The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The PhD program emphasizes preparation for research, teaching, and scholarly endeavor in academic settings or private, industrial, or governmental laboratories. It requires completion of a minimum number of semester hours of coursework, satisfactory performance on the qualifying exam, comprehensive exam and the proposal, and the production and formal defense of a dissertation describing original research results. The requirements described here are in addition to the University-wide requirements for the PhD degree described in the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College, Section XII.

Advising
     Advisor Selection
Course Requirements
     Core Requirement
     Breadth Requirement
     Practice Requirement
     Colloquium Requirement
     Cognate Area Requirement
     Responsible Conduct of Research Requirement
Elective Courses
     Transfer Credits
Qualifying Exam Requirement
     Qualifying Exam Timetable
     Qualifying Exam Structure
     Qualifying Exam Panel
     Qualifying Exam Failure
     Master of Computer Science Degree (MCS) En Route
Comprehensive Exam Requirement
     Comprehensive Exam Structure
     Master’s Degree (MS) at Comprehensive Exam
     Post-Comprehensive Exam Registration
Academic Registration Requirement​
Dissertation Requirement
     Dissertation Committee and Proposal Defense
     Dissertation Defense
Academic Standing
     Academic Review
     Departmental Probation
     PhD Departmental Plan of Study Form
Petitions

Paperwork Flowchart for CS Graduate Degrees

 

Advising

Every graduate student must have a faculty advisor. For PhD students, the faculty advisor usually also serves as the research supervisor and thesis committee chair. Entering students may be tentatively assigned to a Computer Science faculty member whose research interests align with their own.

Advisor Selection

Each student should select a PhD advisor from among the Computer Science Department faculty. Note that CS faculty includes assistant, associate and full professors whose primary appointments are in CS, and faculty whose primary appointments are in other departments but who hold joint appointments with CS (this does not include adjuncts, visitors or lecturers). On the rare occasion when a student chooses a PhD advisor who is outside the Department, a co-advisor from the CS faculty must be designated.

Once a faculty member has agreed to serve as a student's advisor, a Change of Advisor form, if applicable, should be filed with the Academic Services Coordinator. The Department recognizes that an individual student's interests may change with time, and that this may result in a student changing advisors accordingly.

Course Requirements

The PhD requires completion of a minimum of 72 semester hours of coursework beyond the bachelor's degree.

Core Requirement

All PhD students are required to take both courses below for a total of 6 semester hours:

CS:5350 Design and Analysis of Algorithms 3 s.h.

and either

CS:4330 Theory of Computation 3 s.h.

or

CS:5340 Limits of Computation 3 s.h.

Breadth Requirement

All PhD students are required to select a total of 3 courses (9 semester hours total), with at least one course selected from each of the following three categories:

Systems and Software
CS:4640 Computer Security 3 s.h.
CS:4980 Topics in Computer Science II (section approved by advisor) 3 s.h.
CS:5610 High Performance Computer Architecture 3 s.h.
Networks and Distributed Systems
CS:4980 Topics in Computer Science II (section approved by advisor) 3 s.h.
CS:5620 Distributed Systems and Algorithms 3 s.h.

CS:5630 Cloud Computing Technology

3 s.h.
Programming Languages and Compilers
CS:4980 Topics in Computer Science II (section approved by advisor) 3 s.h.
CS:5810 Formal Methods in Software Engineering 3 s.h.
CS:5850 Programming Language Foundations 3 s.h.

CS:5860 Lambda Calculus and its Applications

3 s.h.

New courses or specific section offerings of CS:4980 may also satisfy a given area requirement. Check with the Director of Graduate Studies for approval.

Practice Requirement

All PhD students are required to take at least one course (3 semester hours) having significant practical or implementation-oriented content. With advisor approval, some examples would include:

CS:4400 Database Systems 3 s.h.
CS:4420 Artificial Intelligence 3 s.h.
CS:4440 Web Mining 3 s.h.
CS:4470 Health Data Analytics 3 s.h.

CS:4480 Knowledge Discovery

3 s.h.

