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Ph.D. Program

Coursework | Advancement to Candidacy | Dissertation Proposal | The Dissertation | Ph.D. Funding

The primary requirement for the PhD program is not accumulation of coursework but research leading ultimately to a dissertation. Each student's program of study is tailored by the student and advisor with the goal of enabling high-quality research. In addition to the requirements listed here, the student is responsible for completing all relevant SEAS Doctor of Philosophy Degree Requirements and forms.

3.1 Coursework

Although specific course requirements are minimal, students in the PhD program are expected to develop the mathematical skills necessary for serious scientific research and to participate in the ongoing intellectual life of the department by regular attendance at colloquia and seminars.

No minor outside the CS Department is required. However, courses in mathematics, electrical engineering, psychology, and so on, are strongly recommended when appropriate to the student's area of study. The student's research advisory committee (see next subsection) is responsible for approving a program of studies that incorporates suitable breadth and depth.

3.2 Advancement to Candidacy

There are a number of checkpoints along the way; each designed to ensure that students have sufficient talent and background to perform their research in a satisfactory and timely fashion.

Advancement to candidacy for the PhD is a status granted to graduate students, regardless of whether they have a master's degree, by the faculty after evaluation of criteria that include:

    a) outstanding performance in graduate coursework
    b) satisfactory performance on the PhD qualifying examination
    c) demonstrated evidence of research ability, including a positive recommendation from the student's research advisor.

The minimum GPA requirement to remain a graduate student is 3.0, a B average. For prospective PhD students, the faculty desires to see at least as many A's as B's in coursework. Only in special circumstances will a student be admitted to the Ph.D. program with weaker grades.

The purpose of the PhD qualifying exam is to verify that students who are about to move into advanced work have mastered the basic material and techniques of Computer Science and are able to reason about them in a coherent, integrated fashion. Students desiring a PhD should take the qualifying exams as soon as possible.

The Revised CS Qualifying Examination (the "New Quals System")

For the qualifying examination, students complete coursework to satisfy a breadth requirement and form an advisory committee that administers a research-based examination to satisfy a depth requirement. The process is formally described in the latest version of this document.

Superior performance in graduate coursework and on the PhD qualifying examination is necessary but not sufficient conditions for advancement to candidacy to the PhD program. Some students perform well in the classroom, but still lack the ability to do the research necessary for a PhD. Thus, it is necessary to demonstrate research ability, and to attract the enthusiastic support of a research advisor. Sufficiently good overall performance in coursework, research and the exam will be required for a second chance on the qualifying exam if it is not passed on the first try. If, in the judgment of the faculty, a student is unlikely to complete the PhD in a timely manner, it is in the best interests of both student and faculty that the student not be advanced to candidacy. This decision will be made as early as possible.

A Ph.D. student's Final Ph.D. Examining Committee shall consist of a minimum of five members constituted according to the following rules. There must be at least three Computer Science faculty members, at least one U.Va. faculty member from outside the Computer Science department and at least one other member with expertise in the research area. The Department recommends one of the committee members to an expert from outside the University. The dissertation advisor must be a member of the Computer Science Faculty.

3.3 Dissertation Proposal

Each PhD student must present an acceptable dissertation proposal done under the guidance of the student's advisor. This proposal should be presented prior to any extensive research, in order to receive early faculty approval of the suitability of the proposed research. The written proposal document should be prepared according to the following guidelines:

a) The proposal must be limited to 15 single-spaced (or 30 double-spaced) pages exclusive of bibliography.

b) The document should succinctly describe:
  • The problem;
  • Relationship to other work in the field;
  • The research plan including specific research activities;
  • Expected contributions.
    An example of an organization that meets these four requirements is:
  • What's the problem?
  • Why is it important?
  • What's the "shape" of a solution?
  • What's the research agenda?
  • Why will the agenda work? (produce a solution)

c) A comprehensive literature review (not subject to page limitations) may be included as an appendix. This optional appendix should not be viewed as a replacement for the required related work section in the main body of the proposal. That is, the appendix may or may not be read by members of the committee.

The written proposal document must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the proposal presentation.

Any departure from these guidelines must be approved in advance by the student's proposal examining committee.

As discussed in the previous subsection, the faculty's judgment of a student's research potential is an important part of the decision for advancement to candidacy. However, this judgment will be based on limited experience since the student will not have had time to undertake extensive research. During the period between advancement to candidacy and the research presentation, much more time for research will be available and the faculty will be able to make a much better assessment of research potential. Thus, one outcome of the research presentation might be that, in the judgment of the faculty, the student does not have sufficient research potential to complete a dissertation in a timely fashion; in this case the student will be subject to dismissal from the program.

In the event that a suitable proposal is not presented but the faculty believes the student has sufficient research potential, another research presentation will be scheduled within 6 months. If a suitable proposal is still not presented, the student is subject to dismissal from the program.

3.4 The Dissertation

The culmination of the PhD program is the defense of the dissertation. This dissertation will be the result of the final research outlined in the dissertation proposal and should be completed within a year or so after the proposal is approved. It is expected that the work be of sufficient quality to warrant journal publication. The dissertation defense, which is announced publicly, is an oral defense before the student's advisory committee (minimum of 5 members), as well as any other interested faculty, students or other persons. The written dissertation document must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the oral defense.

Students are encouraged to present a public colloquium on their PhD research. This presentation may occur before the PhD defense. The purpose of this presentation is to provide an opportunity for a more complete presentation of the student's research. This presentation may be useful practice for students who will be giving a "job talk." The student should obtain the permission of their adviser before scheduling this talk. To obtain a time slot, reserve a room, and arrange for public posting of the colloquium, please contact Ms. Brenda Perkins.

3.5 Funding of PhD Students

For those students who have been awarded financial aid, the following policies will apply. Funding for master's degree students remains constant (except for possible cost-of-living increases). PhD students, however, are paid according to the following four-step scale.

    1. Incoming Bachelor's degree
    2. Completion of Master's (or entered with Master's)
    3. Advancement to Candidacy
    4. Successful presentation of a dissertation proposal
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