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Information Technology (IT) is a multidisciplinary PhD program that spans all of the research areas available within the School of Engineering, as well as collaboration with faculty across the campus.  The Information Technology PhD program emphasizes the particular aspects of technology located in the Northern Virginia Technology Corridor and around the globe.  The relevance of the IT doctoral program has grown significantly as the world has become more dependent on the effective use of information. Our focus on the science, engineering, and technology of information processing complements and enhances traditional approaches to engineering that are more strongly based on the physical and material sciences.  The Information Technology PhD program is broad, and can be customized to support individual research interests.  Students are encouraged to enter into an established concentration to provide focus to their program.



Students are selected on the basis of scholarship and potential from among applicants with appropriate degrees from institutions of high standing.

Generally, a background in an information technology-related area, such as engineering, computer science, operations research, mathematics, and physical sciences is required for admission to the doctoral program. However, in some instances, well-qualified students without a clearly related prior degree (i.e., MS in Information Technology Management, MBA) may be offered admission. Most successful applicants already have a Master's degree, however exceptionally qualified individuals without an MS may be accepted, but will be required to take more courses.

An undergraduate GPA of 3.00 and a graduate GPA of 3.50 are basic requirements for applicants. Applicants are required to submit: application for admission, undergraduate and graduate transcripts from previous colleges and universities, GRE test results, three letters of reference (preferably from college instructors), a résumé, a personal goal statement, and a self-evaluation form to identify research areas of interest. Foreign transcripts must be translated and evaluated (course-by-course preferred) by a member of the NACES Membership. Evaluations can be also be done by George Mason University, at no extra cost to the applicant; however, this typically adds 6-8 weeks to the application processing time. Please review George Mason University's Policy on International Transcript Submission. An applicant's entire background is examined before an admission decision is made.

To ensure a common ground of fundamentals, students should have a background in such topics as calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, discrete structures, probability, and statistics. In addition, students entering the PhD in Information Technology Program must have a sound working knowledge in computing as demonstrated by examples of programs or applications developed and tested in at least one high level programming language environment. Because much of the coursework within this program requires computational proficiency, experience with a variety of languages and computer hardware is useful as is an understanding of computer architecture. Highly-qualified students who do not present evidence of appropriate coursework may be admitted and then required to take appropriate articulation courses.

Those who wish to be considered for Mason's Presidential Scholarship, which provides a stipend and tuition support for three years, must be full-time students, with a minimum GPA of 3.5 or higher in their most recently earned degree, and submit GRE scores with a combined math and verbal score of 1200 on exams taken prior to August 1, 2011; combined score of 310 on the new revised GRE scale for exams taken August 1, 2011 and beyond. Scores must have been earned within the last five years. Only one Presidential Scholarship is awarded per PhD program per year.


The general doctoral requirements of Mason apply to this program.

Reduction of Credit

Students must complete a minimum of 72 graduate credits, which may be reduced by a maximum of 30 credits from an approved and completed master's degree. Reduction of credit requires the approval of the program director/dean or designee of the school. They determine whether the credits are eligible for reduction of credit and applicable to the degree program and the number of credits to be reduced.

Program Requirements

Information Technology doctoral candidates must earn a minimum of 72 graduate credits. The program is made up of a breadth requirement (assessed via qualifying exams) and specialized coursework (assessed via the comprehensive exam), followed by preparation of a dissertation proposal, an original research project, and final defense. To advance to candidacy, students must complete all coursework, pass the qualifying and comprehensive examinations, and defend a dissertation proposal.

Banner Code: VS-PHD-INFT

Degree Requirements

Total credits: minimum 72

The degree plan outlined here is based on a student who receives a full 30 credit reduction. Students who do not receive a full credit reduction will be required to choose additional credits in consultation with their advisors.

