PhD Degree Information

Graduate Student Handbook – Doctoral Degree

The Doctor of Philosophy is regarded as a research degree and is awarded on the basis of accomplishment in a recognized specialty in computer science. Such accomplishment should include scholarly mastery of the field, significant contributions to new knowledge in the field, and written and oral communication skills appropriate for the field.

The requirements for the Ph.D. include the following: passing CIS 8962, the qualifying examination (portfolio defense), and CIS 8964, preliminary examination (area exam); satisfaction of the course requirements; successfully defending a dissertation prospectus; and successfully defending a dissertation. All candidates for doctoral degrees in the department are required to participate in teaching activities at some time during their graduate careers unless waived by the department chair. Additionally, each doctoral student must complete at least one oral research presentation which is critiqued by at least one faculty member. This can be at the departmental research conference, or any discipline-related conference.

Course Requirements

The doctoral student must complete the undergraduate pre-requisites before graduating. The doctoral student should have completed six core courses (18 hours), two courses in each of the three areas Software, Systems, and Theory (the PhD core course requirement). These core courses are defined in the FSU Master’s degree requirements. Equivalent courses taken at other institutions must be approved by the Portfolio Evaluation Committee (PEC). Additionally the student shall complete CIS 5935 Introductory Seminar on Research (2).

Students entering the program after earning a Master’s degree in Computer Science or related area must take at least four additional courses (12 hours) beyond those taken for the MS degree, at the 5000 or 6000 level, as advised by the student’s major professor and supervisory committee. These courses must be taken at FSU and a maximum of 2 courses (6 hours) may come from outside of the department. Core courses can also be used to meet this “4 additional course” requirement, provided they are taken at FSU and were not completed as part of an MS program. Supervised Teaching, Supervised Research, DIS and courses with prefix CGS do not count towards this requirement.

Students entering the program after earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science or related area, must take at least ten courses (30 hours) at the 5000 or 6000 level, as advised by the student’s major professor and supervisory committee. Six of these courses (18 hours) must meet the PhD core course requirement. The remaining four courses (12 hours) must be taken at FSU and cannot be part of an MS degree program outside of the FSU Computer Science Department. A maximum of two courses (6 hours) may come from outside of the Computer Science Department. Supervised teaching, supervised research, DIS, and courses with prefix CGS do not count towards this requirement.

The student’s PhD committee can require the student to take more than the aforementioned number of courses. The student must receive a grade of “B-” or better on all graduate courses taken to satisfy the minimum course requirements of the degree. Once these minimum requirements are met, however, it is permissible to take any subsequent courses on an “S/U” basis.

Once a student has completed thirty (30) semester hours of graduate work or has been awarded the Master’s degree, the student must be enrolled on The Florida State University Tallahassee campus for a minimum of twenty-four (24) graduate semester hours credit within a continuous 12-month period to meet the university residency requirement. The doctoral student must also complete at least twenty-four (24) hours of CIS 6980r Dissertation. A student may enroll in CIS 6980r only after being admitted to candidacy. Once admitted to candidacy, Students must be enrolled for a minimum of two Dissertation hours each semester until completion (of degree), and must graduate with the doctoral degree within five years of being admitted to doctoral candidacy.

Major Professor and Supervisory Committee

As early as is feasible in the student’s program, the student should identify an area for dissertation research and secure an informal agreement with a faculty member to serve as the student’s major professor. This agreement should include an understanding as to the area and timeline of the dissertation research. This agreement is then made formal by the Department Chair appointing that faculty member to serve in this capacity. In a similar manner the student must secure agreements with, and the Chair must approve, the remaining members of the student’s Supervisory Committee: one (1) additional faculty members in the Department; one (1) Representative-at-large who is a member of the graduate faculty in another department. Graduate Studies requires the representative-at-large ensure “that University policies are followed, and that decisions made by the supervisory committee reflect the collective judgment of the committee. Therefore, the graduate faculty representative must be someone who is free of conflicts of interest with other members of the committee.” If there are any questions as to the appropriateness of a particular faculty member to serve in this role, the Dean of Graduate Studies should be contacted. In addition, the Chair will appoint a member to serve as Department Representative. All members must hold doctoral directive status. The supervisory committee is responsible for approving an individual program of study, including any additional course requirements, and verifying that the student satisfies the following departmental requirements. The area examination, prospectus, and dissertation defenses must be unanimously approved by the major professor and supervisory committee.

Student Portfolio Defense (CIS 8962, Qualifying Exam)

All students admitted to the program, but not yet admitted to candidacy, are required to compile and keep current a portfolio containing information relevant to the student’s progress in the program. Required contents of the portfolio, submission dates and guidelines for preparing the portfolio are published by the Department of Computer Science at PhD Portfolio. When all components of the portfolio are complete, the student should register for the portfolio defense (CIS 8962).

The portfolio of any student not yet in candidacy is reviewed annually by the departmental Portfolio Evaluation Committee (PEC). This committee consists of a core that is appointed by the Department Chair, and normally meets in the spring. Feedback to the student on the contents of the portfolio and on progress towards admission to candidacy is provided after each review.

The final review occurs in conjunction with the defense of the portfolio. Thus, when a student and his or her major professor agree the portfolio is complete, the student should register for the Doctoral Qualifying Exam, CIS 8962 (0) for the next semester. Students will be required to pass an oral examination over the material in six core courses, two courses in each of the three areas Software, Systems, and Theory (the PhD core course requirement). If a student has taken a core course at FSU and has received a grade of an A, then the student is exempt from having to take an oral examination in that course.

If the student is not successful on the first sitting of the Qualifying Exam, a grade of “I” will be assigned. If the second sitting of the exam is also unsuccessful, a grade of “F” is assigned. A student can take the Qualifying Exam at most twice. A student either passes or fails; there is no conditional pass.

