Informatics and Computing, Doctor of Philosophy

School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems

College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences

The doctoral degree in Informatics and Computing enables students to engage in a research-intensive course of study within a broad range of informatics and computing areas, including population health, bioinformatics, remote sensing, ecological modeling wireless sensor and communication systems, cyber-physical systems, software architecture and visualization, computer graphics, model-driven design, machine learning, wearable computing, and cybersecurity.

Our five-year degree program is strengthened by committed mentorship and professional development training, with students benefiting from a broad range of collaborations and partnerships, including but not limited to: Center for Bioengineering Innovation, Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics, Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research, Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Physics and Astronomy, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, and School of Forestry.

Regional research collaborators include but are not limited to: Translational Genomics Research Institute, Northern Arizona Healthcare and Flagstaff Medical Center, North Country HealthCare, U.S. Geological Survey, and Northern Arizona Planetary Science Alliance.

  • Available Emphasis Areas:
  • Bioengineering Informatics - Emphasis (ending Summer 2024)
  • Computer Science - Emphasis (beginning Fall 2024)
  • Cyber and Software Systems - Emphasis
  • Electrical And Computer Engineering - Emphasis (beginning Fall 2024)
  • Ecological and Environmental Informatics - Emphasis
  • Health and Bioinformatics - Emphasis

  • To receive a Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) at Northern Arizona University, you must complete a planned group of courses, from one or more disciplines, ranging from at least 60 - 109 units of graduate-level courses. Most plans require research, a dissertation, and comprehensive exams. All plans have residency requirements regarding time spent on the Flagstaff campus engaged in full-time study.

    The full policy can be viewed here.

In addition to University Requirements:

  • Complete individual plan requirements.

Minimum Units for Completion 60
Additional Admission Requirements Required
Dissertation Dissertation is required.
Comprehensive Exam Comprehensive Exam is required.
Oral Defense Oral Defense is required.
Research Individualized research is required.
Emphasis Required

An emphasis is required for this degree.

Purpose Statement

The PhD program in Informatics and Computing will prepare you to work in the transformative "fourth paradigm" of science and engineering, an interdisciplinary field relying on big data and advanced software, hardware, and statistics skills.

A streamlined five-year plan of study provides learning opportunities in the foundations of informatics, programming and computer science, structuring large-scale data sets, machine learning, and statistical data analysis. Elective coursework allows students to customize their program of study in one of the following emphasis areas:

  • health and bioinformatics, focusing on genetic and genomic analysis, population health, and disease transmission;
  • ecological and environmental informatics, addressing ecological and environmental analyses and remote sensing
  • cyber and software systems,  engaging in the design and implementation of cyber-physical and large-scale software systems
  • bioengineering informatics to enhance data analysis and control in bioengineering applications.

Students will engage in significant research and development work under the mentorship of a faculty member in computer science, electrical engineering, or informatics to develop and assess original and creative solutions to open informatics and computing research questions, work which culminates in the preparation and defense of a dissertation.

This program is designed for students with strong preparation in an area of science, including biology, computer science, ecology, and electrical engineering, and experience in computer programming and data analysis gained through successful completion of a relevant undergraduate or graduate program.

As a graduate you will be prepared to be a leader in industry and government research labs, a faculty member or research scientist in academia, or entrepreneur in cutting-edge informatics application areas such as bioinformatics, population health and health informatics, environmental sustainability, ecology and ecoinformatics, software engineering, wearable computing, cyber-physical systems, and cybersecurity. Students’ research and education will be strengthened through broad collaborations with a variety of academic, government, and private entities. Informatics and Computing PhD program partnerships span the university, multiple centers and institutes, and various organizations.

Student Learning Outcomes

Graduates of this training program will demonstrate the following advanced competencies and program learning outcomes (PLOs):

