May 14, 2007
last edited: January 15, 2015

This document lists the combined requirements of the Graduate School and of the Department of Computer Science (COMP) and supersedes all previous issues. Reference is occasionally made for further details to the Graduate School Handbook (GSH). Apparent errors in the present document should be called to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies.

Student Progress Forms (more information is at the bottom of the page)

Admission To Doctoral Program

Admission to the doctoral program is by a vote of the Department faculty and is determined by performance on the Preliminary Research Presentation and Exam, course grades (we expect a positive Calingaert score computed over all courses taken as a graduate student at UNC), admissions information, accomplishment on assistantships, and other testimony from the faculty. Admission is normally considered following the research presentation and exam.  Students who have been major contributors to a paper submitted to a well-known, refereed conference or journal may apply for a waiver of the admissions exam.

Financial support from the department will normally not be provided beyond the fourth semester for students who have not been admitted to the doctoral program.

Advising

When a student enrolls, a faculty member is appointed to serve as the student’s academic adviser. As the student’s research interests become defined, the student should change to a research adviser as appropriate. Changes in adviser should be reported to the Student Services Manager.

Administration

The Graduate Studies Committee (a standing committee of the Department faculty, chaired by the Director of Graduate Studies) interprets degree requirements, approves plans of study, and acts on petitions from students to the Department and to the Graduate School.

A full-time Student Services Manager maintains student records, answers student queries, and directs student requests to the Graduate Studies Committee and to the Graduate School. All student requests should be made through the Student Services Manager, usually on forms obtainable online or from the Manager.

Course Requirements

The following are minimum requirements. The student’s committee may impose further requirements as it judges appropriate. Unless otherwise specified, “course” means a 3-hour graduate-level course. Two 1.5-hour courses may be accepted as equivalent to one 3-hour course. Taken “as a graduate student” does not necessarily mean at UNC-CH, and it permits the course to have been taken as a UNC-CH post-baccalaureate Continuing Education student.

Primary concentration. Three or four courses of which at least two support in depth the specific dissertation topic and at least one supports more generally the area of computer science in which the dissertation topic falls. The courses do not need to be related to each other, except in that they support the dissertation. These courses may have been taken as an undergraduate and may have been counted towards an undergraduate degree.

Breadth requirement. Each student must take an additional 6 courses to fulfill a breadth requirement.  Courses are classified into the following 4 categories.

The set of six breadth courses must meet the following criteria.

  1. At least one course in each of the 3 CS categories, and at the 600 level or above.
  2. Normally no more than 2 courses in any category but students may petition to apply 3 in a category outside of their thesis research area(s).
  3. All 6 courses must have been taken as a graduate student. Courses taken at UNC that satisfy the guidelines for the set of breadth courses will be accepted automatically. The Graduate Studies Committee will consider courses taken at another graduate program, or equivalent professional experience, and/or graduate courses taken during undergraduate study, on a case by case basis.
  4. CS courses in the set must be at the 500 level and above or COMP 455 . COMP 550 is not allowed as one of the set.
  5. At most 1 CS course in the set can be at the 500 level. (We may consider 2, by petition to the Grad Studies Committee, for students with non-CS backgrounds doing interdisciplinary research.)
  6. The non-CS courses must support either the dissertation research or the field of computer science, and be at the 400 level or above. If the course is not on the standard list, it must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

The student’s mastery of content will be determined by the course grade in the six courses satisfying the breadth requirement: a P- or better must be obtained in each course, and a Calingaert score of 0 or higher must be obtained on the six courses combined.

The Calingaert Score is a weighted average of course grades, where the weights are chosen so that a score of 0 reflects an average letter grade between a P+ and an H-. The weights for the letter grades are as follows:

Grade H+ H H- P+ P P- L+ L L-
Weight +5 +3 +1 -1 -3 – 5 -7 -9 -11

For example, the Calingaert Score for three courses with letter grades P+, H-, and H would be (-1 + 1 + 3)/3 = +1.0 (assuming the three courses carry the same number of credit hours). The name recognizes Dr. Peter Calingaert, professor emeritus, who devised the measure when he was Director of Graduate Studies.

Background Preparation. In addition, each student must demonstrate mastery of the subjects considered to be essential or required preparation for our graduate program. The following UNC-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) courses define the required preparation for our program (for a more detailed description of the course contents, consult the UNC-CH course catalog).

