Ph.D Degree Requirements


There are multiple elements of the iSchool doctoral program that students must successfully complete. The requirements listed below are minima; particular students’ committees may require more work, especially with regard to classes, research methods, experiences, and participation in the School’s research life (e.g., Research Colloquium presentations, and doctoral research presentations) as well as the field’s research life (e.g., presentations at national conferences).

Committee Structure

Upon accepting a student to the doctoral program, the iSchool will assign a three-member initial committee to advise the student. The committee chair is the student's initial advisor. At any time the student, with the committee members' help and input, may change the make-up of this three-member committee, choosing from among the iSchool faculty. Upon selection and agreement, the committee chair then becomes the student's advisor. If a student's research focus changes significantly during coursework it is reasonable to expect that the committee members might also change.

In advance of the qualifying procedure, the student will add a fourth committee member from outside of the iSchool but from the UT-Austin faculty.

In the process of applying for candidacy the student will add a fifth committee member to what now becomes the Dissertation Committee. Since Dissertation Committee members can be changed only by application to the Graduate School, students should carefully consider their choice of members. Detailed requirements for Dissertation Committee members are available from the Graduate School Website. Dependent on approval from the Graduate School, the fifth committee member may be from the iSchool, another unit at UT-Austin, or another university.


Each student will complete at least 39 graduate hours while enrolled in the iSchool doctoral program prior to entering candidacy. A full-time student will ordinarily take two to three years to complete this coursework. To count toward a Ph.D., all coursework must be no more than six years old when the doctoral student is admitted to candidacy. 

The table below shows the minimum required coursework. Students may take, or be required by their committees to take, additional courses.


Number of graduate credit hours

Doctoral core:

INF 391D.10, Survey of Information Studies

INF 391D.11, The Research Enterprise

INF 391D.12 Disciplinary Foundations for Information Studies





Research methods courses


iSchool electives


Electives at UT outside the iSchool


Minimum total prior to entering candidacy


Doctoral Core

Each student, whether full- or part-time, must take “Survey of Information Studies” in the fall of the student’s first academic year in the program and “Disciplinary Foundations for Information Studies” in the spring of that first year.

Students will take “The Research Enterprise” as soon as practical, usually in the fall of their first year.

Research Methods Courses

Each student must take a minimum of nine credit hours of graduate-level research methods courses beyond the doctoral core:

  • One graduate-level course in qualitative methods – three (3) credit hours
  • One graduate level course in quantitative methods – three (3) credit hours
  • One further graduate-level course germane to building skills to undertake research – three (3) credit hours. 

All course choices should be discussed with the student’s chair, consulting other committee members as appropriate, and, prior to enrolling in the course, obtain approval and confirmation of the appropriateness of such courses for fulfilling the research methods requirement. Research methods courses may be offered and taken within or outside of the iSchool, either as formal courses (e.g., Advanced Topics in Research Methods, Methodologies, and Design, 391F) or informal courses (such as Directed Readings, INF 391D.06 or Directed Research, INF 391D.07). The third course (beyond the two courses of qualitative and quantitative methods) might include advanced qualitative or quantitative methods, or coursework in skills necessary to undertake the anticipated dissertation research, including foreign languages, computer programming languages, policy analysis, linguistic analysis, information systems design, or skills in particular areas, such as chemistry or neuroscience.

iSchool Electives

All PhD students must successfully complete at least twelve credit hours of graduate coursework in the School of Information beyond the doctoral core. Each student, with the student’s advisor and other members of the student’s committee, determines course selection based on the student’s research interests, previous coursework, professional experience, and dissertation intentions.

When offered, students are encouraged to take Advanced Topics in Information Studies (INF 391E), which may be repeated when the topics of the offerings vary.

Students are encouraged to consider the following, each of which can be taken individually or in a small group of doctoral students working with a single faculty member:

  • Directed Research (INF 391D.07) in which they work closely with faculty to contribute to original research, either in an apprenticeship mode as part of the faculty member’s research agenda or as a student-driven research project.
  • Directed Readings (INF 391D.06), in which they work closely with faculty to complete an in-depth examination of the primary research and theory literature of the field as a whole in preparation for their qualifying examinations.

Students are encouraged to take:

  • Supervised Teaching in Information Studies (INF 398T), and teaching internships in which they work closely with faculty to develop, design, and support implementation of a course plan
  • Doctoral Writing Seminar (INF 391G) which provides an opportunity for students to improve their academic writing skills through a writing studio environment with instructor and peer critique.

Students should take courses designed primarily for iSchool masters students only when those courses are crucial knowledge for their dissertation.

Electives at UT Outside the iSchool

Each Ph.D. student must complete at least nine (9) graduate credit hours in schools and colleges at UT outside the School of Information. These courses are a great opportunity to recruit an external member for the student’s committee.

