Graduate Handbook 2023-2024


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Standard Application Process - External

This is the process for all applicants other than current UW–Madison graduate students. Applications are normally accepted for fall semester admission only. Completed applications are due no later than December 15.

The application is available on the Graduate School website. Departmental requirements for admission are more stringent than those of the Graduate School. The following items must be submitted in order to be considered by the department:

  • Letters of recommendation. All applicants, whether requesting financial aid or not, must have three letters of recommendation. Recommendations are submitted online to the Graduate School as part of the application process.
  • Official school records. Transcripts are required from each institution where the applicant did prior academic work. Applicants must scan their transcripts into the graduate school application. Paper transcripts or electronic transcripts will not be accepted. If an institution does not issue official transcripts, a letter from an administrator of the institution should be scanned into the application instead. The letter should include: a) year of admission; b) number of years enrolled at the institution; c) reference to the quality of work (analysis of grading system); d) evidence that examinations were passed; e) diploma certifying degree, class and year; and f) General Certificate of Education or equivalent.
  • Evidence of English proficiency. An applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English, must provide an English proficiency test score. See the Graduate School requirements for more details.

Admissions frequently asked questions. 

Current UW-Madison Grad Students: adding a second MS in CS

Graduate students who are currently enrolled in another graduate program at UW–Madison are considered internal applicants and need to follow a different procedure to apply for a second MS or apply to the CS PhD program.

Click here for information about adding a second CS MS.

Current UW-Madison Grad Students: changing to CS PhD from another UW-Madison grad program

Changing to CS PHD from another UW-Madison graduate program:

Currently enrolled graduate students in other departments or in the CS Professional MS (PMP) who wish to change their major to undertake a PhD in Computer Sciences must submit the grad school change major application form and submit the following materials to CS PhD Graduate Program Manager. (Special note: Students in the PMP are expected to complete the PMP MS prior to admission to CS PHD.):

  • All application materials including faculty recommendations must be received by January 1. Applications are accepted for fall semester admission only. Applications are not considered at other times of the year nor for PhD program start times other than the fall semester. International students are responsible for contacting International Student Services at UW to discuss any possible effect the change of program may have on their immigration status.
  • Currently enrolled graduate students who wish to change their major to undertake a PHD in Computer Sciences and who have a CS faculty member who plans to be their CS PHD advisor are eligible to apply.
  • Application steps:
    • Fill out the grad school change major request  form.
    • Submit Change to CS PhD form to apply to change to CS PhD.  Upload unofficial copy (student copy) of your UW  transcript when filling out the request form. Upload a statement of purpose explaining the reasons for your interest in transferring to the CS graduate program and your previous experiences with our department (courses taken, independent research with a CS advisor, etc.).
    • Three letters of recommendation from UW–Madison faculty members are required, at least two of which must be from a faculty member whose primary academic appointment is in CS. These should be emailed by the faculty members to the PHD grad program manager: Angela Thorp,
    • Applicant’s  current graduate program coordinator or manager should send a copy of the student’s original UW-Madison graduate application to the CS PHD grad program manager: Angela Thorp,

Graduate Advising

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Graduate Advising Committee

The Graduate Advising Committee (GAC) advises students in the traditional MS/PHD program, approves course plans, and evaluates satisfactory progress toward the degree. Each fall and spring semester graduate students in the program who are not in dissertator status should plan to meet with a  faculty GAC member to discuss their course selection and progress toward degree goal. Students can meet with a GAC member later in the semester if they need to discuss changes to their course schedule for the semester. Posted drop in office hours are held throughout the fall and spring semester.  Students seeking deadline extensions or exceptions need to contact the GAC Chair, Professor Eftychios Sifakis.

Degree Planning

During the orientation period or early part of the first term of a graduate student’s tenure in the Department, the student must attend a scheduled meeting with a faculty member of the Graduate Advising Committee (GAC) to discuss their plans for meeting their degree goals.

  1. New students share their program plan in their initial meeting with a faculty member on  GAC. The purpose of the program plan is to ensure that the student is pursuing a suitable course of study for the degree sought, and understands the requirements. Planning forms will be provided by the grad program managers.
  2. The program plan should be completed for the degree sought. Students pursuing an MS should list courses they plan to take to meet the degree requirements for MS. Students pursuing a Ph.D. should fill out the section on PHD qualifying process, including their area of specialization for the qualifying examination and their Planned breadth courses. (See PHD requirements section for details of the qualifying process.) If students are interested in getting an MS while pursuing  a PHD, they are encouraged to  fill out the planned MS coursework section of the form.

In order to complete the planning form students can peruse the course descriptions; lists of past, current, and future offerings; and other available course information. It is important to check the prerequisites of courses, as well as the schedule of course offerings; many graduate courses are offered only once a year, and some even less frequently. After drafting those documents, students should have their initial meeting with a GAC faculty advisor to discuss their plans and have the forms approved. 

The student should keep a copy of the completed program plan to refer to in the future. It is the responsibility of the student to keep their  program plan up to date. Students should meet with a member of GAC whenever they have changes to plan.

