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Doctor of Philosophy Program

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This brochure, together with the Graduate School Handbook, contains a complete description of requirements and procedures for the Ph.D. degree in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). These requirements and the procedures for obtaining the degree are determined in part by the Graduate School, and in part by the Department. Petitions for exception to these requirements should be channeled through the departmental Graduate Studies Committee.

The material in this brochure is oriented primarily for students pursuing the Ph.D. program. Such students must be regular students, admitted to the CSE Department, and conform to Graduate School regulations; special students and students enrolled in Continuing Education must first remove any restrictions. Removal of restrictions is regulated by the Graduate School and the Departmental Graduate Studies Committee.

These procedures and requirements are subject to revision. Applicants should consult material periodically issued by the Graduate School and the Department, their advisor, or the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee for any changes or interpretation of policy. The Graduate School also maintains a counseling office for students enrolled in Ph.D. Programs.

Program for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in CSE

The Doctoral degree is awarded for superior academic and research performance. Consequently, only students who have demonstrated outstanding scholastic ability and research potential will be admitted to the academic and research program leading to the Doctorate. The program of study for the Ph.D. is to be developed by the student in close consultation with his/her academic advisor. Students are encouraged to work out their plan of study as soon as possible so that all requirements may be met.

1 Advisors

Each student entering the graduate program in Computer Science and Engineering is initially assigned a tentative academic advisor. Students' degree programs and all courses taken by students must be approved by their academic advisors. Students should consult their advisors as soon as possible after arriving on campus, and periodically thereafter until, upon developing a specific specialty interest, the student chooses a permanent advisor in that specialty area. This choice should be made as soon as practical.

The assignment of students to research advisors is performed by mutual agreement of the student and faculty member. The intent of this explicit agreement is to make students aware of the importance of early interactions with faculty in topic areas of mutual interest. Students are free to change their advisors when mutual research interests change. A "Change of Advisor" form is available in the CSE Office.

The Graduate School rules require that advisors for students in the Ph.D. program be Category P Graduate Faculty members, but it is permissible to have a Category M Graduate Faculty member as a co-advisor. The co-advisor may be the functioning advisor. In such cases, a Category P person should be included as an integral member of the research team early in the student's research, so there is a meaningful collaboration involving the Category M functioning advisor and the Category P advisor. The Graduate School requires that the Category P advisor sign the examination and thesis approval forms.

2 Stages of Study

The requirements for a Doctoral degree in Computer Science and Engineering are determined in part by general Graduate School requirements for a Ph.D. degree, and in part by specific requirements stipulated by the department. The student should refer to the Graduate School Handbook for residency requirements, regulations concerning transfer of credit from other institutions, and for credit-hour requirements stipulated by the Graduate School.

2.1 Preliminary Requirement:

Prior to entering the first stage of study toward the Doctoral degree, a student has to successfully complete the Ph.D qualifying process (see Section 3).

2.2 First Stage:

During the first stage of Ph.D. study, the student is required to undertake a program of study in a major area and two minor areas, and to formulate a dissertation proposal. At least 10 cr-hrs of coursework in the major area and 6 cr-hrs in each of the minor areas are required. This coursework cannot include graduate core classes that were used for the qualifying process. All of the 10 credits towards the major and at least 5 credits for each minor need to be from graded graduate classes. The student's research advisor serves as the advisor for the program of study in the major area. The student, in consultation with the research advisor, chooses the two minor areas of study and the minor area advisors. The courses comprising the program of study for the minor areas must be approved by the minor area advisors.

The first stage of study toward a Doctoral degree is completed when the student has received credit for a total of 60 cr-hrs of graduate work in a program prescribed by the student's advisor and has passed the Candidacy Examination (see Section 5) to be formally admitted to candidacy. At least three months prior to taking the Candidacy Examination, a proposed schedule of study should be submitted to the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee for consideration.

2.3 Second Stage:

The second stage is devoted primarily to research and seminars, the preparation of the dissertation, and the Final Examination (see Section 6). The Final Examination is oral and deals intensively with the portion of the candidate's field of specialization in which the dissertation falls, though it need not be confined exclusively to the subject matter of the dissertation.

3 The Qualifying Process

The Qualifying Examination is administered Autumn and Spring semesters. Satisfactory performance on this examination, or qualification through the acceleration option listed below, is necessary for admission to the first stage of study towards the Doctoral degree.

The Qualifying Examination is based on the material covered in the graduate core areas. Specifically, students need to take the exam in algorithms, either computability and unsolvability or programming languages, and either operating systems or computer architecture. Students who have previously studied this material are not required to take the corresponding core courses(s) in the CSE Department; they need only demonstrate their competence in these areas by satisfactory performance on the Qualifying Examination.

