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Table of Contents

Background and General Information

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 (PRP).
  • Course grades (we expect a positive Calingaert score computed over all courses taken as a graduate student at UNC). Students can obtain their Calingaert score from the Student Manager.
  • Championship by research adviser or some other faculty member.
  • Other information (may include admissions information, accomplishment on assistantships, and other testimony from the faculty).

Admission is normally considered following the research presentation and exam (described below).  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 PRP exam (described below).

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.

PRP Background

As part of the process for admission to the doctoral program, Ph.D.-intending students are expected to demonstrate the ability to conduct independent research and to effectively communicate research results. This can be done as early as the third semester and usually no later than the fourth semester. 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.

The evaluation of the research is accomplished by the Preliminary Research Presentation and Exam.  This consists of a technical paper (the Preliminary Research Paper), and 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.


At the beginning of each semester, the Student Manager will publish deadlines for registration and administration of this exam according to the schedule suggested below. The Student Manager 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 elect to forfeit the current semester exam offering. For each registered student, the Examination Director will appoint an examining committee consisting of three faculty members, not including the advisor of the research, and will set a time for the exam. Examiners will be chosen taking into account a project abstract submitted by the student, as well as faculty workload, and suggestions from the research advisor.

Petition to Defer Exam

Permission to defer the exam is generally only granted in case of extensive need for remediation courses, substantial language difficulties, or other extenuating circumstances.


By the deadline specified by the Student Manager, each student must submit a written project PRP report (similar in style and length to a conference publication) to the online PRP registration system. The presentation will be public, and must be attended by the three examiners. The research advisor will work with the student in preparing the report and the presentation. Following the talk and public questions, the examiners will ask questions in a private session. The intent is for the examiners to probe for evidence of research creativity, formal thinking, and rigor. The actual grading form is included below. The examiners will provide written comments on each grading criterion.


The presentation must take into account the background of the examining committee. Often at least one of the examiners will not be familiar in detail with the area of the research, so the presentation must allow them to understand the research. Before the exam the committee may engage in a dialog with the student requesting them to address specific aspects of the research in their presentation. The scope of the questions during the private questioning session will be determined by the student’s exam committee based on the presentation. 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.


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 first vote on admission to PhD candidacy (taking into account all the criteria listed at the beginning of this document). If a student is not admitted, the faculty will vote on whether the student passes the PRP exam. If a student does not pass the PRP exam, the student will need to take the exam again in order to be considered to be admitted to PhD candidacy. The faculty may suggest remedial measures for the student to be accomplished before the student is reconsidered for PhD candidacy.

Second Attempt

Students who do not pass the first exam may make a second attempt. For a second exam the Examination Director will appoint a group of three faculty members, not including the research advisor or, typically, members of the first exam committee. The student will be considered for PhD candidacy immediately after the second attempt.

Meeting the Technical Writing Requirement

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-08 with the Student Services Manager.The CS-08 must be filed before a student is officially admitted into the PhD candidacy (must be done before the end of the semester). Students are reminded that the CS-08 form requires two readers, both of whom certify that the writing is clear and correct. Students are also reminded that for meeting the comprehensive exam requirement, the technical paper should make the Related Work section of their paper comprehensive and more broad than a typical conference/journal submission.

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 accepted at 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 PhD candidacy). The student must have given an announced, public presentation in the Department 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 request for a waiver must be submitted along with the PRP registration online form and the public waiver talk must be delivered by the deadline noted below.

The student’s research adviser must ensure that at least three CS faculty members attend the waiver talk. The three attending faculty members must be given a copy of the paper at least a week prior to the talk. The waiver talk must provide relevant background for a general CS audience (outside the research area); the suggested length is 25 minutes followed by Q&A.


All decisions (including waiver outcome, PRP outcome, and admission to PhD candidacy) will be communicated to the student by the Student Services Manager (via email). Further, the research advisor will meet in person with the student to summarize the discussion in the faculty meeting.

Exam Timeline

This is meant as a guide to the Student Manager to use in order to set specific deadlines each semester, taking into account holidays, etc.

The specific dates for the next round of PRP administration can be found on the PRP registration web-site.

Fall & Spring:  First week of classes Semester specific dates posted on this web page
Fall:  Third week of September

Spring:  Fourth week of January

Registration System Opens
Fall & Spring:  Mon/Wed after registration opens Information Session/ Q&A with students


Fall & Spring:  Six weeks before Reading Day Registration System Closes
Fall & Spring:  Four weeks before Reading Day Report Submission Deadline

Waiver Talk Deadline

Fall & Spring:  Friday after report

submission deadline

Faculty Waiver Discussion
Fall & Spring:  Monday after faculty waiver discussion Waiver Results Emailed
Fall & Spring:  Second Friday after

report submission deadline

Committees Announced
Fall & Spring:  One week after

Committees are announced

Committees Frozen
Fall & Spring:  First (and Second if needed)

Reading Day of the Final Exam Period 

Presentations and Exam Day
Fall & Spring:  Friday after PRPs Faculty PRP Discussion
Fall & Spring:  Monday after faculty discussion PRP Results & Admission Decisions Emailed