Satisfactory Progress




The enrollment requirements depend on the status of the student, and need to be maintained throughout the term. Full-time status as defined by the Graduate School is a condition for many obligations, including visa eligibility, fellowships, assistantships and external funding agencies. In particular, international students with a F-1 or J-1 visa need to be enrolled full-time each regular term (fall or spring semester). Full-time registration during the summer session is typically not required except for RAs, 12-month fellows, dissertators with financial support and graduating students. Check out the table at the end of the GRADUATE SCHOOL ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS for the precise conditions and the corresponding number of credits required for full-time registration. Computer Sciences Department policy for TAs requires that they be enrolled in a minimum of 6 credits unless in dissertator status. This requirement exceeds the minimum required by the university but must be filled by students TAing in the CS department.


A graduate student in Computer Sciences shall be considered to have made satisfactory academic progress in a given term if all of the following conditions are satisfied:

  • During the given term the student has completed, with a satisfactory grade or a grade of I (incomplete) or P (progress), a minimum number of credits of approved courses determined by the following decision list, conditioned on the status of the student during that semester. Questions regarding enrollment requirements can be directed to the grad program managers. Leave of absence or part load requests should be directed to the GAC Chair.


Status Credits
leave of absence 0
part-load or dissertator 3
full-time internship 2
TA, SA or PA 6
other 8
  • At the end of the given term, the student has removed all incomplete grades from any previous term.
  • The student has observed all the deadlines imposed by the Department that occur before the start of the next regular term, in particular the milestone deadlines for students on the PhD track


  • CS courses numbered 400 or above, excluding CS 400, which is part of the undergraduate intro course series.
  • Basic CS courses (CS 300, CS 352, CS 354,CS 400), and basic calculus (Math 221, Math 222, and Math 234)  are approved provided that the student has been admitted with deficiencies that are being removed by taking these courses.  These courses do not count towards the  required 24 CS credits for MS degree but can be counted toward the 6 additional credits (wild card) to reach the total 30 credits required for MS. 
  • Courses from other departments that materially contribute to the degree goals of the student. Such courses are typically numbered 400 or above. No course numbered less than 300 will be approved. These courses do not count toward required 24 CS credits for MS degree but can be counted toward the 6 additional credits (wild card) to reach the 30 credits required for MS. Non CS courses numbered 300 or above do count toward the 51 credits required for PHD.
  • To meet MS degree requirements, up to  6 credits of non CS courses numbered 300 or above can be counted toward the 6 wild card credits.
  • PhD minor requirements are met with courses from other departments. 
  • For students in dissertator status, only CS 990 with the dissertation advisor is approved, except with explicit permission of the latter for a course directly related to the dissertation research.

Repercussions of Non-Satisfactory Performance

  1. The University has disciplinary procedures in place for academic, non-academic, and research misconduct.
  2. A student may be placed on probation or suspended from the Graduate School for low grades or for failing to resolve incompletes in a timely fashion.
  3. At the level of the Department: A student who fails to make satisfactory academic progress during one regular term loses the financial support guarantee of the Department (if any), and is not eligible for financial support from resources controlled by the Department during the next regular term. A student who fails to make satisfactory academic progress during two consecutive regular terms (fall and spring semester, or spring and fall semester) will be dismissed from the Department right before the start of the next regular term.

Issues Related to Satisfactory Academic Progress

Any graduate student may appeal any aspect of the satisfactory academic progress rules, provided that the appeal is made in a timely way. In particular, appealing a decision that a student did not make satisfactory academic progress must be initiated no later than the end of the fourth week of the subsequent regular term.

To appeal, the student should send an email to the Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC )Chair stating the basis for the appeal. This letter should explain clearly the reasons for the appeal, and it should be accompanied by appropriate documents such as a medical certificate if the appeal is on the grounds of ill health or a supporting letter from a CS faculty member if the appeal concerns an unusual combination of courses. Often, it will be useful for the student to discuss the problem with his or her dissertation advisor or a member of the Graduate Advising Committee before putting the appeal into writing.

The GAC Chair will consider every such written appeal and will notify the student of his decision at the earliest opportunity, normally within four working weeks. A student who is not satisfied with the decision by the GAC Chair may submit a further appeal in writing to the Department Chair.

The Department Chair will place the appeal on the agenda of a regular faculty meeting, will circulate the letter of appeal and accompanying documentation, and will give the student written notification of the meeting. The meeting will be scheduled at the earliest opportunity, normally within four working weeks after receipt of the letter to the Department Chair. The student and any of the student’s advisors may attend the meeting to present the appeal, provided that the Department Chair is advised in writing before the start of the meeting. In accordance with Wisconsin law, the meeting will begin in open session, but the Department Chair will move that the meeting convene in closed session before the appeal is considered.

MS Requirements

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Obtaining a Master of Science in Computer Science

In order to obtain the degree of Master of Science in Computer Sciences, a student must:

  • be admitted to the traditional MS track or PhD track of the department,
  • meet the minimum credit requirement for the MS degree,
  • not be dismissed, suspended, or on probation due to lack of satisfactory performance,
  • have no incompletes (I) or unreported (NR) grades. 

Each semester the CS MS grad program manager will send an email  that provides the link to MS warrant request form and graduation information to all students in the MS/PhD program.

Transfer of Credits

Credits from other institutions cannot be used to satisfy MS requirements. Credits from prior coursework at UW–Madison may be counted toward an MS degree provided they were earned within five years of current enrollment in the program.

