Requirements – Older

The requirements below are only applicable for students who entered the PhD program before Fall 2019 AND have taken the Breadth Exam. All other students should be following the current PhD requirements.

A candidate for the doctoral degree in computer science must meet all of the following requirements in addition to the University requirements outlined in the Graduate Catalog (see University Requirements for Graduate Degrees).

  1. Pass the PhD Qualifying Process.
  2. Complete a minimum of 78 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree and 48 credit hours beyond the master’s degree.
  3. Pass the candidacy examination.
  4. Attend at least 10 colloquiums – see Colloquium Activities for more information.
  5. Successfully defend the dissertation.

The above must be completed within 8 years after admission to the PhD program. Note that students with a degree in a discipline outside of computer science will be required to take prerequisite undergraduate courses that will not be counted towards the 78 credit hours requirement (see below).

Note: Forms mentioned below are available through the Graduate School. Please see Ariel Sturtevant for additional information on submitting Graduate School forms.


Upon admission to the PhD program, a faculty advisor will be assigned to the student for general guidance. The student, however, is expected to find a dissertation advisor by the time he or she completes the qualifying process. The guidelines for advising are outlined under Student Advising in the University Requirements for Graduate Degrees section of the Graduate Catalog.

Once a PhD advisor has been identified, the student and advisor must submit the D1 form.

Form: D1 – Appointment of Doctoral Advisory Committee Form

Course Requirements

Students with a master’s degree in computer science or related field must complete at least 48 credit hours of coursework as specified below:

  • A minimum of 24 hours of post-master’s coursework at 800-level and meet the course requirements of the PhD Qualifying Process. 3 credit hours of coursework at the 600-level may be included here.
  • 24 credit hours or more of dissertation work (CS 899).
  • A maximum of 6 credit hours may be transferred into the PhD program from post-master’s coursework done elsewhere.

Students without a master’s degree in computer science or related field must complete at least 78 credit hours of coursework as specified below:

  • 12 credit hours of core coursework approved by the GPD from the following list of courses: CS 500, CS 517, CS 550, CS 555, CS 600, CS 665
  • A minimum of 42 credit hours of coursework at 600-level or above, of which at least 30 credit hours must be at 800-level and meet the course requirements of the PhD Qualifying Process.
  • 24 credit hours or more of dissertation work (CS 899)
  • demonstrate proficiency in Problem Solving & Programming, Introduction to Computer Architecture, Advanced Data Structures and Algorithms, Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science, and Operating Systems at an undergraduate level

Candidacy Examination

Upon completing coursework, before becoming heavily involved in dissertation work, and no later than three years after acceptance into the PhD program (preferably during the first 24 months after admission into the program), the student must pass a candidacy examination. This examination is designed to test the student’s knowledge of background material related to the dissertation topic and to determine if the student has identified a significant problem, has a plan of attack, and is ready to proceed with the dissertation research.

The examination committee will be made up of at least three faculty members, all of whom must be graduate certified.

Note that the student must have completed the PhD Qualifying Process before taking the Candidacy Exam.

At least one week before the scheduled examination time (and preferably two weeks before), the student must provide the examination committee with a dissertation research proposal. The proposal should contain the following items (not necessarily in this order):

  • a comprehensive literature review on the dissertation topic that should in particular discuss limitations of current approaches and open problems in the topic area
  • a description of the research problem
  • a discussion of how the problem relates to other work in the field
  • a detailed research plan, including proposed tasks and a timeline for completion
  • a list of expected contributions

During the examination, the student will give a 45-minute presentation of the proposal to be followed by questions from the committee. The exam is expected to last no more than 2 hours.

The presentation of the proposal is open to the public and will be publicized by the GPD at least one week in advance of the exam. Once the presentation has concluded and the audience has asked general questions, the audience will be excused. The examination by the committee will be held in private, but any graduate faculty member is welcome to observe the exam.

The defense is chaired by the chair of the Doctoral Advisory Committee (student’s advisor). The chair will act as moderator, ruling on questions of procedure and protocol that may arise during the examination.


    • D3 – Result of Doctoral Examination or Requirement Form
    • D9 – Advancement to Candidacy Form — includes certification that the course requirement has been met

After passing the Candidacy Exam, the student must register for at least 1 credit hour each semester (including summer) until graduation.

Doctoral Dissertation Committee

After the candidacy exam has been passed and dissertation topic approved, the Doctoral Advisory Committee’s responsibilities are completed. A new committee, the Doctoral Dissertation Committee, is formed to supervise the dissertation research.

A Doctoral Dissertation Committee is formed according to the following procedure:

  • The faculty advisor selects the members of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee in cooperation with the student and the graduate studies committee.
  • The Doctoral Dissertation Committee consists of at least three ODU faculty members. At least two of these must be from the Computer Science Department and one must be from outside the Computer Science Department. All committee members must be certified for graduate instruction. The current research interests of the computer science members of the committee should be related to the research goals of the student.
  • Additional members may be appointed to the committee. Adjuncts (approved for graduate instruction) and non-university members may be added with approval of the GPD.

Form: D2 – Appointment of Doctoral Dissertation Committee Form


A minimum of 24 credit hours of dissertation work (CS 899) is required. The work must represent an achievement in research and must be a significant contribution in the field. Students are required to publish (or have in the revision process) at least one paper in a refereed journal or refereed conference proceedings based on their dissertation work.  For more information, see Dissertation Format and Deadlines.

Dissertation Defense

The examination will be oral and the examination committee must have the completed dissertation at least two weeks before the examination date. In addition to the examination, students are required to give a public oral presentation on their dissertation results.


  • defense (oral exam) – D3 – Result of Doctoral Examination or Requirement Form
  • dissertation (written) – D5 – Doctoral Dissertation Acceptance and Processing

Time Requirement

PhD students should normally be full-time. A full-time student can be expected to satisfy all the PhD requirements in three to five years when entering with an MS degree, or four to six years with a BS degree. No student (full-time or part-time) will be allowed to study for the PhD degree beyond eight years from the date of admission into the program.

Example Timelines

The time required for PhD study in computer science is largely dependent upon the research conducted by the student. Because of this, students are encouraged to become involved in research as soon as possible.

An aggressive timeline for a full-time student entering with an MS degree and no prerequisite requirements may look like this:

  • End of 12 months: Complete the breadth course requirement
  • End of 12 months: Satisfy the research skills requirement (qualifying examination or research event)
  • End of 24 months: Pass the candidacy examination
  • End of 36 months: Successfully defend the dissertation

For the same student, a normal timeline may look like this:

  • End of 12 months: Complete the breadth course requirement
  • End of 18 months: Satisfy the research skills requirement (qualifying examination or research event)
  • End of 30 months: Pass the candidacy examination
  • End of 48 months: Successfully defend the dissertation