Skip to main content

Computer Science (PhD)


Degree Type
PHD - Doctor of Philosophy
Program Overview

Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science

The University’s basic requirements for the Ph.D. degree are outlined in the Graduate Degrees section of this bulletin. Department requirements are stated below. 

Guidelines for Reasonable Progress

  • By the end of the first academic year, you should align with a permanent adviser. Students are welcome to switch advisers, but a student should not have significant periods of time (after the first year) with no adviser.

  • A student must make satisfactory progress in his or her research, as determined by his or her adviser.

  • By Spring Quarter of the second year, a student should complete all six breadth area requirements, two breadth area requirements in each of three areas, and file for candidacy.

  • By Spring Quarter of the third year, a student should pass a Qualifying Examination in the area of his or her intended dissertation.

  • Within one year of passing the Qualifying Examination, a student should form a Reading Committee and submit a signed Reading Committee Form to the PhD Student Services office at

  • By Spring Quarter of the fourth year, a student should schedule a Thesis Proposal with the reading committee members and submit the Thesis Proposal Form to the Ph.D. student services office at

Program Learning Outcomes

The purpose of the master’s program is to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary for a professional career or doctoral studies. This is done through course work in the foundational elements of the field and in at least one graduate specialization. Areas of specialization include artificial intelligence, biocomputation, computer and network security, human-computer interaction, information management and analytics, real-world computing, software theory, systems, and theoretical computer science.

The Ph.D. is conferred upon candidates who have demonstrated substantial scholarship and the ability to conduct independent research. Through course work and guided research, the program prepares students to make original contributions in Computer Science and related fields.

Advising Expectations

The Department of Computer Science is committed to providing academic advising in support of graduate student scholarly and professional development. When most effective, this advising relationship entails collaborative and sustained engagement by both the adviser and the advisee. As a best practice, advising expectations should be periodically discussed and reviewed to ensure mutual understanding. Both the adviser and the advisee are expected to maintain professionalism and integrity.

Faculty advisers guide students in key areas such as selecting courses, designing and conducting research, developing of teaching pedagogy, navigating policies and degree requirements, and exploring academic opportunities and professional pathways.

Graduate students are active contributors to the advising relationship, proactively seeking academic and professional guidance and taking responsibility for informing themselves of policies and degree requirements for their graduate program.

For a statement of Computer Science policy on graduate advising, see the Computer Science Graduate Advising link. For a statement of University policy on graduate advising, see the Graduate Graduate Advising section of this bulletin.

External Credit Policies

Degree Requirements

Applications to the Ph.D. program and all supporting documents must be submitted and received online by the published deadline. See the department's web site for admissions requirements and the application deadline. Changes or updates to the admission process are posted in September.

The following are general department requirements. Contact the Computer Science Ph.D. administrator for details.

  1. A student should plan and complete a coherent program of study covering the basic areas of computer science and related disciplines. The student’s adviser has primary responsibility for the adequacy of the program, which is subject to review by the Student Services Office.

  2. The first year of the Ph.D. program is spent working with 1-3 different professors on a rotating basis. The intent is to allow the first-year Ph.D. student to work with a variety of professors before aligning with a permanent program adviser. Students who don't need the full year to find a professor to align with will have the option of aligning within the first or second quarter.

  3. The course Departmental Lecture Series seminar gives faculty the opportunity to explain their research to first year CS Ph.D. students. First year CS Ph.D. students are required to attend 2/3 of the classes to receive credit.

  4. A student must complete 135 course units for graduation. Computer Science Ph.D. students take 8-10 units per quarter. Credit for coursework done elsewhere (up to the maximum of 45 course units) may be applied to graduation requirements. Students must also take at least three units of coursework from four different faculty members. There are NO courses specifically required by the CS Ph.D. program except for the 1 unit course Departmental Lecture Series and course Advanced Reading and Research or its equivalent. At least one course must be taken for a letter grade. A 3.0 GPA must be maintained.

  5. Each student, to remain in the Ph.D. program, must satisfy the breadth requirement covering introductory-level graduate material in major areas of computer science. A student must fulfill two breadth-area requirements in each of three general areas by the end of the second year in the program. If students have fulfilled the six breadth-area requirements, and taken courses from at least four different faculty who are members of the Academic Council, they are eligible to apply for candidacy prior to the second year in the program. An up-to-date list of courses that satisfy the breadth requirements can be found on the department's web site. The student must completely satisfy the breadth requirement by the end of the second year in the program and must pass a qualifying exam in the general area of their expected dissertation by the end of the third year in the program.

  6. University policy requires that all doctoral students declare candidacy by the end of the sixth quarter in residence, excluding summers. However, after aligning with a permanent adviser, passing six breadth requirements, and taking classes with four different faculty, a student is eligible to file for candidacy prior to the sixth quarter. The candidacy form serves as a "contract" between the department and the student. The department acknowledges that the student is a bona fide candidate for the Ph.D. and agrees that the program submitted by the student is sufficient to warrant granting the Ph.D. upon completion. Candidacy expires five years from the date of submission of the candidacy form, rounded to the end of the quarter. In special cases, the department may extend a student's candidacy, but is under no obligation to do so.

  7. Each student is required to pass a qualifying exam in their area by the end of their third year in the program. A student may only take the qualifying exam twice. If the student fails the qualifying exam a second time, the Ph.D. program committee is convened to discuss the student's lack of reasonable academic progress. Failing the exam a second time is cause for dismissal from the Computer Science Ph.D. program and the committee meets to discuss the final outcome for the student.

  8. As part of the training for the Ph.D., the student is also required to complete at least four units (a unit is ten hours per week for one quarter) i.e. two 50% or four 25% course assistantships as a course assistant or instructor for courses in Computer Science numbered 100 or above.

  9. The student must present an oral thesis proposal and submit the form to their full Reading Committee by Spring Quarter of the fourth year. The Thesis Proposal Form must be filled out, signed and approved by all the members of the committee and submitted to the CS Ph.D. student services at The goal of the thesis proposal is to enable students to get better formative feedback from their reading committee on what directions to take to successfully complete a quality dissertation. The thesis proposal should allow plenty of time for discussion with the reading committee about the direction of the thesis research.

  10. The Oral Thesis Proposal must be submitted before the end of the fourth year.

  11. The most important requirement is the dissertation. After passing the required qualifying examination, each student must secure the agreement of a member of the department faculty to act as the dissertation adviser. The dissertation adviser is often the student's program adviser.

  12. The student must pass a University oral examination in the form of a defense of the dissertation. This is typically held after all or a substantial portion of the dissertation research has been completed.

  13. The student is expected to demonstrate the ability to present scholarly material orally in the dissertation defense.

  14. The dissertation must be accepted by a reading committee composed of the principal dissertation adviser, a second member from within the department, and a third member chosen from within or outside of the University. The department requires at least two committee members to be affiliated with the Computer Science department. The principal adviser and at least one of the other committee members must be Academic Council members.