At the time students take the examination, they must have been admitted to the CSE Department and not be on probation. A student whose enrollment eligibility has been deactivated by the Graduate School may, if subsequently reactivated, be required to re-take the Qualifying Examination.

A student who fails the qualifying examination for the first time must retake the examination the next semester that it is offered. Students must petition the Graduate Studies Committee to retake the examination in any other semester or to retake the examination more than once.

Acceleration Option for Qualifying Exams: Students who complete the three graduate core classes (algorithms, either computability and unsolvability or programming languages, and either operating systems or computer architecture) in their first two semesters with a GPA of 3.6 or better will be automatically granted a "conditional pass" in the qualifying examination. These students will need to demonstrate substantial research progress during their second year spring evaluation to remove the condition. One clear mechanism for demonstrating such progress is to have an accepted or submitted paper as a significant contributor, working on a project with their advisor.

4 The Candidacy Examination

This section further specifies the procedure set forth for the Candidacy Examination in the Graduate School Handbook. That section must be read in conjunction with this document for a full understanding of the rules governing the Candidacy Examination. The Candidacy Examination is a very important means by which the faculty can ensure that the prospective student has the necessary breadth and depth in chosen areas within computer and information science and cognate areas. The student is expected to demonstrate superior knowledge in his or her chosen areas.

To be eligible for the Candidacy Examination, the student is required to select one major area and two minor areas. The student may choose any of the pre-defined major or minor areas specified in the "Guidelines for the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam Major/Minor Areas". To demonstrate mastery in the two minor areas, the student is required to obtain a GPA of 3.3 or higher in the letter-graded courses taken in each of two minor areas. To demonstrate mastery in the major area, the student is expected to prepare a dissertation proposal. The student and the student's major advisor may suggest two examiners who are competent in the student's major area. In the Candidacy Examination, the student will be examined in written and oral format over the major area and the dissertation proposal.

4.1 Proposed Schedule of Study

The student is required to submit to the Graduate Studies Committee a proposed schedule of study for the candidacy examination at least three months in advance of the examination. The schedule should include the choice of major and minor areas, counter-signed by the student's major and two minor advisors, and the student's preliminary dissertation proposal, counter-signed by the student's major advisor and two other faculty members who will serve on the Candidacy Examination Committee. The schedule must also indicate those courses and individual studies already accomplished in each of the major and minor areas, together with additional work planned at this time. The Graduate School must be notified before the written portion of the Candidacy Examination begins.

4.2 Declaration of Intent to Take the Candidacy Examination

After the student's proposed schedule of study has been approved by the Graduate Studies Committee, the Candidacy Examination should be scheduled in consultation with the examination committee. At least 2 weeks prior to the scheduled oral examination date, the student should declare formally the intent to take the oral portion of the Candidacy Examination. This Declaration of Intent form must be signed by the student's major advisor and the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee before transmittal to the Dean of the Graduate School for approval.

4.3 The Candidacy Examination Committee

The Examination Committee consists of at least four faculty members, including the student's major advisor, two other members of the Graduate Faculty approved by the Graduate Studies Committee for this function, and a departmental representative appointed by the Graduate Studies Committee.

4.4 Examination Format

The Candidacy Examination consists of two parts, namely, a written examination and an oral examination. The precise times and places of the administration of the Examination will be determined by the Examination Committee, but the entire Examination must be administered within a three-month period.

4.4.1 Written Examination:

The written portion is administered and evaluated by the student's Advisory Committee. It is conducted in the following steps.

a. The student prepares a written dissertation proposal. The proposal should be concise and precise, and should include the following:

  • Title and abstract
  • Significance of the problem
  • Scope and objectives of the research
  • Methodology
  • Expected results and conclusions
  • Expected contributions to the state of art/literature

    Students are encouraged to include in the written portion any preliminary results that support the dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal must be submitted to all members of the Advisory Committee.

b. On receiving the dissertation proposal, the major advisor compiles a written examination for the student, taking into consideration questions posed by and comments received from the rest of the Advisory Committee.

The written examination consists of two parts. The first part asks questions related to the submitted dissertation proposal. The purpose of this part is to examine whether the dissertation proposal has substantial depth to lead to quality research and whether the student is well prepared to conduct the research outlined in the proposal. The student may be asked to revise the proposal in accordance with the suggestions received. The second part examines the student on his overall breadth and depth in his major area.

c. On receiving the written examination, the student submits written answers to the questions (and possibly a revised dissertation proposal, if so requested) to all members of the Advisory Committee.

d. The Advisory Committee evaluates the written portion including the dissertation proposal. If, based on the written portion, the Advisory Committee members see no possibility for a satisfactory overall performance on the Candidacy Examination, the Advisory Committee records an "unsatisfactory" on the Candidacy Examination report form and returns it to the Graduate School.