Plan of Study

Each doctoral student must produce a formal document identified as the Plan of Study prior to their first annual review. The Plan of Study is to be updated each year, prior to the student’s annual review.

The Plan of Study consists of seven parts (including two appendices):

  1. The student’s CV (1 or more pages)
  2. Professional goals (1 page)
  3. Research interests narrative and dissertation intentions (1-2 pages)
  4. Coursework listing (1-2 pages)

Students should list, in a tabular form, all the courses they have taken and those they intend to take to satisfy their requirements for coursework.

Each course listing should identify: The name of the course, the instructor for the course, the semester in which the course was/will be taken and the number of credit hours and the page number of the appendix where the course details can be found.

Three columns should be used to show whether the course is to be counted towards each section of the coursework requirements. Students should ensure that the plan meets the coursework requirements outlined above.

A sample tabular listing is below:

Course Description

Credit hours


Doctoral Core?



Appendix Page

Fall 2013


INF 391D.10, Survey of Information Studies

Instructor: James Howison, Information





p. 12

INF 391D.11 The Research Enterprise

Instructor: Lecia Barker, Information





p. 20

INF 391D.06 Directed Readings (Content Analysis)

Instructor: Ken Fleischmann, Information





p. 28

Spring 2014


The section should conclude with a summary of credit hours already taken and those to be taken, including progress towards all three requirements (Core, Methods, and Electives).

  1. Coursework narrative (as long as needed, approx. 4-6 pages by qualifying)

The student should describe how their coursework prepares them for their dissertation work. They should describe why they took particular courses (or groups of courses) and why they intend to take future courses. The student should arrange this section as appropriate, given their particular plan of study and preparation needs.

  1. Course detail appendix: An appendix with syllabus and copies of major outputs for all courses, including doctoral core courses. These should be arranged in the order they are mentioned in the Plan of Study. Major outputs should include class papers or descriptions/links to projects. If the major outcome was a publication the student should point to the copy in the publication appendix.
  2. Publication appendix:
    1. An annotated bibliography of all of the publications that the student has authored or co-authored. Each annotation should say how the piece came to be and describe the venue the piece was published in.
    2. A copy of each publication.
Annual Review

Early in the spring semester of every academic year, each three-member doctoral committee will review the performance of each doctoral student and candidate. The most important criterion in each annual review is the student’s ability to demonstrate satisfactory progress toward the degree in the judgment of the iSchool faculty. The annual review is also intended to help the student plan the upcoming academic year(s).

If any student’s progress is deemed unsatisfactory, the committee will recommend particular means to address their concerns. The committee may also recommend to the iSchool Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) that the student’s doctoral study be terminated. If so, the GSC will vote on the recommendation. If the vote supports termination of the student’s program, then the GSC, through the graduate advisor, will make a formal recommendation to the Graduate School to terminate the student’s doctoral study. The student may appeal any such decision.

The annual review will include:

  • an updated Plan of Study
  • completion of any required progress tracking data collection
  • an explanation of progress towards the degree, including participation in research, teaching, and service activities within the School and beyond
  • an explanation of plans for the coming academic year with concrete goals
  • copies of major papers, research presentations, and article submissions
  • other materials as appropriate such as plans for seeking research grants, applying for research internships, or teaching in the School’s undergraduate minor
  • specific questions or topics on which the student seeks input from their committee

The student will present these materials in full to all committee members by the 6th week of the semester and schedule an appointment for the full committee to convene for a discussion of the student’s progress and plans. (The student may attend electronically if the committee chair approves.) At the meeting, the student will make a brief, informal presentation of the annual review highlights and identify any areas on which the committee’s advice is particularly sought.

Comprehensive Qualifying Procedure

A student can proceed to the qualifying procedure if their committee is satisfied that the student has met all requirements identified by the committee based on the student’s Plan of Study and annual evaluations. The doctoral comprehensive qualifying procedure at the iSchool consists of a qualifying paper, a written examination, and an oral examination

Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper consists of a review of the literature related to a research area of importance to the field of information studies and closely related to the student’s planned dissertation research. An appropriate paper topic should be identified through discussion with one’s committee during the annual review process or, if necessary, in a special meeting. The qualifying paper is ordinarily 7,500-10,000 words in length.

Much more than an annotated bibliography, the qualifying research paper is intended to demonstrate the student’s wide familiarity with the literature in an area of information studies, an understanding of the broad themes and issues presented in the literature, and a command of the strengths and weaknesses of the major works and how these works fit together. The qualifying paper is a work of analysis and synthesis, not merely a listing and description of published works. It should be authoritative and accessible, so that a reader unfamiliar with the field of study could gain a good overview of recent trends and significant developments from reading this review alone. The literature review is intended to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge, unlike a research paper, which is typically focused narrowly on a specific research question. Good models can be found in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology or the Annual Review of Psychology. The student should work closely with the primary advisor in identifying a research topic and conducting the necessary review. Developing the qualifying paper will be a process of negotiation between the student, the committee chair, and potentially other committee members.

