Digital Media PhD

Major: Digital Media
Degree Awarded: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Calendar Type: Quarter
Minimum Required Credits: 90.0 (post-bachelor's) or 45.0 (post-master's)
Co-op OptionNone
Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code: 11.0801
Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code: 15-1134

About the Program

As a natural extension of the Animation and Visual Effects, Game Design and Production, Interactive Digital Media, and Virtual Reality and Immersive Media undergraduate programs, both the PhD program challenges students to push beyond what is known and into what is possible.

Students who will excel are those who:

  • Have graduated with significant skills in 3-D modeling and animation, game design, or interactive digital media and could immediately find a job in user experience (UX) design, game design, virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR), or animation—but want more. Students will build upon those skills and develop a critical understanding of how the industry evolves, so they can forecast the future and prepare employers for what’s coming.
  • Are a scholar with significant knowledge in the field of digital media and want both to advance that knowledge and to apply it to research problems across disciplines. Students can expand their universe of possibilities in areas like gaming, animation, virtual and augmented reality, or immersive media in general. 

This program is STEM designated.

In this interdisciplinary doctoral program, students will focus on translational research with emphasis on an iterative and design-based research philosophy. They will study the application of digital media towards solving research problems in disciplines such as engineering, education, cultural heritage, health, and business.

Additional Information

For more information, visit Drexel's Graduate Studies in Digital Media webpage.

Admission Requirements

For more information on requirements and how to apply, visit Graduate Admissions at Drexel University.

Degree Requirements

Program Requirements Overview

Students applying for admission into the Digital Media PhD program are either post-baccalaureate or post-master's students. Those who are post-master's are required to take a minimum of 45.0 credits toward their PhD degree (Research Core). Post-baccalaureate PhD students are required to take a minimum of 90.0 credits (45.0 credits Digital Media Core, and 45.0 credits Research Core).

Prerequisite Courses

Post-baccalaureate PhD students without adequate background in digital media are required to take the following prerequisite courses, which are offered fall term of the first year of enrollment. These courses do not count towards the Digital Media degree requirements.

Program Requirements

Bootcamps *
DIGM 505Design and Interactivity Bootcamp3.0
DIGM 506Animation and Game Design Bootcamp3.0
Total Credits6.0

Required for students without DIGM background

Digital Media Core Courses

Digital Media MS Core
DIGM 501New Media: History, Theory and Methods3.0
DIGM 510Designing for Interactivity3.0
DIGM 511Research Methods for Digital Media3.0
Digital Media Specialization18.0
Choose 18.0 credits from the following courses:
Game Design and Development
Game Design I
Game Design II
Game Development Foundations
Serious Games
Experimental Games
Game Design from the Player’s Perspective
Animation and Immersive Media
Spatial Data Capture
Animation I
Animation II
Organic Modeling
Advanced Concepts and Applications in Interactive 3D Environments
Immersive World Building
UX Design and Digital Cultural Heritage
Digital Cultural Heritage
Interactivity I
Interactivity II
General Digital Media
Digital Media Skills Intensive
Independent Study in Digital Media
Independent Study in Digital Media
Special Topics in Digital Media
Special Topics in Digital Media
New Media Project **6.0
New Media Project
Thesis Development3.0
Thesis Development
Directed Study9.0
Total Credits45.0

 Course is taken 2 times.

Research Core Courses

Digital Media Research Core
DIGM 701Advanced New Media Topics3.0
DIGM 710Digital Media Research Methods I3.0
DIGM 711Digital Media Research Methods II3.0
DIGM 810Advanced Topics in Digital Media Research3.0
DIGM 850Public Venue Seminar3.0
DIGM 851Publication and Presentation3.0
Digital Media Ph.D. Seminar
Directed Research18.0
Digital Media Research
Independent Study in Digital Media
Independent Study in Digital Media
Independent Study in Digital Media
Independent Study in Digital Media
Special Topics in Digital Media
Special Topics in Digital Media
Special Topics in Digital Media
Special Topics in Digital Media
Total Credits45.0

In addition to the course requirements, PhD students must progress through a series of steps leading to the PhD dissertation:

  • Doctoral candidacy exam
  • Dissertation proposal
  • Written dissertation and public dissertation defense

Dissertation Advisor

Every PhD student has to identify a dissertation advisor no later than the second term in the program. Post-master's students are expected to identify an advisor as soon as possible after joining the program or even before they are formally in the program. The expectation is that post-master's students are academically mature and have already focused on a research area and contacted potential advisors prior to their arrival. Dissertation advisors are not restricted to Digital Media faculty, but have to be approved by the Department of Digital Media under observation of college and university rules and regulations.

