PhD in Information


Be equipped to take on leadership roles in information and knowledge-based environments, including academia. The doctorate program features advanced scholarly research in the theoretical basis of information studies. In private and public institutions, apply the PhD to professional practice functions such as research, systems analysis and design, and administration.

PhD Director: Prof. Tony Tang

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Timeline to completion


The Faculty of Information offers a full-time PhD program. All requirements must be completed within six (6) years from first enrolment in the program. The customary program length for full-time doctoral study is 4 years

PhD students must be continuously registered in the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) during each year of their program.

In order to stay on track for satisfactory progress, a student must:

  • Complete the core course requirements by the end of Year 1
  • Complete all 3 (1.5 FCE) required electives prior to the Qualifying Examination
  • Pass the Qualifying Examination during the 2nd session of INF3006, which is a three-session course
  • Successfully defend her/his/their thesis proposal by the fall session of Year 3*
  • Successfully defend his/her/their thesis by the end of Year 6 (maximum time limit for full-time students)
  • In compliance with the requirements of the School of Graduate Studies, candidacy must be achieved by the end of Year 3.

Full-Time Sample Timetable

By the end of  Requirements Completed
Year 1
INF3001, INF3003
One or more of the 3 required electives (1.5 FCE)

Year 2
INF3006 (three-session course)
Required electives completed
Qualifying Examination

Year 3
Thesis Proposal Examination
Candidacy achieved

Year 4
Thesis researched, written and defended

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Degree requirements for Media, Technology & Culture concentration students


FCE = Full Course Equivalent

To achieve candidacy, students in the Media, Technology and Culture concentration must fulfil the following:

Students in the Media, Technology and Culture concentration complete 4.0 full-course equivalents (FCEs) as follows:

  • INF 3001H Research in Information: Foundations (0.5 FCE)
  • INF 3012H Social Scientific Methods for Media (0.5 FCE) or INF 3014H Cultural and Interpretative Methods for Media and Technology  (0.5 FCE). Course selection to be determined in consultation with the student’s research advisor.
  • INF 3009H Theory and History of Media Technology (0.5FCE)
  • INF 3010H Power, Media and Technology (0.5 FCE)
  • 2.0 FCEs in elective courses relevant to Media, Technology, and Culture (this list of courses will be updated every year)

Students in all concentrations must:

  • Complete other courses appropriate for the student’s research. (See Procedures to enrol in elective courses within the Doctoral Program below).
  • Pass a qualifying exam.
  • Present and defend a thesis research proposal.
  • Complete a thesis and pass a Doctoral Final Oral Examination.
  • Be regularly registered in the School of Graduate Studies during each year of the program.

As of September 2019, Media, Technology, and Culture (MTC) concentration are available on the ACORN for Doctoral student selection.

  • Once a student and their advisor have determined the best path for the student, follow these instructions to select the MTC concentration using ACORN:
    1. Under ‘Enrol and Manage’ – choose ‘Programs’
    2. Use the gear-wheel icon to either ‘Add program’ or ‘Drop program’ for the concentration you intend to add/drop.
    3. A prompt asking you to confirm action will appear. Click ‘Add’ or ‘Drop’ to confirm action.
  • Note:
    • While the Faculty of Information uses the term “concentration” or “Area of Study”, ACORN uses the term “programs”.
    • Students will work closely with their advisor to decide if they should enrol in the MTC concentration.
    • Changes to enrolment in the MTC concentration can be made any time prior to achieving candidacy
    • Once candidacy has been reached, requests for changes in MTC concentration enrolment will only be considered for exceptional circumstances

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Degree requirements for all other concentrations


FCE = Full Course Equivalent

To achieve candidacy, students in all other concentrations must fulfil the following:

Students in all other concentrations must complete 4.0 FCEs as follows:

  • ​​​INF 3001H Research in Information: Foundations (0.5 FCE).
  • A methods course (0.5 FCE): INF 3003H Research in Information: Frameworks and Design or a specific methods course to be determined in consultation with the student’s research advisor.
  • INF 3006Y Major Area Reading Course (1.0 FCE) [Examples of INF3006Y Contractor two additional electives to be determined in consultation with the research advisor (1.0 FCE).
  • 2.0 FCEs in elective courses. (See Procedures to enrol in elective courses within the Doctoral Program below).

