George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Information Technology, PhD

  • Stephen Nash
  • Nguyen Engineering Building, 2500
    4400 University Drive, MS 5C8
    Fairfax, VA 22030
  • 703-993-1505

Program Overview

The program encompasses all aspects of information technology and the branches of engineering most closely associated with information and engineering.  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 includes several specific concentrations.

PhD IT Forms and Resources


The term "information technology" as used in Mason's IT doctoral program, is intended to be interpreted in a broad sense as all aspects of information technology and the branches of engineering most closely associated with information and engineering. These aspects of technology are emphasized in Northern Virginia, and the relevance of the IT doctoral program has grown with the increasing dependence of the nation's commerce 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. Thus, the Information Technology PhD program is broad, and not surprisingly includes several specific concentrations.

The general doctoral requirements of Mason apply to this program.

Admission Requirements

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 and submit GRE scores with a score of at least 1200 or the equivalent score with their application. One Presidential Scholarship is awarded per PhD program per year. 

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 or designee and the 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.

Degree 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.

The following degree plan is based on a student who receives a full 30 credit reduction. Students who do not receive a full credit reduction should choose additional credits in consultation with their advisors.

Doctoral Coursework/Plan of Study (18 credits)

Students must include in the plan of study 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; STAT 501, STAT 502, STAT 503, STAT 535; and SYST 500. 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.

Concentrations (18 credits)

In lieu of creating a personalized plan of study (above), students have the option of selecting a concentration area in information systems, information security and assurance, or software engineering. A concentration may not be appropriate for students who conduct interdisciplinary research. Students who declare a concentration will have the concentration noted on their transcript. Students seeking a concentration must satisfy all requirements for the PhD in information technology, as well as specific requirements in the concentration.

Courses required for each concentration are in addition to courses taken to prepare for the Qualifying Exam.

Concentration in Digital Forensics (DFOR)

In addition to courses taken to prepare for the Qualifying Exams, the student's plan of study must include six courses (18 credit hours) from the following list, with no more than four courses (12 credit hours) taken at the 600 level:

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

Note: 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.

Concentration in Information Science and Technology (ISCT)

Students must take at least 18 credit hours selected from the following list with no more than two courses (6 credit hours) taken at the 500 level:

Concentration in Information Security and Assurance (ISA)

Students must take at least 18 credit hours, with at least 12 credits as follows:

Note Any CS, INFS or SWE course numbered 700 or higher, subject to the approval of the student's academic advisor.

Concentration in Information Systems (ISYS)

Students must take at least 18 credit hours, with at least 12 credits in INFS or ISA courses numbered 700 or higher as follows:

Note:  The remaining 6 credits from SWE and CS courses in Software Engineering and Computer Science:

Note: 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

Concentration in Software Engineering (SWE)

Students must take at least 18 credit hours with at least 12 credits at the 700 level as follows:

  • SWE 763 - Software Engineering Experimentation (3 credits)
    or CS 700 - Quantitative Methods and Experimental Design in Computer Science (3 credits)
  • SWE 721 - Reusable Software Architectures (3 credits)
  • SWE 722 - Service Oriented Architecture (3 credits)
  • SWE 727 - Quality of Service for Software Architectures (3 credits)
  • SWE 760 - Software Analysis and Design of Real-Time Systems (3 credits)
  • SWE 795 - Advanced Topics in Software Engineering (3 credits)
  • SWE 796 - Directed Readings in Software Engineering (3 credits)
  • SWE 798 - Research Project (3 credits)
  • SWE 823 - Software for Critical Systems (3 credits)
  • SWE 824 - Program Analysis for Software Testing (3 credits)
  • SWE 825 - Special Topics in Web-Based Software (3 credits)

6 credits from the following:

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 a reading list posted on the school’s web site. 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 at specified locations on campus, typically near the beginning of the fall and the spring semesters. Each exam is allocated two hours. The exams are graded on a pass or fail basis.

Students must indicate which exams are being requested through an appropriate form signed by the student and submitted to the office of the senior associate dean.

Each student must pass a set of four different exams in two consecutive offerings of the exams. 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.

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.

Dissertation Research (24 credits)

Choose 24 credits from the following:

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 should contain the following items: a) a one page description of the intended area of research; and b) 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 990, 998, and 999).

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 exam before enrolling in IT 998). During the term the student expects to present the dissertation proposal to the committee, the student is required to 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 this 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.

Total: 72 credits

This information is being provided here for your planning purposes only. For official catalog information, please refer instead to the official George Mason University Catalog Website at


The PhD program in Information Technology allows students to conduct their doctoral research under the supervision of any eligible faculty member of any of the school's departments. The program encourages students to choose a concentration in one of the following areas:

  • Digital Forensics
  • Information Security and Assurance
  • Information Science and Technology
  • Information Systems
  • Software Engineering
This information is being provided here for your planning purposes only. For official catalog information, please refer instead to the official George Mason University Catalog Website at