Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Join a renowned community of scholars.

Our doctoral program is the oldest library and information science (LIS) doctoral program in the nation. It continues to grow and change in response to new social and technological opportunities for producing, disseminating, and accessing information. The program is research-oriented and interdisciplinary, and our doctoral students work in a broad range of areas.

A PhD in LIS opens up many possibilities for individuals from multiple disciplinary backgrounds. Graduates pursue careers in academia, public institutions, and private corporations. For example, recent graduates have joined the faculty at academic institutions such as the University of Michigan, Florida State University, University of Washington, University of Texas at Austin, and UCLA. Others have gone on to work in Research and Development labs at Microsoft and Google, and some fill key roles in academic libraries such as the University of Missouri at Columbia, Princeton University, and the University of Chicago.

The program seeks outstanding students who have demonstrated the necessary educational background, professional experience, scholarly potential and keen interest to conduct independent and exemplary research in the LIS field. Applicants who can demonstrate the intellectual capacity, leadership, communication and analytical skills, potential to contribute significantly to research and education in LIS, and the enthusiasm to do so at the highest levels are welcome to apply to this doctoral program. The admissions committee, known as the Doctoral Studies Committee (DSC), also considers the fit between an applicant's research interests and the research directions supported by the School.

If you have any questions about our PhD program, or would like to schedule a visit, please contact us at ischool-phd [at]


Funding Your Studies

The School is generally able to offer support for four years. Support usually takes the form of 50% (20 hours/week) teaching assistantships, 50% research assistantships, and/or fellowships, which typically are awarded throughout a student's course of study in the following way:

  1. RAs and TAs for the first two years;
  2. RA or teaching one's own course in the 3rd year;
  3. The Fellowship is tied to the dissertation process and students may submit an application for the 4th year; fellowships are only available to students who have passed the dissertation proposal exam.

These forms of financial aid generally include full or partial tuition and fee waivers. Some additional fees are assessed by the University of Illinois and will not be covered (see the Graduate College's Financial Information for Students for details). Financial aid is awarded at the time of admission. Information about the support awarded will be included in the admissions letter. Students are expected to maintain satisfactory academic progress (minimum GPA 3.25 on a 4.0 scale) in order to be eligible for continued support.

Students holding fellowships must register as full-time students (12 hours in Fall and Spring and 6 hours in Summer Session II). Those holding 50% assistantships awarded and/or administered by the iSchool must be registered for at least 10 hours each semester during the academic year. Students with assistantships in the library or elsewhere on campus must follow the enrollment requirements of the units employing them.


Program Overview

Course Requirements

The Doctoral Program is a 48-hour research degree where students work closely with their advisor to create educational experiences both within and outside the classroom that help to prepare the student for their future research career. Students will choose, but are not limited to, 36 hours of elective courses to provide the intellectual breadth and depth required for a solid LIS foundation. At least 20 of these 36 hours of electives must be taken in the iSchool. Students admitted without a master's degree must complete an additional 32 hours of graduate level coursework to satisfy the requirements of the doctoral program. Courses are selected in consultation with the student's advisor.

Courses Hours
IS 587 History and Foundations of LIS 4
IS 588 Research Design in LIS 4
One additional methods course selected in consultation with the student's advisor 4
Elective courses 36
Completion of coursework 48 total

Courses outside the iSchool: Up to 16 hours of electives may be transferred in from other departments at Illinois with the approval of the Advisor and the Dean. Courses or independent studies taken outside of the iSchool will not automatically count towards the degree. Prior to taking the transfer course, the student must petition for the course to be recognized as part of his or her degree program.

Independent study courses: Courses of independent study may be taken for credit of 2 to 4 graduate hours. Of the 36 hours of elective courses, students may take up to 16 hours of independent study. The student's Advisor and the Dean must approve course proposals for independent study courses. Requirements for earning independent study credit are jointly agreed upon by the faculty member and student. For full details on independent studies, see the course catalog listing for IS592: Independent Study.

Teaching practicum (optional): The teaching practicum provides an opportunity for students to gain experience in teaching. Students may earn 2 hours credit for this practicum (course 450 TP) but this credit does not count toward the credit required for the PhD program. Where teaching experience is a pre-requisite for teaching in the School, the Teaching Practicum will be accepted as experience. It usually involves some aspect of the design and teaching of a particular course, the details of which are worked out by the student and a faculty member.

