Prospective Graduate FAQ

Frequently-asked questions for prospective graduate students

Do you accept applicants for Master's degrees?

Yes! Please see the Master of Human-Computer Interaction and Human Factors program page.

Should I apply for a Master's or for a Ph.D.?

The decision about whether to pursue a Master's or a Ph.D. should be driven by your career goals.

If what you want to do is actually work on products in industry (or government), you should pursue a Master's. Our Master's program is a two-year program based mostly on coursework with internship and project requirements tailored toward students who are headed directly into the professional world upon graduation. Our curriculum is oriented somewhat more toward the quantitative/engineering end of HF/HCI and less toward the visual design/UX end. This is a professional program (like an MBA) and there is no financial aid.

If what you want to do is do research in academia or run a research lab in industry, you should pursue a Ph.D. This is a roughly five-year program (some do it in slightly less, some in slightly more) and it is a research degree. In addition to coursework the program has extensive research requirements including both a thesis and a dissertation. Students, especially after the first year, are generally evaluated based more on research productivity than classroom performance. Students work in a research lab under the supervision of a single advisor; a critical part of the admissions process is matching students to advisors that have similar research interests. If you do not have a sense of your research interests the Ph.D. program probably isn't for you.


From here on out, this document is aimed at Ph.D. applicants.

Will you tell me what to put in my Ph.D. application to improve my chances of admission?

Yes! First, if you're interested specifically in my lab, you should say so in your application. Second, describe in as much detail as you can exactly what your primary research interest is. If you just say "I'm really interested in Human Factors (or Human-Computer Interaction) because I'm interested in both people and machines" (or something equally vague) you will almost certainly not get in—we need more detail than that! What problems in the area interest you? What methods? Why? If you don't know the answers to those questions, that's a red flag, and maybe you need to more seriously consider why you're applying to this specific program.

Other tips: describe your research experience, if any, in some detail. Show us that you understand that graduate school for a Ph.D. is not just four more years of undergraduate class-taking; it is a research degree. Telling us over and over again that you're a hard worker is pointless; everybody says that. Figure out some way to show that.

The GRE is optional but I recommend you take them and get good scores. I pay more attention to the math score than most other Psychology faculty; in general I like to see students at or above the 80th percentile.

Do I have to have a Master's degree to apply?

No, a Master's is earned along the way to the Ph.D.

Do I need to have a Bachelor's degree in Psychology?

Actually, no, you don't! However, for my lab, if your undergraduate degree is not in psychology, it should be in something technical: engineering, computer science, statistics, natural science, or something similar. (Design counts, too, and so does philosophy of mind.) It would be helpful if you have taken a few Psychology courses along the way, but it is not mandatory. If your degree is in something like English Literature or Asian Studies then you're probably out of luck unless you have a strong technical background or some relevant additional experience.

Should I contact Professor Byrne without having read any other information?

No. Before you email, you should carefully read the general information about the graduate program, the information about the Human Factors/Human-Computer Interaction graduate program, and the information for prospective students.

You would also do well to look over the recent publications from my lab, CHIL.

What about financial aid?

Please see for more information about financial aid.

Are you taking students for Fall of 2021?

It's not clear at this point. Due to Rice's current financial situation, there is a possibility that we won't be taking on new PhD students this year. I don't know for sure yet, but it's something the administration has put on the table as a potential outcome of the pandemic-related rise in operating expenses and drop in both inflowing cash and the value of the endowment.

Can you please send me more information about your program?

No, but not because I won't send you anything, but because you need to be more specific. Have you read all the material that's already on the Web? If not, then read that first. If so, then what specific additional information do you want? "More information" is simply too vague.

If I attach a CV or a resume or a research proposal or whatever to my email, will you review it and tell me my chances of being admitted?

No. All the information that is relevant to the admissions decision will be required in your application to the program. Attaching a CV or resume or anything else to an email won't make any difference and so I most likely won't read it if it's just an attachment to an email. However, I will read it if it is pertinent to an admissions decision—so if you want me to read it, apply, and put the material in your application, not in an unsolicited email.

Second, a resume or CV is generally incomplete as an admissions tool, because such documents usually don't include complete transcripts and things like recommendation letters. Those are vital pieces of information, and without them, there is simply not enough information. There's a reason we ask for all that information in the application; we actually need that material to make an informed decision.

Finally, even if I did read whatever you're sending in advance of your application, I could not give you a clear assessment of your chances for admission. This is because your odds of getting in depend as much on the other candidates as they do on your information. It is impossible to know based any single data point if you are likely to get in. I admit at most two students in any given year, so your application has to be one of the three or four best on some combination of overall quality and fit to my lab for you to even have a chance. I cannot know which three or four those are based on any one person's information.

I'm really interested in HF/HCI, but in an area that your lab doesn't work in. Should I still apply to your lab?

Probably not; it's a long shot at best. If you are not interested in computational or mathematical modeling of human performance, then your chances are very slim. If you do not use the word "code" as a verb, my lab is probably not the place for you. (This is not a knock on anyone, it's just a fit thing.)

I'm really interested in neuroscience, should I apply to your lab?

No. I am not a neuroscientist and do not have any plans to start doing neuroscience. If your interest in neuroscience has something specifically to do with ACT-R I'd be willing to consider it, but essentially no, I am not interested in students who want to do neuroscience research. (Again, this is not a knock on neuroscience in any way, it's just that I don't personally work in that area.)

You didn't answer my email! Why not?

First, my apologies. This is most likely because I didn't get it. My spam filters are very aggressive. If your "from" field has a lot of non-Roman characters, my filters almost certainly classified your mail as spam. Try again with less non-Roman characters in the "from" field.

However, there might be another reason I didn't answer, which is that you didn't do your homework first. I do not do clinical psychology, personality psychology, child developmental psychology, autism, ADHD, social psychology, or any number of a variety of other areas of psychology. I also don't do operating systems, networking, compilers, image processing, or most areas of computer science. (Yes, I have actually gotten inquiries from people interested in all of those areas.) Asking to work with me when your interests are completely out of my area is a waste of your time and mine. I'm sorry if that sounds rude but I think it's rude of prospective students to not even bother to look at my research area before sending out inquiries. This sends a clear message that you either don't care about my time or are incapable of spending a few minutes reading a web site, and in either of those cases you would be a poor fit for my lab.

Hey, a lot of this is really negative. Do you not want people to apply?

Actually, I most definitely do want people to apply! However, it's a disservice and a waste of money for those people who have no chance of being accepted. If you're really interested in the research we do in my lab and you're qualified to join, I most definitely want you to apply. And if you get in, I will do everything I can to help make sure you succeed once you're here.

The fact of the matter is, however, that most of the emails that arrive in my inbox about Ph.D. applications are from people who are either not actually interested in the research that goes on in my lab or who are not actually qualified (often both). I want to save those people the trouble.

Can I call on the phone?

Sure. However, be warned that I'm really bad about checking my voice mail; you are much more likely to get a response if you email me than if you call.

Last modified 2020.11.01