4.4.2 Oral Examination:

The oral candidacy examination shall last approximately two hours. In addition, a 30-45 minute presentation on the proposed research must be made prior to the oral examination, but after the candidate has made their written proposal available to the committee. As per Graduate School rules, the two hour oral examination is strictly an examination and may not include a formal oral presentation of the dissertation proposal. During this oral examination, the student should be prepared to defend his or her dissertation proposal and to answer questions on a range of topics including the area of specialization and general fundamentals of computer science. Examinees may use prepared slides in answering questions about their proposal. A passing grade requires a unanimous vote of the examination committee.

Notice of the time and place of both the oral portion of the Candidacy Examination and the presentation prior to that will be given to all faculty of the Department.

4.5 Reporting of Results

The student is considered to have passed the Candidacy Examination only when the decision of the Examination Committee is unanimous. The student's performance is evaluated and reported to the Graduate School as "satisfactory" (implying admission to candidacy) or "unsatisfactory" (implying failure and denial of admission to candidacy). When a failure is reported, the student may be permitted to take a second examination if recommended by the Candidacy Examination Committee. No student will be permitted to take the Candidacy Examination more than twice. The advisor is also reminded that a copy of the report to the Graduate School must be sent to the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee for the Departmental record and student file.

5 Reading Committee and Final Examination for Dissertation

After a student has passed the Candidacy Examination, the advisor of the student will nominate a Dissertation Committee to consider the merit of the dissertation. The members of the Dissertation Committee should be kept informed of the progress of research, thus giving them opportunities to make constructive suggestions for improvement of the dissertation.

The Dissertation Committee will consist of the advisor and two other members of the Graduate Faculty approved by the Graduate Studies Committee for this function. Normally, the Dissertation Committee must be approved no later than in one semester in advance of the anticipated graduation date. It is suggested that the Dissertation Committee be chosen from the committee which administered the Candidacy Examination.

The Graduate School should be consulted on the various deadlines for submission of the dissertation as well as for regulations governing the mechanics of its preparation. The Graduate School is to be informed of the Dissertation Committee members and the subject of the dissertation in the semester of expected graduation.

The Final Oral Examination is held after the approval of the draft of the dissertation by the Dissertation Committee. Generally, the Dissertation Committee and a Graduate School representative will constitute the Final Oral Examination Committee. The examination will be oral and will deal intensively with the portion of the candidate's field of specialization, though it need not be confined exclusively to the subject matter of the student's dissertation. A unanimous vote of the Final Oral Examination Committee is required for the student to pass.

It is expected that the dissertation be made available, and an announcement of the examination be made, at least one week in advance of the Final Oral Examination. The examination is open to the general public. Non-committee members should be permitted to ask questions. It is expected that the Chair of the Committee will control the ordering and kind of questions asked to ensure fairness and reasonable progress of the examination and to ensure that members of the Examination Committee have sufficient opportunity to question the candidate.

6 The Direct Ph. D. Track

Students intending to pursue study towards a Ph.D. may apply directly to the Direct Ph.D. track. In the Direct Ph.D. track, students focus on research and study in selected areas of concentration from the beginning of their graduate studies, thereby facilitating more rapid progress towards the degree.

n addition to the standard requirements of the Ph.D. program, as detailed earlier, Direct Ph.D. students are required to satisfy the following progress requirements:

  • Take at least 12 cr-hrs each semester, commencing from the second semester.
  • Complete all the core courses during the first year of study and either qualify through the acceleration option, or appear for the Qualifying Examination by the first semester of the second year in the program. Students unable to meet this requirement should petition in advance to the graduate studies chair, with support of their advisor.
  • Take at least 3 research cr-hrs in the form of independent study, research seminars ("Advanced Topics in ..."), or thesis research every semester, commencing from their second semester.
  • Identify their research advisor and the major/minor areas of study by the end of the Spring semester of their first year (or their second semester, if they enter the Direct Ph.D. track in a different term). Students may change research advisor or major/minor areas, with the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee.

Students in the Direct Ph.D. track can obtain a Masters automatically by passing the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination. A student in the Direct Ph.D. track is not eligible to take the Department's Masters Comprehensive Examination or to apply for a Masters by writing and defending a Masters thesis. However, a student who is unable to make adequate progress in the Direct Ph.D. track after two years in the program may petition the Graduate Studies Committee to transfer to the Research (Thesis) Track of the Masters program.