Thesis Information

For complete information on the thesis proposal and defense process, please closely refer to these documents:

General Ph.D. Proposal and Thesis Information

A good thesis will be an original and significant work in Societal Computing research. While methodologies will likely vary from one dissertation to another, they will typically combine analytical and empirical work and include development of a computational prototype, used as a basis to demonstrate and evaluate concepts introduced in the dissertation. Typically evaluation will not be limited to a computational assessment but will also include proofs of fitness and an analysis and evaluation of relevant human, social, organizational, economic and/or policy ramifications of the proposed solution.

The program is planned to allow a typical student to complete all the required coursework by the end of the third year. By the start of the fourth year a Ph.D. candidate will present a thesis proposal to the Societal Computing community. The proposal should include:

  • a clear statement of the proposed research problem, including an argument for the significance of the proposed research
  • a review of relevant literature relating to the problem
  • a review of the candidate’s work leading up to the thesis
  • a tentative schedule for completing the work.

Advising on the thesis proposal, and guiding in the formation of the dissertation committee, is the thesis advisor’s responsibility. Normally, the thesis advisor is one of the Societal Computing faculty, but this is not mandatory. The thesis committee must be composed of at least four members, one of whom is an external member and at least one of whom is a Societal Computing faculty member. The external member may be from another school at Carnegie Mellon, or from outside the University. All thesis committees are subject to approval by the program committee.

The dissertation will typically be completed during the student’s fifth year. The final defense is a public presentation, in accord with the College and University requirements for the Ph.D. It is the candidate’s responsibility to ensure that the College and University’s guidelines are followed for publicity of the defense and the availability of the thesis at least one week prior to the defense.

Thesis Committee

The Thesis Committee must consist of at least one ISR Faculty, one member of SCS Faculty, one other CMU Faculty and an External Committee Member*.

The committee should include only Tenure Track and Research Track Faculty unless the faculty member is explicitly approved by the Societal Computing program head and the ISR Department head. In particular, courtesy appointments and other tracks do not apply as SCS or CMU faculty, unless that faculty member is pre-approved.

Suggested faculty to be approved should be made by contacting the head of the Societal Computing program, who will then contact the Department Head. An ISR faculty advocate is required to get a suggested faculty member approved.

All Thesis Committees require prior approval by the head of the Societal Computing PhD program--at least one month before the Thesis Proposal Date. Also all Thesis Committee Members must have a copy of your Proposal/Defense document one month in advance. All Thesis Proposal/Defense Dates must be pre-approved with Connie Herold, the PhD program administrator.

* We use "External" to denote an expert outside of CMU; however, experts within CMU can be allowed under special circumstances.

Doctoral Student Status Policy (ABD/ABS)

All But Dissertation, ABD/ABS status is intended for students whose only remaining requirements are the completion and defense of their thesis. In order to meet the requirements for ABD/ABS in the Societal Computing PhD program the student must:

  • Meet all Star Unit requirements
  • Meet all Elective requirements
  • Meet 18 units of Societal Computing Seminar
  • TA two courses
  • Speaking requirement approved
  • Writing requirement approved
  • Programming requirement approved
  • 4 semesters of residency requirement
  • Proposal completed

Once a student meets the departmental criteria, All But Dissertation status must be approved by the department in writing to

Please note: Students who go ABS must pay for the cost of 5 units of tuition when they return to defend their thesis.

The cost of the units can be found at the HUB website.

Steps for Final Oral Defense

Time: Allow 2-2.5 hours for defense:

  • 30 minutes beforehand for set-up
  • 45 minutes for the presentation
  • 45 minutes for Q&A
  • 30 minutes for deliberation by the committee
  • 30 minutes for final debriefing

Common Questions:

  • Who should come to a thesis defense?: The thesis defense is a public event open to all members of the CMU community. The student's committee (including any readers) should attend in person or, if circumstances prevent that, by phone.
  • What are the outcomes of a defense?: Common outcomes from a thesis defense are:
    • Pass - Thesis is considered complete as is.
    • Conditional Pass Level 1 - Changes required and subject only to advisor approval.
    • Conditional Pass Level 2 - Changes required and subject to committee approval.
    • Required second defense.
    • Failure.
  • When do I need to defend in order to walk through the graduation ceremony and hooding ceremony?: You will need to have all the documentation in place in the first week of May for us to request a diploma.