Degree Specializations: Students may consult with their advisors to discuss degree specialization options.

Field Exam

The Field Exam enables a student to demonstrate that he/she has read broadly in a significant sub-area of LIS, is able to discuss issues and understand connections in that sub-area, and is able to apply that knowledge in a manner that is typical in scholarly work and certify that the student has a sufficient breadth and depth of knowledge in the sub-area to pursue scholarly research, teaching, and practice. Members of the iSchool community can view previous reading lists here.

Research Presentation

Each student is required to give a public presentation that demonstrates his/her research competency. It is likely that this will take place in the second or third year of a student's program, and can be given at any point in the program before the dissertation proposal defense. The venue for presentation must be approved by the student’s advisor as appropriate for the completion of the program requirement. Acceptable venues include but are not limited to:

  • presentation at a conference or workshop
  • an advertised public presentation (not given as part of any course)
  • presentation as part of an iSchool seminar series
  • other public presentations as approved by the faculty advisor and the DSC


The dissertation process formally begins with a public presentation and defense of a proposal and culminates in the public presentation, defense, and submission of the dissertation itself. The activities and procedures are outlined in more detail below. The dissertation process is governed by the University of Illinois and generally reflects conventions adhered to by other U.S. academic institutions.

Establish the Preliminary Examination Committee

Students establish a Preliminary Examination Committee in consultation with their Advisor. The committee is responsible for advising on the construction of the proposal as well as evaluating the final product. Committee members are chosen for their expertise in the research area, but may also be chosen to provide diversity of viewpoint, expertise in methodology, or coverage of an academic discipline. The committee must be constituted in accordance with the rules of the Graduate College. A minimum of four voting members is needed. At least three members must be members of the Illinois Graduate Faculty and at least two members must be tenured. One faculty member from a department other than the iSchool is strongly recommended.

There are two official positions for committee members on the Preliminary Examination Committee: the chair of the committee and the director of dissertation research. These are often the same person, and it is likely that the Advisor will fill one--if not both--of these positions. The chair is responsible for paperwork associated with the student's progress toward completion of the dissertation and for scheduling and chairing the oral defense. The research director is responsible for guiding the actual research process.

Dissertation Proposal

After the field exam is completed and passed, students write and defend a proposal of their dissertation research. The form and content of the dissertation proposal are negotiated with the Preliminary Examination Committee. Typically, the proposal includes a definition or statement of the problem to be addressed, a comprehensive review of the literature, and an outline of the methodology to be used. This document forms a blueprint for the dissertation itself and provides the student with an important opportunity to try out ideas and identify potential problems. For these reasons, doctoral students are strongly advised to work with their committee on drafts of the document, allowing sufficient time for reading and revising prior to the formal defense.

When both the student and his or her Preliminary Examination Committee believe the proposal is ready to be defended, a formal application for the Preliminary Examination must be made to the Graduate College. The defense is a public oral examination open to all members of the iSchool and Illinois community, and a copy of the proposal is made publicly available. The examination consists of the following parts:

  • an oral presentation by the student, summarizing the problem and proposed methodology
  • questions and comments from members of the committee
  • questions and comments from other attendees (where time permits)

The chair conducts the examination, and recognizes members of the committee and attendees for questions. At the conclusion of the defense, the student and all observers are asked to leave the room while the committee determines the outcome of the examination. When the committee has come to agreement, the student returns to the room and is informed of the committee's decision by the chair (details in "rules" section).

The defense is graded "pass," "fail," or "decision deferred" by the Preliminary Examination Committee. If the student does not pass the Preliminary Examination, the committee has the option of (1) deferring a decision for up to six months, (2) recording a failure but granting the student another opportunity, or (3) considering the failure to be final. These rules follow those outlined by the Graduate College (see page 30, A Handbook for Graduate Students and Advisors). A a second failure is considered final.

Establish the Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Committee is usually, but not necessarily, composed of the same members as the Preliminary Examination Committee. The Dissertation Committee guides the student's work toward completion of the dissertation. This committee has a minimum of four members. At least three members of the committee must be members of the Graduate College; two members of the committee must be tenured. The Dissertation Committee is appointed as early as possible after the successful completion of the proposal defense. There is no time limit on the duration of service of the Dissertation Committee, other than the length of time the student is allowed to complete the degree.