Plan of Study

Students are strongly encouraged to select a concentration area. However, the ability exists to progress with only a Plan of Study.  Students who declare a concentration will have the concentration noted on their transcript. The plan of study is a well-defined set of advanced courses in a focused area. Successful completion of this requirement should enable the student to do basic or applied research in a significant contemporary area in IT.

The 18 credits of graduate-level coursework must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Coursework must be independent of the courses students take to prepare for the qualifying exams.
  • Courses that cannot be included in any plan of study are any INFS 500-level courses; certain AIT courses; OR 540 Management Science; STAT 501 SAS Language and Basic Procedures, STAT 502 Introduction to SAS Statistical Graphics, STAT 503 SAS Macro Language, STAT 535 Analysis of Experimental Data; and SYST 500 Quantitative Foundations for Systems Engineering. Exceptions must be approved in advance by the senior associate dean.
  • At least 12 of the 18 credits must be in courses numbered 700 or higher, and these 12 credits cannot include directed reading, project, or thesis courses.
  • A cumulative GPA of 3.50 is required in courses taken in the plan of study.


Digital Forensics (DFOR)

In addition to courses taken to prepare for the Qualifying Exams, select six courses from the following, no more than two courses (6 credit hours) taken at the 600 level:18
Cyber Security: Emerging Threats and Countermeasures
Digital Media Forensics
Operations of Intrusion Detection for Forensics
Incident Response Forensics
Forensic Deep Packet Inspection
Legal and Ethical Issues in IT
Malware Reverse Engineering
Mobile Device Forensics
Registry Forensics - Windows
Mac Forensics
Penetration Testing in Computer Forensics
Digital Warfare
Fraud and Forensics in Accounting
Digital Forensic Profiling
Forensic Artifact Extraction
Mobile Application Forensics and Analysis
Kernel Forensics and Analysis
Advanced Topics in Computer Forensics 1
Advanced Computer Forensics 1
Advanced Microprocessors
Computer Arithmetic
Cryptography and Computer Network Security
Advanced Applied Cryptography
Security Policy
Security Audit and Compliance Testing
Network Security
Intrusion Detection
Research in Digital Forensics 1
Directed Reading and Research 1
Total Credits18

Can only be taken once for PhD credit in the digital forensics concentration.


Where appropriate and with doctoral advisor approval, a maximum of two emphasis courses may be substituted with relevant courses from other Volgenau School departments. The student's overall coursework must satisfy the University requirement for the PhD in Information Technology.

Information Sciences and Technology (ISTC)

Select at least 18 credit hours from the following with no more than two courses (6 credit hours) taken at the 500 or 600 levels:18
Applications of Metadata in Complex Big Data Problems
Big Data Essentials
Knowledge Mining from Big-Data
Cyber Security: Emerging Threats and Countermeasures
Rapid Development of Scalable Applications
Human Computer Interaction
Data Analytics in Social Media
Advanced Web Analytics Using Semantics
Other VSE courses with the approval of an advisor or program director.
Total Credits18

Information Security and Assurance (ISA)

Students must take at least 18 credit hours, of which 12 credits must be numbered 700 and above, and with at least 12 credits from the following:18
Network Security
Operating Systems Security
Intrusion Detection
Secure Software Design
Topics in Information Security
Security Protocol Analysis
Security Experimentation
Directed Readings in Information Security
Models for Computer Security
Advanced Topics in Computer Security
Quantitative Methods and Experimental Design in Computer Science
Any CS, INFS or SWE course numbered 700 or higher, subject to the approval of the student's academic advisor
Total Credits18

Information Systems (ISYS)

