How does the Ph.D. in Data Science work?

The Ph.D. in Data Science typically requires five years of full-time study for students who have not completed a master's degree in a related field. The first two years in the program prepare you for admission to Ph.D. candidacy through coursework, qualifying exams, research exposure and other scholarly activities. In the last few years, you primarily conduct research full-time, including writing and defending your doctoral dissertation. 

Admission to Candidacy

In year one, you’ll take foundational courses. If you enter with transfer credit (up to 9 credits allowed), you may satisfy these requirements more quickly. Following the first year, you’ll complete your first written comprehensive examination. In the second year, all students will complete the Core courses, culminating in a second comprehensive examination. In the fall, after passing their second comprehensive exams, students take an Oral Qualifying exam to demonstrate their preparedness to conduct independent research and their mastery of foundational material and core concepts. 

The Doctoral Dissertation

Upon successful completion of coursework and passing the oral qualifying exam, you are admitted to candidacy for the dissertation phase of your studies. However, we encourage students to start thinking about, and working on, research early in their studies. Students spend their first summer working with faculty and learning about research in the field of data science. 

Your doctoral dissertation must contain original research that meets standards for published scholarship in data science. Specifically, you must conduct original research in data science and demonstrate the value of that contribution with an applied or practicable example or investigation. You are expected to be an expert in the topic you choose to research. 

The dissertation process culminates with a “defense,” in which you defend the proposal orally before your dissertation committee. 

While working on your dissertation, you interact extensively with Data Science faculty. Together with interested faculty, you create your own research community that includes your dissertation advisor and dissertation committee. 

Sample Program Sequence

Years 1 and 2:

  • Coursework 
  • Examination 
  • Research Papers 
  • Research Activities 

Year 3 

  • Directed Reading & Research 
  • Admission to Candidacy 
  • Formulation of Research Topic 

Years 4 and 5 

  • Continued Research 
  • Oral Examination 
  • Dissertation 

​​​​​​​How long will the program take?

On average, we expect that individuals will complete the program in 5-6 years. This will include completion of coursework in years 1-2. Year 3 will include a transition from coursework to independent research, and the final year or years will include completion of research and dissertation work. 

​​​​​​​How much does the program cost?

Tuition and fees are set annually by the University of Virginia Board of Visitors in early spring. Most doctoral students receive a tuition waiver, fellowship wages, and health insurance. Students will serve as graduate teaching assistants or graduate research assistants throughout the program. Please visit the admissions page for more information.

What can I do with a Ph.D. in Data Science?

Data science doctoral graduates are highly sought after for employment. Upon completion of the Ph.D. program, you will have the tools to set your research direction, teach and advise students, and work at the forefront of government or industry.

Can I pursue the program part-time and/or online?

No. The program is full-time, in-person, and located in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

​​​​​​​Do I need a master’s degree to apply?

No. Intellectually curious students who have met the prerequisites will be prepared for our Ph.D. program. 

Can I apply if I already have a Ph.D.?

We believe the Doctor of Philosophy degree is a research degree at its core that is not tied to a particular academic discipline. Anyone may apply to the Ph.D. in Data Science program, and all applications are reviewed holistically.  

I come from a non-STEM or non-traditional academic discipline (e.g., natural sciences, humanities, business, law) and am interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Data Science. Will I be competitive in the admissions process?

The Ph.D. in Data Science at the University of Virginia is intended to be a broad degree, designed for students with a variety of academic backgrounds and disciplines. Students with a strong foundation in technical data science principles who have completed the prerequisites typically perform well in the curriculum. Our faculty represents just a fraction of the interdisciplinary ways in which data science can be applied.  

Do you admit students who do not receive department funding?

Unfortunately, space is limited, and we only admit students who are funded. 

Will my application be more competitive if I know my thesis topic?

No. It is rare for an incoming student to know their thesis topic. However, we do encourage students to indicate areas of research interest in their application. 

Do I need to match with a research supervisor?

Not at first. The Ph.D. in Data Science program is not a “direct match” program, meaning that we do not require students to identify a research supervisor with whom you will work prior to applying for our program. We facilitate interactions between faculty and Ph.D. students to showcase their research, and students usually choose a supervising faculty member by the end of their second year in the program.  

Will my application be more competitive for admission if I reach out to faculty and ask if they will supervise my research prior to applying to the Ph.D. in Data Science?

No. Due to the volume of interest, it is not possible for faculty to carefully consider and vet applications outside the admissions process. You do not need to contact SDS faculty to request their supervision of your research or work in their labs to be more competitive for admission to the Ph.D. in Data Science. While we will ensure that we have faculty aligned with your interest area, you do not need their support via a letter of recommendation or through a commitment of funding. We encourage you to check out our faculty research interests prior to submitting your application, and our faculty are happy to answer questions about their research.  

​​​​​​​Are there on-campus housing options?

Yes. Students have the option to live on campus, called “Grounds” at the University of Virginia. There are several options available through Housing and Residence Life, as well as many off-Grounds housing options within close proximity to the School of Data Science. 

​​​​​​​How do I apply?

For directions on how to apply, please visit the admissions page.