CS:4500 Research Methods in HCI

3 s.h.

CS:4630 Mobile Computing

3 s.h.
CS:4700 High Performance and Parallel Computing 3 s.h.
CS:4720 Optimization Techniques 3 s.h.
CS:5800 Fundamentals of Software Engineering 3 s.h.
CS:5990 Individualized Research or Programming Project 3 s.h.

Colloquium Requirement

All PhD students must accumulate at least 4 semester hours of CS:6000, the Computer Science Department Colloquium Series. Students enrolled in CS:6000 are graded S/U. Students must attend at least 80% of scheduled talks to get a satisfactory score for the course. Please be aware that, occasionally, colloquia may occur on days and times other than when CS:6000 is normally scheduled.

Responsible Conduct of Research Requirement

The Department of Computer Science offers the course CS:5980-Topics in CS III-Computing Research Ethics every spring semester. It is required that all PhD students complete this course within their first two years.

Cognate Area Requirement

All PhD students are required to select, in consultation with their advisor, 3 courses, for a minimum of 9 semester hours constituting coherent coverage of an external cognate area. Reasonable choices include, but are not limited to, mathematics, statistics, management sciences, genetics, biology, or an engineering discipline.

Elective Courses

PhD students should fill the remaining required semester hours with a combination of thesis hours, directed readings, CS graduate courses, and non-CS graduate courses, all approved by their advisor. Note: CS:7990 Research for Dissertation may be taken only in the semesters following successful completion of the comprehensive exam.

Transfer Credits

Graduate Admissions and the Department will review graduate coursework already completed that may warrant transfer credit. Advising sessions will determine how those credits will affect the student’s program requirements. Note: regardless of how many transfer credits are awarded, Graduate College residency requirements must always be satisfied. Also, transferred courses that are being used to satisfy program requirements must be less than 10 years old at the time of the comprehensive exam.

To have a program requirement waived on the basis of prior graduate coursework, or transfer credits to a University of Iowa degree, the student must submit a petition to the Director of Graduate Studies. The petition form is available at the end of this handbook (or online at https://cs.uiowa.edu/graduate-programs/forms), and completed forms should be filed with the Academic Services Coordinator.

Qualifying Exam Requirement

The purpose of the qualifying exam is to demonstrate the ability to read, analyze, synthesize, and communicate current research results.

Qualifying Exam Timetable

Qualifying exams are given twice a year, approximately mid-September and mid-February. PhD students should take the qualifying exam at the beginning of their second year. PhD Students should start interacting with their initial advisor as soon as possible – preferably early in the fall semester – to set up a plan for starting research that will lead to success in the qualifying exam. Students must pass the qualifying exam by the end of their second year.

Qualifying Exam Structure

A qualifying exam is based on a small number (3-5) of research articles selected in consultation with the student's advisor. The candidate prepares a 15-20 page synthesis/discussion of this material. It is okay for a paper co-authored by the student to be one of the research articles covered by the qualifying exam report, however such a paper, by itself, cannot serve as a qualifying exam report.

Qualifying Exam Panel

Each student attempting the qualifying exam is required to file a Request for PhD Qualifying Exam form and submit the qualifying exam report by Sept 1 (for the fall exam) or Feb 1 (for the spring exam). A panel of three faculty will be selected by the Department and a date and time will be assigned during the scheduled exam period for the candidate's 20-40 minute oral presentation The three-member faculty panel, along with the student's advisor acting in an advisory (non-voting) capacity, will decide the outcome of the exam by majority vote.

Qualifying Exam Failure

A student who fails the qualifying exam will be permitted to repeat the exam one additional time. PhD students who do not pass the qualifying exam by the second semester of the second year (regardless of the number of attempts undertaken) will be automatically dropped into the MCS program.

Master of Computer Science Degree (MCS) En Route to the PhD

Students may request that an MCS degree be granted when all course requirements for the MCS have been satisfied. If an MCS degree is to be awarded, please be aware of the appropriate deadlines (e.g., for submitting the Application for Degree and Plan of Study Summary Form). Note that students who opt for the MCS may not request an MS degree at the time of their comprehensive exam (see Master’s Degree (MS) at Comprehensive Exam).

