PhD in STS

Our doctoral program in STS prepares students to conduct cutting-edge research based in three core practices:

  1. Scholarly analysis of historical and contemporary cultures of research and innovation.
  2. Critique of the public policies, social practices, and political-economic institutions that shape, and are shaped by, scientific discovery and technological design.
  3. Direct participation in collaborative projects that bring about change in the domains of science, medicine, design, and engineering.

Graduates of the STS PhD program go on to research-oriented careers in academia, government, and private institutions. For more about our Alumni, please visit the Alumni page.

Questions about the graduate program should be directed to the Graduate Program Director, Atsushi Akera, at or 518-276-2314.

Focal Research Areas

Much of the research in the STS department falls into three broad areas: the environment, technological design, and governance. However, the department has tremendous intellectual diversity. Faculty members come from the traditional disciplines of anthropology, history, political science, sociology, economics, communication, and social psychology, as well as interdisciplinary science and technology studies.

We encourage students to explore and develop diverse and innovative research methods, which may include ethnographic fieldwork, historical and archival research, discourse analysis, policy analysis, participatory design, philosophical argumentation, and other approaches to social inquiry and theory development. In short, the STS department at Rensselaer is a place where graduate students and professors pursue problem-centered research, drawing on diverse theoretical and methodological resources.

STS graduate students often contribute to faculty-led research projects. Recent collaborative projects include Triple Helixthe Asthma Filesthe Research Data Alliancethe Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project, and several interactive digital humanities projects.

A list of faculty research advising interests and current graduate student research projects can be found on the Research page. Dissertations are archived at Rensselaer's Folsom Library.

Summary of Degree Requirements

A general summary of the PhD program curriculum can be found in the catalog. Required courses for the doctoral degree in STS include the following (see the Rensselaer Catalog for descriptions):

  • Concepts in STS
  • Technology Studies
  • Science Studies
  • Policy Studies
  • One advanced theory course (e.g. Nature of Inquiry; Advanced Contemporary Political Thought; Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Technoscience; Social Theory; Feminist and Postcolonial Theory)
  • One course in advanced research methods (e.g. Advanced Qualitative Methods; Research Design; History and Ethnography; Discourse Analysis)
  • Two additional 6000 level STS seminars (typically “topics” courses, such as Design Studies, Engineering Studies, Institutionalist Approaches in STS, Social Movements, Postcolonial STS, and others)
  • Additional electives, which may be courses at the 4000- or 6000-level

Students must pass a comprehensive examination (typically after the first or second year of graduate study), which consists of a faculty review of a portfolio of your written work.

Students must also complete and defend a literature review and a dissertation research proposal (typically in the second or third year of graduate study). Then they must complete and defend a piece of original research (the dissertation) in the field of Science and Technology Studies.

Students who enter the program without a master’s degree may earn one along the way to the PhD.

More details about program requirements are provided in the STS Graduate Program Handbook

Professional Development Opportunities

PhD students have a variety of opportunities to develop skills as STS professionals. Students and faculty present their research-in-progress at a weekly “brown bag,” which provides an opportunity to develop presentation skills and to develop collegial relationships with professors and students at different stages of their work. A colloquium series provides opportunities for professional networking with visiting scholars. The Professional Development Seminar, offered every spring semester, is a course that emphasizes professional writing and publishing. The STS department and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences offer a variety of workshops on grant proposal writing, pedagogy, and other topics.

Graduate students contribute to a blog, TechnoScience as if People Mattered. In addition, graduate students participate in department governance by electing representatives to serve on the committee that oversees the program.

Graduate students work as teaching assistants (TAs) for at least part of their time in the PhD program, and this is an important form of professional development for those heading into academic careers. TAs are typically responsible for leading classroom discussions, giving occasional lectures, grading papers and assignments, and holding office hours. Courses that commonly have TAs are Science, Technology and Society, IT and Society, Environment & Politics, and some of the studio courses in the Design, Innovation, and Society Program, among others.

Research page.

Alumni page.


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