Doctor of Philosophy in Human-Centered Computing (HCC)

HCC is the discipline that explores human interaction with information technologies and the use of these technologies to improve lives. The program is designed for students with a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a variety of disciplines. However, additional courses may be required based on the student’s educational history. The doctoral program is intended for students who desire to make significant scientific research contributions to the field of Human-Centered Computing.

Application Deadlines:

Students are admitted to the Ph.D. degree program in the Fall or Spring semesters. All application materials must be on file in the IS department for expeditious review by the following deadlines below. Incomplete files will be kept open for the following semester admission decisions.

Spring semester: September 1
Fall semester: January 7

You can apply as a non-degree seeking student to take up to two graduate courses without being admitted into either the MS or the PhD programs. Non-degree seeking students can obtain application materials from the Graduate School’s website. Permission to register in graduate courses is dependent upon seat availability.

Academic Admission Requirements:
  1. The majority of successful applicants have an undergraduate GPA well above 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale).
  2. The GRE is now optional for this program.
  3. All applicants are expected to read, speak, write, and understand the English language fluently. Those whose native language is not English are required to take a language proficiency test. The only exception to this requirement is for students who have earned a post-secondary degree from an accredited university in the United States. Students who have received post-secondary degrees from a U.S. institution and whose native language is not English may be required to demonstrate proficiency in English.

    We currently accept Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), IELTS (International English Language Testing System), and PTE Academic (Pearson Test of English). The minimum acceptable combined TOEFL score is 550 (written), 213 (computer based) or 80 (iBT-Internet based). The TOEFL code for UMBC is 5835. For IELTS, the minimum acceptable total score is 6.5. A minimum score of 53 is required on the PTE Academic test. We will also accept Duolingo English test. The minimum required score is 115.

  4. Statement of Purpose (part of the application) – The SoP should include your prior experience conducting/assisting in research, your reason for wanting a research-oriented degree, potential research topics of interest, and any UMBC HCC group faculty who are conducting research that is of interest to you. See list of faculty and their research.
  5. Three letters of recommendation – at least one of which is familiar with your research experience.
  6. Electronic Transcripts: If your institutions use electronic transcripts as official documents, please have them sent to Kathie Nee, for domestic applications and to Scott Philips, for international. *The UMBC Graduate School will accept official WES ICAP Course-by-Course evaluations as fulfillment of the requirement for official transcripts in the admissions process.
  7. Writing sample: An example of your research writing (optional but strongly encouraged).

Program Requirements:
  1. An admitted doctoral student is strongly encouraged to identify a mentor by the end of the first semester in the program and must have a mentor by the end of their second semester in the program. The Director of the Graduate Program will function as a mentor to first year doctoral students unless they have already designated a faculty mentor and thus will approve the student’s courses.
  2. At the end of every academic year, a dossier must be prepared which includes all significant work/papers written that year, a statement of learning specific to the program of doctoral study and a statement describing future plans: areas needing more coursework and research plans as appropriate for the stage of the student’s studies.
  3. After completing three offerings of the HCC 810 reading seminar but before the end of the student’s sixth semester of studies, the student must complete the Comprehensive Review. As part of the review, the student has to take a written exam and prepare a comprehensive dossier. The HCC group faculty evaluates the written exam and dossier, and determines whether the student should continue toward the doctorate. For a detailed description of the Comprehensive Review, see the link below. Ph.D. students who have successfully completed 30 graduate credits are eligible to earn an MS degree as well.
  4. Doctoral students are also expected to attend all research seminars, doctoral proposals and dissertation defenses, and any colloquia with guest speakers as part of their learning experience.