The qualifying paper does not entail any proposal of a particular course of research by the student. Instead, the content focuses on subject content areas and associated research theories from which the student may, at the dissertation proposal stage, design their dissertation research. The paper is evaluated by the student’s committee, and will be discussed during the qualifying oral exam. With minor adjustments, such a paper is likely to provide a publication opportunity in that it provides an original, substantive analysis of the research and theory in a critical research arena. Developing the qualifying paper will be a process of negotiation between the student, his or her committee chair, and potentially other committee members.

Qualifying Written Examination

Once the student's committee has formally accepted the qualifying paper, the student and his or her advisor will coordinate with committee members to schedule the written portion of the qualifying exams. The written part of the qualifying exams consists of four questions, one submitted by each of the student’s three iSchool committee members and one by the student’s external committee member. The questions should be chosen to ensure that the student has sufficient expertise in their field and closely related fields to successfully undertake dissertation research.

Unless there are special circumstances, the committee chair will send the student the four questions on a Monday morning by 9:00 AM and answers must be submitted to the committee by 5:00 PM that Friday. The student may work anywhere. Each response is ordinarily 2,500 – 3,000 words long. The bibliography is not included in the word count.

All members of the committee read and evaluate all four responses. The committee must agree that all four responses are of sufficient quality for the student to proceed to the qualifying oral examination. Unless there are special circumstances, these determinations are to be provided to the student within 10 days of the exam’s submission. The student will be informed by the committee chair of the outcome of the committee’s evaluation of the exam.

Qualifying Oral Examination

The oral examination of the qualifying procedure is held within two weeks of completion of the qualifying written examination. The goal is to assess students’ ability to engage in structured intellectual dialog, expand upon their written responses as requested by the committee members, and to receive the guidance of their committee members. Students should discuss the organization of their oral examination with their committee chair. For example, the student’s chair may request a formal presentation on the student’s written exam responses.

Students may invite one iSchool doctoral student to serve as a recorder for the qualifying oral exam, but that person will only serve as an observer and note taker and cannot participate in the proceedings. Otherwise, the oral examination is private, including only the student and committee members.

The full committee must be satisfied that the student has passed the qualifying examination and is ready to proceed to the dissertation proposal. If a student does not pass any element of the qualifying procedure, the student may attempt the procedure one more time. A second failure will result in termination from the doctoral program.


Doctoral students must have submitted at least two publications/presentations/posters to peer-reviewed journals or proceedings approved by their committee before candidacy.

Entrance Into Candidacy

Candidacy is a designation controlled by the UT Graduate School. The student must formally apply to the Graduate School for admission to Candidacy, as such the student is responsible for ascertaining the procedures required by the Graduate School at the time of their application and ensuring that they are followed. One element of the procedure is recommendation for Candidacy by the iSchool GSC.

The iSchool GSC, represented by the iSchool members of their Committee, will recommend a student for candidacy once the student has completed the qualifying procedure and identified their full dissertation committee.

Once approved for candidacy by the Graduate School, the student’s enrollment requirements are governed by Graduate School policies. In October 2013, the Graduate School required that Candidates enroll in Dissertation Readings (INF X99R, the X signifying that the course may be taken for any number of hours) in their first semester of Candidacy, and Dissertation Writing (INF X99W) in all subsequent semesters.

The INF X99W course is repeatable for up to a total of three years beyond admission to candidacy. Extensions of pursuit of the degree beyond these three years are uncommon and require the student to petition the GSC with an explicit plan for completion, the Dean must approve the request and the GSC must formally recommend extension to the Graduate School Dean.

Proposal and Dissertation Defense

Students must publicly present and defend a proposal for a dissertation and, once the dissertation is complete, they must publicly present and defend the completed dissertation. The procedures for both kinds of defense are similar; they are described below together, with notes indicating anything specific to proposal or dissertation defenses.

The UT Graduate School has specific deadlines each semester by which Dissertation defenses and formal Doctoral Graduate Applications must be filed. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that a Dissertation defense is scheduled early enough to meet these deadlines and to undertake any revisions prior to these deadlines.

Preparation and Scheduling

The student develops the document (proposal or dissertation) with their Chair and their committee. Once the student and the Chair are confident the document is ready to be defended, the Chair circulates the document to the Committee and gathers feedback about whether the work is ready to defend. The Chair then gives approval to the student to schedule the defense.