The following restrictions apply:

  • 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. (Note that the Graduate School requires that at least 16 credits be taken after enrollment in the MS program.)
  • If a student is obtaining MS degrees in two or more majors,  no more than a 25% credit overlap with other UW-Madison MS degrees is allowed, based on the lower credit requirements of the two programs.

Students who wish to transfer credits from prior coursework at UW–Madison must have them approved by a graduate advisor.

Minimum Degree Requirements

24 credits must be Computer Sciences courses numbered 400 or above. The following courses are not allowed to count toward these 24 credits:

  • CS 900

At least 15 of the 24 credits must be Core Credits, which are Computer Sciences courses numbered 700-889 graded on A-F scale, with the following exclusions/qualifications:

  • COMP SCI 790 Master’s Thesis normally counts towards core credit. In rare instances, the thesis supervisor or committee may (at the time of evaluation of the thesis work) designate credit awarded for COMP SCI 790 as ineligible for core credit; credit awarded under this scenario may still count towards the 24 qualifying Computer Sciences credits. Credit for COMP SCI 790 is provided as follows: (a) A student earns 3 credits,l for a project for which a report has been filed with the department and approved by at least one full-time Computer Science faculty member, or (b) the student earns 6 credits, for a master’s thesis that has been submitted as a departmental tech report and approved by a properly formed thesis committee. Students completing the thesis can split the 6 credits over 2 semesters. If you have questions, contact the MS grad program manager.
  • Among the topics courses COMP SCI 758,  COMP SCI 839 and COMP SCI 880, a maximum of one such course can be used as core credit.
  • COMP SCI 838 is not allowed to count towards Core Credits.
  • Courses cross-listed with CS are acceptable for the purposes of this requirement. Non–CS courses that are not cross-listed with CS cannot be counted toward the 24 credits.

The remaining 6 credits can be from any subject. Courses that can be used toward this requirement include:

    • Research credits for 799 or 899 
    • Internship credits for CS 702 
    • Seminar credit for CS 915; can be taken multiple times for credit
    •  CS900 section 2. CS 900 section 1 is restricted to students in the professional program
    • Graded courses from other departments that are numbered 300 or above

Graduate Course Information


Topics courses have syllabi that may change significantly from one offering to another.  They can be taken multiple times for credit. However, students are restricted to using only one topics course toward the core requirement.

CS 758,  CS 839 and CS 880 are considered topics courses.. Note: prior to the creation of CS 839 in Fall 2017 certain 838s were approved for core. If you have questions about earlier 838s for core, please consult with a member of the Graduate Advising Committee.


The seminar courses offered by the CS Department are CS 900 and CS 915. Seminar courses can be taken multiple times for credit. CS900 section 1 is restricted to students in the Professional Master’s program and can not be used toward CS MS in the traditional MS program. CS 900 Section 2, a new course in Fall 2023 can be used toward traditional MS requirements to fulfill the 6 additional credits requirement. The content of CS 900 section 2 is similar each semester and should not be taken more than once.


799 Master’s research. Students doing independent research and seeking to earn MS at UW-Madison, even if PhD is their end goal and they entered as  PHD student,  should enroll in 799. 799 can be counted toward the six credit wild card requirement.  While pursuing MS students may take more than 6 cumulative credits of 799. However, a maximum of 6 can be applied toward minimum degree requirements (wild card courses). 799 does not count toward the 24 credits of CS courses required for MS.


Students may choose to write a master’s thesis or project report. The responsibility for finding a thesis or project advisor lies solely with the student. The advisor must be a full-time or affiliate faculty member of the Department. The student should discuss the choice between a project report or a master’s thesis ahead of time with the instructor, and have a clear understanding of the expectations. If you have questions about the MS thesis or Project option you can contact the MS program manager. When a student enrolls in Thesis or Project they need to submit the MS Thesis/Project Planning Form

Master's Thesis

A master’s thesis (6 credits) is expected to be a substantial piece of work, e.g., a comprehensive survey of a particular area. In contrast to a doctoral thesis, a master’s thesis need not contain original research work, but might well serve as a basis and major first step toward subsequent doctoral work. There are no rules regarding the format of a master’s thesis.   The student should consult with their  thesis advisor and can also review the Graduate School’s Guide to Preparing Your Master’s Thesis. The student should send a copy of the thesis including the title page signed by the thesis committee to the MS Program Manager. In addition the thesis needs to be published as a departmental technical report. Depositing a copy of the thesis in the Memorial Library is optional.  

The thesis committee consists of the advisor and a minimum of two additional members; at least one of the additional members must be a full time faculty member of the department. 

Project Report

A project report (3 credits) is carried out under the supervision of a faculty member. The report should be submitted in electronic form, along with a title page signed by project advisor, to the MS graduate program manager. The report is kept on file in the department but is not made public.

PhD Requirements

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

  • be admitted to the CS PhD track,
  • complete all milestone requirements,
  • meet the minimum credit requirement for the degree,
  • not be dismissed, suspended or on probation due to lack of satisfactory performance, and
  • pay all fees and file the required paperwork.

Milestone Requirements

The milestone requirements for a PhD in CS are: the qualifying process, the preliminary process, and the final defense process. The deadlines are based on the semester in which the student was initially admitted to the CS MS/PhD program whether they entered as an MS or PhD student. To ensure compliance with satisfactory progress requirements, milestones must be met within the allotted time frame as follows:

Qualifying Process: Students must complete breadth requirements and pass the qualifying examination within 3 years after admission to the program.

