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To be formally admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree, students must pass a qualifying exam (Qual) to demonstrate knowledge of computer science fundamentals and a potential for research.

The Qual consists of 2 steps: a course requirement and an oral exam.

1. Course Requirement

Students must satisfy the course requirements within 2 years of starting the PhD program. A student who fails the course requirement may elect to transfer to the MS program.

  • Students must take CS 8050 (Design and Analysis of Algorithm II) and at least two graduate-only CS regular courses, including all 8000-level CS regular courses and CS 7010 (Computational Methods for Bioinformatics).
  • Students must have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.4 from all graduate-only courses, including CS 8050.
  • For students who have taken courses equivalent to CS 8050 at other institutions, they are required to take at least three graduate-only CS courses and obtain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.4 from all graduate-only courses.

2. Oral Exam

The oral exam must be passed within 1 year after satisfying the course requirement. A student may take the oral exam twice. A student who fails the oral exam may elect to transfer to the MS program.

Goals of the Exam

  • To motivate students to review and synthesize course work and research material
  • To determine students’ ability to understand and apply fundamental concepts
  • To develop and test students’ ability to communicate orally and to respond to questions and comments
  • To evaluate the student’s potential to pursue doctoral research
  • To identify areas that need to be strengthened for the student to be successful as a PhD student, independent scholar, researcher and teacher

Before the Exam

  • Select an academic advisor.
  • Consult with your advisor at least one month before the oral exam to submit a Qual Exam form, which inclues
    • A 1-page statement outlining your research areas and foci
    • 5 to 10 research papers
    • 5 recommended exam committee members (excluding your advisor) to the CS Graduate Office
  • The Graduate Committee will select 3 of your 5 recommended members and decide the chair of the committee.
    • 2 out of the 3 committee members must be CS regular faculty, including faculty with joint CS appointments. The advisor of the student should not be on the committee.
  • The qualifying exam committee selects 2-3 papers from papers from the student’s submitted papers and other related papers.
    • The student will give a presentation in the oral exam based on these papers.
  • The qualifying exam committee schedules the exam time, which will be announced to the public.

During the Exam

The oral exam lasts up to 2 hours and consists of the following steps:

  • 15 minutes (closed session): The oral exam committee meets before the exam to discuss the research statement, potential questions and criteria for pass/fail.
  • 45 minutes (open to all faculty and students): The student gives a presentation based on the selected 2-3 papers and also about his/her research directions, including Q&A from the audience.
  • Up to 45 minutes (closed session): The student answers additional questions from the committee.
  • 15 minutes (closed session): A committee members discuss the exam and make a pass/fail decision by a majority vote. The chair of the exam committee writes a letter to the student explaining the decision and suggesting ways for improvement.
    • Copied on the letter the director of graduate studies and the graduate advisor