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).

  • Complete a minimum of 78 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree or 48 credit hours beyond the master’s degree, including courses that meet the breadth requirement and 24 credit hours of CS 899 (Doctoral Dissertation).
  • Develop a dissertation topic that is approved by the student’s PhD advisor.
  • Pass the candidacy examination process.
  • PhD candidacy: Once coursework (not counting CS 899 credits) is complete, the candidacy exam process is passed, and the dissertation topic is approved, the student is considered to be a PhD candidate and must register for at least 1 credit hour each semester until graduation.
  • Write and defend the dissertation prospectus (proposal).
  • Attend at least 10 departmental colloquium events and take the 1 credit hour CS 690 Colloquium – see Colloquium Activities for more information.
  • Write and successfully defend the dissertation – see Dissertation Format and Deadlines for more information.

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.

Advisor

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:

  1. A minimum of 24 hours of post-master’s coursework (including the required CS 800) that meets the breadth course requirements. 3 credit hours of coursework at the 600-level may be included here.
  2. 24 credit hours or more of dissertation work (CS 899).
  3. 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:

  1. 12 credit hours of core coursework approved by the GPD from a list of courses including CS 500, CS 517, CS 550, CS 555, CS 600, CS 665
  2. 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 (including the required CS 800), that meets the breadth course requirements.
  3. 24 credit hours or more of dissertation work (CS 899)
  4. 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

All students must take and pass CS 800 Research Methods (P/F graded course) during their first year in the PhD program (or within one year of completing required undergraduate prerequisites).

Breadth Course Requirements

Excellence in breadth is assessed through graduate coursework at ODU and evaluated by multiple faculty members. To demonstrate this, a student must take four (4) CS graduate courses at the 600 level or above that meet the following conditions:

  1. For breadth: At least one course in three (3) different research areas (“Foundations” does not count as a research area)
  2. For depth: At least three (3) courses at the 800 level (these courses may also be used to satisfy condition 1)
  3. Earn a GPA of at least 3.5 across these four courses.
  4. The four courses must be regular courses that also earn a letter grade (thus CS 697, CS 800, CS 891, CS 896, and CS 899 do not count towards this requirement). Most CS 895 Topics courses will count towards this requirement, and those eligible will be assigned to an appropriate research area.
  5. Courses transferred from another university do not count towards this requirement.

Course to Research Area mapping

Candidacy Examination Process

Upon completing formal coursework (not counting CS 899 credits), 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 the Candidacy Examination process. Students may satisfy this requirement either by passing the Candidacy Examination or by completing an acceptable Research Event. Both options require a written and an oral component.

Research Area Committees

Forms:

  • 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 Examination Process, completing coursework (not including CS 899), and having an approved dissertation topic, the student is considered a PhD candidate and must register for at least 1 credit hour each semester (including summer) until graduation.

Option 1: Candidacy Examination

The topics and papers covered in the Candidacy Examination are set by the student’s PhD advisor and other members of the appropriate research area committee. The student will be provided a set of 5-10 papers to review in their research area.  

Written Component: The student will write a summary of the papers, highlighting their contributions to the research area, noting how they are related and how they are different. The student must also propose areas for potential future work. Ideally, this document could form the basis for the related work section of the student’s dissertation proposal. The written summary should be 15-20 pages in the standard ODU dissertation format.

Oral Component: After the written component has been approved by the area committee, the student will give an oral presentation (about 20-30 minutes long) on the subject to the area committee. At the end of the presentation, the area committee may ask questions to further assess the student’s understanding of the papers. At the end of the examination process, the committee will make a pass/fail decision and report this to the GPD.

The goal of this exam is to assess the student’s understanding of the content of the papers and the student’s ability to critically analyze and articulate the important issues raised in the papers. The student should also be able to identify potential areas for future research that build off of these papers.

A pass decision means that the area committee believes that the student is prepared and qualified to undertake PhD-level research in computer science.

A fail decision means that the area committee believes the student is not ready to undertake PhD-level research in computer science. The area committee should provide recommendations to the student on how to improve their performance. A student who fails the Candidacy Examination may retake the exam once or may attempt the Research Event option once. Two failures will result in the student being dismissed from the PhD program. The student may request a different set of papers to be assigned for a retake.

Option 2: Research Event

Students who enter the PhD program with an acceptable MS thesis or are first author on a high-quality academic submission may be able to satisfy the Candidacy Examination process without taking the Candidacy Exam. Each research area committee determines its own set of conferences and journals in their research area that would be acceptable.

Written Component: The written component may be satisfied either through either an accepted publication or a high-quality, but rejected, submission to an approved conference or journal. For either option, the student must be the first author.

  • Accepted: The research area committee may approve an accepted publication to count as the written component of the Candidacy Examination process.
  • Rejected: The research area committee may approve a rejected, but high-quality, submission as the baseline for the written component of the Candidacy Examination process. In addition to the submitted paper, the student must construct a document that outlines how the student would address the reviewers’ comments.

Oral Component: After the written component has been approved by the area committee, the student will give an oral presentation (about 20-30 minutes long) on the subject to the area committee. At the end of the presentation, the area committee may ask questions to further assess the student’s understanding of the research and related work. At the end of the examination process, the committee will make a pass/fail decision and report this to the GPD.

A pass decision means that the area committee believes that the student is prepared and qualified to undertake PhD-level research in computer science.

A fail decision means that the area committee believes the student is not ready to undertake PhD-level research in computer science. The area committee should provide recommendations to the student on how to improve their performance. A student who fails the Research Event option may attempt the Research Event option once more or may take the Candidacy Exam once. Two failures will result in the student being dismissed from the PhD program.

To use the Research Event option, the student must provide the GPD and the chair of the appropriate research area committee a copy of the document proposed to satisfy the requirement. The document will be evaluated by the area committee to determine if it meets the stated criteria. The chair of the area committee will notify the student and the GPD of the outcome of the evaluation (acceptable or unacceptable). If the publication is deemed unacceptable, the student may submit another publication or take the Candidacy Examination. This does not count as an attempt.

If a student is not first author on a submitted paper to an approved conference/journal before they have completed formal coursework, they must take the Candidacy Examination within the next 6 months.

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:

  1. The faculty advisor selects the members of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee in cooperation with the student and the graduate studies committee.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Dissertation Prospectus

The oral examination of the written dissertation prospectus, or proposal, 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. These are typically the members of the student’s dissertation committee.

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 dissertation 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 Dissertation Committee (student’s advisor). The chair will act as moderator, ruling on questions of procedure and protocol that may arise during the examination.

Form: D3 – Result of Doctoral Examination or Requirement Form

Dissertation

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.

Forms:

  • 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 18 months: Complete the candidacy examination process (candidacy examination or research event)
  • End of 24 months: Pass the dissertation prospectus
  • 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 24 months: Complete the candidacy examination process (candidacy examination or research event)
  • End of 30 months: Pass the dissertation prospectus
  • End of 48 months: Successfully defend the dissertation