PhD Degree Requirements

Ph.D. Course Requirements 

 All CS PhD students have a common set of requirements. Students must take at least 3 credits per semester, and a total of 48 credits : 

- 6 credits of the common core: 

  • CSCI 501 (Graduate Research Methods)
  • CSCI 532 (Advanced Algorithms) 

- 18 additional graduate course credits (these are graduate courses not including thesis, research, or seminar credits); of these, at least 9 must be CSCI courses, and all will be 500-level.  Graduate level courses taken while pursuing a MS may be applied towards PhD course requirements. 

- Students must participate in the 1-credit CS Research Seminar course throughout their tenure on campus, and must coordinate that Seminar for one semester. 


Once a CS PhD student has established a Primary Research Advisor and an Advisory Committee, the student will, in consultation with their committee, draft a written plan establishing intended coursework. Until that time, the student is advised in the programmatic requirements and in the selection of courses for the first semester by the Graduate Education Committee (GEC). The student is expected to complete all course requirements before taking the Comprehensive Exam. 


The student is required to complete at least 6 course credits per semester until the required 24 course credits have been completed. The student must earn a B or better in the required core courses. The student must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher for the curriculum approved by the Advisory Committee, or the student will be placed on academic probation. The student has one semester to raise the cumulative GPA to 3.0 or higher; failure to raise the GPA to a satisfactory level will result in removal from the graduate program. Grades of less than a C do not count toward degree, but still count in the cumulative GPA. 


Teaching Requirement 

 In addition to coursework, all PhD students must engage in substantive pedagogical activities for  at least one semester (typically as a Graduate Teaching Assistant), with the specific activities to be approved by the student’s advisory committee.  


Research advisor, and Advisory committee 

 Students will usually be admitted into the program with a Research Advisor already identified. When this is not the case, the student must select (and be accepted by) a Research Advisor by the end of their first year in the program. Failure to connect to a Research Advisor will result in removal from the program.  


An Advisory Committee must also be selected by the end of the first year, and will consist of at least 5 voting members. In addition to the Research Advisor, the Advisory Committee must include at least two CS faculty members and at least one outside faculty member. 


Annual Updates 

 The student must meet with his or her Advisory Committee at least once every year.  

 Beginning in year 2, the student must complete and submit each January an annual evaluation that monitors progress in the graduate program. This evaluation must be approved by the Advisory Committee. Evidence of unsatisfactory progress for two years in succession or failure to address concerns of the Advisory Committee is grounds for academic probation or termination of the graduate assistantship.  


Research Proposals 

 By the end of the second year, the student must submit a preliminary dissertation research proposal (about five pages) to the Advisory Committee. This proposal is a description of the work completed, in progress, and to be completed for fulfilling the research component of the PhD degree. This preliminary research proposal should emphasize key questions and their context within the field at large, as well as the methodological approach towards answering them. 

 By the end of the third year, the student must submit the final dissertation research proposal (10 to 25 pages including references) to the Advisory Committee. This research proposal serves as an informal contract that defines what must be completed before the student can apply for graduation. The student must present and defend the research proposal in  a  public forum, with the Advisory Committee determining whether this defense was successful by majority vote.  Failure to successfully defend the proposal after a second attempt (to be made within one year of the first) will result in removal of the student from the doctoral degree program. 


Comprehensive Exam  

 All PhD students must complete a comprehensive exam designed by the student’s committee to test the student’s knowledge of both broad concepts in Computer Science and the specifics of their research. The Examination Committee will consist of the members of the student’s Advisory Committee, with the Research Advisor serving as Examination Chair. The comprehensive exam includes a written portion followed by an oral portion. After completing the written portion, the student receives feedback from the committee, optionally submits a revision to one or more components of the written exam, then schedules the oral portion. The student will pass the written and oral portions with no more than one negative vote from the Examination Committee. If the summative evaluation of the written and oral exams is not satisfactory, the student will meet individually with each Examination Committee member to discuss possible improvements. A second exam may be scheduled no sooner than one month and no later than three months after the completion of the first oral exam. An extension of the three-month limit may be made only by request of the Advisory Committee and by majority vote of approval from the CS faculty. Failure to pass the comprehensive examination after a second attempt will result in removal of the student from the doctoral degree program. Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam, and with the recommendation of the Examination Committee, the Examination Chair signs that the student has passed the Comprehensive Examination on the Graduation Application on file in the CS office. Once the student has successfully completed all required coursework and passed the Comprehensive Exam, that student will be awarded a Masters degree if such degree has not already been attained; a student failing the Comprehensive Exam may still be awarded a Masters degree prior to removal from the program, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee.  