Members of the committee include a chair of the committee and a director of dissertation research, who may or may not be the same person. Emeritus faculty who have been awarded continuing membership on the Graduate Faculty may serve on or chair committees.

The Dissertation

Dissertations vary in methodology, length, and presentation according to the problem to be investigated. These details are decided in consultation with the Dissertation Committee members. However, the content of the dissertation is expected to follow the proposal defended and approved by the Preliminary Examination Committee. The proposal can be thought of as a contract for the work of the dissertation. Exceptions to this (i.e., a significant change in research topic, area, or method) must be discussed and approved by the Dissertation Committee.

When both the student and his or her Dissertation Committee believe the dissertation is ready to be defended, a formal application for the Final Examination must be made to the Graduate College. The dissertation defense is a public oral exam open to all members of the iSchool and Illinois community. Attendance by doctoral students at these defenses is encouraged. The examination has the following parts:

An oral presentation by the student, summarizing the problem, methodology, and major findings of the research Questions and comments from members of the committee Questions and comments from other attendees (where time permits)

The chair of the committee conducts the examination and recognizes members of the committee and attendees for questions.

In the same manner as for the Preliminary Examination, at the conclusion of the defense, the student and all observers leave the room while the committee determines the outcome of the examination. When the committee has come to agreement, the student returns to the room and is informed of the committee's decision by the chair (details in "rules" section).

The defense is graded "pass," "fail," or "decision deferred." The dissertation is graded "satisfactory," "satisfactory, pending revisions," or "unsatisfactory." If the student does not pass, the committee has the option of (1) deferring a decision for up to six months, (2) recording a failure but granting the student another opportunity or (3) considering the failure to be final (see A Handbook for Graduate Students and Advisors). A second failure is considered final.

Doctoral dissertations must follow the requirements established by the Graduate College. Information about this can be found in the Handbook for Graduate Students and Advisors and in the Handbook for Graduate Students Preparing to Deposit. The student is responsible for making sure that the dissertation meets the requirements of the Graduate College.

How to Apply

Prerequisite Requirements

  1. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, or a master's degree in library and information science or a related field.
  2. An applicant must have maintained a grade-point average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale in master's-level coursework and in the last two years of undergraduate coursework, in which case GRE scores are not required. For those with a GPA below a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, GRE test scores are required. However, if an applicant has a JD or a PhD degree, they would be exempt from the GRE requirement.
  3. International applicants whose native language is not English must submit evidence of having passed the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) with a score of 620 or higher (or 260 or higher for the computer-administered version; 104 or higher [at least a 25 in each section] for the IBT). The test can be administered in the student's home country but should be arranged at least one year before the applicant expects to begin the program. The IELTS test is also accepted with a minimum score of 7 in each section. The School's TOEFL code is 90. Language proficiency is also to be demonstrated through an interview with the Doctoral Studies Committee (DSC).

Materials Needed to Apply

Prospective students will need to apply to the Graduate College using the Web-based electronic application. To apply to our school, you will select "Information Sciences." Applicants must also submit the following:

  1. Resume
  2. Statement of purpose
  3. Research Statement. The purpose of the Research Statement is to give applicants a chance to present a research problem or question that interests them and to propose how it might be investigated at the School. The Committee also uses the Research Statement to help it assess how well an applicant's interests coincide with those of the faculty and are likely to be accommodated within the School, to that end applicants should identify faculty members who have similar research interests in the research statement.
  4. Letters of reference. Letters of reference must come from three individuals who can speak to the applicant's potential for teaching, research, and productive scholarship.
  5. Transcripts. Official transcripts from the applicant’s educational institution(s) should be mailed to the School of Information Sciences at 501 East Daniel Street, Champaign, IL 61820-6211.

Information about resources to assist domestic underrepresented applicants is available from the Graduate College.

Application Review

All applications are assessed by the Doctoral Studies Committee. The DSC then invites the most promising candidates for a phone interview, which enables the applicant and the committee to explore research connections in more depth. The phone interview is both evaluative (i.e. the committee assesses a candidate's ability to think analytically and communicate ideas effectively) and informational (i.e. the candidate explores their fit with the faculty, the School and campus environment and the local community).

Applicants will know by the end of February if they will be invited to interview for the program.