Area Examination (CIS 8964, Preliminary Exam )

The area examination (CIS 8964) covers the student’s intended area of research. It has both written and oral parts. Both parts of the examination are conducted by the student’s supervisory committee, which may delegate the responsibility to a larger area committee. It is strongly recommended that the student write an area survey paper as part of this exam. The oral part is open to all department faculty having doctoral status who elect to participate. The oral part of the examination is held in an open forum which other students are invited to attend and is followed by a closed session if the committee so desires. Students who do not pass the area exam may be advised to retake it at a later time. A student who changes to a new research area after having previously passed this exam will be required to stand for a further exam over the new area. A student can fail the area exam at most once.

A PhD CS student can be exempt from writing the document for the area exam if the student was the primary author on an accepted or published paper in the general intended research area and the student’s PhD committee deems the paper and the publication venue to be acceptable.  However, an oral examination for the area exam is still required.  The student’s PhD committee may allow the student to present the accepted or published paper in place of the normal presentation of the research area, but the PhD committee can still ask the student questions about the intended area of research.

Normal expectations are that the portfolio defense occurs prior to taking the area exam, or at least in the same semester as the area exam. Within two semesters (including summer) of passing the QE, a doctoral student should have taken the area exam.

Admission to Candidacy

In order to be advanced to candidacy for the doctoral degree, the student must:

  • pass CIS 8962, the qualifying examination, which consists of passing the defense of the portfolio, and
  • pass CIS 8964, the preliminary exam, which consists of passing the area examination.

Suggested Timeline

  • by the end of the first academic year, a doctoral student who entered the program with an MS degree, should have completed the QE and established a doctoral committee
  • for a doctoral student who entered the program without an MS degree, the student should have completed the QE and formed a doctoral committee by the end of the second academic year
  • within two semesters (including summer) of passing the QE, a doctoral student should have taken the PE (area exam).


The student must formally propose the research for the dissertation to his or her Supervisory Committee in the form of a prospectus. The prospectus should consist of much of the background work for the dissertation, including:

  • thorough literature review;
  • the theory, preliminary computational results, and/or bases for the feasibility of the research;
  • a proposal for the research to be completed for the dissertation.

In addition, as an appendix to the prospectus, publication plans should be presented. The research proposed should make clear any substantial advances in the state of knowledge in computer science, and the publication plans should be designed to affirm the quality and nature of the research. Publication should be in nationally recognized conferences and journals in the field. The prospectus must be successfully defended before the student’s supervisory committee in an open meeting.


After completing the research proposed in the prospectus, the student must write a dissertation. The dissertation represents the fulfillment of the proposals made in the prospectus. The dissertation document must comply with all current University standards for style. The dissertation must be successfully defended before the student’s committee in an open meeting. The dissertation must be successfully defended within five (5) years of passing the preliminary exam. An electronic version of the dissertation must be submitted to the university as well as the CS webmaster, and CS graduate coordinator.

Scholarly Engagement Requirement

Each CS doctoral student must be scholarly engaged during their academic studies. A PhD CS student meets the scholarly engagement requirement by taking the CIS 5935 Introductory Seminar on Research course and giving at least one presentation at a FSU CS graduate student seminar, a FSU CS Department seminar, or at an international conference. It is also recommended that each PhD CS student attend as many department and graduate student colloquia as possible.

Publication Requirement

Each PhD student is required to be the primary (e.g., first) author for at least one accepted or published paper in a conference or journal that is ranked B or higher by the Computing Research and Education Association (CORE) [].

Examination in Defense of Dissertation

The defense of the dissertation will be oral. Responsibility for suggesting the time, designating the place, and presiding at the examination rests with the major professor. It is recommended that students defend no later than the eighth week of classes in the semester of intent to graduate. Students must defend by no later than the Format Approval Deadline in the semester of intent to graduate. Consult the Graduate School Blackboard site GradSpace for more information.

Academic courtesy requires that the dissertation be submitted to each member of the supervisory committee at least four weeks before the date of the oral examination. The supervisory committee, the chair of the major department, and such other members of the faculty as may be appointed by the academic dean will conduct the examination. All members of the graduate faculty are invited to attend. At least two weeks prior to the date of the examination, the student or major professor will present an announcement of the dissertation title and the date and place of the examination to the Graduate School. Consult the Registration Guide for the deadline dates

All committee members and the student must attend the entire defense in real time, either by being physically present or participating via distance technology. If exceptional emergency circumstances, e.g. medical or other emergency situations, prevent the participation of a committee member then it may be necessary to arrange for an additional appropriately qualified colleague to attend the defense. A minimum of four members with Graduate Faculty Status must participate.

The oral examining committee will certify in writing to the academic dean of the major department the results of the examination: passed, failed, or to be re-examined. The report of results following a re-examination must indicate the student either passed or failed. To receive a passing grade, the written dissertation must be in final form or require only minor revisions at the time of the defense.A grade of PASS for the defense of treatise or dissertation requires at least a majority approval of the committee.

If the student passes, each member must sign the Manuscript Signature Form to substantiate the results of the defense. It is the responsibility of the major professor to submit this completed form either directly to the Clearance Advisor or to the appropriate college or departmental office for subsequent delivery to the Clearance Advisor in The Graduate School. A written critique of the conduct of the examination in defense of the dissertation should be submitted by the university representative from the graduate faculty to the appropriate academic dean and the Dean of the Graduate School within one week after the date of defense. The degree cannot be awarded until both forms have been received by the Graduate School and the final version of the manuscript has been submitted to and approved by the Clearance Advisor.