PhD in Human-Robot Interaction

Course Requirements and Electives

A minimum of ten courses is required: five core courses in HRI and five electives from a list of courses approved by the HRI Steering Committee. Courses can be counted both towards the HRI PhD and the home department. In addition, students must provide evidence of competence in four research methods.

Advising Requirement

Each student in the HRI program will choose an advisory committee of at least three faculty within the second year (at least two members have to be faculty associated with the HRI program). The advisory committee will be responsible for conducting and grading the written and oral exams. One committee member will be designated by the student as "main advisor" and as such be responsible for supervising the student's dissertation. The main advisor must be associated with the HRI program.

Core Research Methods

All HRI PhD students have to demonstrate competency before attempting the oral qualification exam in four main research methods in HRI:

  1. statistics and mathematical foundations
  2. robot programming
  3. robot design
  4. experimental design

For (1), students have to demonstrate competence in the statistical and mathematical foundations relevant to HRI. For (2), students have to demonstrate experience with programming at least two different robots. For (3), students have to demonstrate experience in designing robots or parts of robots relevant to HRI. And for (4), students have to demonstrate that they have designed and carried out an HRI experiment. The details for all competency requirements will be determined by the HRI Steering Committee.

For (1), transcripts of previously taken relevant courses (at Tufts or elsewhere) or papers authored by the student that demonstrate the mastery of the techniques. For (2)-(4) students may point to published peer-reviewed papers authored by them that employ any of the required methods or get a letter from their advisor that describes how they satisfied the requirements. The program director then writes an evaluation of the materials which is forwarded to Steering Committee for approval. In the case that the demonstration is found insufficient and is thus not approved, the program director will work with the student to suggest ways to obtain sufficient documentation (e.g., by taking courses, writing research papers that demonstrate sufficient preparation, participating in research projects, etc.).


Each PhD student in the HRI PhD program must take written and oral qualifying exams in HRI, in addition to the examination requirements of the student's department.

  • Written Qualifying Exam
    The written qualifying exam in HRI consists of two research papers in two separate areas of HRI, which must be completed by the fourth semester and sixth semester, respectively, at the latest, submitted for publication to one of the HRI conference (e.g., the IEEE/ACM International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction). The papers need to be submitted to the Steering Committee for evaluation.
  • Oral Qualifying Exam/Candidacy Exam
    All HRI PhD students are required to pass a candidacy examination during which they propose their dissertation. Since the oral exam in HRI is at the same time the candidacy exam, students will defend their dissertation proposal and then be examined in the area of the dissertation (i.e., in only one joint exam with their home department). This requirement must be met by the end of the fourth year.

Foreign Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement in HRI.


Because the HRI PhD will require more preparatory course work of students than other disciplinary PhD degrees, the typical duration of the program will likely be five years.

Financial Aid

Students in the HRI PhD program are guaranteed the same funding as is customary in their respective home departments. At least one year of funding will be in the form of a mandatory teaching assistant position.

The remaining time will be a combination of teaching assistant and research assistant positions (the latter likely funded by one of the student's advisors). It is expected that all funded graduate students will receive at least support for nine months per calendar year in addition to full tuition remission. Note that the particular funding conditions of the teaching and research assistant position, however, will depend on what is customary in the home department of the student.

Teaching Requirement

All students enrolled in the HRI PhD program are required to teach for one semester as "Teaching Assistants" in their home departments or a department associated with the HRI program. The teaching requirement is intended to recognize the important role of teaching experience both for future academic positions as well as for learning how to present complex materials well to a possibly inexperienced audience (the process of preparing presentations often has the added advantage that it generates improved understanding on the teacher side). The academic advisors of students in the HRI program will work with the Tufts Center for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), and the Graduate Institute for Teaching (GIFT) to provide structured mentorship.

Colloquium Series

All HRI students are required to attend a novel HRI colloquium series to be organized by the HRI Steering Committee at least for four semesters. The colloquium series will feature speakers from Tufts as well as the local HRI community in the Boston area as well as occasional outside speakers, exposing students to cutting edge research in HRI. At the same time, the colloquium series also has an important community-building function by bringing together faculty and students (both graduate and undergraduate) interested in HRI, providing an informal setting where students can interact with faculty and ask questions. Ultimately, the goal is for it to become a forum for discussion and exchanges of ideas that can lead to future research collaborations on campus.