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MCS PhD - Curriculum


Management of Complex Systems Ph.D. students holding appropriate masters degrees must:

Complete 28 units of course requirements (a two-semester foundations program (MIST 252 and 253), the MIST 251 graduate seminar during the first four semesters in residence, 16 units of  graduate-level courses, of which at least two courses must be in research methods). Courses from other PhD programs can be substituted for MIST Methods and Electives courses with approval of a student's faculty advisor and the MIST GG Chair.  

  • Serve as TAs for two semesters     
  • Complete first- and second-year research projects
  • Complete a technical seminar 
  • Pass the integrative review paper
  • Pass the Ph.D. candidacy exam
  • Successfully defend the dissertation 

Ph.D. students without appropriate masters degrees must also complete the equivalent of the coursework requirements for the M.S. degree (i.e., complete a minimum of 24 units of courses at the upper division and graduate levels, with at least 20 units of graded graduate (200-level) courses in the major subject (with letter grade B or better).  

M.S. students must:

Complete at least two semesters full-time academic residence at UC Merced (12 units mini-mum per semester)

  • Complete a minimum of 24 units of courses at the upper division and graduate levels, with at least 20 units of graded graduate (200-level) courses in the major subject, including Fundamentals I and II (MIST 252 & 253) and at least two Methods courses. (with letter grade B or better).
  • Enroll in the Management of Complex Systems seminar (MIST 251) twice for credit (S/U)
  • Either pass a comprehensive exam, or give a public oral presentation and successfully defend a master's thesis containing original research.


The following is a non-exhaustive list of MIST courses that have been approved. See the Registrar's Course Descriptions webpage for a more up-to-date list (note that MCS MA/PhD courses are those numbered 215 and above).

  • MIST 251 - Graduate Seminar
  • MIST 252 - Foundations I
  • MIST 253 - Foundations II
  • MIST 215/ES 241 - Political Ecology
  • MIST 218 - Social Reality
  • MIST 220 - Service Science
  • MIST 230 - Strategy & Innovation
  • MIST 231 - Organizational Behavior
  • MIST 240 - Operations Management
  • MIST 241 - Information Systems
  • MIST 260 - Game Theory
  • MIST 261 - Qualitative Methods in Studying Innovation 
  • MIST 270 - Data Science
  • MIST 271 - Network Science
  • MIST 272/ES 232 - Stochastic Modeling
  • ES 292 - Special Topics
  • ES 232 - Applied Climatology


Ph.D students will work closely with their advisory committees on 1st-year projects, 2nd-year-projects, an integrative review paper, candidacy exam, and doctoral dissertations. An advisory committee for each comprises at least three members, including at least one Core MIST faculty member as chair (typically the student’s primary advisor).

A second member must be either MIST Core or Affiliate faculty; other members may be MIST Core or Affiliate faculty, other UC faculty or similarly credentialed faculty from other institutions, as appropriate to support the student's area of research.  A student will typically constitute the 1st-year project committee in Fall of the first year, the 2nd-year project committee in Fall of the second year, the integrative paper committee in Fall of the third year, and the dissertation committee (including candidacy exam) in Fall of the fourth year. A student, along with his or her advisor, may elect to maintain the same committee over time or may elect to constitute a new committee for each requirement (with committee membership eligibility as described above). Advisory committees must be approved by the MIST Graduate Group Executive Committee or its delegate.

Ph.D. Candidacy Examination

Students must pass a candidacy exam, typically at the end of the third year, to begin dissertation work. The exam consists of a written dissertation proposal (about 8000 words in length) and an oral defense of the proposal, which takes place privately with the student’s advisory committee. The oral defense may also include general questions about topics in MIST covered in the student’s integrative review paper.

Ph.D. Dissertation

Students must successfully complete a written doctoral dissertation containing an original contribution to scientific knowledge in some domain related to management of innovation, sustainability, and technology in the context of complex coupled human-natural systems. The dissertation should contain material of a quality that is worthy of scholarly publication, and must be formatted according to campus guidelines for dissertation manuscripts. The student must also give an oral presentation of the dissertation that is open to the campus community, and the presentation may be followed by a private session of questions and discussion with the advisory committee.

Ph.D. Program Sample Plan of Study

(credit hours shown in parentheses)

Year 1  
    Fall       MIST 251 (1), MIST 252 (4), Elective I (4), MIST 295 (3)
    Spring   MIST 251 (1), MIST 253 (4), Methods I (4), MIST 295 (3), 1st-year Project
Year 2  
    Fall       MIST 251 (1), Elective II (4), MIST 295 (7)
    Spring   MIST 251 (1), Methods II (4), MIST 295 (7), 2nd-year Project
Year 3  
    Fall       MIST 251 (1), MIST 295 (11), Integrative Review Paper
    Spring   MIST 251 (1), MIST 295 (11), Qualifying Exam
Year 4  
    Fall       MIST 251 (1), MIST 295 (11), Technical Seminar
    Spring   MIST 251 (1), MIST 295 (11), Dissertation Defense

M.S. Program Sample Plan of Study

Year 1
    Fall        MIST 251 (1), MIST 252 (4), Methods I (4), Elective I (4)
    Spring    MIST 251 (1), MIST 253 (4), Methods II (4), Elective II (4), thesis or exam