Select at least 18 credit hours, with at least 12 credits in INFS or ISA courses numbered 700 or higher as follows:12
Web Search Engines and Recommender Systems
Database Programming for the World Wide Web
Advanced Database Management
Knowledge Management for E-Business
Intelligent Agents and the Semantic Web
Enterprise Architecture
Directed Readings in Information Systems
Information Security Theory and Practice
Network Security
Advanced Topics in Information Security
Select the remaining 6 credits from SWE and CS courses in Software Engineering and Computer Science: 16
Reusable Software Architectures
Software Engineering Experimentation
Directed Readings in Software Engineering
Software Engineering Seminar
Analysis of Algorithms
Mining Massive Datasets with MapReduce
Pattern Recognition
Quantitative Methods and Experimental Design in Computer Science
Machine Learning
Decision Guidance Systems
Research Topics in Artificial Intelligence
Research Topics in Machine Learning and Inference
Total Credits18

Students without a credit reduction should select the remaining credits from any 600 level or higher INFS, ISA, CS or SWE courses or courses approved in advance by the student's academic advisor.

Mechanical Engineering (ME)

Courses that constitute a student’s plan of study should be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor and/or dissertation committee.

Students must take a minimum of 18 credit hours, with at least 12 credits numbered 700 or higher:
600/700-level courses outside the ME department (typically physics, mathematics, etc.)6
700-level courses within the ME department in subjects within the student’s area of specialization6
700-level courses within the ME department in subjects outside the student’s area of specialization6
Available courses include:
Foundations of Fluid Mechanics
Introduction to Turbulence
Fracture Mechanics
Impact Dynamics
Total Credits18

Software Engineering (SWE)

Select at least 18 credit hours with at least 12 credits at the 700 level as follows:12
Software Engineering Experimentation
Quantitative Methods and Experimental Design in Computer Science
Reusable Software Architectures
Service Oriented Architecture
Quality of Service for Software Architectures
Software Analysis and Design of Real-Time Systems
Advanced Topics in Software Engineering
Directed Readings in Software Engineering
Research Project
Special Topics in Web-Based Software
Select 6 credits from the following:6
Object-Oriented Software Specification and Construction
Software Requirements Analysis and Specification
Software Modeling and Architectural Design
Distributed Software Engineering
Software Design Patterns
User Interface Design and Development
Software Testing
Software Engineering for the World Wide Web
Component-Based Software Development
Secure Software Design and Programming
Concurrent Software Systems
Database Programming for the World Wide Web
Advanced Database Management
Knowledge Management for E-Business
Advanced Topics in Information Systems
Information Security Theory and Practice
Network Security
Security Protocol Analysis
Security Experimentation
Models for Computer Security
Total Credits18

Qualifying Exams

To satisfy the breadth requirement of the PhD degree, students must pass a set of written qualifying exams designed to test fundamental knowledge. Students who have already obtained an IT-relevant Master's degree may already be prepared for the qualifying exams. These exams correspond to a set of disciplines related to the individual Master's programs in the Volgenau School. Each exam is based on an established reading list. The qualifying exams are not associated with specific courses, although some courses may help students prepare for these exams. The qualifying exams are offered twice a year just before the fall and spring semesters. Each exam is allocated two hours and graded on a pass or fail basis.  Students select their exams using a request form submitted to the Graduate Student Affairs Office.

Students must attempt a set of four exams no later than the first opportunity following the completion of 18 credits, or 30 credits if the student enters the program without a Master's degree.  Each student must pass all four exams in two consecutive offerings. Four exams must be attempted in the first offering. The exams attempted on the second offering need not be the same as in the first. A student who fails to pass four qualifying exams in two consecutive semesters is subject to termination from the program.

Dissertation Research

IT 990Dissertation Topic Presentation1
Select 23 additional credits from the following:23
Doctoral Dissertation Proposal
Doctoral Dissertation (minimum 12 credits required)
Total Credits24

Doctoral Supervisory Committee

On admission to the program, students are assigned a temporary academic advisor. Students are responsible for working with the temporary advisor until they choose a dissertation director and establish a doctoral supervisory committee.