 Preliminary: Students complete minor and pass preliminary examination within 4 years after admission to the program; up to one additional year extension is possible with GAC chair and advisor approval.

Dissertation: Students must pass final defense examination and deposit dissertation within 5 years from date of preliminary examination.  Extensions to this deadline are granted by the graduate school PhD coordinator with the approval of the student’s PhD advisor.  Extensions to this 5 year post preliminary exam deadline are rarely needed.

Credit Information

Minimum credit requirement

The student must receive 51 credits in courses numbered 300 or above such that at least 50% of the credits counted are for courses numbered 700 and above.

All graded courses numbered 300 or above 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. Research credits for 799,899,990 count toward this requirement. 790 counts for students who did a thesis or project masters.  Non-CS courses also count toward the 51 credit requirement. 

The requirement that 32 credits must be taken as a graduate student at UW-Madison is referred to as the minimum graduate residence credit requirement, and must be completed prior to achieving dissertator status. The CS department does not allow traditional MS/PHD students to transfer credit from other institutions. All 51 credits must be earned at UW-Madison post baccalaureate.

Transfer of credits

Credits from other institutions cannot be used to satisfy requirements, with one exception.  One course taken elsewhere may be used to satisfy a breadth course requirement. This course does not count towards any other requirement and no credit is given for the course.

Credits from prior graduate 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, 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.


Required Forms

Preliminary Warrant

After the student finishes the preliminary process, the electronic preliminary warrant needs to be electronically 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. The PhD graduate program manager submits the signed preliminary warrant electronically to the Graduate School for review and approval. After completion of the preliminary exam and minor, the student will become a dissertator in the following semester. Students will receive notification from the Graduate School of dissertator status and subsequent enrollment requirements until defense and deposit of dissertation.

PhD Defense Warrant

A warrant is required for the final oral defense. The student is required to submit the fully e-signed warrant at the time they deposit their dissertation. The warrant needs to be signed by every member of the final defense committee, indicating that the student passed the final examination. 

Whenever a warrant is needed, the student should submit the applicable google warrant request form to the PhD Graduate Program Manager at least three weeks ahead of time.  

Dissertation Advisor

It is the responsibility of a PhD student to find a dissertation advisor. The department does not guarantee that a dissertation advisor will be provided. The dissertation advisor must be a full-time or affiliate faculty member of the Department, or have retired or resigned from such a position no more than a year prior to the student’s defense.

The dissertation advisor’s expertise and research interests should match closely with those that the student intends to acquire. Students are encouraged to gather information from courses, seminars, faculty, the program website, and publications to identify faculty with compatible research interests. A professor should be approached at as early a stage in the student’s graduate work as possible, though usually not until after the student has taken some of the professor’s courses or has worked with and demonstrated ability to the professor in some way. Students who intend to get a PhD should find a dissertation advisor no later than the end of second year in the MS/PhD program. PhD students need to find a dissertation advisor early enough to meet the qualifying milestone. The deadline for completing qualifying process is the 6th semester after entering the graduate program. The dissertation advisor chairs the qualifying process, the preliminary exam committee and the final oral exam committee. 

A student who later decides that a different dissertation advisor would be preferable should discuss this with the current dissertation advisor and consult with a member of the GAC committee to seek a change in advisor. Selection of a dissertation advisor, or change of dissertation advisors, should be based on the faculty member’s ability to guide the student expertly into the chosen area of research. In each case the student needs to inform the Graduate Program Manager about the current dissertation advisor.

PhD Qualifying Process

The qualifying process for PhD students in CS consists of completing the CS breadth course requirement and passing the qualifying examination. Both components need to be finished by the qualifying deadline, which is the end of student’s 6th semester.

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Qualifying Exam

All areas of Computer Sciences except Optimization and Computer Architecture now use a project based qualifying exam. 

The Optimization qualifying examination is a 4 hour seated examination and is offered only in the fall. It is administered by the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department. Students interested in this area exam should register with the ISYE department. Details are sent by the CS PHD program manager prior to the start of semester. Exam is usually given at the start of the third week of classes.

The Computer Architecture exam is a four hour seated exam and is offered usually in the third week of classes in fall and spring. Students who are planning to take the computer architecture qualifying exam should contact the CS PhD Graduate Program Manager no later than Friday of the first week of classes.

Students from other areas need to register for the project based qual at the beginning of the semester. The PhD program manager will send out the registration information within the first two weeks of class. Students whose option is the project based qual register at the beginning of the semester after receiving the qualifying  information and link for registration from the PhD program manager.

For the project based qualifying process, the student will need to have a qual advisor, who is the expected PhD advisor. Before registering for the qualifying “exam” the student should discuss the expectations with the advisor., The qual advisor has some latitude in what will be required. Typically the project involves research or an implementation exercise that demonstrates the student’s ability to do PhD research. When the project is completed the student makes a presentation to the qual advisor and the members of the grading committee. The committee has a minimum of 3 members, two of whom must have tenure home in the CS department. 

