PhD In Computational Social Science

PhD In Computational Social Science

The core objective of the computational social science (CSS) PhD program is to train graduate students to be professional computational social scientists in academia, government, or business. The program offers a unique and innovative interdisciplinary academic environment for systematically exploring, discovering, and developing skills to successfully follow careers in one of the areas of computational social science.

Admission Requirements

George Mason University graduate admission requirements and specific College of Science admission requirements (including deadlines) apply. Additionally, all applicants, including Mason undergraduates and graduates, must submit the following:

    • Official transcript of undergraduate and graduate course work. in either one of the social sciences, in computer science, engineering, or in a relevant discipline, as well as undergraduate courses in these and related areas. Bachelor’s degrees in the physical or biological sciences are also eligible, but applicant may be advised to take additional courses in social science or computer science as prerequisites to admission. Minimal requirements also include one undergraduate course in calculus and knowledge of a computer programming language preferably object-based. While in the program students are expected to develop significant expertise in the utilization of computational social science resources such as agent-based simulations or other computational tools. The program maintains a simulation environment, the Multi-Agent Simulator of Neighborhoods and Networks (MASON), in collaboration with the Evolutionary Computation Laboratory (EC Lab) of the Department of Computer Science. Mathematics training beyond basic calculus is not required, but may be useful in some areas of specialization.
    • For applicants whose official language is not English, official TOEFL scores that meet the minimum requirements in the College of Science: 570 (paper-based test), or 230 (computer-based test), or 88 points total and a minimum of 20 points in each section (Internet-based test). The ETS code for Mason is 5827
    • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) taken within the past five years prior to the date of application submission. Applicants who hold a master’s degree from an accredited institution in the United States may request to waive the GRE requirement.
    • Three letters of recommendation from individuals knowledgeable about the professional and/or academic work of the applicant.
    • Recent professional resume.
    • Statement of interest narrative that includes a description of career and research goals, personally developed skills, Ph.D. emphasis area of major interest, and two CSS faculty members that may be suitable as advisors.

Reduction of Credit and Transfer of Credit

Students entering the doctoral program with a master’s degree in a related discipline may request that the required credits for the doctoral degree be reduced by a maximum of 30 credits with approval of the director of graduate studies and dean and in accordance with university policy. Students who have prior graduate course work that has not been applied to another degree may request to have a maximum of 12 of these graduate credits transferred, with approval of the director of graduate studies and dean and in accord with university policy.

Program of Study

The greatest strength of the CSS doctoral program lies in its ability to foster and promote truly interdisciplinary research that crosses traditional domain boundaries. In the CSS doctoral program, each student is presented with an exciting opportunity to create a new area of interdisciplinary inquiry that would not fit into a traditional PhD program. Students in the CSS doctoral program use computationally intensive methods to solve current problems in these scientific areas.

Degree Requirements

The degree requires 72 credit hours, with the following functional distribution and learning objectives

18 credit hours of required CSS courses to provide a shared knowledge core regardless of prior background:

Plus two other core courses from among the following:

15 credit hours of discipline-based social science courses in a given area (e.g., anthropology, economics, geography, history, linguistics, political science, sociology), as approved by the student’s Advisor, to provide domain-specific knowledge.

15 credit hours of elective courses or independent research, as approved by the student’s Advisor, to provide further substantive or methodological specialization as needed. Students with a strong background in computing (for example, M.S. in Computer Science) with weaker social science training will be required to use all or most of these electives in a substantive social science; conversely, students with a strong background in social science (for example, B.S. in Economics) will be required to use most or all of these electives in computing courses.

24 credit hours of dissertation research to demonstrate doctoral-level originality and research excellence.

The 18 credit hours of required CSS courses include several courses (CSS 605, 610, 645, 692) where computational projects are required. Thus, experience in developing computational models is developed early in the program.

Students must satisfy all requirements for doctoral degrees expressed in the Academic Policies section of the University catalog.

Doctoral Coursework (48 credits)

Colloquium/Seminar (3 credits)

During the fall and spring semesters, Computational Social Science offers a Friday seminar series to ensure that students are exposed to the latest developments at area research institutions. Doctoral students are encouraged to participate in national and international meetings where they can present their latest findings.

A maximum of 3 colloquium/seminar credits from CSS 899 may be applied toward satisfying the 48-credit coursework requirement.

Electives (18-23 credits)

If necessary, students take additional electives in consultation with the program director to bring the total number of credits, including doctoral research described below, to 72.

Interdisciplinary Studies

Students may also pursue interdisciplinary research that combines the areas of emphasis listed above with each other and also with geoinformation sciences, remote sensing, economics, statistics, anthropology, political science, sociology, history, linguistics, several of which are autonomous PhD programs within COS.

Candidacy Examination

Students must successfully complete separate written and oral examinations prepared and administered by the CSS faculty. There are three written exam options from which students can choose:

  • Option #1 – Regular Exam – 6 Questions – 2 Questions from each of the following categories:  General/Integrative (core curriculum), Disciplinary/Specialized (social science topics) & Computational (computational exercises)
  • Option #2 – Research Paper and 3 Exam Questions – Write a research paper over the summer, and then answer 3 questions, one from each of the above categories. Papers will be evaluated on the basis of whether they advance computational social science, using standards like one finds for conferences. The purpose of the research paper is to get students thinking about fertile research topics, performing independent research, producing conference or publication-quality research papers, and perhaps even getting a jump start on dissertation proposals.   Attached are guidelines for how that paper will be evaluated.
  • Option #3 – 2 Research Papers and No Exam Questions- Write 2 research papers. Papers will be evaluated on the basis of whether they advance computational social science, using standards like one finds for conferences. The purpose of the research papers is to get students thinking about fertile research topics, performing independent research, producing conference or publication-quality research papers, and perhaps even getting a jump start on dissertation proposals.  

Dissertation Proposal and Advancement to Candidacy

Students advance to doctoral candidacy by fulfilling the following requirements:

  • The student must successfully complete candidacy examinations as stated above.
  • The student prepares a dissertation proposal describing in detail the planned dissertation research. The proposal must be approved by the dissertation committee.
  • Following successful completion of the research proposal and candidacy exams, the committee will recommend the student for advancement to doctoral candidacy.

Doctoral Research (24 credits)

No more than 24 combined credits from CSS 998 and CSS 999 may be applied toward satisfying doctoral degree requirements, with no more than 12 credits of CSS 998.

Dissertation Research and Defense

After advancing to candidacy, the student will work on a doctoral dissertation while enrolled in CSS 999. The dissertation is a written piece of original mathematics that demonstrates a doctoral candidate’s mastery of the subject matter. A student is expected to produce new and original research worthy of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. After the dissertation is completed, the committee will review the dissertation and examine the student in a public oral dissertation defense.

Degree Total: 72 credits

For more information, please contact Dr. Andrew Crooks.

Back to Top