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Teaching as a Doctoral Student & COMP 915

Teaching is not required for students pursuing a doctoral degree, but some students may want to have a teaching experience as a way of exploring a future in academia, and some advisors may require it of their students.

Like most truly valuable experiences, teaching a course involves a substantial commitment of time and effort. A semester of teaching may extend the time it takes to earn a degree by a semester. Student-taught course sections are typically limited to 40 undergraduate students, and summer courses typically only have around 15. No teaching assistants are provided for student-taught sections, meaning that the student instructor is responsible for all lecturing and grading.

Students interested in teaching must meet the following requirements:

  • The student must complete the PRP and gain admission to the doctoral program
  • The student must complete COMP 915
  • The student must get the approval of his or her Ph.D. advisor


If you are interested in teaching and have fulfilled the requirements, please fill out this interest form.

Semester course offerings and schedules must be determined months in advance of the semester. Consult the table below for a general timeline and recommended deadlines for submitting your interest form.

Semester Classes Begin Course List Finalized Ideal Submission
Fall late August mid March early February
Spring mid January mid September early August
Summer (MM, SS1, SS2) mid May early February early January


Student teaching assignments are determined by trying to match the interests and experiences of the student with the needs of the department.

During the summer, the department typically has three openings for five-week courses: COMP 110 (Intro to Programming), COMP 116 (Intro to Scientific Programming w/ MATLAB or Python), and COMP 283 (Discrete Structures). These courses meet every weekday, meaning a student lecturer will be responsible for teaching and planning lectures five days each week. Summer courses can be finished more quickly, but students contemplating a future in academia will get a more representative experience by teaching a fall or spring course.

Fall and spring openings are dependent on funding availability, faculty leave, and other factors. COMP 524 (Programming Language Concepts) is typically available as a student teaching assignment and has been taught by many generations of graduate students. Prior expertise in programming languages is not necessary to teach the course effectively. Graduate students have also taught sections of COMP 550 (Algorithms and Analysis) and COMP 690 (Special Topics) to meet specific needs or opportunities during the semester offered.

Student instructors are not restricted to the courses listed above. If you want to teach a particular course or topic, please indicate that in the interest form.


Student teaching will be supervised by the student’s doctoral dissertation advisor. This will involve the advisor visiting a few lectures, approving the syllabus, and soliciting feedback from the students in the class. The associate chair for academic affairs will be available to help with any issues that may arise.

Instructor Information

Once you have submitted the form above and are approved to teach, you may want to visit our Graduate Instructor Information page.

COMP 915 Overview

Course Objectives

Introduce principles and techniques for teaching speaking and writing on computer science topics.


Graduate major in computer science or permission of instructor.


Based on assignments, class teaching performances, and discussion participation. Broad curve. Two free late assignments; any more late ones are half credit.

Typical Text

Highet, The Art of Teaching (Vintage)
McKeachie, Teaching Tips, 8th Edition (D.C. Heath)
Strunk and White, The Elements of Style (MacMillan)

Course Outline

Course typically includes classes which focus on topics such as Public Speaking, Teaching Research, an Overview of Technical Writing, Preparing for Oral Examinations, etc.

Final Oral Examination (Doctoral Dissertation)

Scope and Purpose

The Final Oral Examination normally consists of a public presentation and defense of the student’s dissertation research. Its purpose is to subject the research and claims to scrutiny by the community of scholars as a final evaluation before awarding the degree.

Preparing for the Defense

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 completed form. The defense should be announced at least two weeks in advance.

The student must be registered during the semester in which the Ph.D. Defense is held.

Defense Presentation Policy

The department strongly encourages all faculty and graduate students to attend the dissertation defenses of department PhD students.

To facilitate the above, we recommend that each defending PhD student schedule his/her dissertation defense presentation at a time/date that can help maximize attendance by the rest of the department. Please make sure to schedule well in advance to allow such a flexibility.


The dissertation advisor is the host and Master of Ceremonies at the defense.

A typical agenda for a Ph.D. defense is as follows:

  • Welcome; Introduction of the Candidate by the Advisor
  • Presentation by the Candidate (about 50 minutes) emphasizing the original contributions claimed by the candidate.
  • Questions from the audience
  • Public questions from the Guidance Committee
  • Break
  • Committee meets privately with Candidate
  • Committee excuses Candidate to make and record its final decision
  • Committee invites Candidate to return to discuss the final decision and discuss what actions should come next.

Evaluation of Results

The guidance committee determines whether the student has passed the Final Oral Exam and usually makes specific comments on the dissertation document, especially what additions or changes will be required before it will be accepted.

The Final Oral exam is rarely failed, but when it is failed, the failure is most often due to a presentation that does not boldly present the results and claims of the research. The presentation cannot simply explain the background and significance of the research, it must present results and make claims. How the student handles questions for the audience and the committee are also important factors in determining the overall performance on this exam.


If the student passes this exam, the department will notify the Graduate School. The only remaining hurdle before the student may apply for award of the degree is the submission of the final signed copies of the dissertation to the Graduate School.

If the student does not pass this exam, another presentation may be scheduled at a later date.

Composition of Dissertation Committee

The student’s doctoral guidance committee consists of at least five persons, a majority whom must be full members of the Graduate Faculty. Other committee members may be faculty from other institutions, scholars from industry, or others whose expertise is relevant to the dissertation. Such individuals must obtain Special Appointments to the Graduate Faculty (next paragraph) At least one committee member must hold the rank of Associate Professor or higher.

The student names the committee by submitting Part I of the Graduate School form Report of Doctoral Committee Composition. Proposed committee members who are not already members of the Graduate Faculty must be appointed as Special members of the Graduate Faculty for the purpose of serving on this guidance committee.* The dissertation adviser serves as committee chair, unless the adviser is not a Computer Science faculty member, in which event a Computer Science faculty member serves as chair.

As a rule, all regular and research faculty in Computer Science are full members of the graduate faculty. The other categories of membership are Limited and Special; these are used when non-faculty persons are enlisted for service on guidance committees. More information regarding Graduate Faculty Designations can be found here. However, please check with the department’s Administrative Manager on the status of a faculty member if there is any doubt about the status of potential committee members.

The Ph.D. guidance committee must include five members, but since a 2/3 vote is required to pass the student on the oral exam and on the defense, some students add a sixth member to the committee to allow two dissenting votes and still pass exams. With only five members, two dissenters result in a failure. On the other hand, meetings of larger committees are more difficult to schedule, and additional committee members are additional people who must approve the dissertation document.

*In order to appoint a non Graduate Faculty committee member, a curriculum vitae must be submitted to the Student Services Manager, who will then submit that and a form to the Graduate School for an appointment recommendation.