  1. Identify, explain, and assess the major theories, research methods, and technical approaches driving informatics- driven science and engineering and the impact of these elements on society.
  2. Identify, explain, synthesize, and apply the fundamental concepts of informatics, including large-scale data representation and organization, various types of programming languages, software development methods, data processing, information extraction and machine learning, and statistical analysis.
  3.  Identify, explain, synthesize, and apply the interdisciplinary combination of core informatics and in-depth disciplinary expertise defining one of the following emphasis areas:
    • Health and Bioinformatics:
      • Examine statistical methods, computer programming techniques, and current research areas within healthcare and bioinformatics. 
      • Apply statistical methods and computer programming techniques to analyze such bioinformatics data as genetic sequencing, gene and protein expression, and cellular organization.
      • Develop statistical methods and computer programming techniques to analyze health outcomes, patterns of health determinants, including social factors of health, and predict the effects of policies and interventions on issues of public health.
      • Apply statistical methods and computer programming techniques to develop innovations in healthcare services delivery, management, and planning leading to lower healthcare costs and greater availability.
    • Bioengineering Informatics
      • Apply fundamental principles in biomedical engineering, material science, and chemistry to biomaterial, orthopedic, and medical device development.
      • Using principles of mechanics, conduct mathematical analyses of the musculoskeletal system.
      • Apply statistical methods and computer programming techniques to develop innovations in the modeling and analysis of musculoskeletal systems, medical devices, and neuromuscular diseases.
    • Cyber and Software Systems
      • Use mathematical abstractions to model complex software and cyber systems, including secure systems, wearable computing, and cyber-physical systems.
      • Design, develop, and apply software to control complex software and cyber systems.
      • Explore innovations in informatics by combining mathematical abstractions traditionally used to predict physical processes (differential equations, stochastic processes, etc.) with algorithms and other mathematical abstractions traditionally used in computer science.
    • Ecological and Environmental Informatics
      • Integrate mathematical abstractions and modeling with data from the field to determine and analyze ecological relationships
      • Construct and execute multi-step remote sensing workflows using geospatial software to solve problems in a variety of application areas and critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of remote sensing instruments and platforms for a variety of application scenarios.
      • Elucidate the breadth of statistical methods available in environmental analysis and select the appropriate method for the issue or problem under analysis.
  4. Identify, survey, analyze, organize, and critically distill information from the scientific literature within an informatics emphasis area and creatively identify open research questions.
  5. Independently apply appropriate expertise, methods, and tools to the creative design, execution, and assessment of an investigation that addresses original informatics research questions.
  6. Compose and engage in highly effective written and oral communication in informatics areas; demonstrate clear argumentation and logical cohesion in a variety of written and oral communications, including scholarly dissemination, funding requests, industry, and lay-communication.

Additional Admission Requirements
  • Individual program admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.

  • The NAU graduate online application is required for all programs. Admission to many graduate programs is on a competitive basis, and programs may have higher standards than those established by the Graduate College.

    Admission requirements include the following:

    • Transcripts.
    • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale ("A" = 4.0), or the equivalent.

    Visit the NAU Graduate Admissions website for additional information about graduate school application deadlines, eligibility for study, and admissions policies.

    Ready to apply? Begin your application now.

    International applicants have additional admission requirements. Please see the International Graduate Admissions Policy.

    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Personal statement or essay
    • Resume or curriculum vitae
    • Expertise in key foundational areas in informatics, including core topics such as programming, data structures, software development methods, and statistics, as well as areas that support specific emphases, such as biology, ecology, and cyber systems.60
Doctoral Requirements
  • This Doctoral degree requires 60 units distributed as follows:

    • Core Requirements: 42 units
    • Select an Emphasis: 18 units
      • Bioengineering Informatics Emphasis
      • Cyber and Software Systems Emphasis
      • Ecological and Environmental Informatics Emphasis
      • Health and Bioinformatics Emphasis

    Take a minimum of 60 which includes core requirements and an emphasis:

  • Emphasis Requirements (Select one for a minimum of 18 units):

    • Bioengineering Informatics Emphasis (18 units)
      • Bioengineering Foundations (10 units):
        • BIO 540 (3 units)
        • (BIO 698 or ME 698) (1 unit)
        • ME 563, ME 573 (6 units)
        • Select from INF, CS, or EE graduate-level coursework at NAU, as guided by research needs and advisor input. (8 units)

      Cyber and Software Systems Emphasis (18 units)
      • High Performance Computing: CS 552 (3 units)
      • Select from: INF 630, INF 631, INF 632, INF 633, INF 639. Topics courses may be repeated if each repeat covers a different topic. (9 units)
      • Select from INF, CS or EE graduate-level coursework at NAU, as guided by research needs and advisor input. (6 units)

      Ecological and Environmental Informatics Emphasis (18 units)
      • Ecoinformatics: INF 550, INF 623 (6 units)
      • Select from: INF 529, INF 604, INF 620, INF 621, INF 626. Topics courses may be repeated if each repeat covers a different topic. (6 units)
      • Select from INF, CS, or EE graduate-level coursework at NAU, as guided by research needs and advisor input. (6 units)

      Health and Bioinformatics Emphasis (18 units)
      • Select from: INF 604, INF 610, INF 611, INF 612, INF 623. Topics courses may be repeated if each repeat covers a different topic. (12 units)
      • Select from INF, CS, or EE graduate-level coursework at NAU, as guided by research needs and advisor input. (6 units)
  • In addition, students must successfully complete the following requirements:

    • Comprehensive qualifying examination by the end of the fourth term
    • Advancement to candidacy examination by the end of the seventh term, and
    • Dissertation defense
Additional Information
  • This degree program consists of a minimum of 60 units of study and can be completed in 5 years. Students may take more than 15 units of dissertation credit, as it is a requirement that students enroll in INF 799 each term they are preparing their dissertation. Students may also take more than 18 units of emphasis coursework, as guided by research needs and advisor input.

    Students admitted to the program may be required to correct deficiencies in their preparation by taking additional undergraduate or graduate coursework, as guided by research needs and advisor direction and counsel.
    Some required courses in this degree program may have prerequisites that students must also complete. For specific prerequisite information, students should investigate detailed course information or discuss the issue with their advisor.

  • Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also successfully complete. For prerequisite information, click on the course or see your advisor.