Ph.D. Program Requirements

The School of Information is an interdisciplinary school examining the design, organization, and management of information and information systems. The School of Information draws on the expertise not only of its own faculty but of the full Berkeley campus. We encourage students to take full advantage of being at this world-class University and not feel bound by disciplinary boundaries.

The Ph.D. degree program at the School of Information is a research program. Each student is expected to work with his or her faculty advisor to ensure that the program of study includes:

  • A thorough understanding of research methods and research design
  • The ability to review current research critically
  • The ability to understand emerging trends from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Expected Ph.D. timeline

  • Semester 1: Identify a faculty advisor
  • Semesters 1–4: Complete breadth courses; complete major and minor requirements
  • Semester 4: Complete the preliminary research paper
  • Semester 5: Complete preliminary exam
  • Semester 6–8: Complete qualifying exam; advance to candidacy
  • Four semesters after qualifying exam: Complete dissertation and give presentation

1. Identify a Research Advisor

In most cases, the research advisor will work with the student throughout the student’s advancement at the School of Information, and ultimately become the chair of the student’s dissertation committee.

2. Complete Breadth Courses

Students take one course from each of the four breadth areas, from an approved course list:

  • Foundation Course
  • Engineering and Design
  • Social Aspects of Information
  • Information Economics, Law, and Policy

In addition, students are expected to enroll in the Doctoral Colloquium (INFO 295) every semester for their first four semesters in the program.

3. Complete Major and Minor Requirements

Students take 24 units of coursework in three areas to complete their major and minor requirements. They can select one major (12 units) and two minors (6 units each), or two majors (9 units each) and one minor (6 units). At least one of the majors must be a field inside the School of Information. At least 6 units of coursework must be taken outside the School of Information.

Major and minor areas include:

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Information Economics and Policy
  • Information Law and Policy
  • Information Organization and Retrieval
  • Information Systems Design
  • Social Aspects of Information
  • Information and Communication Technologies and Development

4. Complete the Preliminary Research Paper

Students must complete a research paper that is judged to be of quality sufficient to be published in a well-respected journal or research conference.

5. Pass the Preliminary Exam

After completing coursework and the Preliminary Research Paper, students can take the Preliminary Exam. Students are expected to take the Preliminary Exam during their 5th semester in the program. Students form a Preliminary Exam Committee with three members: all should be UC Berkeley faculty and at least two should be from the School of Information.

The first steps towards taking the Preliminary Exam include:

  • Providing a summary and synthesis of his or her work in the program up to this point, to give the committee an overview of the student’s work, and to allow the student to reflect upon and synthesize his or her work.
  • Providing a preliminary research paper to their committee that is judged to be of quality and length sufficient to be published in a well-respected journal or research conference.
  • Providing a reading list that consists of core readings from the student’s three major and minor areas, drawn primarily from coursework.

The Preliminary Exam consists of the following steps:

  1. The Committee members prepare questions (1–2 questions per member) based on three major and minor areas.
  2. The Committee Chair compiles the questions into a written exam.
  3. The student takes the exam in a 24 hour open-book, open-note format.
  4. All three members confer and determine if the student passes the Preliminary Exam.

6. Pass the Qualifying Exam

Ph.D. students preparing for the Qualifying Exam should carefully review Section F2.8 of the Graduate Division’s Guide to Graduate Policy. The Qualifying Examination Committee must consist of at least four faculty members; at least two members must be Academic Senate faculty members from the School of Information, one of whom will serve as chair.

The School of Information requires that the student prepare a detailed Dissertation Proposal prior to taking the Qualifying Exam. The student is also advised to prepare a slide presentation relating to the Dissertation Proposal. At its discretion the Committee may ask:

  • Questions relating the general fields of the Dissertation Proposal
  • Questions regarding the specific Dissertation Proposal
  • Any other questions that test the student’s preparation to commence Candidacy.

The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to test the student's general mastery of his or her field of study. The faculty should determine whether the candidate is ready to enter the research phase of graduate studies, but the exam is not to be concerned solely with the proposed dissertation research.

7. Advance to Candidacy

After passing the Qualifying Examination, students must submit the Application for Candidacy to the Doctoral Degree, Plan B. For the School of Information, the Normative Time to Advancement to Candidacy is 8 semesters from the start of the Ph.D. Program. For those students who began in the MIMS program, the Normative Time to Advancement to Candidacy in the Ph.D. Program is 10 semesters from the start of the MIMS Program.

8. Complete the Dissertation

The Ph.D. Dissertation represents the cumulative accomplishment of the Ph.D. process. The Ph.D. Dissertation must be an original and significant contribution to research. The Dissertation is supervised by the student’s Dissertation Committee. The student is expected to meet regularly with the committee throughout the dissertation process.

For the School of Information, the Normative Time in Candidacy is 4 semesters. Therefore, students are expected to file their dissertations within 4 semesters of advancing to Candidacy.

9. Give a Public Presentation on the Dissertation

Ph.D. students give a public presentation on their completed dissertation research. The presentation allows faculty and students to ask questions about the research as part of the research presentation.

Last updated:

August 16, 2022