The Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) in the Computer of Engineering (CpE) focuses primarily on a dissertation describing publishable quality research (directed by a faculty advisor) of significant depth. Although a Master degree in CpE is not required, a student is required to meet a set of pre-requisite coursework requirements, defined to include the architecture/design course requirement, Computer Science course requirements, and Electrical & Computer Engineering course.
Please see the Curriculum Distribution Requirements for an outline of the exact course credit requirement. The PhD degree requires at least 24 credit hours of course work. For the courses meeting these requirements, a Ph.D. student must receive a minimum grade of A-.
If the student has earned an MS degree at another institution, the student is entitled to waive up to 12 hours of course work. The distribution of the 12 hours waived will be determined by the Director with input from the advisor. If the student has earned en route master degree, an additional 9 hours of graduate-level coursework is required. The time limit for completion of the Ph.D. is seven years after admission to the doctoral program. Degree requirements set by the School of Engineering and Applied Science are given in the School of Engineering Graduate Record and are additional to the following CpE Graduate Program requirements.
A student may transfer a maximum of 6 hours of credit, subject to approval from the CpE Graduate Director. Students may only transfer PhD-level courses from other schools of recognized standing in which they earned a grade of B or better. Students should discuss courses acceptable for transfer of credit with their advisor, prior to submitting the request to the Director. After the Director has approved the transfer, the student will work with the CpE Graduate Administrator to submit the appropriate forms and documentation to the School of Engineering Graduate Registrar for approval.
One semester of guided undergraduate teaching experience is strongly encouraged for each student. The student should work to complete this requirement with the approval and supervision of a faculty member. The faculty supervisor may or may not be the student’s advisor. Further guidelines are available from the Graduate Coordinator.
Qualifying Exam Overview
Student desiring a PhD should take the qualifying examination as soon as possible. Students entering with a master’s degree should take the exam no later than the beginning of their third semester. Students entering with a bachelor’s degree should ideally take the exam by the beginning of their third semester, but no later than the beginning of the fourth semester. (The exam should not be postponed in order to finish a master’s degree first.) The objective of the qualifying examination is to assess the student’s potential to begin doctoral-level research. The latter requires the student to demonstrate the following in their primary research area and two secondary research areas:
- an ability to state a problem clearly, provide its motivation, and the requirements for a solution.
- an ability to determine if a solution is correct.
- an ability to assess to what extent a (presumably correct) solution meets the requirements (solves the problem).
- an ability to describe how a problem and its solution fits into the big picture (and to understand the big picture).
- an ability to communicate effectively (both in writing and speaking) and to answer questions relating to the problem and its solution and the broader research context.
The qualifying exams are administered twice a year, typically in January and August. Students must pass the qualifying examination before beginning their fourth academic semester after admission to the doctoral program, unless otherwise approved by the CpE Graduate Committee.
We have identified a set of six research areas from which each candidate will be required to select a primary research area and two secondary areas for the examination.
The areas are:
- Computer architecture and high-performance computing
- VLSI, System on chip; low power design
- Distributed systems; Dependable and Secure computing; software engineering
- Cyber-physical systems; Embedded, Autonomous, Mobile and Robotic Systems
- Machine Learning; NLP; Vision, Image and Signal Processing
- Networks and Internet; Internet of Things; Cloud computing
The CpE qualifying committee will announce one paper for each area two months prior to the date set for an examination. One month before the examination date, students will provide the CpE administrative coordinator their selections for the primary and secondary areas. The paper for the primary area is expected to be studied in depth. Students will be required to read and understand papers cited by the paper in the primary area as well as follow-on work. The committee will ask questions to gauge the students’ detailed understanding of the primary paper and related work. For the secondary areas, students should study the selected papers and be prepared to answer general questions on these papers and related background information. Our goal for testing the student on these secondary areas is to determine the students’ multi-disciplinary abilities, a key factor that is becoming increasingly important in today’s research environment.
Qualifying Exam Process
- Two weeks before the oral exam date, the student will submit a written report on the paper in the primary area to the head of the CpE qualifiers committee. This report should demonstrate the five abilities listed at the start of this section.
- The student should also prepare a 20-minute (max) presentation on the primary paper, and a 10-minute (max) presentation on each secondary paper summarizing their salient points, for delivery at the oral examination.
