Carnegie Mellon University

Graduate Fields of Study

There are six fields of study for Ph.D. training in Social and Decision Sciences.

Each of these programs is described below, including suggested courses, area faculty, and area advisors. Visit our alumni page to view a list of our Ph.D. alumni and their current positions. Our Ph.D. alumni hold a wide variety of positions in academia, government, and industry.

Behavioral Decision Research (BDR) is an interdisciplinary field that draws on insights from psychology and economics to provide a descriptively realistic picture of human decision making. With economics, BDR shares the idea that human behavior can be understood as a purposeful attempt to achieve well-being, or utility. With psychology, it shares the recognition that social, cognitive and emotional factors have great influence on decisions. For example, people have limited information-processing capacity and opportunities to acquire some of the specific skills needed for effective decision making. The combination of these perspectives leads BDR to focus on ways that real-world decision making deviates from the stylized assumptions of economics and on ways in which performance might be improved.

The Behavioral Decision Research program in Social and Decision Sciences received top honors in two categories from the Decision Analysis Society at INFORMS, the field's leading professional organization. The program was "Recognized as a national leader for the outstanding quality of its annual contributions to education, research, and service."

Graduates from the BDR program are prepared for positions in industry, traditional departments, or business schools. Ph.D. students work with their advisors to plan their programs of study, but suggested courses for the BDR program include Judgment and Decision Making, Behavioral Economics, Psychology, Micro-economics, Statistical Methods, field-specific methodology courses, elective courses, the SDS Ph.D. seminar, and the speaker series from the Center for Behavioral Decision Research.

For questions about the Behavioral Decision Research Ph.D. program, contact George Loewenstein.

While most students elect to pursue a standing field, students may also, with the careful oversight of their advisor and the Ph.D. Education Committee, complete the core SDS requirements and receive a degree with the title of Social and Decision Sciences. Students completing a standing field are also eligible for the Social and Decision Sciences degree title. Students meeting requirements for multiple degree titles must select a single title from among the eligible set. 

The joint Ph.D. program in Behavioral Marketing and Decision Research is a unique opportunity to master two fields during your time at Carnegie Mellon. The intersection of these two areas, Marketing and Behavioral Decision Research, is at the forefront of inter-disciplinary work that combines the fields of consumer behavior, psychology, economics, and policy.  The program combines the world-renowned Behavioral Decision Research faculty from the Department of Social and Decision Sciences (SDS) with the extraordinary Marketing faculty from the Tepper School of Business.

The joint Ph.D. program in Behavioral Economics is the first Ph.D. program of its kind and integrates insights from Psychology into Economics.  The field of Behavioral Economics was pioneered by our own Carnegie Mellon faculty Herb Simon (a Nobel Prize winner in Economics) and George Loewenstein.  While behavioral economics started as a small movement in the 1970s, it has made an enormous impact on academic research and research in Behavioral Economics papers regularly appears in the top Economics journals. Behavioral Economics research has been used to help governments enact better public policy and operate more efficiently, to help businesses improve their profitability, and to help individuals make better decisions.  This program builds on the world-renowned Behavioral Economics faculty from the Department of Social and Decision Sciences and the outstanding Economics faculty from the Tepper School of Business.

The joint doctoral program in Psychology and Behavioral Decision Research uses insights from psychology and economics to provide a descriptively realistic picture of human judgment and decision making. Although there are core requirements for all students, the program is designed to make it easy to combine interests in several academic areas.

Students interested in the joint Psychology/Behavioral Decision Research program are invited to apply at the end of their first year of SDS Ph.D. studies. The application involves a short proposal for a second year paper and dissertation that is truly joint between the two departments, as indicated by co-chairs. The application must be approved by both departments. Students who graduate from this program will receive a joint degree from BDR and Psychology.

For more information, contact George Loewenstein (SDS).

The Department of Social and Decision Sciences (SDS) participates in a combined MD-PhD Program with the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), to offer an MD degree from the University of Pittsburgh and PhD degree from Carnegie Mellon University. The purpose of the program is to provide focused education and research opportunities in the areas of social and decision sciences, behavioral decision research, and related fields. Students participating in the joint MD and PhD program first apply to the MSTP program and then apply to the SDS department at CMU in the fall of their second year of the program. Students fulfill all of the requirements of the University of Pittsburgh medical school program as well as the requirements of the PhD program. Students follow an intense schedule of medical school courses, graduate coursework within SDS, and graduate research under the guidance of SDS faculty members who specialize in medically related research. The program includes up to three summer lab rotations within SDS during the first two years of medical school, where students learn basic research practices and gain experience with social science research problems, followed by a full PhD program, after which the student finishes medical school.

MD/PhD Program Curriculum

Students in the MD/PhD Program are first accepted into the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Students then apply to the Department of Social and Decision Sciences’ PhD Program, which they typically commence after the second year of medical school.


Summer Prior to Academic Year (AY) 1 SDS research*
AY1 Fall and Spring Pitt Med School
Summer AY1 SDS research
AY2 Fall and Spring Pitt Med School
Summer AY2 SDS research
AY3 Fall and Spring SDS Courses
Summer AY3 SDS research, qualifying exams
AY4 Fall and Spring SDS Courses
Summer AY4 SDS research
AY5 Fall and Spring SDS research
Summer AY5 SDS research
AY6 Fall and Spring SDS research
Summer AY6 SDS research
AY7 Fall and Spring Pitt Med School
Summer AY7 Pitt Med School
AY8 Fall and Spring Pitt Med School
Summer AY8 Pitt Med School
* The summer before starting at the medical school, students who wish to pursue the MD / PhD in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences Robotics are highly encouraged to conduct research within SDS. Interested applicants are encouraged to contact Faculty Advisors for the MD/ PhD Program, listed below.

Proposal for Joint MD/Ph.D program milestones

Research before program S0, S1, and S2 during Pitt med school
8 courses* (4 methodology) End of third semester
Graduate seminar During 1st year
2nd year paper May 2nd year/November 3rd year
Qualifying exams 29 months
Thesis proposal 36 months
Thesis defense 48 months
TA requirements Years 1, 2, and 4

MD/PhD Faculty Advisors

Students in the MD/PhD program are advised by a faculty member within the Department of Social and Decision Sciences. Below is a list of SDS Faculty Advisors for the program.