Ph.D. Preliminary Examination Requirements Policy, Prior to August 31, 2016

This policy was approved by CIS Faculty in October, 2012, and by the Faculty Senate in April of 2013.
The policy takes effect in September 1, 2013.

Ph.D. Breadth Requirement

Each student must take five breadth courses, subject to the following constraints:

At least one of "CISC 601: Elements of the Theory of Computation" or "CISC 621: Algorithm Design and Analysis" must be included. At least one course from each breadth area must be included.

The breadth courses are as follows:

Area 1: Theory

  • CISC601: Elements of the Theory of Computation
  • CISC604: Logic in Computer Science
  • CISC621: Algorithm Design and Analysis

Area 2: Systems and Networks

  • CISC650: Computer Networks II
  • CISC662: Computer Systems: Architecture
  • CISC663: Operating Systems
  • CISC672: Compiler Construction

Area 3: Software

  • CISC640: Computer Graphics
  • CISC675: Object Oriented Software Engineering
  • CISC681: Artificial Intelligence

Area 4: Information

  • CISC636: Bioinformatics
  • Either CISC683: Introduction to Data Mining or CISC689 Machine Learning (i.e., at most one of these two courses can be used to fulfill the breadth requirement)
  • CISC637: Database Systems
  • CISC642: Introduction to Computer Vision

The list of breadth courses is subject to change as approved by the CIS faculty.

A student may take more than five courses from the breadth list. In any case, the student will notify the Graduate Program Committee (GPC) which five courses will be used to satisfy the breadth requirement. (See the section Other Requirements, subsection Certification of Completion of Requirements below.) The Grade Point Average (GPA) for the five breadth courses must be at least 3.5. This GPA computation will use the University's official assignment of points to letter grades, published in the University catalog. Moreover, each of the five grades must be at least B-.

Opting out

A student who has taken equivalent graduate level course(s) at another university may petition the GPC to "opt out" of breadth courses. A student wishing to opt out of course(s) must send an email to the GPC within their first semester. This email must list the breadth course(s) the student wishes to opt out of. For each such course, this email should give details about the equivalent course taken: the name and number of the course, the institution, the grade received and a brief description of the course.

The GPC will decide on the appropriate action for determining if the student can opt out of the course. This will usually involve giving the student an exam. This may involve finding a faculty member in the relevant area to administer the exam. The exam may be oral or written. It may be the final exam in the breadth course at the end of the current semester. The GPC will issue its decision for each course, either "opt-out granted" or "opt-out not granted," by email to the student. The opt-out courses are not used in the breadth GPA computation. A student who has opted out of a course has, for example, the option to take the course in order to receive a grade that will improve their breadth GPA.

A student who successfully opts out of all courses needed to fulfill the breadth requirement is deemed to have fulfilled the breadth requirement (even though there will be no GPA to compute).

Ph.D. Preliminary Research Requirement

Each student must find one CIS faculty member as advisor and another CIS faculty member to form a committee supervising the Preliminary Research Requirement. The advisor's primary faculty appointment must be in CIS. It is expected that the advisor will become the student's Ph.D. thesis advisor. After discussion with the committee, the student prepares a written proposal for his/her project. The proposal should describe the research area and outline the project the student will carry out. The description may include some specific papers or sections of books that the students will read. It may describe a particular problem on which the student will work. As an option, the student, with the consent of the advisor, may register the project as a 3-credit independent study course. The proposal will be made available to all departmental faculty through, project PhD Preliminary Research. The student will produce a written report on the project. Typically, the length of the report is between 10 to 20 pages. The project (and the written report) must include a thorough literature search and a summary of the current state of knowledge in the area.

The project (and written report) must also include some original contribution. The exact form of this contribution is up to the student and the committee. Examples include:

  • Application of existing ideas to new examples
  • The development of a prototype (software) tool which realizes existing ideas or extends them in some way
  • Some theoretical or mathematical extension of existing ideas
  • A novel analysis of existing data
  • A simple experiment.

Once the written report is deemed complete by the committee, the student, in coordination with the committee, will schedule a presentation/oral exam at least two weeks in the future. At least 14 days prior to the presentation/oral exam, the written report will be made available to all faculty in the department at the Sakai project PhD Preliminary Research. This web site will also provide the time and location of the exam.

Presentation/Oral Exam

The "audience" must consist of at least the committee members, but it may also be much larger, e.g., the presentation may take place in one of the "SIG" seminars. The exact arrangements are up to the advisor, but at the very least, any faculty member in the department who requests to attend the presentation and exam must be allowed to do so.

The presentation will be followed by a question and answer period during which all members of the audience may ask questions. After this question and answer period, everyone will be asked to leave except the student and the committee. The committee members may then ask further questions. Next, the student is asked to leave and the committee discusses the student's performance. The committee determines if the student has passed or failed the exam and notifies the student and the GPC of its decision. If the project is registered as an independent study, the committee will also assign a letter grade; it is up to the committee to decide what letter grade constitutes passing the exam. If the student fails the exam, s/he is allowed to retake it once. In this next attempt, the student may choose to improve the work of the previous attempt as required by the committee -- the option of registering the project for a 3-credit independent study course will not apply -- or start fresh with different faculty members. If the student has not passed the exam within 15 weeks after the submission of the proposal, the student is deemed to have failed the exam.

Other Preliminary Requirements Constraints

Time limit:

The student must fulfill the Ph.D. Preliminary Requirements within two years from the date of entering the graduate program. If a student has not completed the Preliminary Requirements within this period, the student will be dismissed from the Ph.D. program except in exceptional circumstances as determined by the faculty. Exceptional circumstances may include serious illness or injury, or other personal issues.

Finding advisor:

The student must also find a faculty member who agrees to serve as the student's thesis advisor within the two-year timeframe.

Certification of completion of requirements:

When a student believes s/he has fulfilled all conditions of the Ph.D. Preliminary Requirements, the student will notify the GPC by email. The email should list the five breadth courses being used to meet the breadth requirement, the grade received in each course, and the GPA for these courses. The email should also include the title of the Research Project, the name of the committee members, and the date the oral exam was passed. Finally, it should include the name of the faculty member agreeing to serve as the student's thesis advisor. (Typically, the thesis advisor will be the advisor from the research project.) The advisor should be cc’d on this email. The GPC is ultimately responsible for determining whether a student has fulfilled the Preliminary Requirements, and will communicate its decision by email to the student and his/her advisor.

» Full Ph.D. requirements

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