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The Technology and Social Behavior (TSB) degree benefits students by providing training in methods to study human behavior and new technology. Students will design and implement new technologies, and incorporate the results of empirical research into these technologies. This will prepare them for a wide range of academic and industrial jobs. The curriculum for the joint degree program is rigorous, as it combines requirements from both Computer Science and Communication. For a full, in-depth description of the program requirements see the TSB Handbook.

Students with teacher

There are a number of reasons for pursuing a graduate degree in Technology and Social Behavior. TSB graduates obtain the technical and empirical expertise that will allow them both to design innovative technologies and to understand the contexts of their use in the social world. The TSB degree prepares graduates with a deep knowledge of how to understand human behavior; incorporate their understanding into the design of technology; and evaluate the technology in its social context of use. This training lets our students communicate with social scientists, humanists, engineers, computer scientists, and software designers, and to teach students from each of those areas. Their education supports an understanding of how people interact with technology; how to design systems that work naturally with people; and how to execute these designs.


Program Overview

Interdisciplinary Research

TSB faculty, whose research spans a variety of methodological approaches, enjoy thinking about problems from multiple points of view. The multi-method training students receive will help them to produce better research and also to understand the work of future colleagues who, given the direction of the field, will likely come from a range of disciplinary traditions. Complementing the TSB approach is Northwestern University’s strong support for cross-disciplinary graduate education. Students from other departments routinely enroll in TSB courses, and TSB students are welcomed in other department’s courses. Faculty are affiliated with a number of on-campus initiatives which enrich the environment, from the Center for Human-Computer Interaction + Design and Artificial Intelligence @ NU Initiative to the Segal Design Institute among others. TSB faculty regularly invite students (including first-year graduate students) to participate as co-authors in their published research. As students mature in the program, they can find support with the faculty for writing their own papers and generating multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Course Requirements

Critical evaluation of disciplinary perspectives, as well as integration of disciplinary methodologies, is a key goal of the TSB doctoral program. The required courses therefore provide theoretical, historical, psychological, and sociological perspectives on technology, along with classes in research methods. For the remaining courses, each student must work with an advisor to create a course of study that approaches a single theme within technology and social behavior from multiple disciplines. To see examples of recent course offerings in the program see our Courses page.

Because Ph.D. students are encouraged to create a course sequence that best supports their research, dissertation, and teaching plans, each student will be assigned to a temporary advisor upon arrival, who will help design a research plan. Students need not, however, feel obliged to choose this person as a thesis advisor. The research plan will incorporate course requirements from both the School of Engineering programs and School of Communication, however since these degree requirements are quite flexible, students can expect to engage in hands-on research starting in their first year.

Qualifying Examinations

Students in the joint Ph.D. will complete one part of the qualifying exam in each of the two distinct fields. These exams must be completed before the beginning of the student’s 4th year in the program.

Dissertation Committee

Theses in Computer Science require implementation and theoretical analysis of a computer system in a technical research context, while theses in Communication require either empirical or archival evidence for a well-fleshed-out argument. Ph.D. theses in TSB, the joint Ph.D. in Computer Science and Communication, will comprise two parts that are not often found together – an implementation, and a hypothesis about how the implemented system affects social behavior, with an empirical evaluation of that hypothesis.

In order to ensure that the Ph.D. thesis represent joint competence in Computer Science and Communication, the thesis committee needs to be composed of four faculty members, of whom two are in Communication and two are in Computer Science. Three of the committee members must be faculty at Northwestern University. The thesis must be judged acceptable by all four of these committee members.

Applications Closed December 31st, 2020

Admissions Information

More Reasons to Pursue a Degree in Technology and Social Behavior

Requirements that don’t waste your time

As part of preparation for their qualifying examinations, students will complete a major field exam that leads to a student’s publication. We aim for our students to be on the job market with a number of quality publications, and the requirements are designed with this in mind. Examinations in minor fields are expected to help students demonstrate mastery of areas in which they envision teaching future courses.

Support for student initiatives

Since the program’s founding our students have created their own speaker series, organized conferences, and created an online community. The departments have provided financial support for all of these endeavors. We also offer generous financial support to assist students to attend conferences, in order to support their academic growth.


There are numerous opportunities for students to explore their research interests beyond the Northwestern campus, for example in seminars, workshops, and archival collection at the Newberry Library, the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Chicago, and the Wisconsin Historical Society. In addition a number of industrial research labs are located in the nearby area. Google, Motorola Labs, Lucent Technologies, IBM, and a number of other labs have sites in the nearby Chicagoland area.

Great prospects

TSB Students are well-prepared to compete in academic or industry job markets upon graduation. Over the course of their studies many also land positions for competitive internships at companies like Google, Facebook, Snap, Spotify, and Microsoft.