Three undergraduate majors are offered: Decision Science, International Relations and Politics, and Policy and Management. (All are Bachelors of Science degrees.)
Fields of Undergraduate Studies in Social and Decision Sciences
Baruch Fischhoff, Director
The interdisciplinary field of Decision Science seeks to understand and improve judgment and decision making of individuals, groups, and organizations. Carnegie Mellon University is one of the leading centers in the world for the study of Decision Science.
Behavioral decision theories provide the theoretical core for the Decision Science major. These theories draw on insights from a diverse set of disciplines, including cognitive and social psychology as well as economics, statistics, and philosophy.
Course content in the Decision Science major will foster understanding of: (a) the cognitive, emotional, social, and institutional factors that influence judgment and choice, (b) normative (economic) models of rational choice, and (c) how judgment and decision making can be predicted and/or improved.
Applications of Decision Science research abound. For example, research insights are being used to improve medical decision making (e.g., conveying costs and benefits of alternative treatment options to patients), legal decision making (e.g., understanding the effects of anger on attributions of responsibility), large-scale risk assessments (e.g., assessing risks of nuclear power), marketing (e.g., understanding the effects of emotion) and managerial decision making (e.g., correcting common errors and biases in the assessment of risk).
The Decision Science major prepares students for decision making and management roles in government, the non-profit sector, business, and consulting for all three sectors. The major emphasizes basic skills and concepts that enhance an individual's ability to understand why individuals and organizations behave the way they do, as well as to choose rationally among competing courses of action and to organize the actions of those who will carry out decisions.
In addition to gaining a broad education in economic and psychological principles of judgment and decision making, Decision Science majors gain valuable skills in research design and analysis. Upon completion of the decision science major, each student will be able to design, conduct, and analyze both experimental and correlational studies on human judgment and decision making. Moreover, each student will be able to critically evaluate empirical research findings and the soundness of research designs. Taken together, these skills enable Decision Science graduates to evaluate extant knowledge for any given decision problem and to generate new knowledge as problems develop.
The core courses in Decision Science cluster into two categories, one addressing research methods and the other addressing disciplinary perspectives on Decision Science. The research methods cluster is a two-course sequence that introduces students to a variety of methods for collecting and analyzing data that can be used to make informed judgments and decisions. Students learn to perform sample surveys (e.g., regarding consumer or managerial preferences), to conduct experiments to evaluate theories or to test the effectiveness of different interventions for improving judgment and decision making. The second cluster is substantive courses presenting the fundamental theories and results from the empirical study of decision making, as well as the application of decision making to real-world problems.
The elective courses cluster into five categories:
- The first category addresses biological foundations of decision making. Courses in this cluster provide essential knowledge about the connection between brain and behavior.
- The second cluster addresses individual and social aspects of judgment and decision making, such as how emotional and motivational factors affect judgment and decision making.
- The third cluster addresses organizational, political, and cultural influences on judgment and decision making.
- The fourth cluster addresses philosophical and ethical perspectives on judgment and decision making.
- Finally, the fifth cluster addresses advanced statistical and technological tools for judgment and decision making.
International Relations and Politics
The International Relations and Politics (IRP) major analyzes the role of politics at the national, regional, international, and transnational levels; examines political arrangements within and among these levels; and investigates the phenomenon of globalization. Statesmen, scholars, and policy makers often discuss globalization in terms of the deepening economic and political integration among states. Building on Carnegie Mellon University’s interdisciplinary approach to research, the IRP major investigates globalization as the intersection of international politics, culture, markets, and technology. Furthermore, the major examines, through interdisciplinary intellectual lenses, the way in which states construct grand strategy and the effect of grand strategy on the international system.
No single discipline can grapple fully with the ever-evolving process of globalization and the role played by grand strategy. The IRP major, rooted in the discipline of political science, relies upon analytical social science for important insights into these complex areas. The major also utilizes the intellectual strengths of the Department of Social and Decision Sciences, which include behavioral decision science, history, complex social systems, economics, and the department’s program in strategy, entrepreneurship, and technological change. Students’ understanding of globalization, international politics, and grand strategy is further informed by courses and colloquia offered by CMU’s top-ranked departments, divisions, and schools in business, computer science, engineering, and the humanities.