Students in all concentrations must:

  • Complete other courses appropriate for the student’s research. (See Procedures to enrol in elective courses within the Doctoral Program below).
  • Pass a qualifying exam.
  • Present and defend a thesis research proposal.
  • Complete a thesis and pass a Doctoral Final Oral Examination.
  • Be regularly registered in the School of Graduate Studies during each year of the program.

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Procedures to enrol in elective courses


Students enrolled in the doctoral program are required to complete elective courses in partial fulfilment of pre-candidacy requirements. Elective courses must be graduate level (i.e. PhD or Master’s level) and may be taken either inside or outside the Faculty of Information.

Students may take a maximum of 4 half-credit course (2.0 FCEs) in other departments/faculties/programs. Within this maximum, students may enrol in up to 2 half-credit courses (1.0 FCE) outside the University of Toronto.

Students are allowed to take up to 2 reading courses (course code: INF3015H) in partial fulfilment of this requirement.

Any elective courses taken at the undergraduate level will not count towards the degree.

Elective courses require the approval of the student’s research advisor, the course instructor, and the PhD Director.

The procedures are as follows:


For PhD level courses in other departments/faculties/programs:
The student will provide the research advisor with a justification for the choice of elective. If the research advisor approves the student’s choice of elective, the student then approaches the course instructor to request permission to take that course. If the instructor gives that permission, the student will complete an Add/Drop form, attach to it the justification for taking the course, the course description/syllabus and submit these to the instructor and research advisor for their signatures. Once they have signed the add/drop form, the student submits it to Student Services. The PhD Director gives final approval for the course and Student Services contacts the student to confirm enrolment procedures.

If the course is outside the University of Toronto, the student must fill out the appropriate SGS exchange form instead of the add/drop form (see under Exchanges & Agreements).

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For Master’s level courses in the Faculty of Information or in other departments/faculties/programs:
The student will provide the research advisor with a justification for the choice of elective and how the course aligns with iSchool’s PhD leaning outcomes. If the research advisor approves the student’s choice of elective, the student then approaches the course instructor to request permission to take that course. If the instructor gives that permission, the research advisor will contact the instructor to obtain his or her written agreement that the work assigned to the student will be consistent with that of a doctoral level course (e.g., a longer, more in-depth paper, a more sophistical theoretical treatment). The student will then complete an Add/Drop form, attach to it the justification for taking the course, the course description/syllabus and submit these to the instructor and research advisor for their signatures. Once they have signed the drop/add form, the student will submit it to Student Services. The PhD Director gives final approval for the course and Student Services contacts the student to confirm enrolment procedures.

Examples of confirmation of doctoral level work

Example 1:

Prepared by Robert Frost, Doctoral Student

Request to Instructor
“Building from yesterday’s conversation, [Research Advisor] and I have discussed a set of personalized set of assignments for INF__ which would elevate the course requirements to a doctoral level in addition to complementing my research interests:

  • Assignment 1, Analysis of an AI firm: This assignment would be largely the same as the one currently in the syllabus, but taking a slightly more comparative approach to analyze similarities and differences between the AI ethics of the chosen firm and other firms.
  • Assignment 2, Research Proposal & Bibliography: A proposal for Assignment 3’s literature review paper. The proposal will outline one or more research questions to be explored, the overall structure of the paper, a methodology for the literature review, and provide a bibliography grouped into different thematic categories which will serve to document the results of a preliminary literature scan upon which the full review will be based.
  • Assignment 3, Literature Review Paper: A systematic literature review of academic and grey literature on AI governance which will outline key themes and trends evidenced by the literature and synthesize the findings into a set of recommendations for future research and practice.

Do you think these assignments would be a good fit for the course?”

Request/Statement/Rationale to PhD Director
“I am requesting to add INF_ to my courses for the Winter 2020 term. My doctoral research at the Faculty of Information is centred around theories and methods of governing artificial intelligence, with particular interest in strategic frameworks, economic systems, institutions, and ethical values that are involved in AI governance.

The reading list of INF_ extensively covers those topics through a variety of critical and disciplinary lenses. Additionally, the personalized doctoral-level assignments that are proposed for this course will enable me to 1) evaluate the operations, economics, and corporate AI governance practices of a large AI firm, and 2) gain an in-depth understanding of the fast-moving state of knowledge and practice in AI governance by performing a systematic review of the academic and grey literature on the subject. Completing those assignments will greatly increase the breadth and depth of my knowledge of AI governance, enabling me to engage in more specialized readings in INF3006Y and develop more nuanced conceptualizations of AI governance as I continue preparing to write a thesis proposal.”