Comprehensive Review Policy

Required Foundation courses (9 credit hours):
Required Core courses (12 credit hours):
Advanced Required Core courses (12 credit hours):
  • HCC 801 – Independent Study (3 credit hours)
  • Three (3) Electives (9 credits hours). One of these electives can be satisfied by taking a second HCC 801, and one of these electives can be a third methodology course.  All courses must be approved by the student’s advisor.
Doctoral Dissertation research
Other Policies:
  1. Doctoral students with previously earned master’s degrees may be excused from a maximum of six (6) courses, but must complete at least two courses at the 700/800 level in the HCC PhD program. The student’s mentor and the Graduate Program Director must approve the course waivers.
  2. Doctoral students must maintain a B average, (i.e., 3.0 GPA).
  3. Graduate students may be recommended for dismissal after earning three Cs (this includes C+, C, or C-), one D or one F in any graduate level course.
  4. Doctoral students may not count courses that are audited as part of the Ph.D. program and may not take courses under the Pass/Fail option with the except for the Doctoral Dissertation Courses, HCC 898 and HCC 899. Seminars.
  5. All graduate students should also consult the University Graduate School Catalog which contains the University’s regulations and procedures for earning degrees.
  6. Doctoral students should especially note the Graduate School’s regulations on University residency requirements.
  7. Each doctoral student will conduct and report on a significant original research project under the guidance of his or her dissertation advisor.  This research must be completed and defended within four years of admission to candidacy. Students must register for at least two (2) semesters of 899, and continue to register for 899 until degree completion. While two semesters is required, there is no maximum number of 899 courses for which a student may enroll.
  8. A PhD dissertation proposal must be pre-approved by the mentor and submitted to the dissertation proposal committee at least three weeks prior to the proposal defense.
  9. The proposal defense must proceed according to the following structure: 1) presentation of the research topic by the student, 2) question session open to members of the dissertation committee and the audience, 3) question session open to the committee only, 4) discussion and evaluation of the defense by the committee (audience and the student are excused), 5) announcement of the committee’s decision and recommendation to the student (audience excused). If the committee is not satisfied with the outcome of the proposal defense, it can request the student to rework the proposal and repeat the proposal defense. Students can repeat the proposal defense once. The majority of the committee should agree to the decision on the proposal. Students, who successfully defend the dissertation proposal, must submit the admission to candidacy form to the graduate school within two business days. The proposal defense usually lasts approximately two hours.
  10. A PhD dissertation must be pre-approved by the mentor and submitted to the dissertation committee at least one month prior to the final defense. Further rules for the dissertation defense and approval process from the UMBC Graduate School must be followed.
  11. A PhD dissertation or proposal committee must satisfy the following conditions: 1) the committee should have at least five members; 2) at least one member should be external to the Department of Information Systems; 3) at least three members are from the Department of Information Systems; 4) the largest number of members (not necessary majority) must be from the Department of Information Systems (e.g., if your committee has six members, then you can have three from IS department, two from place A and one from place B).

A typical doctoral program might appear as follows:
Fall Spring
Year 1 HCC 810 HCC 810
HCC 629 HCC 729
IS 805 IS 804
Yearly Dossier Review
Year 2 HCC 810 HCC 801
HCC 760 Elective
HCC710 Elective
Yearly Dossier Review
Year 3 Elective HCC 898
HCC 899

Comprehensive Exam

Dissertation Proposal Defense

Yearly Dossier Review

Year 4 HCC 899

Dissertation Final Defense

If you need any further information, please contact Shannon Carey,

Being a Successful HCC PhD Student

While coursework is required, it is important to understand that satisfactorily completing course work is not the goal of a doctoral program. A doctoral candidate is required to produce a publishable doctoral dissertation based upon the candidate’s original research. The dissertation must necessarily advance the body of scientific knowledge that underlies the discipline of Human-Centered Computing. Consequently, it is essential for doctoral candidates to identify a faculty mentor with mutual research interests and develop a regular working relationship with that mentor. It is expected that doctoral students develop their own research agenda or become intensely involved with a faculty member’s research. The latter may include assisting a professor in planning and conducting research as well as analyzing the results.

A critical component of a doctoral candidate’s development is the dissemination of scientific information. Doctoral candidates are routinely expected to author scholarly papers for submission to scientific journals and conference proceedings. Doctoral candidates are expected to present their research results at various national and international conferences through poster sessions, workshops, doctoral consortiums, and full-length contributions.

In addition to Graduate School time limits for entering candidacy and completing the degree, the Information Systems Department requires that all PhD students complete the course requirements and comprehensive review by the end of their sixth semester in the PhD program. Normal progress, as illustrated below, would result in both the course requirements and comprehensive review being completed during the fifth semester of study. In the case of medical or other unexpected situations, students may petition the Graduate Committee of the Information Systems Department for an extension that would allow the completion of these requirements to be delayed beyond the sixth semester.