Knowledge of the theoretical underpinnings of international relations is the core objective of IRP. Thus, students pursuing this major will be trained to apply analytic tools to enduring problems in the international system. These tools include rational choice theory, political history, economic analysis, and theories of behavioral decision making.
Students are required to complete the intermediate (200) level, or its equivalent, in a modern language other than English. Advanced-level study is strongly encouraged.
Open to all Carnegie Mellon undergraduates, Carnegie Mellon University’s Washington Semester Program (CMUWSP) allows students to study public policy and intern in Washington for one semester. Courses taken through CMUWSP will count toward elective sequence requirements for IRP majors.
IRP majors interested in developing their research skills are encouraged to apply for a research position with the Center for International Relations and Politics. They are also encouraged to join student organizations focused on domestic or international politics. Becoming involved in the Social and Decision Sciences Department (SDS) and the Student Advising Council (SAC), as well as attending lectures and events sponsored by the Center for International Relations and Politics and SDS, will provide additional opportunities for students.
The International Relations and Politics major is offered through the Department of Social and Decision Sciences. It is available as a primary major and an additional major in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. For more information about the International Relations and Politics program, including upcoming program events and curriculum requirements, view the International Relations and Politics website.
Policy & Management
Paul Fischbeck, Director
The Policy and Management major prepares students for decision making and management roles in government, the non-profit sector, and business. The major emphasizes basic skills and concepts that enhance an individual's ability to understand why individuals and organizations behave the way they do, as well as to choose rationally among competing courses of action and to organize the actions of those who will carry out those decisions.
The Policy and Management major is comprised of four clusters of courses. The Analytical Methods cluster consists of four courses that provide theoretical training and practical experience in using analytical methods for problem solving and decision making. These courses provide systematic methods for dealing with the complexities that make decisions difficult. One complication is risk or uncertainty about the possible consequences of different courses of action. For instance, when businesses decide to market a new product or a government agency decides to initiate a new program, the potential consequences are typically very uncertain. The Policy and Management major prepares students to use systematic procedures for analyzing decisions involving uncertainty and to make them in a way that reflects the decision maker's willingness to accept risk. Another complication in decision making is that a decision maker may be pursuing mutually conflicting objectives. For instance, the goal of reducing air pollution necessarily conflicts with the objective of producing manufactured goods at the lowest possible cost. The Policy and Management major grounds students in a variety of methods for dealing with such goal conflicts. Finally, the major gives students a thorough grounding in the economic analysis of decisions. A central issue addressed here concerns the proper roles of government and private markets. What kinds of decisions are better made by government and which can better be made by private markets?
The Research Methods cluster is a two-course sequence that introduces students to a variety of methods for collecting and analyzing data that can be used to make informed decisions. Students learn to perform simple surveys (e.g., regarding consumer preferences or political preferences), to conduct simple experiments to evaluate theories or to test the effectiveness of different policy alternatives (e.g., by evaluating a new way of organizing workers who perform a manufacturing task), and to use systematic observational and interview methods to discover how people think about important issues and perform important tasks (e.g., using a new computer system).
The Organizational Context cluster consists of single course entitled Organizations. The emphasis of this course is on how people organize and coordinate their behavior to perform complex tasks that far outstrip the capacities of any individual in the organization. The course also analyzes potential shortcomings of large organizations, such as inertia, coordination failures, and bureaucratic infighting. Knowing how organizations work is a critical component in learning how to translate decisions into action.
Finally, the Management, Decision Making, and Technology cluster consists of five courses chosen by the student to emphasize his or her primary interests. These courses are chosen from six areas of concentration that emphasize different aspects of decision making and management:
- Individual decision making;
- Organizational and political decision making;
- Technology and society;
- Information and decision technology;
- Financial systems and analysis;
- International affairs and comparative politics.
A student may take all five courses in one of these concentration areas, or take courses from several of these areas. Advisors will assist students in selecting a set of courses that fit the student's interests and needs.
In short, the Policy and Management major emphasizes analytical approaches to decision making, management, and organization. It provides an excellent combination of theoretical and practical skills for students who intend to seek managerial positions immediately following graduation from Carnegie Mellon. Because of its strong analytical orientation, it is also an excellent major for those who intend to go on to professional school programs in law, business, or public policy, or to pursue graduate degrees in economics, political science, or decision science. One such option is the Heinz School Accelerated Masters Program where students can obtain both a B.S. in Policy and Management and an M.S. in Public Management and Policy in a five-year plan.