Computer Science

  • COMP 411 Computer Organization
  • COMP 410 Data Structures
  • COMP 550 Algorithms and Analysis
  • Any two of the following
    1. COMP 521 Files and Databases
    2. COMP 520 Compilers
    3. COMP 530 Operating Systems
  • COMP 524 Programming Language Concepts
  • COMP 523 Software Engineering (this requirement may also be satisfied by completing the product quality, large scale programming option below)
  • COMP 541 Digital Logic and Computer Design
  • COMP 455 Models of Languages and Computation

Mathematics, Statistics, and Physics

  • MATH 233 Calculus of Functions of Several Variables
  • MATH 381 Discrete Mathematics
  • MATH 547 Linear Algebra for Applications
  • MATH 661 Introduction to Numerical Analysis (Scientific Computing I)
  • STAT 435 Introduction to Probability

Typically most of this material will have been part of the student’s undergraduate education, but it is entirely normal to include one or more courses in the Ph.D. Program of Study to satisfy this requirement. Each student must detail their Background Preparation (Form CS-1) showing when and where the material above was mastered (note that a course is not required; industrial experience, for example, is a valid way to fulfill this requirement). In case of uncertainty about the material required, consult the instructor of the course or the instructor(s) of courses that include the material as a prerequisite. The program adviser and the Graduate Studies Committee review background preparation.

Minor. The election of a formal minor is optional and infrequent. If a minor is elected, it must include at least 15 hours of courses that are taught by departments other than COMP (and are not merely cross-listings of COMP courses). The minor must also meet all the requirements described in GSH: Doctoral Degree Requirements.

Relevant graduate courses from other accredited institutions or from other graduate programs at UNC-CH can be transferred to satisfy any of the foregoing course requirements (GSH: Course Credit). Course transfers must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee and by the Graduate School. The Graduate School may require the student to pass an examination on the course content before approving the transfer. Courses taken at Duke University, NC Central, NC State University, UNC-Charlotte, and UNC-Greensboro may count as home courses with Inter-Institutional Registration. For more information and forms regarding Inter-Institutional Registration, please see GSH: Registration and Office of the University Registrar: Inter-Institutional Programs.

Program Product Requirement

Each student is required to have programmed and documented a product-quality program product. A program product is a piece of software that is developed for the use of people other than the developer and that is expected to be used and maintained by other developers after the initial developer is no longer working on it. This means that the student must demonstrate experience in the design, development, and documentation of a software product of significant size and complexity, preferably as part of a team. This requirement can be satisfied in one of the following ways.

  • An undergraduate software engineering course, such as COMP 523 ,
  • Graduate course programming assignments or projects at UNC,
  • RA programming assignments at UNC, or
  • Industrial experience (e.g. co-op or summer internship).

The project options must be approved by two faculty members.  The student must file Form CS-13 to document completion of the requirement.

Preliminary Research Presentation And Exam

By the end of the third semester of full-time study, Ph.D. intending students are expected to demonstrate the ability to conduct independent research and to effectively communicate research results.  This is part of the process for admission to the doctoral program.  There are two ways of demonstrating these abilities.  The most common consists of a public presentation followed by a defense-style exam, as described below.  If the examination is not passed, a student may make a second attempt by the end of the fourth semester of study.

Another way to demonstrate research ability is to participate in research leading to a publication.  Students who have been major contributors to a UNC paper submitted to a well-known, refereed conference, and have given a publicly announced talk at the department, may apply for a waiver of the exam.

Presentation and Exam. During the first or second semester of graduate study, a PhD intending student must begin to engage in research under the supervision of a Computer Science faculty member. Time may be set aside for this in a semester by registering for three hours of COMP 991 with a faculty member who has agreed to supervise the research project.  Note that this is also recommended for MS intending students who are not working on a research project as research assistants.  At the beginning of each semester, the Examination Committee will publish deadlines for registration and administration of this exam.

RegistrationThe Examination Committee solicits student registrations for each offering of the admissions exam. A student interested in admission to the Doctoral program can register for the exam, or apply for deferral of the exam, or elect to forfeit the offering. Permission to defer the exam is generally only granted in case of extensive need for remediation courses, substantial language difficulties, or other extenuating circumstances.  For each student, the Examination Committee will appoint an examining committee consisting of three faculty members, not including the advisor of the research.  Examiners will be chosen taking into account suggestions from the research advisor and a project abstract submitted by the student, as well as faculty workload.

Administration. By the deadline specified by the Examination Committee, each student must submit a written project report (similar in style and length to a conference publication) to the three members of his or her exam committee and schedule a time for a presentation.  The presentation will be public, and must be attended by the three examiners.  Following the talk and public questions, the examiners will ask questions in a private session, which the research advisor may attend.  The intent is for the examiners to probe for evidence of research creativity, formal thinking, and rigor.

Note that the project report may optionally be used to satisfy the M.S. Technical Writing Requirement.  If the student wishes to exercise this option, he or she should ask the advisor and one of the exam committee members to serve as the designated readers, and to read the paper with this goal in mind.  The student should file Form CS-8 with the Student Services Manager.

Scope. The scope of the questions will be determined by the student’s exam committee, which may engage in a dialog with the student and request an outline of the project report.  Questions will be not only on the presented research, but also on background and related material so as to ensure both depth and breadth of knowledge.