Directed Research Electives

Digital Media PhD students are required to take 18.0 PhD-level credits of directed research electives which have to be approved in advance by the dissertation advisor. It is expected that students take at least 9.0 of these elective credits from other Drexel colleges outside the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design in areas closely related to their respective dissertation projects. No more than 12.0 of the elective research credits can be independent study credits.

Doctoral Candidacy Committee

The Department of Digital Media has to establish a Doctoral Candidacy Committee conforming to established university and college rules for dissertation/candidacy committee membership. The purpose of this committee is to conduct and evaluate doctoral candidacy examinations.

Doctoral Candidacy Exam

The Doctoral Candidacy Exam consists of a preliminary proposal prepared by the student outlining the dissertation research plan with an oral defense before the Doctoral Candidacy Committee. A student may schedule the preliminary proposal portion whenever they and their advisor decide they are ready but no later than the end of the fall term of the second year of study.

To be considered a doctoral candidate by the university, a student must have both passed the Doctoral Candidacy Exam and completed all 45.0 credits of master-level coursework post-baccalaureate or 15.0 credits coursework post-master's. Once the student has reached doctoral candidate status, the Department of Digital Media will review their progress annually.

Dissertation Committee

Within six months of successful completion of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination, the Department of Digital Media has to appoint the student’s Dissertation Committee based on a proposal submitted by the student and the dissertation advisor. The committee has to conform to established university and college rules for dissertation/candidacy committee membership. The committee must have at least five members, three of whom must be tenure-track faculty at Drexel. At least one member must be from outside the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. In addition, at least three members must be Digital Media core faculty. The chair of the committee must be a Digital Media core faculty member who is not also the dissertation advisor of the student.

Once the Dissertation Committee is established, it will continue on throughout the student's progress toward the PhD degree. The committee's function is to guide the research and to determine the student's general knowledge of the area, as well as the student's breadth and depth of the specific topic. The committee will also consider the scientific feasibility of the proposed research.

Dissertation Proposal

The Dissertation Proposal consists of a written proposal of the dissertation research, a public presentation, and oral proposal defense before the Dissertation Committee. To ensure that students are progressing towards completion of the PhD in a timely fashion, the proposal defense must take place no later than the end of the second year of study. A formal request for an extension of this deadline must be approved following a review of the student's progress.

The purpose of the Dissertation Proposal is to determine if the PhD student is able to initiate, organize, write, and defend a scientific idea which will lead to a PhD dissertation. The presentation will be based on the formal written proposal submitted to the Dissertation Committee at least three weeks before the presentation.

Students who elect to complete the MS in Digital Media alongside the Digital Media PhD degree can submit a revised version of the Dissertation Proposal as a Master Thesis for the partial fulfillment of the MS in Digital Media degree.

Dissertation Defense

The written dissertation will be submitted with the dissertation advisor's approval to the Dissertation Committee. A title and abstract of the dissertation must also be provided to the Digital Media office at least three weeks prior to the defense to allow the time and place of the defense to be publicized. The PhD candidate's public defense consists of their presentation of dissertation research followed by an examination by the Dissertation Committee.

Sample Plan of Study

Post-Baccalaureate PhD Students

Students without adequate background in digital media must complete two prerequisite courses which are offered during the fall term of the first year of enrollment: DIGM 505  Design and Interactivity and DIGM 506  Animation and Game Design.

