PhD Program Emphasis Areas

Students in the HCII PhD program choose an area of emphasis to focus their studies. We've included examples below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, students often propose new emphasis areas that target their own interests.

In addition, in any emphasis area, students may choose to carry out research by developing innovative systems (a technical approach), by studying human behavior with technology (a behavioral approach), by imagining a future preferred state (a design approach), or through a combination of any of these approaches.

Social Computing

The HCII faculty have a long history of innovative research in computer-supported cooperative work, computer-mediated communication, and the social impact of technology. They successfully model interaction patterns in a variety of online communities—from cancer support groups to World of Warcraft—and apply theories from the social sciences to understand and improve social computing systems, as well as to develop innovative new social computing systems.

Current research topics include, but are not limited to: the social impact of computing, computer-mediated communication and collaboration, virtual teams and team building, crowdsourcing as an assistive technology, and the social processes of design.

Students in this emphasis area may choose to take courses in a variety of departments across campus as part of their course requirements, including the Language Technologies Institute, the Machine Learning Department, the Organizational Behavior group within the Tepper School of Business, the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, and the Heinz College.

Research Through Design

The Human-Computer Interaction Institute is world-renowned for its work on research through design, which encompasses the activities that designers do naturally, with a focus on producing knowledge rather than a commercial product as an outcome. The HCII faculty have a long history of successful research through design efforts that combine the outputs of technology with theory from the behavioral sciences to create products, services, and systems that suggest a preferred future state.

Current research topics include, but are not limited to: service design and systems design, virtual possessions, human-robot and human system interaction, and development of personal identity through online tools.

Students in this emphasis area may choose to take courses in a variety of departments across campus as part of their course requirements, including the School of Design, the School of Architecture, the School of Art, and the Heinz College. Since design is a general set of skills applied in many situations, faculty with an expertise in research through design collaborate with many faculty, staff, and students across campus.

Technical HCI

Computer technology has continued to expand and improve at a blistering pace. Our long-standing research emphasis in technical HCI has sought to bring the tremendous potential that these advances offer to bear for the good of users. This work has had a diverse set of themes including an emphasis on tool building, the exploitation of specific areas of technical advance (such as development of new input sensing, applications of machine learning to HCI problems, crowd sourcing techniques, and new fabrication techniques, to name a few), and applications of new technology to specific application domains (such as assistive technology, context-aware interfaces, sustainability, end-user programming, social computing, and security, to name a few).

A wide range of courses in departments within the School of Computer Science and elsewhere can be used as a part of this emphasis. These courses should each have a technical focus, and a student's work must contain a substantive implementation experience in one or more of these courses.

Learning Sciences and Learning Technologies

The faculty in the HCII have made significant advances not only in basic research on learning science and technology, but also in the widespread application and adoption of the products of their research by learners in the country and all around the world. More than half a million students a year, for example, use cognitive tutors developed by HCII faculty.

Some of our current research topics include, but are not limited to: intelligent tutoring systems, educational games, educational data mining, and authoring tools for non-programmers to create tutors. Students in this emphasis area may choose to take courses in a variety of departments as part of their course requirements, including, among others, the Department of Psychology and the Statistics Department, as well as at the LRDC at the University of Pittsburgh. Many of our Learning Science Faculty are affiliated with the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, an NSF-sponsored $50M research center focused on uncovering the conditions that cause robust student learning. For more information, visit



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.

Application for Fall 2022 start

Application is Closed

The application for a fall 2022 start in our HCI Ph.D. program is now closed and applicants have been notified.

The next admissions cycle will begin in the Fall of 2022 (for a Fall 2023 start).  Admissions is just once-a-year. 

Apply now for the HCI Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Our students are offering feedback on applications before you apply. Please see "CMU Graduate Application Support Program" for more information. 

If you have any questions, please email

Ph.D. Program Information

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