Comprehensive exam: written questions 

Members of the Examination Committee will submit questions designed to probe both the depth and breadth of knowledge in the student’s field of study and cognate areas; the Examination Chair will coordinate the written exam, and all members of the Examination Committee will have the opportunity to review the questions to ensure the exam is relevant and fair to the student. The written exam will take place over two consecutive weeks; the intention is that each Examination Committee member’s question(s) should require at most two work days to sddress. Resources available to the student will be set by each member of the Examination Committee. Each answer is generally limited to 1500 words plus supporting references, unless otherwise specified by the Examination Committee. The Examination Committee will have two weeks to provide written feedback to the student, prior to scheduling the oral exam. In the case of significant committee concerns, the student may discuss with relevant committee member(s), and request to submit a revised response to one or more question within two weeks. 


Comprehensive exam: oral exam 

After completing the written exam, an oral exam will be scheduled within two weeks. The oral exam will consist of two parts, for a total of no more than three hours:  

  1. A brief response to the Examination Committee members’ written critiques of written answers (no longer than 30 minutes). 
  2. Examination of the depth and breadth of knowledge in the student’s field of study and cognate areas. The student can be questioned on any topic that relates to the written exam topics, completed coursework, or the student’s area of research.


Advancement to Candidacy 

 Once the student has successfully (i) completed all required coursework, (ii) passed the Comprehensive Exam, and (iii) successfully defended the Research Proposal, that student will advance to candidacy (i.e. they are now a PhD Candidate). This is typically completed by the end of year 3.  


Dissertation and Defense  

 The granting of a PhD requires demonstration of proficiency in the field of Computer Science, mastery of the current state of knowledge in the field of study, and a substantive new contribution to the body of either knowledge or methodology in the field of study. The student must demonstrate a rigorous comprehension of the principles and current techniques in the field of study, a thorough understanding of scientific data and error analyses, an appreciation of academic and scientific ethics, and a competence in scientific writing and presentation. 


The most common route to establishing the scientific competence of the candidate will be peer-reviewed publications. The typical expectation is that three published manuscripts result from the candidate’s research. However, the scientific productivity of the candidate can and should be measured against the culture of the specific domain the candidate is working within. Expectations for peer reviewed products will be set by the committee and agreed to by the candidate shortly after the comprehensive examination is passed, midway through year 3. In the case that a student receives a Masters in UM CS then transitions to the PhD program, the work associated with that Masters may be included in these considerations at the discretion of the Advisory Committee.  


The student must write and defend a doctoral dissertation, which describes original scientific research performed by the student and developed by the student with input from the Research Advisor.  The dissertation is often (but not always) composed primarily of content from the aforementioned peer reviewed publications. The Research Advisor along with the Advisory Committee determine the acceptable length and content of the dissertation. A draft of the dissertation must be provided to committee members at least two weeks prior to the date of the Defense. The Defense includes a public presentation roughly 1 hour in length, followed by a period of questions involving only the candidate and Committee members. The public presentation must be advertised through the CS calendar at least two weeks in advance. The Committee will have one week to decide if the student has passed the Defense. The student will pass with no more than one negative vote. In the event that the student does not pass, the Committee may evaluate the defense as “fail” or “reconsider”. If “fail”, no additional attempts are possible. If “reconsider”, a revised dissertation may be submitted, and second defense attempted, no sooner than one month and no later than six months; after a second attempted defense, no additional attempts are possible.