SES Program and Resources



Take 3 of the 4 following classes.

  • 6.7700 Fundamentals of Probability (formerly 6.436)
  • 18.6501 Fundamentals of Statistics or
    18.655 Mathematical Statistics or
    IDS.160 Mathematical Statistics (for students with previous background in statistics) or
    IDS.131 Statistics, Computation and Applications
  • 14.121 & 14.122 Microeconomic Theory I & II or
    14.320 Econometric Data Science or
    14.386 New Econometric Methods or
    14.388 Inference on Casual and Structural parameters using ML and AI or
    17.802 Quantitative Research Methods II: Causal Inference
  • 21A.809 Designing Empirical Research in the Social Sciences or
    21A.819 Ethnographic Research Methods or
    17.850 Political Science Scope and Methods or
    SOCIOL 2205 Sociological Research Design

Information, Systems, and Decision Science

5 classes. These will be rigorous classes in the areas of probabilistic modeling, statistics, optimization, and systems/control theory. Classes used to satisfy the core can be counted toward this requirement. However, the remaining classes should be at a more-advanced level. One subject must involve the statistical processing of data. One subject must have substantial mathematical content (as defined by the IDSS-GPC). Two classes must belong to a sequence that provides increasing depth on a particular topic.

Social Science

4 classes. A student proposes a coherent and rigorous program-of-study in the social sciences that provides the background necessary for the student’s research. Classes used to satisfy the core can be counted toward this requirement. However, the remaining courses should be at a more-advanced level. Three classes must form a coherent collection that builds depth in a particular social science focus area.

Problem Domain

2 classes. A student takes a total of two classes in the application domain of their research. One class may also be counted toward the social science requirement. Another class may be satisfied by an internship or independent study in which the student is graded on their performance of hands-on work in a particular domain.


1 class. A student serves as a teaching assistant for one subject and receives credit for 12 units of IDS.960 Teaching in Data, Systems, and Society.

Qualifying Exams

A student must pass both written and oral qualifying exams.

The written qualifying exams are completed through strong performance in three core subjects from different areas. This is normally accomplished by the end of a student’s third semester in the program. Subjects must be at least 9 units (e.g., 14.121 and 14.122 only count if taken together).

Between the student’s fourth and sixth semester in the program, and after the student passes the written qualifying exams, they take the oral qualifying exam. The oral qualifying exam includes a research presentation by the student. To pass the oral qualifying exam a student must demonstrate the ability to undertake doctoral-level research and to handle questions about that research, including extensions to related problems.


Classes and qualifying exams are the necessary preliminaries to the SES doctoral program. However, immersion in research is the centerpiece of the SES program, and it is something doctoral students engage with from their very first semester. By their third year in the program, and as they prepare for the oral qualifying exam, a student’s focus will shift predominantly to research. Their research progress will be marked in a number of ways, including by a thesis proposal (typically in their fourth year), and a dissertation defense (typically in their fifth year). Publications in peer reviewed journals are also expected.

Explore examples of SES research in News and Graduates.

Additional Resources

Next section > SES Funding

MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307