Academic Program and Requirements

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Program overview

The doctoral program in computing and information sciences focuses on the theoretical and practical aspects of computing as applied to specific problems across multiple domains. The program focuses on domain-specific computing, or the interaction between computing and non-computing disciplines, in the areas of science, engineering, medicine, arts, humanities, and business. Dissertation research conducted by our students often incorporates fundamental concepts in computing that are necessary for understanding the problems commonly encountered in advancing scientific discovery and product development in cross-disciplinary domains.

Plan of Study

The program requires a minimum of 60 credit hours beyond the baccalaureate level comprised of graduate-level course work, including:

  • 9 credit hours of required foundation courses
  • 18 credit hours of elective courses, including the "I-Courses"
  • 2 credit hours of teaching skills courses
  • Additional credit hours generally consisting of research and seminar attendance

Required Foundation Courses

To provide a common base of computing knowledge, all students in the program are required to complete the following foundation courses (3 credit hours each, 9 credit hours total):

  • CISC-810: Research Foundations
  • CISC-820: Quantitative Foundations
  • CISC-830: Cyberinfrastructure Foundations

For descriptions of the courses listed above, please consult the RIT Tiger Center Course Catalog. For information about when specific courses are offered in the current or upcoming semester, please consult the RIT Tiger Center Class Schedule Search.

Elective Courses, including the "I-Courses"

In addition, students complete a total of 18 credit hours of elective graduate courses, which allow students to explore topics in greater depth, in support of their dissertation research area.

As part of these 18 credit hours, students are required to complete at least one course in each of three areas (infrastructure, interaction, and informatics) to provide them with a breadth of computing knowledge. Since each of these three areas begins with the letter "I," our students and faculty often refer to these three courses as the "I-Courses."

The PhD program faculty have identified courses throughout the university that are approved to fulfill each of these categories. Students may find this listing of approved I-courses on the Resources and Policies page.

The rationale for each of these three areas is summarized below:

  • Infrastructure comprises aspects related to hardware, software (both system software and applications), communications technology, and their integration with computing systems through applications. The focus is on the best organization of these elements to provide optimal architectural solutions. On the hardware side, it includes system-level design (e.g., for system-on-a-chip solutions) and their building block components. On the software side, it covers all aspects of systems and applications software development, including specification and design languages and standards; validation and prototyping, and multi-dimensional Quality-of-Service management; software product lines, model-driven architectures, component-based development, and domain-specific languages; and product estimation, tracking, and oversight. The communications subtopic includes sensor networks and protocols; active, wireless, mobile, configurable, and high-speed networks; and network security and privacy, quality of service, reliability, service discovery, and integration and inter-networking across heterogeneous networks. At the system level, there are issues related to conformance and certification; system dependability, fault tolerance, verifiable adaptability, and reconfigurable systems; real-time, self-adaptive, self-organizing, autonomic systems. Some of the specialties available in this area are networks and security, digital systems and VLSI, software design and productivity, and systems software.
  • Interaction refers to topics related to the combined action of two or more entities (human or computational) that affect one another and work together when facilitated by technology. It encompasses several subtopics relating to how people and technology interact and interface. Several common threads weave through all of these areas, many of which rely heavily and build upon foundations in the social and behavioral sciences with an emphasis on understanding human and social/organizational phenomena. To some extent, these fields follow an engineering approach to the design of interactions in which solutions are based on rules and principles derived from research and practice, but require analyses that go beyond the analytical approach. From this perspective, solutions can be measured and evaluated against goals and intended outcomes. However, while efficiency and effectiveness are often the watchwords of these fields in practice, this is also where science meets art in computing. Creative design and sensitivity to human needs and aesthetics are critical. Some of the specialties available in this area are human-computer interaction, computer-based instructional systems, and access technologies.
  • Informatics is the study of computational/algorithmic techniques applied to the management and understanding of data-intensive systems. It focuses on the capture, storage, processing, analysis, and interpretation of data. Topics include algorithms, complexity, and discovery informatics. Data storage and processing require investigation into tools and techniques for modeling, storage, and retrieval. Analysis and understanding require the development of tools and techniques for the symbolic modeling, simulation, and visualization of data. The increased complexity of managing vast amounts of data requires a better understanding of the fundamentals of computation. These fundamentals include complexity, theory to determine the inherent limits of computation, communication, cryptography, and the design and analysis of algorithms to obtain optimal solutions within the limits identified. Some of the specialties available in this area are core informatics, discovery informatics, and intelligent systems.

Dissertation and Research

Students are required to conduct original research that leads to peer-reviewed publications.

In addition, students are expected to publish their research in high-quality peer-reviewed research venue or publication.

The PhD program faculty have created resources to provide students with additional information about the proposal and dissertation process, along with a listing of well-regarded research venues for publication. All of this information may be found on the Resources and Policies page.


Each student must pass three assessment examinations in the following order:

  1. Research potential assessment (the "qualifying exam"): Completed after the first year, this assessment evaluates the research tasks students have worked on in their first year in the program. Passing this assessment will qualify students to continue in the doctoral program.
  2. Thesis proposal defense (the "candidacy exam"): This is an oral examination completed after the thesis proposal is written. Formal admission to candidacy will be granted after successfully passing the research potential assessment requirement and having a research proposal approved by the dissertation committee. The dissertation committee will have a minimum of four members including the student's adviser.
  3. Dissertation defense (the "final examination"): The dissertation defense includes the dissertation committee and an optional external reader from outside RIT. The exam consists of a formal, oral presentation of the thesis research by the student, followed by questions from the audience.

The PhD program faculty have created resources to provide students with additional information about each of these assessments, including detailed step-by-step procedures, templates and other recommendations about these documents, and other importance guidance. Students may find these resources on the Resources and Policies page.

Typical Course Sequence

For descriptions of the courses listed below, please consult the RIT Tiger Center Course Catalog. For information about when specific courses are offered in the current or upcoming semester, please consult the RIT Tiger Center Class Schedule Search.

Course Title Sem. Cr. Hrs.
First Year
CISC-810 Research Foundations 3
CISC-820 Quantitative Foundations 3
CISC-830 Cyberinfrastructure Foundations 3
CISC-890 Dissertation and Research 6
  Infrastructure Core Elective 3
  Interaction Core Elective 3
  Informatics Core Elective 3
Second Year
  Graduate Electives 9
CISC-890 Dissertation and Research 7
CISC-807 Teaching Skills Workshop 2
Third Year
CISC-890 Dissertation and Research 18
Fourth Year and Beyond
CISC-890 Dissertation and Research 0
Total Semester Credit Hours 60

Residency requirement

One year of full-time residency is required.

Transfer credit

Students with previous graduate course work, or a master's degree in a computing and information sciences discipline or in a related domain-specific discipline, may be granted up to 9 credit hours towards the degree requirements. The transfer credit evaluation will not be made until after the research potential assessment. Consideration for transfer credit will include the appropriateness to the student's intra- and inter-disciplinary program of study and research interests.


Assistantships, which include tuition and stipend, are available and awarded on a competitive basis.

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