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PhD Requirements

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Ph.D. Requirements

A candidate for the doctoral degree in computer science must meet all of the following requirements in addition to the University requirements outlined in the Graduate Catalog.

  1. Pass the Ph.D. qualifying process that consists of breadth oral examination, research ability oral examination, and advanced course requirement.
  2. a minimum of 72 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree and 48 credit hours beyond the master’s degree.
  3. Pass the candidacy examination.
  4. Attend at least 20 colloquiums as detailed below.
  5. Successfully defend the dissertation.

The above must be completed within eight years after admission to the Ph.D. program. Note that students with a degree in a discipline outside of computer science will be required to take prerequisite undergraduate courses that will not be counted towards the 72 credit hours requirement.

Advisor. Upon admission to the Ph.D. program, a faculty advisor will be assigned to the student for general guidance. The student, however, is expected to find a dissertation advisor by the time he or she completes the qualifying process.


Course Requirements. Students with a master’s degree in computer science must complete course work as specified below:

  1. A minimum of 24 hours of post-master's coursework at 800-level.
  2. Complete the dissertation work of 24 credit hours or more.
  3. A maximum of six hours may be transferred into the Ph.D. program from post-master’s coursework done elsewhere.

Students with an undergraduate degree in computer science must complete course work as specified below:

  1. 12 credit hours of core coursework approved by the GPD from a list of courses such as: CS 550, 555, 517, 600, and 665
  2. A minimum of 36 credit hours of course work at 600-level or above of which at least 24 credit hours must be at 800-level.
  3. Complete the dissertation work of 24 credit hours or more.

Students with an undergraduate or master’s degree in a discipline outside computer science must complete the 72 credit hours of course work as specified above. Additionally, these students need to demonstrate proficiency in Problem Solving & Programming, Introduction to Computer Architecture, Advanced Data Structures and Algorithms, Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science, and Operating Systems at an undergraduate level.

Research Guidance Committee. A research guidance committee will be formed after the student has passed the breadth oral examination of the PhD qualifying process.

  • The duties of a research guidance committee are:
    1. To advise the student on the course preparation, in
      particular to help draw a plan of study
    2. To help define the research area of the student.
    3. To prepare and administer the candidacy exam.
  • A research guidance committee is formed according to the following procedure:
    1. The student finds a regular faculty advisor. Note that a regular faculty advisor can be different from the temporary faculty advisor assigned to the student upon admission to the Ph.D. program.
    2. The advisor selects the members of the research guidance committee in cooperation with the student and the graduate studies committee.
    3. The research guidance committee consists of the advisor, at least three full time Computer Science faculty members and at least one full time faculty member outside of the Computer Science department. All members should hold the rank of assistant professor or higher. All the committee members must be approved graduate faculty as defined in the university faculty handbook. The current research interests of the computer science members of the committee should be related to the research goals of the student.
    4. Additional members may be appointed to the committee.
    5. The committee must fill a Ph.D. Guidance Committee Form (University Form 13). This form is submitted to the graduate program director by the graduate studies committee and to the dean of the school for approval.


Candidacy Examination. Upon completing coursework, before becoming heavily involved in dissertation work, and no later than three years after acceptance into the Ph.D. program (preferably during the first 18 months after admission into the program), the student must pass a candidacy examination. This examination is designed to test the student’s knowledge of background material related to the dissertation topic and to determine if the student is ready to proceed with the dissertation research. At least one week before the scheduled examination time, the student must provide the examination committee with the following documents:

  • a comprehensive literature review on the dissertation topic (limited to 20 double-spaced pages, not including references) that should in particular discuss limitations of current approaches and open problems in the topic area
  • a dissertation research proposal (limited to 30 double-spaced pages, not including references), which describes
    • the research problem
    • how the problem relates to other work in the field (can reference the separate literature critique)
    • the research plan, including proposed tasks and a timeline for completion
    • expected contributions

During the examination, the student must give a presentation of the literature review (15 minutes) and a presentation of the dissertation proposal (30 minutes) to be followed by questions from the committee regarding either document (45 minutes).

The presentations of the literature review and the dissertation proposal are open to the public and will be publicized by the GPD at least one week in advance of the exam. Once the presentations have concluded and the audience has asked general questions, the audience will be excused. The examination by the committee will be held in private, but any graduate faculty are welcome to observe the exam.

The student and the student's advisor are responsible for finding a faculty member (not on the examination committee) to chair the exam. The exam chair is responsible for keeping the time limits and ensuring that the exam portion is private except for graduate faculty.

Dissertation Committee. After the candidacy exam has been passed and dissertation topic approved, the research guidance committee's responsibilities are completed. A new committee, the dissertation committee, is formed to supervise the dissertation research.

A dissertation committee is formed according to the following procedure:

  1. The faculty advisor selects the members of the dissertation committee in cooperation with the student and the graduate studies committee.
  2. The dissertation committee consists of the advisor, at least three full time Computer Science faculty members and at least one full time faculty member outside of the Computer Science department. All these members should hold the rank of assistant professor or higher. All the committee members must be approved graduate faculty as defined in the university faculty handbook. The current research interests of the computer science members of the committee should be related to the research goals of the student.
  3. Additional members may be appointed to the committee.
  4. The committee must fill a Ph.D. Dissertation Committee Form (University Form 16). This form is submitted to the graduate program director by the graduate studies committee and to the dean of the school for approval.
  5. The associate vice president for research and graduate studies is an ex-officio member of all dissertation committees.


Dissertation. A minimum of 24 credit hours of dissertation work is required. The work must represent an achievement in research and must be a significant contribution in the field. Students are required to publish (or have in the revision process) at least one paper in a refereed journal or refereed conference proceedings based on their dissertation work.


Dissertation Defense. The examination will be oral and the examination committee must have the completed dissertation at least two weeks before the examination date. In addition to the examination, students are required to give a public oral presentation on their dissertation results.


Time Requirement. Ph.D. students should normally be full time. Students who wish to pursue their study on a part-time basis must spend at least two semesters on campus or at an off-campus facility engaged in full-time graduate study. A full-time student can be expected to satisfy all the Ph.D. requirements in three to four years when entering with an M.S. degree or four to five years with a baccalaureate degree. No student (full-time or part-time) will be allowed to study for the Ph.D. degree beyond eight years from the date of admission into the program.

For example, an aggressive timeline for a full-time student entering with an M.S. degree and no prerequisite requirements may look like this.

End of 6 months:	Pass the breadth oral examination
End of 12 months:	Pass the research ability examination
End of 18 months:	Successfully complete the coursework requirements
End of 18 months:	Pass the candidacy examination
End of 36 months:	Successfully defend the dissertation

For the same student, a normal timeline may look like this.

End of 6 months:	Pass the breadth oral examination
End of 12 months:	Pass the research ability examination
End of 18 months:	Successfully complete the coursework requirements
End of 24 months:	Pass the candidacy examination
End of 48 months:	Successfully defend the dissertation


Colloquium. Students are expected to actively participate in the colloquium activities of their research area for at least four semesters.

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