This procedure applies for both proposal and dissertation defenses. In addition, for Dissertation Defenses, the student must review and follow the UT's graduate school procedures, go to UT's Graduate School Dissertation Defense Procedures page.

There are things to do at three times:

  1. Start of semester
  2. At least 4 weeks out from your intended defense date
  3. At least 2 weeks out from your intended defense date.

At the start of semester in which you hope to defend:

  1. Discuss your plans with your chair.
  2. Poll your committee for possible times ("placeholder" dates), avoiding the last three weeks of semester and preferring Fridays 12-3pm. Since defenses are public and of great importance to the School and University, students are discouraged from attempting to schedule their defenses during summer or other University breaks.
  3. Over the first month of semester, narrow down to a single placeholder time (and perhaps a later backup time) and book a room. Keep in touch with your committee to ensure they can still make your placeholder time. Don't announce or place your defense in the calendar until your chair and committee have all approved the document (see below).

At least full four (4) weeks prior to the proposed date the student must:

  1. Circulate a final draft to their committee for their approval; it is usual that your chair would have reviewed prior to this period.
  2. Work with their chair to poll committee members for their approval of the defense.
  3. Work with chair and committee members to find a time and room to hold the defense.
  4. For dissertation defenses, students must obtain the "Request for Final Oral Examination" form and plan for their committee members to sign it.

At least a full two (2) weeks prior to the proposed date the student must:

  1. Have approval to defend from chair and committee.
  2. Have a time and place agreed to by the chair and committee.
  3. For dissertation defenses, have submitted the signed "Request for Final Oral Examination" form to the graduate school.
  4. Have placed a printed copy of the proposal or dissertation in the tray in the workroom (labeled "Proposals and Dissertations").
  5. Have placed an electronic copy on UT Box and have a working link for people to download the PDF. There is no particular place the file must be, but it must be accessible for the email announcement below.
  6. Draft an announcement email with:
    • Title and Abstract
    • A link to the PDF file of the proposal or dissertation.
    • Date, time, and location of defense
    • Names of committee members
  7. Ensure that their chair sends that announcement email to these lists. If the chair cannot send to the list the student must subscribe and forward their chair's announcement email. Ultimately it is the student's responsibility to ensure this happens.
    • si-gsc
    • si-phd
    • the-insider
    • ischool-colloq

    Go to the iSchool email list page.

  8. Ensure that the event is added to the iSchool research calendar by forwarding the announcement email to

Procedures for Defenses

The defense is chaired by the Committee Chair and follows this procedure:

  1. The Chair welcomes the doctoral community, describes the procedure and introduces the Candidate and Committee members.
  2. The Candidate presents their proposal or dissertation. Unless there are special circumstances, this presentation will be 20 minutes for proposals and 30 minutes for dissertations.
  3. The Chair opens the floor to questions from any non-Committee member of the audience (up to 20 minutes).
  4. The Chair closes the floor to questions and invites the Committee members (including the Chair) to discuss the presentation with the Candidate, typically asking questions in turn. Committee members may invite members of the audience to contribute during this period, otherwise the discussion remains between the Committee and the student (as required, typically 45-60 minutes).
  5. The Chair calls the Committee into closed session; only committee members and members of the GSC remain in the room, all others are asked to leave. The Candidate retires to a prearranged location and waits for the Chair to call them back. The Committee then proceeds to evaluate the defense. The closed session ends when the Committee has reached consensus (as required, typically up to 30 minutes).
  6. The Chair invites the Candidate back to the room to communicate the result of the defense and discuss the Committee evaluation (as required, typically 10 minutes). Students may invite one iSchool doctoral student to serve as a recorder for this portion of the defense, but that individual will only serve as an observer and note taker and cannot participate in the proceedings. Otherwise, this discussion is private, including only the student and committee members.
  7. Committee will complete all paperwork required by the Graduate School (note: students need to obtain any required paperwork prior to the Defense)

Following the Defense

Within a week of the defense, the Chair writes a letter to the student, conveying the result of the defense and summarizing the consensus requirements and advice of the committee. These requirements typically include specific revisions that are to be made to the document. This letter is sent to the student, copying the GSC.

After an appropriate period of time, the student provides their chair with a written response to this letter, describing the advancement of their research since the defense. If the committee has requested changes to the document (proposal or dissertation) the student's response letter should address each point, describe the changes made and show how the changes meet the revision requirements. This letter is sent from the student to the Chair, copying the GSC.

Finally, the Chair and the committee approve the changes, informing the GSC and thus conclude the defense.

Submission of Dissertations to the Graduate School

In the case of a completed, successful Dissertation defense, the student then prepares the completed Dissertation for review by the Graduate School, ensuring that they follow all formal Graduate School requirements, including formatting and format.