Computer Science Ph.D. Degree Requirements

The following requirements are designed to help assess student performance and apply to all students entering the Ph.D. program in Computer Science in the Fall 2004-Spring 2010 semesters. If you initiated your Ph.D. studies prior to the Fall 2004 semester, see link on this page.


The pursuit of a Ph.D. degree is a journey that differs from the B.S. and M.S. degrees. A Ph.D. student is in search of new knowledge, rather than an understanding of known information and techniques. Of course, students must be able to identify what is new and what has been previously discovered to confidently present to the world their new discoveries. The journey to a Ph.D. degree, therefore, takes a student both through the world of the known, by way of advanced course work, and through the world of the unknown, by way of directed research.

The requirements of the Computer Science Ph.D. degree from the CSE Department at Lehigh University are designed to guide students along this journey, from the point of gathering a set of broad perspectives and understanding of the recent work in the field of computer science, to the point of focusing in on a specific set of new ideas on how to solve important problems in the field. Figure 1 diagrams these requirements. The figure shows the expected order of completion of the requirements, each of which provides a milestone for a student's progress. In general, the qualifier evaluates whether a student is prepared to work on a doctoral dissertation research project. The admission to candidacy, general exam, dissertation defense, and written dissertation are steps students take from identifying an interest in a topic area, to tackling a specific problem, to a discovery of new knowledge, to a presentation of that knowledge. Along the way, that student is expected to have obtained a breadth of knowledge in Computer Science at the graduate level through course work.





Figure 1: Milestones of the Ph.D. Degree in Computer Science

The person who oversees the CS Ph.D. program is the CSE Graduate Program Chair. Questions about the requirements described here, or situations that appear not to be addressed here, should be directed to him or her. The current Graduate Program Chair is identified on the CSE web site. The Graduate Coordinator, whose email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , is also a valuable source of information on the program. The Graduate Coordinator is the person who can provide necessary forms and documents, and can direct students to the people that can given them the answers, resources, and approvals they need.

We first present a brief description of the requirements of the Ph.D. degree, including the purpose of each requirement and a general description of how the requirement is completed. In the sections that follow this list, each requirement is described in detail.

(Please see CSE PhD requirements Fall 2010 or Later)
Purpose: Ensure that a student is prepared to start doctoral research.
Timing: Usually completed by the end of the second semester. Must be completed by the end of the fourth semester.
Procedure:Complete each of the following requirements (in any order)
Core Competency Exams
Purpose: Ensure that a student has obtained the expected core CS knowledge of a B.S. program.
Timing: The exams must be taken at the first opportunity. Exams may be re-taken until the requirement is satisfied up to the end of the fourth semester.
Procedure: For each of the core areas identified, take and pass an exam or (if the course is available) obtain a high grade in a specified graduate course.
Programming Competency Course
Purpose: Ensure that a student has the basic programming skill required for graduate study.
Timing: Completed by the end of the fourth semester.
Procedure: Take a course that has been identified as "programming intensive" and obtain permission from the instructor to allow an evaluation of the programming activities in the course to determine programming competency. In addition to certification by the instructor, obtain a B+ in the course.
Depth Study
Purpose: Ensure that a student has the ability to search for, read critically, and perform a comparative analysis of research articles on a topic in Computer Science. Ensure that the student is able to present and discuss that analysis.
Timing: Completed by the end of the fourth semester.
Procedure: Perform an in-depth literature survey and analysis of a research area of computer science, write an article that gives a comparative analysis of that literature and discusses future research directions, and give a public presentation of that analysis to an examination committee of three (3) faculty. This activity is usually done in association with an Independent Study or graduate seminar course led by a member of the examination committee.
Admission to Candidacy
Purpose: Ensure that a student has identified a viable dissertation topic and assembled an appropriate dissertation committee.
Timing: Usually completed within one year after completing the qualifier requirements.
Procedure: Complete the RCEAS Admission to Candidacy form, which must identify the student's doctoral committee and include a short description (around five (5) pages) of the student's thesis question, research plan, and expected contribution of the dissertation research.
General Exam

Purpose: Ensure that a student has the necessary knowledge and understanding of the specific field of study in which their dissertation lays, that they have a reasonable plan for completing their dissertation, and that their work is very likely to produce significant contributions to their field.
Timing: Usually completed within one year after completing the admission to candidacy. University rules state that a student cannot graduate until seven (7) months after passing their general exam. The general exam consists of a written document, followed by an oral presentation to occur no earlier than one (1) week after submitting the document to the doctoral committee.
Procedure: Create a written document that demonstrates knowledge and understanding of the dissertation's field of study, a clear research goal and plan, and a discussion of anticipated contributions to the field. Present this document to the doctoral committee. Give a presentation that summarizes the written document to the committee and to the public.
Written Dissertation
Purpose: Ensure that a student has successfully completed a doctoral dissertation that has produced significant contributions to the field.
Timing: The written dissertation cannot be submitted for final approval until after a successful defense (below), and after all doctoral committee members are willing to approve the document. The official University calendar determines when a written dissertation must be approved in order to graduate at the end of a particular semester.
Procedure:Submit a draft of the written dissertation to two committee members and the Associate Dean for approval six weeks prior to graduation. Submit the final written dissertation to the committee for signatures of approval. Submit the approved document to the RCEAS Associate Dean of Graduate Studies.
Dissertation Defense
Purpose: Ensure that a student has successfully completed a doctoral dissertation that has produced significant contributions to the field, and is able to present the work clearly to experts in the field and the public at large.
Timing: The defense must occur before the written dissertation is submitted for final approval. However, the committee should be given, at least one (1) week before the defense presentation, a written dissertation that is complete with the exception of changes suggested and required by the committee.
Procedure: Submit the written dissertation to the committee. Give a presentation to the committee and the public of the dissertation and its contributions to the field.
Breadth Course Requirement
Purpose: Ensure that a student has a breadth of knowledge in computer science at the graduate level.
Timing: Completed before graduation.
Procedure: Identify courses taken before entry into the Ph.D. program that can count towards the breadth requirement, considering the area designation of the courses, and obtain approval from the CSE Department Graduate Coordinator. Take additional courses to complete the requirement, as necessary.
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