Example 2:

Prepared by Yaxi Zhao, Doctoral Student and Dr. Tony Tang, Instructor

Request/Statement/Rationale to PhD Director (after confirming doctoral level work with instructor)
Alignment with PhD Learning Outcomes
This course will address the following four PhD student learning outcomes:

1. Depth and Breadth of Knowledge
As the course objective 2 indicates, by the end of this course, students will understand and apply principles of cognitive psychology and human-computer interaction to the practice of information architecture. By elevating the course to doctoral level, a PhD student will have a “thorough understanding of a substantial body of knowledge that is at the forefront of information studies” (PhD student learning outcome 1), particularly in the realm of information architecture.

2. Research and Scholarship
Students graduating from this course will understand and apply information architecture principles and development methods to create and refine an information architecture schema to address information design problems. This aligns with the PhD student learning outcomes 2(a) and 2(c) that they will be able to “conceptualize, design, and implement research that generates new knowledge, applications, and understanding at the forefront of information studies” as well as “produce original research”.

3. Level of Application of Knowledge
By being able to create prototypes to demonstrate an information architecture schema, as another outcome of this course, students can “contribute to the development of academic and professional skills and practices in information studies” (PhD student learning outcome 3ii).

4. Professional Capacity
Practicing information architecture skills will equip PhD students with “the intellectual independence to be academically and professionally engaged and current with emerging information issues” (PhD student learning outcome 4b).

Modification of Assessment Criteria for PhD-Level Students
PhD students will complete all MI-level components of the course, and will additionally complete a theme study focused on a theoretical aspect of Information Architecture chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor. The three components of the theme study include developing a literature review of the sub-area, preparation and delivery of a presentation to the class on the theme study material, and a final report.

The difference in weighting of the various components are illustrated below. To reiterate: PhD students will complete all MI components, though some of these may not be weighted heavily (or at all) for the final grade. ”

Component MI-weighting PhD-weighting
Assignment 1 4% 4%
Assignment 2 8% 8%
Project Component 1 15% 15%
Project Component 2 20% 20%
Project Component 3 20% 20%
Project Presentation 5% 0%
Studios (five) 20% 0%
Reflection Essays 8% 0%
Theme Study – Literature Review 13%
Theme Study – Presentation 5%
Theme Study – Final Report 15%

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For reading courses (INF3015H):
The Student will provide their research advisor with a brief justification for creating the reading course. This may incorporate the reasons noted on the request for Reading and/or Research course form. The student and research advisor will work together to identify and confirm an appropriate instructor the proposed reading course. The student and instructor will then complete their section of the form, including the instructor’s signature.

Along with the SGS Reading Course forms students will need to submit a syllabus that includes a course description, course learning outcomes, a paragraph connecting them to program learning outcomes [match the learning outcomes to the iSchool’s PhD leaning outcomes], a reading list/deliverables, and a note regarding whether ethics approval is needed. (see the Faculty’s policy on Defining Student Learning Outcomes in Course Syllabi)

The student will submit the form to Student Services. The PhD Director gives final approval for the course and Student Services contacts the student to confirm enrolment in the reading course.

Example of INF3015H Reading Course Syllabus

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Awards specific to our doctoral students

Review our main awards page for a comprehensive list of available awards for our doctoral students. We have highlighted a few below:

  • Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship: The Vanier CGS award aims to attract and retain world-class doctoral students by supporting students who demonstrate both leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies.
  • PhD Conference Travel Award: The award assists Faculty of Information doctoral students with travel costs associated with making presentations of original research at a conference or symposium, or to engage in other appropriate scholarly activity at a conference.
  • Ethel W. Auster Scholarship for Doctoral Research: This award was endowed by a donation from family and friends of the late Professor Auster. Awarded by the Council of the Faculty of Information Studies, this award is open to doctoral students in their dissertation research.
  • Doctoral Completion Award: The aim of the DCA is to support full-time PhD students who are beyond the funded cohort but within the time limit for the degree.
  • Faculty of Information Post-Doctoral Fellowship

 

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  • Student Learning Outcomes

  • Fields of Study

  • Institute & Labs

  • PhD flex time option (no longer available)