My Responsibilities

Responsibilities (for Students)

  • Work closely on a research project with a faculty member during your first year. Optionally and commonly, register for 991.
  • Consult with your research advisor on when should you attempt the PRP (usually 3rd or 4th semester). If you have an accepted publication, also consult on whether you should apply for a waiver.
  • Prepare the PRP report, getting feedback from your research advisor.
  • Register for the PRP.
  • Submit the PRP report, by the deadline.
  • If you are applying for a waiver, give a waiver talk by the deadline.
  • Prepare the PRP presentation, getting feedback from your research advisor. The talk should be prepared for a general CS audience. Read up on related work.
  • After the faculty meeting discussion, meet with your research advisor to get feedback on the discussion.
  • After the PRP, find a second reader for your report and submit a CS-08 (before beginning of next semester). Otherwise, you would not be admitted to PhD candidacy and might lose the guarantee of support.

Responsibilities (for Advisors)

  • If your advisee is considering applying for a waiver, make sure that there are at least three faculty members who attend the waiver talk.
  • Please review and iterate over the PRP report with your advisee.
  • Please review and iterate over the PRP talk with your advisee.
  • Make sure you attend the waiver discussion and PRP discussion faculty meetings if your advisee will be discussed. If you can not attend physically, you must attend by phone.
  • Meet with your advisee after the relevant faculty meeting (waiver discussion or PRP discussion) and provide a summary of the discussion on your advisee.
  • Advise your student to submit the CS-08 before beginning of next semester (in order to be officially admitted into the PhD program).

Responsibilities (for PRP Committee Members)

  • Read the PRP report before the PRP talk, and come prepared with feedback on the report.
  • Attend the faculty discussion on the PRPs. If you can not attend, send your feedback by email to the Exam Director.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions (for Students)

Where is the PRP registration web-site? Where are the specific dates for this semester?

Can I defer the PRP to after my 4th semester?

      • Yes. But you will lose any guarantee of support beyond your 4th semester (till you pass PhD candidacy).

Do I need to talk to my research advisor before registering and submitting my report?

      • Yes. Your advisor needs to be on board with your registering. Your advisor will also review and iterate over your report as well as PRP talk.

Is it possible that my PRP is scheduled on the second reading day? What if I have already made travel plans and have booked my flight tickets?

      • In the semester you are planning to appear for the PRP, you must be available on both reading days. PRP presentations may be scheduled for the second reading day.

Do I have to submit a report and register for the PRP if I am planning on applying for a waiver?

      • Yes. Waiver applications will be considered for only those students who have registered for the PRP, submitted their PRP report, and given a waiver talk — all by the respective deadlines.

Can a revised report be submitted after the report submission deadline?

      • No. Some updates can be included in the PRP talk.

Can a waiver talk be given after the waiver talk deadline?

      • No. You will not be considered for waiver, and will have to either appear for the PRP or defer.

What type of questions can I be asked during my talk and during the private exam?

      • Broad questions related to your area of research. Integration of concepts.

What is the criteria used for grading a PRP exam?

      • TBD

If I am admitted to the PhD program after I have taken or waived the PRP, do I need to do anything else immediately?

      • Yes, you need to get a CS-08 (technical writing requirement) form signed. You would need to find a second reader (your advisor would be the first reader). Admission to PhD candidacy is conditional upon you having submitted this form. You can not register for dissertation hours for the next semester unless you have been admitted to PhD candidacy. You must submit CS-08 before the beginning of the next semester, in order to be considered as being “admitted to the PhD program”.

What is the criteria used for judging that a paper satisfies the writing requirement?     

      • TBD                            

Frequently Asked Questions (for Faculty Members)

Do I have to always be available on both reading days, each semester?

      • Yes, you should not schedule any (un-movable) meeting/travel on the two reading days.

If I am assigned to a PRP committee, can I request time/date changes?

      • After the first announcement of the committees, you should let the Exam Director know within 24 hours if you have serious constraints. Committee assignments and times will be frozen within a week of the initial announcement.

Can I schedule other meetings on the reading days, AFTER the PRP schedule has been announced?

      • After the initial announcement of the PRP schedule, there will be one week of schedule changes. You should schedule other meetings on the reading days only after the PRP schedule is frozen (one week after initial schedule announcement).

If I am serving on a PRP committee, do I have to read the PRP report before appearing for the exam?

      • Yes, you need to come prepared with your feedback on the report.

Do I have to be present in the faculty meeting in which the PRPs are discussed?

      • If you are the advisor of a student who will be discussed, you must be present during the faculty discussion (at least over phone).
      • If you have served on a PRP committee, you must send your personal feedback by email to the Exam Director if you are not going to be physically present.

Do I have to be present in the faculty meeting in which waiver decisions are discussed?

      • If you are the advisor of a student who will be discussed, you must be present during the faculty discussion (at least over phone).

If I am a student’s advisor, do I need to convey any feedback on a waiver/PRP discussion about the student?

      • Yes. You are expected to summarize the discussion within the faculty meeting and convey to the student.