Cornell University
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Below are the requirements for completing a PhD in Information Science at Cornell. If you have any further questions please contact our Graduate Field Assistant, Barbara Warner, via email or phone, 607-254-5347.

Required Core Courses

All IS doctoral students are required to complete the following 4 core courses with grades of B+ or better.

INFO 6010: Computational Methods for Information Science Research

Computation is an essential tool for many facets of information science research. Examples of its utility include capture, access and analysis of digital data; visualization of that data for analysis, interpretation and information extraction; construction of user focused applications; and analysis of textual and sensor-derived information to detect patterns and dynamics of human activities, social interactions and social networks. Effective use of computation requires a mixture of skills including structuring data, accessing data, programming, choosing and applying computational analysis methods, and designing visualizations. This course covers the mixture of these skills, with the goal of providing information science graduate students with the appreciation of their utility and the ability to employ them in future research. The course is project-based, allowing students to understand the use of computational methods for their individual research interests. Prerequisites: programming ability at the level of CS1110 or CS1112 or INFO1100. This includes variables, arrays, strings, loops, conditionals, methods and functions, basic recursion, file IO, object orientated design, debugging. No prior knowledge of Python is required.

INFO 6260: Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Foundations for Formal Analysis and Design

Infromation Science Studies systems at the juncture of people and technologies – their behavior, analysis and design. This doctoral level mixed lecture-seminar course is an introduction to the formal analysis of social systems: we will introduce concepts fron mathematics, computer science and economics that are fundamental to analyzing many settings – networks, crowds, markets – studied by information science, and see how formal reasoning using abstract mathematical models can help analyze and predict outcomes. Throughout, we will draw on real-world examples such as social networks, Internet markets, and crowd-sourcing to illustrate how formal analysis can inform the understanding and design of social systems.

INFO 6210: Information, Technology, and Society

This course addresses the broader contextual issues that influence and control the dissemination of, control of, access to, and development of information in society and culture. Students will explore how technology depends not just on designers and technologists, but also on regulations, institutions, user appropriation, and other social and cultural forces. We will analyze the social and societal implications of technologies and design decisions, and develop facility with taking sociocultural issues into account in research, technology design, and policy development. Course topics include histories of information, the social life of information, consequences of information infrastructure, information policy, and values in design. In exploring these topics, students will develop a conceptual understanding of qualitative methods and the ability to deploy one of these methods (e.g., ethnography, interviews, historical analysis) at a basic level.

INFO 6310: Behavior and Information Technology

This course explores the behavioral foundations of communication technology and the information sciences, and the ways in which theories and methods from the behavioral sciences play a role in understanding people’s use of, access to and interactions with information and communication technologies. Multiple levels of analysis -- individual, small group, and larger collectives -- will be included, along with multiple disciplinary perspectives. Course topics will include: cognitive perspectives on design, attention and memory; psychological theories of language use and self-presentation in computer-mediated communication; social psychological perspectives on coordination and group work; and organizational science theories of social ties and relationships. Methodological topics will include the design of lab and field experiments, survey studies, and field observations, common statistical techniques used in the behavioral sciences and how to interpret them, and strategies for reporting results from behavioral science studies.

Design Project

Proficiency in design is a critical component of success for finishing a PhD and succeeding in academia. We use the word "design" here in its broadest sense; the activity of formulating a creative idea and realizing it in some form with which it can be communicated to and comprehended by others. This form may be a physical artifact such as a mockup or prototype of a hardware device, a specification of a protocol or systems architecture that employs one or more formal modeling languages, a description of a theoretical model or framework, a plan for an experiment that is intended to test one or more hypotheses, the design of an ethnographicfield study, etc. Academics regularly engage in this form of design when writing research proposals, an integral part of scholarly activity, in which a multiyear research plan is defined and justified with goals, expected outcomes, and evaluative framework.