Decision. The outcome of the PRP is decided by each student’s PRP committee. At a faculty meeting near the end of the semester, the case of each student who took the exam will be discussed. At that time, the faculty will vote on admission to PhD candidacy, taking into account the PRP outcome as well as the student’s academic record and performance as an RA or TA. If a student is not admitted, the faculty may direct or advise the student to make another presentation, and also advise whether a second attempt at the exam is warranted.

Second attemptStudents who do not pass the first exam, may make a second attempt.  For a second exam (or one that is attempted beyond the third semester without an authorized deferral), the Examination Committee will appoint two groups of three faculty members each (again not including the research advisor).  The Examination Committee will attempt to include examiners from the first attempt.  The two exam committees will each schedule a one-hour exam with the candidate.  The scope of the examinations are set for each student by the Examinations Committee on the basis of the student’s selection of four courses that define the topic areas of the exam, in addition to the student’s presented research. Normally these are courses taken in the program to date, and must include one course in the area of Theory and Formal Thinking.  Final approval of the submitted list rests with the Examination Committee.

The student may decide to schedule another presentation, or may be directed to do so by the faculty.  This should be at a time when all of the six examiners are available, and before the two exams are scheduled.

Before the end of the fourth semester the faculty will again consider admission to the Doctoral Program.

Waiver of the exam. A student who is a major contributor to a paper prepared in collaboration with a UNC Computer Science faculty member, and that has been submitted to a well-known, refereed conference or journal, may apply for a waiver of the admissions exam. The waiver must be approved by a vote of the faculty (normally if the waiver is granted, the faculty will also discuss an early admission to the Doctoral Program). The student must have given an announced, public presentation before the vote on the waiver, and the admissions decision is based on all of the other factors listed above, including grades and testimony from the faculty. The application for a waiver must be submitted to the Examination Committee by the examination registration deadline.

Exam Timeline. This is meant as a guide to the Examination Committee to use in order to set specific deadlines each semester, taking into account holidays, etc.

Week 3 Exam registration and waiver request deadline
Week 6 Faculty examiners and waiver decisions announced
Week 8 Scope of exam determined for first-time takers
Week 10 Project report delivered to examiners
Week 11 Presentation and examination period begins
Week 15 Presentations and exams completed

Doctoral Written Examination

In the Department of Computer Science, the Comprehensive Paper Option of the Writing Requirement serves as the Doctoral Written Examination. It is identical to the written form of the M.S. Comprehensive Examination. If failed, the examination may be retaken, once only (except by petition).

Doctoral Oral Examination

The Doctoral Oral examination may be taken by any student who has passed the Doctoral Written examination, and whose program of study has been approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

The examination, normally two to three hours in length, will be administered by the student’s doctoral committee. The scope of the examination will be selected by the committee, which will inform the student in writing of its selection well in advance. The scope will be limited to testing areas of weakness identified on the Doctoral Written Examination, preparation for research, and subjects judged by the committee to be relevant to the area of the student’s dissertation. If, after passing the Doctoral Oral examination, the student undertakes dissertation research in a different area, the doctoral committee appointed for the new dissertation may require the student to take a further Doctoral Oral examination on the new area.

If failed, the examination may be retaken, once only (except by petition), after a lapse of at least three months (GSH: Doctoral Degree Requirements).

Dissertation

The candidate must present a dissertation constituting a worthwhile contribution to knowledge developed by the independent research of the candidate, meeting scholarly standards of organization, presentation, and literary merit, and prescribed standards of form (GSH: Doctoral Degree Requirements and the Graduate School document Guide to Theses and Dissertations). The advisor and at least two other members of the student’s committee will read carefully the entire dissertation.

A cooperative meeting of the student with his or her doctoral committee will be held to discuss the feasibility of the student’s proposed research. At least one week before meeting, the student shall submit to the committee a brief written dissertation proposal defining the scope of the proposed research and the planned method of attack on the research problem. The committee will either approve or reject the plan at this meeting. The student is responsible for arranging the time and place of the meeting. The meeting can either precede or follow the Doctoral Oral examination, by either a short or a long interval, at the discretion of the student and committee. The student is expected to call a committee meeting at least every six months to discuss the progress of the dissertation, and to submit a one-page summary of progress each semester to the Director of Graduate Studies.

The student’s doctoral committee consists of at least five persons, a majority of whom must be regular members of the COMP Graduate Faculty. Other committee members may be faculty from other institutions, scholars from industry, or others whose expertise is relevant to the dissertation (GSH: Doctoral Degree Requirements). At least one committee member must hold the rank of Associate Professor or higher. The student names the committee by submitting the “Report of Doctoral Committee Composition” form. For each proposed committee member who is not on the Graduate Faculty, acurriculum vitae should be submitted with the Report of Doctoral Committee Composition form to the Student Services Manager. The dissertation adviser serves as committee chair, unless the adviser is not a COMP faculty member, in which event a COMP faculty member serves as chair.