Comprehensive Exam Requirement

Please note that rules governing the comprehensive exam (unlike the qualifying exam) are mandated by the Graduate College and not the Department. Students should always refer to the Manual of Rules of Regulations of the Graduate College as the final authority in the case of any perceived inconsistencies.

The comprehensive exam will consist of a review of the literature and preliminary outline and investigation of a research problem that will be pursued for the PhD thesis. Students should plan to pass their comprehensive exam before the end of their third year and certainly by the end of their fourth year to remain in good standing.

Comprehensive Exam Structure

The structure and evaluation of the comprehensive exam follows the procedures outlined in the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College, Section XII (K). With the help of the Academic Services Coordinator, the student should update their departmental Plan of Study and complete a Request/Report for Doctoral Comprehensive Exam form and a Doctoral Plan of Study Summary Sheet found on the Grad College website: https://www.grad.uiowa.edu/content/publications-and-forms-for-students. The Academic Services Coordinator will ensure that the appropriate paperwork is submitted to the Graduate College for approval. Students must be registered for classes at the time of their comprehensive exam.

The exam may be written, oral, or both, at the discretion of the student's committee. A typical student might prepare a 20-30 page survey/discussion (along the lines of the introduction and literature review from an eventual thesis) for distribution to their faculty committee, followed at least two weeks later by a brief 20-40 minute oral presentation, and a question/answer session.

The comprehensive exam committee, arranged by the student, requires a minimum of five faculty members, of which four must be UI tenure-track faculty. At least two of the faculty members are from the major department (defined as faculty members who hold any appointment in the major department or program), and are members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty. The committee must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and appointed by the Dean of the Graduate College.

Master’s Degree (MS) at Comprehensive Exam

Students may request that the MS degree be granted at the time of the comprehensive exam by notifying the Academic Services Coordinator at the time the comprehensive exam paperwork is completed. The MS degree without thesis is awarded upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam but may, at the examination committee's discretion, be awarded even if the student does not pass the exam. Students may also choose to complete the thesis requirements and be awarded an MS with thesis degree. Note that students who opt to receive the MCS (see Master of Computer Science Degree (MCS) En Route) may not receive the MS too. If an MS degree is to be awarded, please be aware of the appropriate deadlines (e.g., for submission of the Application for Degree and Plan of Study Summary Form).

Post-Comprehensive Exam Registration

After completion of the comprehensive exam, the student is required to maintain continuous registration (fall and spring semesters) through completion of the dissertation and graduation. Note that there are special rules for post-comprehensive exam registration, as students will typically not be enrolled in classes, but rather will be working exclusively on the thesis requirement (see Section XII [L] of the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College).

Please note that post-comp registration must be for a minimum of 1 semester hour, typically in CS:7990-Research for Dissertation. For example, cooperative internships for 0 semester hours do not satisfy the registration requirement.

Academic Registration Requirement

Student registration should reflect accurately the amount and kind of work undertaken in the Graduate College. The Ph.D., D.M.A., and DNP are granted primarily on the basis of achievement, and engagement with one’s discipline is an important part of achieving quality in a dissertation. The purpose of the registration requirement is to promote a high level of intellectual and scholarly activity at The University of Iowa. These requirements foster intensive, concentrated engagement with the faculty members and graduate students in a student's program.

All doctoral programs will contain a minimum of 72 semester hours of graduate work. Of those 72 semester hours, at least 39 must be earned while registered in The University of Iowa Graduate College, and after formal program admission. For example, the academic registration requirement cannot be fulfilled by coursework completed under the non-degree or non-departmental student classification or with transfer credit.

A student must be registered in the semester in which he/she earns his/her degree. For full details, see the Manual of Rules of Regulations of the Graduate College, Section XII (C).

Dissertation Requirement

The dissertation must describe original research performed by the PhD candidate and must be defended before a faculty committee. Please note that rules governing the final exam/dissertation defense (unlike the qualifying exam) are mandated by the Graduate College and not the Department. Students should always refer to the Manual of Rules of Regulations of the Graduate College as the final authority in the case of any perceived inconsistencies in determining all requirements that must be met.