Qualifying Process Course Breadth Requirement  

The faculty approved the following breadth requirements effective Fall 2023. Students who entered the program prior to fall 2023 have the option to use the old breadth requirements. Students who entered in fall 2023 or later must use these new requirements. PhD students must take one course from each of the bands 1, 2, 3 and 4 listed below. Two of the four courses used to satisfy this requirement must be numbered 700 or above; the remaining two courses must be numbered 500 above. Grades in all courses used for breadth must be at least AB. COMP SCI 839  can be used to satisfy breath in the band declared by the course instructor at the time of course offering. One course taken as a graduate student at another institution can be evaluated for equivalency to be  counted for breadth requirement.  A request for this must be made in writing to the faculty member designated to approve equivalence for the respective course on the breadth list. The request should indicate the corresponding UW–Madison course, include a transcript showing a grade equivalent to AB or better, and provide a course syllabus and description.  The professor who evaluates the course for equivalency needs to send an email to the GAC chair and PHD program manager with their decision. The specific breadth requirement can be waived if prior course is approved. No official credit for the prior course is given. Approved Breadth Courses  2023- 2024:

Band 1
COMP SCI/​E C E  506 Software Engineering 3
COMP SCI 536 Introduction to Programming Languages and Compilers 3
COMP SCI 537 Introduction to Operating Systems 4
COMP SCI 538 Introduction to the Theory and Design of Programming Languages 3
COMP SCI 542 Introduction to Software Security 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  552 Introduction to Computer Architecture 3
COMP SCI 640 Introduction to Computer Networks 3
COMP SCI 642 Introduction to Information Security 3
COMP SCI 701 Construction of Compilers 3
COMP SCI 703 Program Verification and Synthesis 3
COMP SCI 704 Principles of Programming Languages 3
COMP SCI 706 Analysis of Software Artifacts 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  707 Mobile and Wireless Networking 3
COMP SCI 736 Advanced Operating Systems 3
COMP SCI 739 Distributed Systems 3
COMP SCI 740 Advanced Computer Networks 3
COMP SCI 744 Big Data Systems 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  752 Advanced Computer Architecture I 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  755 VLSI Systems Design 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  757 Advanced Computer Architecture II 3
COMP SCI 758 Advanced Topics in Computer Architecture 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  782 Advanced Computer Security and Privacy 3
Band 2
COMP SCI 534 Computational Photography 3
COMP SCI 545 Natural Language and Computing 3
COMP SCI 559 Computer Graphics 3
COMP SCI 564 Database Management Systems: Design and Implementation 4
COMP SCI 570 Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction 4
COMP SCI 571 Building User Interfaces 3
COMP SCI/​B M I  576 Introduction to Bioinformatics 3
COMP SCI 764 Topics in Database Management Systems 3
COMP SCI 765 Data Visualization 3
COMP SCI 766 Computer Vision 3
COMP SCI/​ED PSYCH/​PSYCH  770 Human-Computer Interaction 3
COMP SCI/​B M I  776 Advanced Bioinformatics 3
COMP SCI 784 Foundations of Data Management 3
Band 3
COMP SCI/​MATH  513 Numerical Linear Algebra 3
COMP SCI/​MATH  514 Numerical Analysis 3
COMP SCI 520 Introduction to Theory of Computing 3
COMP SCI/​E C E/​I SY E  524 Introduction to Optimization 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E/​MATH/​STAT  525 Linear Optimization 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E  526 Advanced Linear Programming 3
COMP SCI 577 Introduction to Algorithms 4
COMP SCI/​I SY E  635 Tools and Environments for Optimization 3
COMP SCI 710 Computational Complexity 3
COMP SCI/​MATH  714 Methods of Computational Mathematics I 3
COMP SCI/​MATH  715 Methods of Computational Mathematics II 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E  719 Stochastic Programming 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E  723 Dynamic Programming and Associated Topics 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E/​MATH/​STAT  726 Nonlinear Optimization I 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E  727 Convex Analysis 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E/​MATH  728 Integer Optimization 3
COMP SCI/​I SY E/​MATH  730 Nonlinear Optimization II 3
COMP SCI 787 Advanced Algorithms 3
COMP SCI 880 Topics in Theoretical Computer Science 3
Band 4
COMP SCI/​E C E/​M E  532 Matrix Methods in Machine Learning 3
COMP SCI/​E C E/​M E  539 Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks 3
COMP SCI 540 Introduction to Artificial Intelligence 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  561 Probability and Information Theory in Machine Learning 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  760 Machine Learning 3
COMP SCI/​E C E  761 Mathematical Foundations of Machine Learning 3
COMP SCI 762 Advanced Deep Learning 3
COMP SCI 769 Advanced Natural Language Processing 3
COMP SCI/​B M I  771 Learning Based Methods for Computer Vision 3
COMP SCI/​E C E/​STAT  861 Theoretical Foundations of Machine Learning 3

PhD Preliminary Process

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

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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.

  • 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.
  • Option B: Distributed
    This option consists of at least 9 credits in courses from two 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; no credits counted are for courses taken while the student was completing requirements for UW CS MS .
    • For this option the Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC) Chair acts as the Minor Advisor. Student must consult as early as possible with the Graduate advising committee chair for approval of a distributed minor plan. On a student’s transcript, fulfillment of this option appears as Minor: Distributed.

For external minors from other departments, the Minor Advisor for that department attests to it by signing the Minor Declaration Form and approving the minor request in  the grad portal. The minor advisor electronically signs the preliminary warrant from the Graduate School at the time of preliminary exam or when the minor requirements are completed if the minor is not yet completed by the date of preliminary exam. An electronic copy of the signed Minor Declaration form needs to be filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator.

