Systems Science Program

Systems Science Ph.D.

Doctor of Philosophy in Systems Science
The doctoral program emphasizes systems ideas and methods, more specifically systems thinking, system structure and dynamics, data modeling, computer simulation, networks, complex adaptive systems, and decision analysis. Subject areas include environmental systems, sustainability, energy, health policy, biomedicine, and other areas where systems ideas or methods make unique contributions to knowledge.

Admission Requirements

To apply to the doctoral program, applicants must submit the following to for evaluation by the Systems Science Admissions Committee:

  1. A completed Application to Graduate Program form,
  2. Academic transcripts from each institution attended,
  3. GRE scores,
  4. Three letters of recommendation,
  5. Personal statement explaining student’s interests and goals, and
  6. TOEFL score or other evidence of English competency if attending as foreign student.

Degree Requirements

General requirements for doctoral degrees can be found at the Graduate School. Additionally, Systems Science requires that students complete 84 graduate credit hours, which can include up to 28 hours of graduate credits completed at other institutions. 48 credits must be completed prior to comprehensive exams; 9 additional credits are required prior to advancement to candidacy, and 27 dissertation credits are required prior to graduation. Students must take SySc 511 (Systems Theory) and SySc 513 (Problem Solving) as letter-graded courses, and must take 3 credits of SySc 507 (Seminar). The remaining 46 hours are completed via one of two options:

1. Core option. Students must complete an additional 24 credits of letter-graded Systems Science labeled courses. The remaining 22 credits might be systems science labeled courses, by-arrangement credits, or courses from an outside discipline. The student’s three comprehensive exams will cover 48 credit hours, including two SySc exam areas of at least 16 credits each, and one field exam area of at least 15 credits.

2. Multidisciplinary option. Students must complete an additional 16 credits of letter-graded Systems Science labeled courses plus 15 or more credits from each of two outside and distinct disciplines. The student’s three comprehensive exams will cover 48 credit hours, including one SySc exam area of at least 16 credits, and two choice exam areas with at least 15 credits each.

All doctoral students must pass all letter-graded courses with at least a B grade, and their cumulative GPA must be at least 3.25. Once a student has completed all of the coursework required for his or her comprehensive examinations, he or she forms a comprehensive examination committee with three members, including a core faculty member from Systems Science.

Comprehensive Examinations. Within two to three years after admission (five years maximum), doctoral students must pass their comprehensive exams consisting of three written exams and an oral exam by his or her comprehensive exam committee.  For core option students, two exams will cover SYSC areas and one will cover a field area of the student’s choice. For multidisciplinary option students, one exam will cover SYSC areas and two exams will cover field areas representing two distinct and different disciplines of the student’s choice.

Advancement to Candidacy. After passing comprehensive exams, the student prepares a prospectus for dissertation research and recruits dissertation committee members under his or her adviser’s supervision. An application is sent to the Graduate School, who will officially appoint the committee. Once appointed, the chair of the committee becomes the student’s adviser. The student then prepares a proposal for independent research that will result in a significant and original contribution to knowledge in the systems field. When the proposal is approved by the committee and the 57 credit hour requirement (including transfer credits) and all other conditions have been met (including IRB approval if human subjects are involved), the student is advanced to candidacy. PSU requires students to be advanced to candidacy within 3 years of completing their comprehensive examinations.

Dissertation. Once the doctoral student has been advanced to candidacy, he or she completes the proposed dissertation work. Prior to their dissertation defense, doctoral students present their research at the Systems Science Seminar.

The candidate’s final defense of his or her completed dissertation is a presentation open to the public. It must be completed by the end of the 6th week of a term, and no later than 5 years after the student’s advancement and no later than 12 years after the student’s admission. Typically, the dissertation is completed in one or two years after the proposal is approved. The formal defense is often preceded by a pre-defense meeting two weeks earlier, where the committee may recommend the candidate do more work before attempting the final formal defense.

Prior to graduation, students must register for 27 credits of dissertation research (SySc 603), 9 of which may be taken upon completion of comps; another 9 may be taken after the dissertation committee has been requested (with form GO-16D); the rest must be taken after the dissertation proposal has been approved. The student can anticipate approximately four to six years of full-time study beyond the baccalaureate degree in order to satisfy the program requirements. More detailed information is available in the Systems Science Graduate Student Handbook at