At any point during the program a graduate student has one or more advisors. The advisors serve a dual role: first, to assist the student in acquiring the highest level of knowledge and competence in computer science as possible; and second, to determine whether the student is performing acceptably throughout the program. Advisors play a role in tracking the student's progress toward degree completion, assisting with course selection and academic planning, and helping students identify possible research mentors, dissertation advisors, committee members, and opportunities.
Initially and by default, the graduate advisors of a student in the academic track are all the members of the Graduate Advising Committee (GAC). The role of GAC continues even after the student has a dissertation advisor, until the student reaches dissertator status. For students in dissertator status, their dissertation advisor is their only graduate advisor.
The department maintains two types of records about each graduate student:
- A course history record. The purpose of the course history record is to ensure the student satisfies the requirements for satisfactory academic progress. All relevant courses completed or being taken should be listed.
- A program plan. The purpose of the program plan is to ensure the student is pursuing a suitable course of study for the degree sought, and understands the requirements. It must contain a complete plan consistent with the course history record.
During the registration period of the first term of a graduate student's tenure in the Department, the student must submit the initial records:
- A course history record with the desired courses for the first term.
- A tentative but complete program plan for the degree sought. Students pursuing an MS should fill out the part on the minimum credit requirement for the MS degree. Students pursuing a Ph.D. should fill out the part on the qualifying process for the PhD degree, including their area of specialization for the qualifying examination and their breadth courses (both of which are described under "Ph.D. Requirements"). They are encouraged to also fill out the part corresponding to the MS degree.
In order to draft those documents students can peruse the course descriptions; lists of past, current, and future offerings; and other course information available. 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 graduate advisor to discuss their plans and have the forms approved, and file the approved forms with the Graduate Program Coordinator.
It is the responsibility of the student to make sure both forms are correct and kept up-to-date throughout the program. Students should meet with a graduate advisor and have the updated versions approved:
- during the registration period of every subsequent regular term, and
- whenever the course plan changes during a regular term.
In each case, a student needs to pick up the forms from the Graduate Program Coordinator, bring them to the meeting with the graduate advisor, and refile them afterwards.
It is the responsibility of a PhD student to eventually 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 ago.
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 matching 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. While no faculty member is obligated to accept a student's request to serve as a dissertation advisor, invitations are usually accepted except in cases where the faculty member judges that a different faculty member would serve the student's needs better. PhD students need to officially declare their dissertation advisor well before the preliminary exam, as the dissertation advisor chairs the preliminary exam committee and the final oral exam committee. For more information, see the advisor policy from the Graduate School.
A student who later decides that a different dissertation advisor would be preferable should discuss this with the current dissertation advisor and then feel free to seek the change. 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 Coordinator about the current dissertation advisor.
Students should always reference the program's website, the Graduate School's website, and more specifically the Graduate School's Academic Policies and Procedures for answers on various program-related questions. However, when students need further clarification on any of these policies or procedures, or need other help, they can contact the following people:
- The Graduate Program Coordinator can play a role with issues including enrollment, satisfactory academic progress, academic deadlines, graduation completion, program-related forms, course holds and permissions, and course offerings.
- The members of the Graduate Advising Committee remain available for advice on aspects other than research even after a student has a dissertation advisor.
- The Dean of Students Office provides advocacy, intervention, prevention, and referral services to the university community.
- The University Health Services provide counseling to students experiencing personal difficulties.