The PhD program manager verifies completion of distributed minor at the time the warrant request is made. For a distributed minor the department chair signs the preliminary warrant to attest to completion of the distributed minor. 

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. 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.

Students should request preliminary warrant three weeks before the scheduled date for their examination. When the student requests the preliminary warrant they need to know the date and their committee composition, which requires a minimum of three members.  

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

Dissertator Status

The semester following passing exam and completing minor the student becomes a dissertator

Both the minor and preliminary exam must be completed before the student is eligible for dissertator status. When a student has advanced to dissertator status , the graduate school will send a confirmation email to the student that includes detailed information on enrollment requirements for dissertators and other requirements for degree completion.

PhD Final Process (Final Exam & Dissertation)

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.

The Graduate School website contains a doctoral guide completing your doctoral degree .
This guide includes dissertation formatting guidelines, resources for writing help and timelines for degree completion.

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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.

Defense Warrant Request

When a student is ready to defend and has determined the date and committee composition they can request a PhD Final Defense Warrant . This form should be submitted at least 3 weeks prior to the defense.

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 along with the fully signed defense warrant.

Final Defense 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 four or more members and is chaired by the dissertation advisor. The composition of the committee will be suggested by the dissertation advisor. Defense committee requirements can be found here: Graduate School: Committees (Doctoral/Master’s/MFA) – UW-Madison Policy Library

 All of the following conditions need to be satisfied:

  • At least three 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 UW department outside of CS.
  • The fourth member can be from UW-Madison or external to UW-Madison. They must have a PhD.
  • At least three committee members must be designated readers. 
  • After the student passes the exam, each committee member needs to electronically sign the PhD Defense Warrant.

PhD Deadlines

For historical reasons, deadlines are reckoned in semesters (regular academic terms).  One year equals two regular terms, and the deadline clock does not advance during the summer.  Exceptions to the milestone deadlines must be petitioned by the student to the GAC Chair before the deadline has elapsed.  The student’s advisor should send an email to the GAC chair in support of extension requests.

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Qualifying Deadline

Three years (6 regular terms) from time of entry are allotted for finishing the qualifying process.

A later extension of one regular term to complete the breadth requirement may be granted to students who have passed the qualifying exam, provided the student commits to a concrete plan for completing the breadth requirement by the extended deadline, and the dissertation advisor is supportive.

Students who believe their situation warrants additional time should consult with the GAC Chair. 

Preliminary Deadline

The number of regular terms initially allotted for finishing the preliminary process is the end of fourth year.

If the student is granted an extension to the qualifying deadline, the preliminary deadline is also automatically extended, unless the GAC chair specifies extension of qual deadline only.

A further prelim extension of up to two regular terms may be granted provided the student commits to a concrete plan for completing the preliminary process by the extended deadline, and the dissertation advisor is supportive, confirms willingness to direct the student towards the PhD degree, and states that the student is making good progress towards that degree. The PhD advisor should email the GAC chair in support of the student’s request for an extension.

Final Deadline for Defending and Depositing PhD Dissertation

The deadline for finishing the final process is initially set to 10 regular terms (5 years) after passing the preliminary examination.

In order to receive an extension, a student may be required to take another preliminary examination.

Deadline Extension for Childbirth and Adoption

A graduate student in good standing may request a deadline extension of one regular term when he or she experiences childbirth or adoption. The extension does not extend the funding guarantee by the Department.

The extension is available for each birth or adoption, to each parent, both males and females, and without regard to sexual orientation.

To obtain the extension, the student must email the GAC Chair and the dissertation advisor (if any) within 12 months of the date of birth or adoption. The GAC Chair checks that the conditions are met and, if so, automatically grants the extension.

For the purposes of this regulation, graduate students are considered in good standing if they are not dismissed, suspended, or on probation, and if they did not fail the conditions for satisfactory academic progress for the term prior to the child birth or adoption.

Funding & Financial Aid

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Graduate students are eligible for a range of financial support, including teaching assistantships, research assistantships and graduate fellowships. Many students admitted to the traditional MS/PhD track are offered a funding guarantee of four years through the department, typically in the form of teaching assistantships for incoming students. Funding consists of a tuition waiver and a stipend.

Most graduate assistantships are awarded at the time of admission.

Research Assistantships


  • Non-dissertator RAs are required to enroll in a minimum of 8 credits in Fall or Spring semester. Non-dissertator summer RAs are required to enroll in 2 credits. This credit requirement must be satisfied by graded courses numbered 300 or above. Courses numbered below 300, audit, and pass/fail do not satisfy enrollment requirements. Graduate research courses (799 and 899) are graded S/U and can be used to meet Non dissertator enrollment requirements.
  • RAs are expected to be making satisfactory academic progress · International students are expected to adhere to the University’s policy on spoken English proficiency .
  • Dissertator RAs are required to enroll in 3 credits of 990 each term, including summer if they have summer RA appointment.


  • RAs are typically 50% appointments.
  • RAs should discuss RA duties, responsibilities, and expectations with RA advisor.
  • International students are limited to 50% appointments and domestic students are limited to 75% appointments for all on-campus employment during the academic year.


  • RAs are selected by individual professors. Professors are looking for students whose research interests align with their own. Professors usually make offers to students who have been outstanding students in their course or students who have taken independent study with them and have done exemplary work.
  • Computer Sciences graduate students with guaranteed support usually start with TA appointments in their first year.

