PhD, MS Positions at UC Santa Cruz

Computational Media is all around us — video games, interactive narrative, dynamic visualizations, smartphone apps, virtual reality, social media, personality-rich robots, individualized health coaching, and more. To create these kinds of media, to deeply understand them, to push them forward in novel directions, requires a new kind of interdisciplinary thinker and maker. The new graduate degrees in Computational Media at UC Santa Cruz are designed with this person in mind.

The M.S. is designed to help you build on your existing strengths and move into new areas. Maybe you’re a computer scientist or educator who wants to develop a deeper understanding of game design or human-computer interaction. Maybe you’re a storyteller or digital humanist who could explore new territories, but would need deeper technical skills. Maybe you have a background in health care or community organizing and want to find ways to engage the possibilities of computational media to assist and empower people. Maybe you’re already doing interdisciplinary work, but want to develop a deeper understanding of the field and a stronger portfolio.

The Ph.D., on the other hand, is designed for those who are already actively working in computational media and want to develop new knowledge that will change what is possible and how we understand it. You might be doing pathbreaking work in generative game design, software or platform studies, interactive narrative or characters, VR or AR, assistive technology, games and emotion, social and embodied interaction, visualization, highly personalized media, human-robot interaction, or a wide range of other areas. You might be interested in a broad set of applications for computational media, from social support or personalized learning to emotional engagement or critical commentary. The Ph.D. will provide you with an interdisciplinary foundation and supportive research community for moving your work forward.

This year we are accepting applications for our third incoming cohort in these degrees. Our current students have backgrounds in areas such as game design, fashion, culinary arts, playwriting, artificial intelligence, computer graphics, software engineering, and human-computer interaction. They hail from around the world (e.g., India, Turkey, Spain, Israel, Russia, China) and across the U.S. (from Tennessee to California, Texas to New York). Their work has appeared in academic conferences (e.g., SIGGRAPH), on stage (e.g., NYC Fashion Week), in festivals (e.g., the Independent Games Festival), and in commercial venues (e.g., featured in Apple’s App Store). We’re excited to bring in another diverse cohort to join them.

The faculty of the Computational Media department are:

  • Nathan Altice: Media researcher with a focus on hardware platforms, humanities computing, and computer archaeology. Sound artist and musician. Author of I AM ERROR: The Nintendo Family Computer / Entertainment System Platform.
  • Angus Forbes: Researcher in information visualization and computer graphics, with additional interests in VR/AR, applied machine learning, computational aesthetics, new media arts, and creative coding.
  • Katherine Isbister: Human computer interaction and games researcher, focused on emotion and social connection. Builds and studies games and other playful experiences using novel interfaces (wearables, tangibles, biosensors, motion-tracking). Author of How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design.
  • Michael John: Game designer and developer with more than 20 years commercial experience. Co-author of ‘Cerny Method’ game development methodology. Interested in level design, game analytics, and alt-control input and output systems.
  • Sri Kurniawan: Works on designing interactive systems for social good with and for populations with special needs, including older persons, people with disabilities, those from low socioeconomic and educational backgrounds and those from third world countries. Her scientific pursuit is in how assistive, educational and therapy technology can be enjoyable, usable, and useful through combining design and functionality.
  • David Lee: Social computing researcher focused on designing new models for learning and community engagement. Combines interdisciplinary perspectives from human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence to define models, develop algorithms, and design systems that are deployed within UCSC and with nonprofit and government partners.
  • Michael Mateas: Works in the area of AI-based art and entertainment. Interested in how AI and simulation approaches open up new forms of computational media, including new approaches to interactive storytelling, new kinds of AI-assisted game and media-design tools, new kinds of games and interactive media using generative methods, and new forms of interactive art. Previous works include the interactive drama Facade, the social simulation game Prom Week and the vision-based visual art generator Tableau Machine.
  • Eddie Melcer: Human computer interaction and serious games researcher with a focus on alternative controller interfaces and educational games. Builds games that utilize alternative controller interfaces (such as tangibles, AR/VR, and DIY custom interfaces with arduino), and evaluates their efficacy on various outcomes such as learning. Has created and shown a number of festival games such as Bots & (Main)Frames, Veterinarian’s Hospital: Ruff Day, and SceneSampler.
  • Adam M. Smith: Applied AI researcher, using information retrieval, probabilistic logical inference, combinatorial search, knowledge representation and machine learning to loosen bottlenecks in exploratory game design and support high-assurance generative systems. Builds design automation tools with active designers on experimental game projects such as Refraction, DragonBox Adaptive, and RiddleBooks.
  • Noah Wardrip-Fruin: Works on digital fictions, games, and art (e.g., The Impermanence Agent, Screen, Prom Week) and new technologies and approaches for enabling and understanding them. Author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies.
  • Jim Whitehead: Generative methods researcher, focused on procedural generation of game levels and real world artifacts. Software engineering researcher focused on generative models of software evolution. Has a habit of starting game programs.

Other UC Santa Cruz faculty who collaborate with computational media faculty include: Michael Chemers, Robin Hunicke, Soraya Murray, Warren Sack, Elizabeth Swensen, Susana Ruiz, Leila Takayama, and Steve Whittaker.

UC Santa Cruz is a campus of the University of California with a longstanding and deep commitment to interdisciplinary knowledge and creation. Its main campus is located in a beautiful redwood forest, overlooking Monterey Bay. It also has a new campus, a short drive away, in the heart of Silicon Valley. (The Computational Media department offers a professional M.S. in Games & Playable Media at this location, and next year will start a new professional M.S. in Serious Games.) UCSC values diversity, with more than 40% first-generation college students, recent recognition as a Hispanic-serving institution, and consistent rankings among the the nation’s best campuses for GLBTI students. In the 2017-18 Times Higher Education world rankings, UC Santa Cruz was ranked third in research influence as measured by the number of times its faculty’s published work is cited by scholars around the world.

Questions can be sent to cm-grad@soe.ucsc.edu. Also, two archived video information sessions are available to view:

Applications for these programs close December 16th. The GRE general test is required. For more information, please visit:



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