PhD studies in information science center on the social, cultural, economic, historical, legal, and political contexts in which information systems are employed, both to inform the design of such systems and to understand their impact on individuals, social groups, and institutions. In regard to research, PhD students use a combination of multiple methodologies, including mathematical analysis, computer modeling, software system design, experimental studies, and critical social evaluations, from such traditional disciplines as computer science, cognitive psychology, social science, cultural studies, and history.

Required Core Courses 

Students should consult with their advisor to select the 4 areas they will complete. During each semester a subset of these courses will be taught; new classes may be added as they become available. Students must complete 4 courses from 5 different areas with a letter grade of B+ or higher in order to fulfill the core requirement. Students may take more than one course in a given area if it is of interest, but this will have no effect on graduation requirements. All core courses must be at a 6000 level or higher, offered and taken for a minimum of 3 credits, and receive a letter grade of B+ or higher to meet the degree requirements. There is no exception to this requirement.  

Students should plan to pre-enroll whenever it is possible.  Otherwise students should enroll in all courses during the open enrollment time at the beginning of each semester.  It is the responsibility of each student to review their course enrollment and confirm it is correct prior to all enrollment deadlines. Please note, some courses require a survey, and if approved by the instructor a pin number will be given for enrollment. 

Core course requirements should be completed prior to the A exam, unless an exception has been arranged with the Director of Graduate Studies.

If a student feels an alternative 6000 level or higher course meets our core course requirement in one of our areas, they may petition to enroll and receive credit for this alternative class.  Students must submit a petition by doing the following:

  • Fill out the Ph.D. Core Course Petition at least 1 month prior to the first day of open enrollment. You will be required to upload the complete course description as it appears in the course roster, upload the current syllabus of the course in the petition, and indicate your reason for this petition.
  • Email all these materials to the faculty area leads, copying the GFA.

The faculty area leads will email the student, the Chairperson, and the GFA once a decision has been made on the petition. Students should not assume the petition will be approved, and all decisions are final. 

Design Core Area 

Area leads: Wendy Ju, Francois Guimbretiere


  • Addressing Open-ended questions
  • Familiarity with body of work [readings/great works/methods]
  • Studio [working in an iterative manner within an open social environment that invites comment and critique]
  • Ethics [consideration of values, equity and  broader factors]
  • Design research [exploration in making, including ethnographic, aesthetic, formal or material studies]
  • Efficacy [criteria for selection/evaluation of alternatives, including human preference, broader capability or aesthetic]
  • Production & presentation of made work [spoken/portfolio/exhibit]

Original Core Course

  • INFO 6520: Human Computer Interaction Graduate Studio
    • (No pre-enroll accepted. Please fill out this survey. If chosen, pins will be sent out in late January.)

Approved Alternatives

  • DEA 6040 Future Body Craft: Fabricating On-Skin Interfaces
  • INFO 6940: Special Topics Qian Yang - Topic: Human-AI Interaction Design Research
  • INFO 6420: Re-Designing Robots
  • CS 6755: Mobile Human Robot Interaction

Courses Not Approved

  • INFO 6410: HCI and Design

Behavioral Core Area

Area leads: Sue Fussell, Malte Jung


  • Theory: familiarity with relevant theory and ability to develop theory driven arguments, research questions, and hypotheses
  • Methods: familiarity with and ability to apply a range of behavioral research methods including surveys, experiments, or interviews
  • Analysis: Familiarity with a range of behavioral analysis methods 
  • Writing: practice in writing behavioral research papers
  • Presenting: practice in presenting behavioral research (e.g. poster or conference talk)
  • Experience: Conducting a potentially publishable behavioral research project (including developing hypotheses, developing IRB protocol, study design, execution, data analysis, and report preparation

Original Core Course

  • INFO 6310 Behavior and Information Technology

Approved Alternatives

  • INFO 6450: Computer Mediated Communication
  • INFO 6490: Social Behavior and Technology
  • INFO 6240: Sensemaking: Theory and Practice

Ethics, Law and Policy Core Area 

Area Leads: Karen Levy, Helen Nissenbaum


  • Involves substantial focus on social, political, economic, cultural, and/or ethical dimensions of technology development and/or use
  • Systematic methods for, theories of, and approaches to analyzing these dimensions are nor merely assumed or incidental to substantive topics but constitute sustained objects of the course’s attention
  • Involves substantial independent research and writing 

Original Core Course

  • INFO 6210: Information, Technology, and Society

Approved Alternatives

  • INFO 6620: Social Research Design and Method
  • INFO 6940: Privacy and Security in the Data Economy  
  • INFO 6940: Red Tape: The Media and Technology of Bureaucracy
  • INFO 6940: Rural Computing and Rural Infrastructure
  • SOC 6310 Qualitative Research Methods for Studying Science

Courses Not Approved

  • INFO 6113: Technology and Law Colloquium
  • CS 6382 – Data Science for Social Change

Networks, Communities and Markets Core Area 

Area Leads: Jon Kleinberg, Cristobal Forestier


  • Covers mathematical models of social networks and/or economic interaction. 
  • Integrates these models with applications to computing systems and on-line platforms. 
  • Requires reasoning about the mathematical properties of these models in the context of their use. 
  • Includes a research or project component as part of the coursework. 

Original Core Course

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

Approved Alternatives

  • HD 6610: Text and Networks in Social Science Research 
  • SOC 6110: Social Networks Theory and Applications
  • INFO 6850: The Structure of Information Networks
  • COMM 6750: Research Methods for Social Networks and social media 

Courses Not Approved

  • INFO 6220: Networks II: Market Design

Computational Methods Core Area 

Area Leads: Paul Ginsparg, Matt Wilkens


  • Covers multiple computational methods as integral parts of the course
  • Offers reflection on the motivations for, and applicability of, computational methods in specific problem domains
  • Culminates in a substantial piece of achieved research output, or lays significant groundwork for such an output (e.g., a detailed project proposal with preliminary results)
  • Involves hands-on programming and/or extensive use of statistical software

Original Core Course

  • INFO 6010: Computational Methods for Information Science Research

Approved Alternatives

  • INFO 6350: Text mining for history and literature
  • INFO 6300: Advanced Language Technologies
  • INFO/CS 6742: Natural Language Processing and Social Interaction
  • CS 6384 /ORIE 6217 Applied Bayesian Data Analysis
  • CS 6784: Advanced Topics in Machine Learning 

Courses Not Approved

  • DESIGN 6297: Coding for Design III
  • CS 6382: Data Science for Social Change
  • CS 6670: Computer Vision

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.

Nominating Your Special 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 Nominating Your Special Committee. Each Ph.D. student's campus location is determined by the location of their preferred or temporary advisor. Students should consider this when choosing their permanent advisor, since students are expected to be on the same campus – either Ithaca or New York City – as their advisors. 

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


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.

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.