Summer Research Assistantships

Annually, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Computer Sciences awards several summer research assistantships (RAships). These awards provide two months of summer support to outstanding students who are undergraduates or were first-year graduate students during the preceding academic year.

The principal criteria for RA selection are academic excellence and the quality of the expected outcomes of the proposed research project. Students who receive the award are advised by the nominating faculty member during the summer and give a 30-minute presentation on their results in a special seminar during the fall semester. Students are encouraged to discuss potential topics with computer sciences professors with whom they might want to work. For graduate students, it is expected that the nominating professor will contribute one half of the funding for the two-month assistantship.

How to Apply

Students are nominated by a computer sciences faculty member in April. Each nomination includes:

  • Description of the proposed research (three pages, 12-point font)
  • Student resume (one or two pages)
  • Letter of nomination and recommendation from the nominating faculty member (two pages)

Teaching Assistantships


  • TAs are expected to enroll in a minimum of 6 credits. Credit requirement must be satisfied by graded courses taken at 300 or above; courses numbered below 300, audit, and pass/fail do not satisfy enrollment requirements. Graduate research courses (799, 899, and 990) are graded S/U and can be used to meet enrollment requirement.
  • TAs are expected to be making satisfactory academic progress
  • International students are expected to adhere to the University’s policies related to spoken English proficiency.


  • TAs are typically 50% appointments, requiring 360 hours of work per semester
  • TAs should discuss TA duties, responsibilities, and expectations with the course instructor
  • TAs and instructors should jointly complete and submit a TA workload form
  • International students are limited to 50% appointments and domestic students are limited to 75% appointments for all on-campus employment during the academic year


  • The Computer Sciences TA application link is emailed out to all students in the traditional Computer Sciences MS/PhD graduate program. If you are not a Computer Sciences student but would like to be added to our mailing list to receive a TA application, please email with this request
  • Computer Sciences students with guaranteed support are given TA placement priority.

Computer Sciences Graduate Fellowship

Annually, the Department of Computer Sciences awards up to four graduate fellowships providing nine months of support to outstanding students pursuing the doctoral degree. Each graduate fellowship provides tuition plus a stipend. The principal criteria for fellowship selection are academic merit, creativity, research accomplishments and commitment to research.


Student must be a full time Computer Sciences graduate student in dissertator status who is conducting research within the department and is supervised by a computer sciences faculty member.


Computer Sciences graduate fellowships are a reality because of the generosity of our alumni and friends who have endowed them. The fellowships we award are:

  • Anthony Klug NCR Fellowship in Database Systems
  • Cisco Systems Distinguished Graduate Fellowships (2), preference given to U.S. Citizens
  • Lawrence H. Landweber NCR Fellowship in Distributed Systems


Students must be nominated by a computer sciences faculty member. Nominations deadline vary by year. Each nomination includes:

  • A nomination letter from the nominator detailing the reasons for the nomination (maximum of two pages)
  • Two additional supporting letters from faculty
  • Nominee’s CV
  • Up to 3 publications authored or co-authored by the nominee

Nominations to renew an existing fellowship may also be submitted.

External Graduate Fellowships and Scholarships

NIJ Graduate Research Fellowship in STEM

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, is pleased to announce the release of the FY2018 solicitation, Graduate Research Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This program provides awards to accredited academic institutions to support graduate research leading to doctoral degrees in topic areas that are relevant to preventing and controlling crime, and ensuring the fair and impartial administration of criminal justice in the United States. Through the GRF-STEM program, NIJ supports research by promising doctoral students as they train to become the creators of future innovation. Each fellowship provides up to three years of support usable within a five-year period. For each year of support, NIJ provides the degree-granting institution a stipend of $35,000 usable toward the student’s salary and related costs, and up to $15,000 to cover the student’s tuition and fees, research expenses and related costs. Download the solicitation (PDF) for a full description. Find information on applying for these and other NIJ awards online.

Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowships

For PhD students or those intending to pursue the PhD; open to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Providing unique financial and fellowship support to the nation’s most remarkable PhD students in the applied physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

IBM PhD Fellowship Nominations

Students must be nominated by a doctoral faculty member and must be a full-time student in a PhD program over the two consecutive academic years of the award or forfeit their fellowship. Nominations for the annual PhD Fellowship program begin the third week of September and are accepted for 5 weeks. This internship is for U.S. citizens only.

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

For U.S. citizens or permanent residents, NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports individuals early in their graduate training in STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) fields.

Churchill Scholarship

This award provides graduate study at Cambridge University, for U.S. citizens only.

National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship

For U.S. citizens and nationals.

National Physical Science Consortium

Graduate fellowships for U.S. citizens only.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Summer Internship Program

Other Funding Resources

On campus

It is often possible for a CS graduate student to find a part-time job to help support the student while in graduate school. A wide variety of departments and projects on campus need help with both programming and administering computational resources. UW-Madison student jobs website contains listings of on campus jobs for students. Students should also consider contacting the Division of Information Technology (DoIT), as well as individual departments on campus for opportunities.


Outstanding students are strongly encouraged to apply for external scholarships. The Department maintains a list of opportunities with their application deadlines.