Because design is best taught through apprenticeship, we do not teach design in a core course. Rather, all first-year PhD students are required to submit an individual design project at the end of spring semester, under the rubric of a 2-semester independent-study course with 3 total credits. The expectation is that students spend the fall semester planning their project and acquiring grounding in design principles, and do the bulk of the project work in the spring semester.

Supervision of progress on the project throughout the year is the responsibility of the student's adviser, although in some cases a student may wish to elicit help from other members of the information science faculty. The student's adviser will be responsible for evaluating the final outcome of the design project; determining whether the result is acceptable or needs improvement in order to fulfill the project requirement. The particular design domain reflected in the project is at the discretion of the student and should reflect their individual research interests. Regardless of the design domain, the project should reflect good design principles including awareness of theoretical foundations of good design, clear articulation of requirements and motivations (and, if applicable, user needs), documentation of the design lifecycle, and the basis for evaluations and metrics for success.

The deliverables from the project are as follows:

  • A document in the form of a research proposal that outlines a hypothetical (or perhaps eventually real) research program that provides a context for the object of design. For example, if the designed object is a hardware mockup, the research proposal should outline the open questions existing on the path to the realization of the actual hardware artifact, a plan for investigating those questions, and the resources necessary to complete the task. The length of this document will of course vary depending on the nature of the design project. However, a reasonable suggested length is 10 pages.
  • A poster (in the form of a conference poster) that illustrates and describes the key aspects of the design product and of the artifact, which will be shown in a group poster session of all design projects that will be held in early fall of the subsequent year. This poster session will be open to all information science faculty and students, with a special focus on the newly incoming first-year students who will hopefully benefit from a presentation of the projects created by their predecessors.
  • Implementation of some element of the design (e.g., a pilot study; a mock-up; an implementation of a key feature). Where appropriate, this will result in some form of media or artifact such as a hardware mockup, video, installation, etc., that demonstrates the design product.

There will be six meetings, three per semester, for first-year students working on a design project. The meetings will be held in the first week of the semester, at the midpoint of the semester, and during the last week of the semester. These meetings will be led by a member of the information science faculty. The purpose of these meetings is to track progress, collectively discuss the theoretical underpinnings of good design, suggest useful readings to help guide the design process, and jointly critique and develop ideas.

Teaching Requirement

Each Ph.D student is required to serve as a teaching assistant for two semesters.


Information Systems examines the computer science problems of representing, organizing, storing, manipulating, and using digital information.

Human Computer Interaction uses an interactive, user-centered design approach to study the interplay between technology and what people do with technology.

Cognition focuses on the human mind, which is the ultimate producer and user of information.

Social Aspects of Information studies the cultural, economic, historical, legal, political, and social contexts in which digital information is a major factor.

For a list of faculty in the field of Information Science and their concentrations, please click on the "Faculty" tab in the IS section of the Graduate School Catalog.

External minor

Each Ph.D. student will select an external minor. This will often be a closely related field, such as Cognitive Studies, Communication, Computer Science, Science & Technology Studies, Economics, Linguistics, Mathematics, Operations Research, Psychology, or Sociology.

Forming a Committee

Each student's committee must consist of three members representing each of the following: primary IS concentration (this is the committee chair), secondary IS concentration, and external minor. The committee must be formed no later than the end of the third semester. (See Cornell's Graduate School page on Choosing Your Committee.)

The student's committee may require the student to take courses in addition to the core requirements.

A Exam

The A exam tests the student's breadth in Information Science and depth in their proposed thesis area. The committee has to be selected before the A exam can take place. Students generally take the A exam after completing their coursework and at a point where they've outlined their research and have some preliminary results. They write responses to questions posed by their committee members, and then discuss their answers at an oral examination with their full committee present.


Students are expected to make a thesis proposal by the end of their third year. As part of the thesis proposal, the student will be required to demonstrate depth in at least one concentration, sufficient to carry out fundamental research. The student's Ph.D. committee will decide how this expertise will be evaluated.

The old requirements for pre-2011 PhD admits can be found here.