Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest degree offered in any discipline. It is intended for those who will pursue research in the field. The degree is usually required to teach computer science at the university level, and for employment in prestigious industrial research laboratories. Students may enter the doctoral program with a bachelor's degree or with a master's degree, and must have adequate background in computer science. Since completion of the degree requires presentation of a dissertation comprising of original research, the time required is pre-determined. Four to six years of full-time work are typical, less if the student enters with a master's degree in CS. 

There is extensive information on doctoral requirements in the PSU Bulletin, and students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with that information. Departmental requirements are given below.



Upon being accepted as a graduate student, you will be assigned a faculty adviser. Doctoral students are also assigned additional faculty members to make up a preliminary advisory committee. Each student will be assigned a three-person preliminary advisory committee during their first term.  The role of this committee is to monitor the student's overall progress through the program, to offer general academic guidance to the student, and to provide a resource to the student in resolving academic or advising problems.  

  • The committee is created by the CS director of graduate studies in consultation with the faculty advisor and the student.  It will include the student's academic advisor.  The other members of the committee may be from outside the research area of the advisor.
  • The committee will meet with the student in the fall and spring terms to generate a written assessment of progress and to set goals in writing for the next term.
  • The committee, in consultation with the CS director of graduate studies, has the authority to delay the student's RPE date. 
  • The committee's opinion shall have strong weight in determining whether the student should continue to receive departmental support in the form of a teaching assistantship.
  • The advisory committee's role is taken over by the dissertation committee when the student completes the RPE and forms a dissertation committee.

When you begin research work on a Ph.D. dissertation, you should change your adviser to the person who will supervise your dissertation. Your adviser must be a full-time faculty member, and he or she must agree to the change. Once you have identified a new advisor, you must submit a 'change of advisor form' to the Graduate Advisor.There are PSU regulations about advising duties (particularly for doctoral degrees). Make sure that any change has been properly recorded and processed by the Computer Science Office. 

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A majority of the departmental teaching and research assistantships support Ph.D. students. A newly entered student is most likely to be given a teaching assistantship, while someone who has been at PSU and established a good connection with a potential adviser is more likely to be given a research assistantship. First year Ph.D. students who are admitted with financial support are typically supported as a TA for up to 3 quarters. These students are then asked to apply to serve as a TA for up to 3 additional quarters. Continued support for Ph.D. students depends on their making satisfactory progress in the program. Students are encouraged to find a research adviser and research assistantship sometime during their second year. 

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Course Requirements

Ph.D. students must complete an approved program of 90 graduate-level credits.

Core Courses (18) - Must be completed by the end of the second year
  • CS 581 Theory of Computation (3)
  • CS 684 Algorithm Design and Analysis (3)
  • CS 558 Programming Languages (3)
  • CS 533 Concepts of Operating Systems (3)
  • CS 538 Computer Architecture or ECE 585 and 586 (3)
  • CS 669 Scholarship Skills for Computer Science and Engineering (3)
Electives from Focus Areas or other Graduate Courses (27)
  • Programming Languages
  • Systems and Networking
  • Databases
  • Software Engineering
  • Theory of Computing
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning

601 Research or Elective Credits (18)

603 Dissertation Research Credits (27)

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Course Restrictions

  • All regular courses must be graded (that is, not P/NP) and passed with a grade of B or better. 

  • Research, projects, internships, and reading & conference credits may be graded P/NP or with a letter grade. These credits are set up independently by the student and a faculty member. These credits must be passed with a P or a grade of B or better. 

  • Students must maintain a 3.5 GPA in core course work, with a minimum grade of B.

  • For the elective courses: 
    • These courses should be used to strengthen the program in the student's research area.
    • CS 501 (Research) and CS 509 (Graduate Assistant Practicum) may not be counted.
    • A maximum of 6 credits of CS 505 (Reading and Conference) and CS 506 (Special Projects) may be counted.

Your CS faculty adviser must approve the courses in your program, including non-CS courses and courses taken outside of PSU. Students and their adviser's will fill out a PhD Plan of Study after the student successfully completes 9 graduate level credits, no later than 6 months before their Research Proficiency Exam. 

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To be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy a student must:

1.  Pass the comprehensive exam.

The Comprehensive Examination is a university requirement for the Ph.D. degree. In the CS department, it takes the form of a Research Proficiency Examination (RPE), covering original research performed by the student. The exam consists of a written paper, a public oral presentation, and a public question and answer session. Passing this exam is required before a Ph.D. student can prepare and defend a dissertation proposal. The exam is normally taken in the Spring term of the student's second year.






2.  Present a dissertation proposal describing the proposed research, to be approved by the dissertation committee.

After passing the comprehensive exam, a student prepares a written proposal describing his or her dissertation research topic, in consultation with the chair of the advisory committee. (It may be appropriate for the student to first find a new advisory committee chair, if the research area has shifted since admission.)

The proposal:
  • Identifies the general research field (e.g. networks) and presents an annotated bibliography of literature relevant to the particular dissertation topic (e.g. verification of network routing protocols).
  • Describes the research problem.
  • Describes the proposed approach to solving the problem, including specific methods to be tried.
  • Gives a timeline for completing the work.

The proposal is circulated among the dissertation committee, and when they agree that it is satisfactory, the student publically presents the proposal. The presentation begins with a public talk, then the dissertation committee questions the student in private. 

Students making satisfactory progress are expected to have a dissertation proposal approved by the end of the third year. The abstract and date for the defense must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator at least two weeks in advance of the date of the defense.

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Doctoral students must complete a dissertation comprising original research work, and defend it at a final oral examination. It is expected that the work will be of a quality to merit publication in refereed journals or conferences. The abstract and date for the defense must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator at least two weeks in advance of the date of the defense. After the dissertation is in its final form, the student should submit a copy in pdf format to the webmaster at for posting.

The University has a set of Dissertation Guidelines that describe the format and content requirements for the dissertation.

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