First Year
DIGM 5013.0DIGM 5103.0DIGM 5113.0DIGM 8503.0
DIGM 5053.0DIGM 5403.0DIGM 5403.0Directed Elective6.0
DIGM 5063.0Digital Media Specialization3.0Digital Media Specialization3.0 
 9 9 9 9
Second Year
DIGM 6801.0DIGM 6801.0DIGM 6801.0DIGM 7013.0
DIGM 7103.0DIGM 7113.0Directed Elective3.0DIGM 9981.0
Digital Media Specialization5.0Digital Media Specialization4.0 Digital Media Specialization3.0
 9 8 4 7
Third Year
DIGM 9981.0DIGM 9981.0DIGM 8513.0DIGM 9981.0
Directed Research Elective3.0Directed Research Elective3.0DIGM 9981.0Directed Research Elective3.0
  Directed Research Elective3.0 
 4 4 7 4
Fourth Year
DIGM 8103.0DIGM 9981.0DIGM 9981.0DIGM 9981.0
DIGM 9981.0Directed Research Elective3.0Directed Research Elective3.0 
 4 4 4 1
Total Credits 96

Sample Plan of Study for Post-Master Ph.D. Students

First Year
DIGM 7103.0DIGM 7113.0DIGM 9981.0DIGM 7013.0
DIGM 9981.0DIGM 9981.0Directed Research Elective3.0 
 4 4 4 3
Second Year
DIGM 9981.0DIGM 9981.0DIGM 8513.0DIGM 8503.0
Directed Research Elective3.0Directed Research Elective3.0DIGM 9981.0Directed Research Elective3.0
  Directed Research Elective3.0 
 4 4 7 6
Third Year
DIGM 8103.0DIGM 9981.0DIGM 9981.0 
DIGM 9981.0Directed Research Elective3.0  
 4 4 1 
Total Credits 45


The Digital Media program operates several labs including a state-of-the-art combined green screen/motion capture studio as well as 2.5 ton, 3-degree-of-freedom motion platform. All labs and classrooms are equipped with powerful Dell and Boxx Technologies Workstations running Windows and Unix operating systems and Mac computers running OS X. Software includes a host of Adobe products and Autodesk 3ds Max and Combustion; Alias Maya; Softimage XSI and Behavior, Pixar RenderMan Pro Server along with RenderMan Artist Tools for Maya and RenderMan for Maya; Pixologic Z-Brush; Apple Shake; MotionBuilder; GarageGames; NextLimit RealFlow, and SideEffect's Houdini.

Digital Media Faculty

Alexus Aiken, MS (Drexel University). Instructor. 3D Animation and real-time collaborative animation.
Milady S. Bridges, BA (Rutgers University) Program Director, Animation and Visual Effects. Assistant Teaching Professor. Animation and visual effects technical artist
Paul Diefenbach, PhD (University of Pennsylvani). Associate Professor. Game development, real-time rendering
Troy Finamore, MS (Drexel University) Program Director, User Experience & Interaction Design. Teaching Professor. User interface design, interaction design, user experience design, and user research.
Aroutis N. Foster, PhD (Michigan State University) Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Studies. Professor. Educational psychology and educational technology, especially the following: Motivation; Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK); Immersive Interactive Digital Environments (simulation, games, virtual realities.
Ari Gass, PhD (University of Chicago). Assistant Professor. Feminist and queer theory in computational media; interactive, participatory performance art.
Nick Jushchyshyn, MFA (Academy of Art University) Program Director, VR & Immersive Media. Associate Professor. Visual effects, digital media and animation.
Frank J. Lee, PhD (Carnegie Mellon University). Professor. Human-computer interaction; cognitive engineering and science, intelligent software agents for games and education.
Robert Lloyd, MFA (Temple University) Program Director, Game Design & Production. Associate Teaching Professor. Game development, themed entertainment and motion simulation
David Mauriello, BA (Lafayette College). Assistant Professor. 3D modeling and animation.
Glen Muschio, PhD (Temple University). Associate Professor. Digital media, society, communication
Santiago Ontañón, PhD (University of Barcelona). Associate Professor. Game AI, computer games, artificial intelligence, machine learning, case-based reasoning
Emil Polyak, MDCArtDes (University of New South Wales) Program Director, Master's in Digital Media. Associate Professor. Cross-disciplinary art and design
Jervis Thompson, BS (Drexel University). Teaching Professor. Digital media, interactive multimedia
Michael Wagner, PhD (Vienna University of Technology) Program Director, Digital Media. Professor. Educational use of digital media and computer games.

Emeritus Faculty

Theo Artz, BFA (Tyler School of Art, Temple University). Associate Professor. Digital media.