Ph.D. Requirements

In order to obtain the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Sciences (PhD in CS) a student must:

Milestone requirements

The milestone requirements for a PhD in CS are: the qualifying process, the preliminary process, and the final process. The following table lists the milestones involved in each process and the time that is normally allotted for the process. Click on the links for the processes and milestones to find out more about them.

Process Milestones Allotted Time
qualifying 3 years
preliminary 1 more year; additional year with GAC approval
final 5 more years

Corresponding to each process there is a formal deadline by the same name by which all milestones of the process need to be completed in order for a student to make satisfactory academic progress.

Minimum credit requirement

The student must receive 51 credits in courses numbered 300 or above such that:

  1. at least 32 of the credits counted are for courses taken as a graduate student at UW-Madison, and
  2. at least 50% of the credits counted are for courses numbered 700 and above.

     

All credits taken as a graduate student in CS at UW-Madison count towards this requirement, including those counted towards an MS in CS, the breadth requirement, and the minor requirement, as well as all individual instruction courses. Non-CS courses also count.

Requirement 1 is referred to as the minimum graduate residence credit requirement, and must be completed prior to achieving dissertator status.

The above 51-credit requirement is effective as of fall 2014. Previously, only 32 instead of 51 credits were required. PhD students who enrolled before fall 2014 only need to satisfy the previous requirement.

Transfer of credits

Credits from other institutions cannot be used to satisfy requirements, with one exception.  One course taken elsewhere may be used for breadth, but this course does not count towards any other requirement.  In particular, it cannot be used to meet the minimum credit requirement.

Credits from prior coursework at UW-Madison may be counted towards the PhD in CS provided they were earned less than 10 years before the current enrollment in the PhD in CS program, and with the following restrictions:

  • Credits earned as an undergraduate student cannot be counted.
  • Credits earned towards a certificate cannot be counted.
  • At most 15 credits taken as a special student may be counted.
  • There is no more than a 25% credit overlap with any other PhD degree, based on the lower credit requirements of the two programs.

Students who wish the make use of this opportunity need to have the credits they want to count approved by a graduate advisor. They should do so during their initial GAC meeting.

Paperwork

After the student finishes the preliminary process, a completed preliminary warrant needs to be filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator, who will submit it to the Graduate School. The student must do this to become a dissertator. The warrant needs to be signed by every member of the prelim committee, indicating that the student passed the prelim exam, as well as by the minor advisor, indicating that the student completed the minor requirement.

After the student passes the final examination, a completed PhD warrant needs to be filed with the Graduate School during the dissertation final review appointment. The warrant needs to be signed by every member of the final exam committee, indicating that the student passed the final examination. A copy of the completed form should be filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Whenever a warrant is needed, the student should submit a request to the Graduate Program Coordinator at least three weeks ahead of time.  Students should also check the Graduate School's cutoff dates for warrant requests.

Ph.D. Qualifying Process

The qualifying process for PhD students in CS consists of completing the breadth requirement and passing the qualifying examination. Both components need to be finished by the qualifying deadline.

Breadth requirement

To fulfill the breadth requirement for the PhD degree, a student must take at least one course from each of the bands 1, 2 and 3 listed below; the courses must all be outside of the student's qualifying exam area. The student may either take three courses, all numbered 700 or above, or four courses, two numbered 700 or above, and two numbered 500 or above. All grades must be at least AB. 

Band 1:
Computer Architecture: 552, 752, 755, 757, 758.
Computer Networks: 640, 707, 740.
Computer Security: 642.
Operating Systems: 537, 736, 739, 744.
Programming Languages and Compilers: 506536, 538, 701, 703, 704, 706.

Band 2:
Artificial Intelligence: 534, 540, 545, 731, 760, 761, 766, 769.
Bioinformatics: 576, 776.
Computer Graphics: 559, 679, 765, 777, 779.
Database Systems: 564, 764, 784.
Human-Computer Interaction: 570, 770.

Band 3:
Modeling and Analysis of Computer Systems: 547, 737, 747.
Numerical Analysis: 513, 514, 515, 717.
Optimization: 524525, 635, 719, 720, 726, 728730.
Theory of Computing: 520, 577, 710, 787, 880.

In addition, some offerings of CS 838 count towards the breadth requirement. Before each term, it is announced which sections do and what area/band they are in.

One course taken as a graduate student elsewhere may be counted for breadth.  A request for this must be made in writing to the GAC Chair.  The request should indicate the corresponding UW-Madison course, include a transcript showing a grade of AB or better, and suggest a faculty member who can evaluate the course.  GAC will ask this faculty member to evaluate the outside course's syllabus and other course materials and vouch for the choice of UW-Madison course.