Professional Conduct Standards

All students are expected to adhere to the highest standards of professional behavior and ethics. Students should avoid even the appearance of improper behavior or lack of ethical standards while in Graduate School at UW-Madison, in all professional settings, and in their personal lives. Students should conduct themselves according to the standards expected of members of the profession to which the student aspires. Concerns about infractions of professional conduct may be effectively handled informally between the instructor/advisor and the student. If a resolution is not achieved, a graduate program representative may be included in the discussion. Separate and apart from a violation of professional conduct, a student may face university disciplinary action with regard to the same action. Students are responsible for reading the information here, as well as the information published on all relevant websites. Lack of knowledge of this information does not excuse any infraction.

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Professional Ethics

Students shall show respect for a diversity of opinions, perspectives and cultures; accurately represent their work and acknowledge the contributions of others; participate in and commit to related opportunities; aim to gain knowledge and contribute to the knowledge base of others; understand the UW Student Code of Conduct; represent their profession and the program; and strive to incorporate and practice disciplinary ideals in their daily lives. Resumes/CVs must reflect accurate information.

Honesty and Integrity

Students shall demonstrate honesty and integrity as shown by challenging themselves in academic pursuits; honesty and ethics in research and Institutional Review Board (IRB) applications–including honesty in interpretation of data, commitment to an unbiased interpretation of academic and professional endeavors; and the need to document research activities, protect subject/client confidentiality and HIPAA regulations. Students shall follow through and pull their weight in group activities and understand where collaboration among students is or is not allowed; not plagiarize others’ work or their own past work (self-plagiarism), cheat, or purposefully undermine the work of others; and avoid conflicts of interest for the duration of their time in the program. As a professional, honesty and integrity also extends to personal behavior in life outside of the academic setting by realizing that students are representatives of the program, UW-Madison and the profession as a whole.

Interpersonal and Workplace Relationships

Students shall interact with peers, faculty, staff and those they encounter in their professional capacity in a manner that is respectful, considerate and professional. This includes and is not limited to attending all scheduled meetings, honoring agreed upon work schedules, being on time and prepared for work/meetings, contributing collaboratively to the team, keeping the lines of communication open, offering prompt response to inquiries, and employing respectful use of available equipment/technology/resources. Chronic or unexplained absences are unprofessional in the workplace and could be grounds for termination or removal of funding. To facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas, any criticism shall be offered in a constructive manner, and the right of others to hold different opinions shall be respected.

Commitment to Learning

Students are expected to meet their educational responsibilities at all times. Be actively prepared for class and be ready for questions and answers. Be on time for every class and always show courtesy during class or if you have to leave class early. If possible, students should notify the instructor at least one day in advance of a planned absence. Students who are unable to attend class are responsible for finding out what occurred that day and should not expect instructors to give them individual instruction. Recognizing that the pursuit of knowledge is a continuous process, students shall show commitment to learning by persevering despite adversity and seeking guidance in order to adapt to change. Students shall strive for academic excellence and pursue and incorporate all critique, both positive and negative, in the acquisition of knowledge in order to understand and respect the community in which they work.

Professional Appearance

Students shall convey a positive, professional appearance in order to represent the program in a dignified manner. Appearance includes a person’s dress, hygiene, and appropriate etiquette/protocols for the environment (including safety protocols and protective clothing in environments that require them).


Academic Misconduct

Academic misconduct is governed by state law, UW System Administration Code Chapter 14. For further information on this law, what constitutes academic misconduct, and procedures related to academic misconduct, see: The Graduate School Academic Policies & Procedures: Misconduct, Academic.

Non-Academic Misconduct

Non-academic misconduct is governed by state law, UW System Administration Code Chapters 17 and 18. For further information on these laws, what constitutes non-academic misconduct, and procedures related to non-academic misconduct, see:

The Graduate School Academic Policies & Procedures: Misconduct, Non-Academic

Research Misconduct

Graduate students are held to the same standards of responsible conduct of research as faculty and staff. Further information about these standards and related policies and procedures can be found at

Academic Policies & Procedures: Responsible Conduct of Research

Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Research Policies

Hostile and Intimidating Behavior (Bullying) 

Hostile and intimidating behavior (HIB), sometimes referred to as “bullying,” is prohibited by university policy applicable to faculty, academic staff, and university staff. For further definition, policy, and procedures related to HIB see: Students who feel they have been subject to HIB are encouraged to review the informal and formal options on the “Addressing HIB” tab of this website.

Dean of Students Incident Reporting (Hate, Bias, Sexual Assault, Hazing, Students of Concern, Bullying)

The Dean of Students Office maintains a portal to report incidents of hate, bias, sexual assault, hazing, dating/domestic violence, stalking, missing students, and students displaying other concerning behaviors at UW-Madison:

In the Department of Computer Sciences, any student at UW–Madison who feels that they have been treated unfairly has the right to voice a complaint and receive a prompt hearing of the grievance. The basis for a grievance can range from something as subtle as miscommunication to the extreme of harassment.

Anyone in the Department of Computer Sciences—faculty, staff, students, visitors—may file a report.  More information on department reporting resources can be found on this website:

Grievance Process

Each college or program on campus has a grievance process that students can use to address other concerns regarding their experience in the program. This program’s grievance process can be found detailed at:  Additional resources are found: under the tab Policies and selecting drop down information for Grievances and Appeals.

Other Graduate Student Resources