The doctoral supervisory committee includes the dissertation director, who must be a member of the Mason graduate faculty, and at least three other people from the Mason graduate faculty. The dissertation director and chair of a PhD in IT dissertation committee must have at least a 50% appointment in the Volgenau School. This rule does not apply to a co-director, provided that the chair and other co-director satisfies the “at least 50% rule.” At least three committee members must be from the Volgenau School, and at least two of the departments of the Volgenau School must be represented on this committee.

In addition, industrial representatives and faculty members from departments outside the school are highly desirable, but not required, on the committee. The doctoral supervisory committee administers the comprehensive exam, dissertation proposal presentation, and the dissertation predefense and defense. Permission for the comprehensive exam and dissertation defense are requested from the Volgenau School senior associate dean on the basis of a written request and plan that has been approved by the supervisory committee.

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam is an oral exam taken after students have satisfactorily completed all coursework requirements in their approved plan of study. To initiate the exam process, the student meets with the dissertation advisor to prepare a permission form, which has to be approved by the entire dissertation supervisory committee one month prior to the exam, to be forwarded to the senior associate dean for final approval. The permission form must be submitted with:

  1. a one page description of the intended area of research; and
  2. a reading list on which the student will be examined.

The reading list should include articles and/or books that cover the fundamentals, state-of-the-art, and tools needed to perform research in the intended area.

The objective of the comprehensive exam is to allow the dissertation supervisory committee to assess the student’s readiness to complete doctoral research in an area of concentration. The duration of the oral exam is typically two hours. Students who fail the exam are allowed to retake it once. Failure in the second attempt results in termination from the program. Students must pass the comprehensive exam and dissertation proposal defense before being advanced to candidacy. The comprehensive exam must be attempted for the first time no later than one year after completing all coursework requirements (excluding IT 990 Dissertation Topic Presentation, IT 998 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal, and IT 999 Doctoral Dissertation).

Dissertation Proposal Presentation

Near the end of the coursework, doctoral students prepare a written dissertation proposal to present to the doctoral supervisory committee. The proposal must be delivered by hard copy to the doctoral supervisory committee at least two weeks before the presentation. Students should enroll in IT 998 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal to complete this effort (note: students must pass the qualifying exams before enrolling in IT 998 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal). During the term the student expects to present the dissertation proposal to the committee (or perhaps the prior term), the student is should enroll in IT 990 Dissertation Topic Presentation. The dissertation proposal presentation must be at least one week after passing the comprehensive exam. After successfully completing the dissertation-proposal requirement, the student is formally admitted as a candidate for the PhD degree. The application for candidacy is submitted to the senior associate dean on a standard form.

Dissertation and Final Defense

With the concurrence of the dissertation supervisory committee, students proceed with the doctoral research, during which time they must be continuously enrolled in IT 999 Doctoral Dissertation. When the central portions of the research have been completed to the point that students are able to describe the original contributions of the dissertation effort, they submit the written dissertation to the committee and schedule an oral predefense to the committee. The predefense is to be held no sooner than one month after members of the committee have copies of the dissertation. Once the committee believes the student is ready, a final public oral defense may be scheduled no sooner than one month after the conclusion of the predefense so that the announcement is posted for at least two weeks. The entire dissertation committee and the senior associate dean must be present at the defense, unless an exception is approved by the senior associate dean in advance of the defense.

Following satisfactory evaluation of the oral defense of the dissertation by the committee, the student must prepare, with supervision from the dissertation director, a final publishable dissertation that represents a definitive contribution to knowledge in IT. If the candidate successfully defends the dissertation, the dissertation committee recommends that the final form of the dissertation be completed and the Volgenau School faculty and the graduate faculty of Mason accept the candidate for the PhD degree.

If the student fails to successfully defend the dissertation, the student may request a second defense, following the same procedures as for the initial defense. There is no time limit for this request other than general time limits for the doctoral degree. An additional predefense is not required, but students are strongly advised to consult with the committee before scheduling a second defense. If the student fails on the second attempt to defend the dissertation, the student will be terminated from the program.