on here. For more information see our Research page and for lists of publications, please visit individual profiles under our People page. 

Our students have gone on to jobs with many of the major tech and social media companies, such as Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo! and Facebook, while others have joined start-ups or volunteered their time for organizations such as Teach for America.