The student must register for at least six credit hours of dissertation, COMP 994 (GSH: Registration).

Final Oral Examination

The Final Oral examination normally consists of a public dissertation defense confined to the subject area of the dissertation. The student presents his or her research for 50 minutes; questions follow from the committee and from the audience. If the committee feels it necessary, it may supplement the dissertation defense by a private examination on other material. Before the defense can take place, the adviser and at least two other members of the student’s committee must agree that the dissertation is in substantially finished form. The defense should be announced at least two weeks in advance. The student must apply by the deadline to the Graduate School for award of the degree (GSH: Graduation).

Other Requirements

Four semesters of residence credit must be earned. At least two of these must be earned by continuous registration for no fewer than six semester hours per regular semester or summer session, although registration during the summer is not required for continuity (GSH: Residence Credit). The residence credit hour requirement requires UNC-CH registration (i.e., no transfer credit). Note that a semester in residence is not identical to a semester of residence credit.

Each student is normally required to have one semester of classroom teaching experience including planning, teaching and grading, here or elsewhere. Enrollment in COMP 915 must be completed before the requirement can be met. This requirement is often satisfied by teaching an undergraduate course in one semester or summer session, and sometimes by teaching half of a three-credit graduate course. The Graduate Studies Committee may approve other ways of satisfying the requirement. The student should document fulfillment of the requirement by filing Form CS-11.

Each student is strongly urged, but not required, to spend at least one summer in employment as a professional computer scientist.

A doctoral written examination, a doctoral oral examination, and a final oral examination covering the dissertation and other topics as required by the examining committee must be passed. Students must be registered the semester(s) in which exams are taken. Students must be registered for COMP 994 (minimum of three credit hours) in the semester in which the dissertation is defended (GSH: Registration).

All requirements for the Ph.D. must be completed within eight calendar years from the date of the student’s first classification as a doctoral student by the Graduate School. If a student is admitted directly to doctoral study, as indicated in the letter offering admission, the eight years begin upon first registration. If a student is permitted by faculty vote to bypass the M.S. degree, or to continue beyond the M.S. degree, the eight years begin at the start of the regular term or summer session that immediately follows the faculty vote or that in which the M.S. is conferred. Although the Department tries to keep track of degree time limits, the Graduate School’s interpretation is controlling, and students are responsible for meeting the time limits. As much as two years of time spent in active military service, the Peace Corps, or VISTA will not be counted against the time limit, provided that the Graduate School is informed. Also, a student may request a leave of absence for a definite, stated time, not to exceed one year. If the Department and Graduate School approve, the duration of the leave is not counted against the time limit (GSH: Doctoral Degree Requirements).

If degree requirements change during a student’s stay in the Department, the student has the option of continuing under the old rules or switching and satisfying all the new rules. In other words, the student can elect any point in time during his or her stay in the Department and satisfy all the rules in effect at that point.

An exception to any rule may be requested for cause by petition. Decisions made by individual faculty members or by committees may be appealed to the Department faculty as a whole.

Summary And Required Forms

The following schedule represents typical progress toward the Ph.D. degree. Failure to complete certain milestones may result in a student being deemed as making unsatisfactory progress and could impact funding. The forms referenced may be obtained online or from the Student Services Manager.

By the end of semester 3
  • Complete the Preliminary Research Presentation or apply for a PRP waiver.
By the end of semester 4
  • Gain admission to PhD candidacy through PRP and faculty vote.
By the end of semester 5
  • Discuss research plan with at least three (potential) committee members; submit Form CS-12.
By the end of semester 6
  • Name the remaining members of the doctoral committee (Graduate School form).
  • Submit Plan of Study (Form CS-6) with background preparation (Form CS-1) approved by the committee.
By the end of semester 7
  • Submit a dissertation proposal to the committee; hold meeting for approval of proposal or
  • Pass the Doctoral Oral examination.
By the end of semester 8
  • Submit dissertation proposal and pass the Doctoral Oral examination.
  • Apply for Admission to Candidacy for a Doctoral Degree (Graduate School form).
At any time
  • Satisfy the program product requirement; submit Form CS-13.
  • Satisfy the teaching requirement: submit Form CS-11.
  • Submit course waiver forms as appropriate.
Every six months after approval of the dissertation proposal
  • Meet with the committee to discuss dissertation progress.
By the end of semester 10
  • When dissertation is in substantially finished form, announce dissertation defense, giving two weeks’ notice.
  • Pass Final Oral examination (dissertation defense).
  • Submit completed and signed dissertation to the Graduate School.