PhD Program Requirements

The HCII PhD program graduates first-rate researchers able to understand and participate in technological developments in their broadest possible contexts.

Requirements encourage researchers to gain skill in a range of methodologies to support research that is both rigorous and creative.

To this end, research is prioritized over any specific set of required courses, which we leave flexible to suit your individual interests. We expect that all students will become involved in an HCI research project from the beginning. For this we rely on an apprenticeship-based approach. You will be teamed early with an advisor who is matched to your interests, and who will guide you in your work.

Communication Skill Requirement

Students are required to make a written and oral presentation of their research work at the end of their first and second years of study. This encourages students to get started with research early and affords the opportunity to get research feedback early. Written presentations are in the form of a paper suitable for publication at one of the top HCI conferences or journals (for example at the annual SIGCHI conference). Oral presentations are to the whole HCII community. A requirement for the PhD is a “certification of communication skill,” which is awarded based on review and approval of presentations by the HCII faculty.

Course Work

The HCI PhD program of study focuses on an emphasis area that students and advisors define together, which results in a coherent set of courses that enable the development of deeper knowledge in an area of interest, for example, Social Computing, Assistive Technologies, or Research through Design. A small set of core courses provide both a common experience for incoming students and a grounding in the concepts, methodologies, and prior work of a set of fields that contribute in important ways to HCI.

Course requirements are structured to be completed within the first two and a half years of study. However, students are free to schedule their course work in a variety of ways to accommodate their educational needs. In some cases prerequisite course work may be needed or requirements may be waived.

Course Requirements for All Students

All programs of study are created individually, but must be approved in advance by both the student’s advisor and the faculty. All programs of study must include the following:

  • 05-771 HCI Process and Theory
  • Four graduate-level mini courses (05-772 Social Perspectives in HCI, 05-773 Computer Science Perspectives in HCI, 05-774 Design Perspectives in HCI, 05-775 Cognitive Perspectives in HCI)
  • Four graduate-level courses in an emphasis area, and at least one course in each of the other two specialty areas.

In addition, each program of study must include at least one graduate-level design studio course.

Teaching Requirement

Students must successfully complete two Teaching Assistantships (TAships).  Successful completion is determined by the faculty member for whom the student serves as TA.  Students are assigned to TAships by faculty and student representatives, in a process that is responsive to the department’s needs, student preferences, and faculty requests.

Usability Skills Requirement

The intent of this requirement is for the student to demonstrate that they possess basic usability skills (which would, for example, enable the student to teach an Introductory HCI course).  There are a number of ways to fulfill this requirement, including taking a course on usability methods, and completing a TAship for this course.

Dissertation Proposal and Defense

Your program of study will culminate in a dissertation describing original research. Proposal and defense of this dissertation are primary requirements for obtaining a PhD in HCI.

Prior to proposing a dissertation topic, each student will form a PhD committee consisting of an advisor, at least two but as many as three HCII faculty members and one outside faculty member (taken from either another CMU department or from outside the University). This committee will be responsible for approving a written and oral presentation of a dissertation proposal, as well as the final written dissertation, and its oral defense.

Current students can access more detailed about policies and requirements in the HCII Ph.D. Handbook.

Emphasis Areas

Students in the HCI PhD program may choose to focus their studies in certain areas of emphasis within HCI.


The Human-Computer Interaction Institute carries on Carnegie Mellon's rich tradition of multidisciplinary research by fostering and carrying out projects to design and test new tools and technologies that support human activity and organization, and build theory in the field.

December 15, 2016

Application Closed: Ph.D. Program

Applications for 2017 closed December 15, 2016.

Application Closed

Ph.D. Program Information

Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3891