Carnegie Mellon University

Is PIER for you?

Are you:

  1. Interested in acquiring the skills, knowledge, and motivation to conduct rigorous research on learning conditions related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment that will improve academic outcomes for pre-kindergarten to postsecondary students, and
  2. Interested in obtaining a Ph.D. from one of PIER’s participating departments?


Fellows admitted to PIER are provided annually with a $30,000 stipend, a research and travel budget of up to $2000 per year, and their departments receive an additional $10,500 to partially cover tuition, health insurance, and/or other normal graduate student fees (which vary slightly from department to department). The remainder of those fees are covered by the fellows’ home departments.) This level of support from PIER will be continued for up to 3 years, as long as the fellow remains a full-time student in good standing in PIER and in her/his home department.

For fellows who remain in good standing for their 4th and 5th year, the source of this support will come from the admitting department, which is committed to continuing this level of financial support for tuition, stipend, health insurance, and/or other normal graduate student fees.


In order to qualify for PIER, each Fellow must be accepted to an existing Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University relevant to PIER.

Although financial support is limited to U.S. Citizens and permanent residents, other qualified graduate students may participate in PIER as “PIER Associates”. Such students would have to find other sources of support, such as various departmental fellowships and assistantships.

Admission to a CMU doctoral program is a fundamental requirement for admission to PIER because the PIER curriculum is built on top of the standard doctoral training in participating departments. Since PIER’s inception in 2004, PIER fellows have come primarily – but not exclusively – from CMU’s Department of Psychology, Statistics Department, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Department of Computer Science, Heinz School of Public Policy, and the Department of Economics. (See PIER Fellows for a full list of participating departments to date.)  However, your PIER application will be considered if you are admitted to any CMU doctoral program flexible enough to accommodate all PIER requirements. If you have any questions about whether or not the doctoral program to which you are applying is a good fit for PIER, please contact Audrey Russo.  We recommend that you submit your application to PIER at the same time that you submit your application to your departmental program of interest. (Note: There are two separate application forms.  The PIER application can be found here, and your departmental application form can be found on the departmental website.) Your PIER application will be reviewed only after the department notifies us that they are interested in admitting you to their program.

For PIER admissions, GRE scores are given careful consideration.  The middle 50% of GRE scores for admitted PIER fellows have ranged from the 85th percentile to the 95th percentile for Verbal scores and from the 68th to the 88th percentiles for Quantitative scores.  However, PIER looks beyond these scores for other qualitative indicators of your scientific potential, such as specific interests, accomplishments, and honors.  Individual departments have their own criteria for such indicators, but the PIER Steering Committee looks for clear evidence that you have an interest in tackling educational problems and challenges by doing rigorous discipline-based research that can advance the field.  Students who have had formal or informal experience with K-12 teaching (e.g., tutors or teaching assistants, summer program counselors, Teach for America fellows, etc.) are considered particularly suitable for PIER.

Finally, the PIER admissions process requires that your home department  (a) makes a commitment to facilitating and supporting all of PIER’s requirements for course and project work, (b) agrees that your dissertation must be related to the Education Sciences, and (c) commits to funding your 5th year in PIER (as described above).

Program requirements and canonical schedule

Engagement in education research as part of an augmented research apprenticeship, with an interdisciplinary faculty committee, according to home department requirements. This includes:

Department coursework plus a 3.5-course PIER Core Sequence:

Additional Coursework / Individualized Training Experiences to meet PIER Core Competencies not otherwise covered in the student’s prior experience or the Home Department’s Program (e.g., Experimental Design, Statistics, Ed Technology, etc.)

Field-Based Experience (FBE) in an Educational Context to develop understanding and appreciation for the reality of classroom/school-based systems.

Integrated, Interdisciplinary Project (IIP)  to experience immersion in a PIER research team for an education research project culminating in a public presentation and possible conference presentation and/or publication.

Dissertation Research addressing practical questions in education.

Integration into PIER Community

  • PIER Networking Events (e.g., welcome event, Career Development and Networking workshops (CDN workshops), etc.)
  • Professional Development Seminar (Distributed through the AY):
  • Speaker Series: Several colloquia each year, plus 1.5 days of Student-only Pro-Seminar with Speakers
  • Bi-Weekly Brown Bag Series (the “EdBag”)
  • PIER officer positions (EdBag organizer, Guest Speaker organizer, Steering Committee student representative, Career Development and Networking workshop" (CDN workshop) organizer)
  • PIER mentor (to serve as an informal personal source of information for incoming cohort, etc)
  • Progress Evaluation via student’s self-assessment, PIER Steering Committee Evaluation Meeting, and departmental graduate evaluation processes.