- The oral examination will be in two parts:
- Part I: Primary area test is a 1-hour examination, which will start with the student’s 20-minute presentation on the paper selected by the student in the primary research area. The committee will then ask in-depth questions on the presentation, the assigned paper, related papers, and other topics in the selected primary area.
- Part II: Secondary area test is a 1-hour examination, each half of which starts with the student’s 10-minute presentation on the two secondary papers selected by the student. The committee will then ask broad questions on the presentation, the assigned papers and other topics in the selected secondary areas.
- Students will be evaluated on the combined written submission and oral examination. The result will be a clear-cut pass or fail for the entire exam; no remedial work will be allowed to alter the outcome. A student who does not pass the qualifying exam on the first try must retake it at the next offering. A student who fails the examination twice will lose financial support and must leave the program at the end of that semester.
- The program specific assessment form and the PhD Examination Report form that records the result of the examination will be prepared and submitted as part of the Qualifying Exam process by the Graduate Administrator.
Advancement to Candidacy and Dissertation Proposal
The Graduate Student in CpE advances to the candidacy for the doctoral degree after successfully passing the qualifying examination. The student is then expected to prepare a dissertation proposal within two semesters of successfully passing the exam.
The first step is for the student to put together a Dissertation Committee of five members including the research advisor. The five members of the Committee will include at least one member from the ECE department and at least one member from the CS department. The three remaining members are at the discretion of the student and advisor but must include one member. The outside member must also come from a department that is different from the advisor’s department and also from outside the advisor’s area of expertise.
The student should prepare an acceptable dissertation proposal done under the guidance of the student's advisor. This proposal should be presented before any extensive research is undertaken, 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: The proposal must be limited to 20 single-spaced pages including figures exclusive of bibliography. The document should succinctly describe the problem, relationship to other work in the field, the research plan including specific research activities, and the expected contributions. An example of an organization that meets these four requirements is:
- What is the problem?
- Why is it important?
- What is the "shape" of a solution?
- What is the research agenda?
- Why will the agenda work (produce a solution)?
A comprehensive literature review (not subject to page limitations) may be included as an appendix. Any departure from these guidelines must be approved in advance by the student's proposal examining committee.
The student should prepare a public oral presentation of the proposal, which should be made within two semesters after successfully completing the Ph.D. qualifying examination. The student should provide the proposal examining committee the written proposal document at least two weeks prior to the oral presentation.
The student should work with the Graduate Coordinator to provide the chair of the committee with partially completed DISSERTATION PROPOSAL and ENGINEERING DISSERTATION PROPOSAL ASSESSMENT forms at least one day prior to the Proposal. These forms will be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator by the Chair of the Committee following the exam.
The presentation should be limited to 30 minutes and will be followed by questions from the audience and the proposal examining committee.
The student must complete at least one full semester as a candidate before the degree is awarded. 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.
Each Ph.D. candidate must submit an advisor approved article related to their research to a refereed journal or conference, prior to completing their dissertation defense. If the student’s advisor is not a co-author of the paper, the advisor must provide the CpE graduate committee with a note indicating the advisor’s approval of the paper.
The Dissertation Defense
The culmination of the PhD program is the defense of the dissertation. It is expected that the work be of sufficient quality to warrant journal publication.
The dissertation defense is an oral defense before the student's Ph.D. final examining committee as well as any other interested faculty, students or other persons. The examining committee should meet the same guidelines as the examining committee for the proposal and must be approved by submitting the FINAL EXAMINATION COMMITTEE form to the Graduate Administrator.
The dissertation defense should be announced publicly at least one week prior to the scheduled date. The student should work with the Graduate Coordinator at least two weeks prior to the defense to prepare the announcement. The student will also prepare the Thesis and Dissertation Assessment and the Report on Final Examination forms with the help of the Coordinator. These forms should be sent to the chair of the graduate committee no later than one day prior to the exam. After the defense, these forms should be given to the Graduate Coordinator.
At the defense, the student will present their research to the committee and other members of the audience followed by a question and answer session. The student presentation portion should not exceed 45 minutes. Follow the School of Engineering rules with regards to the format of the dissertation and the number of copies required for distribution. Also required is a list of publications.
Graduation procedures, including submitting the dissertation, are outlined in detail on the School of Engineering GRADUATE Record . Outcome assessment for the PhD degree occurs at three different points in the program: the qualifying exam, the proposal and the dissertation defense.