Qualifying examination

The qualifying examination is a demanding written exam that is designed to test the preparation of students intending to write a dissertation in a given area of research. The exam covers topics included in courses, as well as additional papers and publications. In general, the exam requires a broad and unified knowledge of the area, is closed-book, is written under time constraints, and often contains essay questions. It is a good idea for a student to discuss preparation for the exam with appropriate faculty members once the area of specialization has been decided, and to start preparing well ahead of the qualifying deadline.

Qualifying examinations are offered early in every regular term. Students are required to register for the exam with the Graduate Program Coordinator. Registration deadlines and exam dates are announced well in advance. Registration dates are strictly enforced.

Each exam lasts four hours and is graded on a scale of P+ (high pass), P (pass), P- (near pass), or F (fail). A grade of P+ or P is required to pass the exam. In any given area a student is allowed at most two chances to pass the exam. All attempts must happen prior to the initial qualifying deadline set at the time of entry to the program unless an extension has been requested and approved.

The Department offers qualifying exams in each of the areas listed below. Click on the link for the area to find out about courses that may help prepare for the exam, the current reading list for the exam, and copies of prior exams.

Ph.D. Preliminary Process

The preliminary process for Ph.D. students in CS consists of completing the minor requirement and passing the preliminary examination. Both components need to be finished by the preliminary deadline.

Minor requirement

The minor requirement involves 9 to 12 credits of course work outside of CS. There are two methods of fulfilling this requirement, referred to as Option A and Option B on the Minor Declaration form.

  1. Option A: Existing program


    This option consists of fulfilling the PhD minor requirements as specified by an existing program outside of CS. 

    Students should contact the particular program for the precise requirements, and find the person from that program who is authorized to act as the Minor Advisor.

    On a student's transcript, fulfillment of this option appears as Minor: followed by the name of the program.

  2. Option B: Distributed
     

    This option consists of at least 9 credits in courses from one or more programs outside of CS. All of the following conditions need to be satisfied: 

    • All credits counted are for courses numbered 300 or above.
    • No credits counted are for courses in CS or courses cross-listed with CS.
    • No credits counted are for individual instruction courses.
    • All credits counted are graded on the A-F scale and have received a grade of BC or higher.
    • The GPA of the credits counted is at least 3.00.
    • No more than 5 credits counted are for coursework completed more than 5 years prior to admission to the Ph.D. program are counted; no credits counted are for coursework taken 10 years ago or more.


    For this option the GAC Chair acts as the Minor Advisor.

    On a student's transcript, fulfillment of this option appears as Minor: Distributed.

For either option, once the requirements are met, the Minor Advisor attests to it by signing the Minor Declaration form and the preliminary warrant from the Graduate School. The signed Minor Declaration form needs to be filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Preliminary examination

The preliminary examination is an oral exam in which the student is expected to display depth of knowledge in the area of specialization in which research for the dissertation will be conducted. Students need to complete the qualifying process before taking the preliminary examination. They should have worked on some project with their dissertation advisor before planning the exam, and determine when they are ready to take it in consultation with their dissertation advisor.

The preliminary examination committee consists of three or more members and is chaired by the dissertation advisor. The composition of the committee will be suggested by the dissertation advisor in consultation with the student and must be approved by the Department Chair. At least two of the committee members must be full-time faculty members of the Department.

The student should approach each proposed member of the committee, secure agreement to serve, and then discuss a program for preparing for the examination. It is advisable for the student to do this about a semester before the examination is to be scheduled.

After the student passes the exam, each committee member needs to sign the preliminary warrant.

Ph.D. Final Process

The final process for PhD students in CS consists of writing and depositing the dissertation and passing the final examination. Both components need to be finished by the final deadline.

Dissertation

The student must conduct, under the supervision of a dissertation advisor, a substantial piece of original research in CS and report it in a dissertation that is made public and meets the highest standards of scholarship.

The Graduate School provides specific formatting guidelines as well as links to more general resources for how to go about writing a dissertation.

The members of the final examination committee should receive a copy of the dissertation at the latest three weeks before the exam. After passing the final exam, the student needs to electronically deposit the dissertation and set up a dissertation final review appointment with the Graduate School. Click here for more information about the formal process.

Final examination

The final examination is an oral exam in which the student must explain and defend the contents of the dissertation and exhibit detailed knowledge of the general area in which the reported research falls. Students need to complete the preliminary process before taking the final examination.

The final examination committee consists of five or more members and is chaired by the dissertation advisor. The composition of the committee will be suggested by the dissertation advisor and approved by the Department Chair. All of the following conditions need to be satisfied:

  • At least four of the committee members must be UW-Madison graduate faculty or former UW-Madison graduate faculty up to one year after resignation or retirement.
  • At least two of the committee members must be full-time faculty members of the Department.
  • At least one of the committee members, other than the dissertation advisor, must represent a field outside of CS. Acceptable representatives are: faculty members from UW-Madison or elsewhere who have a full-time appointment in a department other than CS, or are affiliated with a department other than CS; researchers in a field other than CS.

After the student passes the exam, each committee member needs to sign the PhD warrant.