Dissertation Committee and Proposal Defense

At least six months prior to the final exam, a student must form a dissertation committee and circulate a formal thesis proposal to the committee. The proposal should describe the research performed to date, any related work, and outline the expected thesis results. The student must, in essence, argue the originality and significance of the expected results to the committee in a manner consistent with their advisor's counsel (this may or may not include an oral presentation). Possible outcomes of a thesis proposal are (i) the committee finds the proposal satisfactory, or (ii) the committee suggests modifications and in a few weeks after the proposal the student and committee reach a consensus (via e-mail or face-to-face meetings) on a modified set of expected thesis results, or (iii) the committee asks the student to redo their proposal, likely with a fresh proposal document and oral presentation, giving the student enough time to address the committee’s concerns.

Students should complete the departmental form, Request to Appoint a PhD Committee/Proposal Defense, when all members have agreed to serve on the committee and a tentative date has been set for the proposal defense. The committee, proposed by the candidate and his or her advisor, requires a minimum of five faculty members, of which four must be UI tenure-track faculty. At least two of the faculty members are from the major department (defined as faculty members who hold any appointment in the major department or program), and are members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty. The committee must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and appointed by the Dean of the Graduate College.

Dissertation Defense

The structure and evaluation of the final exam will follow the procedure outline in the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College, Section XII (M) through XII (P). The final exam committee, which should be the same as the committee composed for the proposal defense, must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and appointed by the Dean of the Graduate College. With the help of the Academic Services Coordinator, students should complete a Request/Report for Final Examination: Advanced Degree, found on the Graduate College website: https://www.grad.uiowa.edu/content/publications-and-forms-for-students. Be aware that the appropriate paperwork, especially thesis deposits, must be filed with the Graduate College within the specified time constraints. Further details regarding submission and formatting requirements, for the thesis, is also found on the Graduate College website: https://www.grad.uiowa.edu/theses-and-dissertations.

Academic Standing

Students must maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average to remain in good standing with the Graduate College. Falling below that level will result in academic probation at the collegiate level. The Department requirements are more stringent -- PhD students must maintain a grade point average of 3.25. Furthermore, each PhD student must, at a minimum:

  • demonstrate progress towards the degree usually measured by publications in conferences and journals;
  • demonstrate capacity and aptitude for research as judged by the advisor and committee;
  • pass the qualifying exam by the end of their second year; and
  • pass the comprehensive exam by the end of their fourth year.

A student who does not meet these criteria will be placed on departmental academic probation.

A policy defining procedures to be followed in the dismissal of students from graduate programs has been approved by the Board of Regents, and are contained in the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College; found on the web https://www.grad.uiowa.edu/manual-part-1-section-iv-academic-standing-probation-and-dismissal#1.4.E.

Academic Review

The faculty will meet each fall to review all aspects of each student's progress towards a degree, with student standing ultimately determined by the faculty. Typically, PhD students having less than a 3.25 GPA should demonstrate exceptional strength in other measures of achievement, or risk being placed on departmental probation. A letter, resulting from this academic review, will be forwarded to PhD students in the fall semester of each year and a reminder letter forwarded each spring semester.

Departmental Probation

A student placed on departmental probation shall be given a written explanation of the reasons for this action, along with a reasonable period of time (typically one year) within which the student shall take corrective action or be dismissed from the graduate program.

PhD Departmental Plan of Study Form

Each student is responsible for maintaining an up-to-date PhD Plan of Study document on file with the Academic Services Coordinator. The PhD Plan of Study is used to track student progress throughout the program, and should be updated each semester in collaboration with the student's advisor. It is also used to prepare the Graduate College’s Plan of Study summary document when requesting permission to take the comprehensive examination.

Petitions

Students may submit petitions to the CS Academic Services Coordinator for deviations from the requirements outlined here. Petition forms are available online at https://cs.uiowa.edu/graduate-programs/forms.

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