3. Ph.D. Program

The doctoral program in computer science prepares students for research and teaching careers in academia and for research and technical careers in industry and government. The primary areas of concentration of the program are:

  • computer and network security
  • cryptography and privacy
  • information search and retrieval
  • machine learning,  data mining, and natural language processing
  • networking and distributed systems
  • parallel and distributed algorithms

The department's faculty work in the areas of algorithms, artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, computer and network security, cryptography, database systems, data mining, data science, distributed algorithms, distributed systems, information assurance, information retrieval, machine learning, natural language processing, networking, non-standard parallel computing, parallel algorithms, and privacy.

 

3.1  DEGREE REQUIREMENTS

There are six main requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy program:

  1. complete the requirements for the Master's degree
  2. qualifying examinations - three core and area
  3. take three doctoral seminars
  4. complete the workshop portion of the Apprenticeship in Teaching Program
  5. complete and defend a proposal
  6. complete and defend a dissertation

3.2  REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MASTER'S DEGREE

Doctoral students must first complete the requirements for the Master's program, which involves taking ten courses (30 credits) or taking eight courses (24 credits) and writing a thesis. Instead of taking two core courses, doctoral students must take three: Algorithms (COSC-540), Architecture (COSC-520), and Theory (COSC-545). The rules for graduate electives, external electives, and the thesis option apply without modification to doctoral students.

3.2.1  TUTORIAL COURSES

Doctoral students are not eligible for tutorial courses.

3.2.2  CONFERRAL OF THE MS DEGREE

Doctoral students who complete the requirements for the MS program at Georgetown University receive the degree Master of Science in Computer Science.

3.3  REGISTRATION IN THESIS RESEARCH

Thesis Research is a registration category that qualifies doctoral students for full-time enrollment after they have completed their Master-level course work and while they are working toward the completion of their dissertation. Work on one's dissertation can begin at any time, but registration in Thesis Research (COSC-999) occurs only after students have completed all courses or during the semester in which they complete all courses for the MS requirement. Students should enroll in Section 1 of Thesis Research (COSC-999-01) if they have completed all courses. They should enroll in Section 3 of Thesis Research (COSC-999-03) if they are taking their final courses and these courses alone do not constitute full-time enrollment. 

3.4  QUALIFYING EXAMS

The purpose of the qualifying exams is to ensure that students pursuing the Ph.D. degree have a graduate level of competence in the fundamentals of computer science, as well as the ability to understand and explain literature relevant to students’ research interests. The qualifying exam is divided into two parts: three core exams and an area exam. 

3.4.1  CORE EXAMS

The core exams are designed to assess a student's understanding of foundational concepts in the fundamental areas of algorithms, architecture, and theory. The core exams are defined by the syllabi in the following three graduate courses:

  • Computer Hardware and Systems Architecture (COSC-520)
  • Algorithms (COSC-540)
  • Theory of Computation (COSC-545)

A student cannot take a particular core exam until the student is enrolled in the class or has completed it (either here or through advanced standing credit). A student passes a core exam in one of two ways:

Method 1:

By getting an A- or A in the respective core graduate course at Georgetown. If a student does not get an A- or an A, then the student has the opportunity to try option 2 (below) one time.

Method 2:

By passing a qualifying exam (which may be the final exam) in the respective core graduate course area at Georgetown. If a student has not taken the course at Georgetown, he/she gets two opportunities to pass the exam.

The Graduate Committee will appoint a three-member committee for each of the core courses, with the instructor for the current year acting as head of the committee. The instructor will finalize and publicly announce the course syllabus by the second week of the semester. These syllabi will serve both as plans for the courses and as reading lists for the corresponding core exam. All three courses will have written final exams that take place during the usual university final examination period.

The qualifying exam will be set and graded by the head of the committee.  The other committee members will review the exam to ensure fairness in grading. The committee will then determine what constitutes a passing score. As a general guideline, the committee will ensure that the students who pass have demonstrated a mastery of material taught in the corresponding course.

The core exam results are separate from the grade in the course, i.e. the complete course load (e.g., homeworks, projects, midterms, quizzes). The criteria for obtaining the grade in the course is determined separately from the core exam passing criteria.

Should a student have to take the exam a second time, the exam should not be identical to the first.

3.4.2  AREA EXAM

The area exam is designed to assess students’ ability to read, analyze, and communicate current research results. This is done by completing a literature review in an area the student and adviser agree on. The student should be able to synthesize and analyze existing work that will be necessary for him/her to complete his/her dissertation.  

A student must complete the core exams, traditional Master's level coursework, and have a research adviser in order to begin the area exam. The area exam is based on research articles selected in consultation with the student's adviser.  The student prepares a summary/discussion of this material.  Typically, the length will be 15-20 pages, but it may vary depending on the area. Evidence of ability to identify, critically analyze, and of written communication skills will be evaluated by the area exam committee consisting of the student’s adviser and two other member of the faculty. Passing the exam requires students to demonstrate an ability to synthesize and critique recent work in a particular area or subtopic within the area. Interesting avenues for future research should also be explained.

A student must work on the area exam during the academic year and complete it within three months. Once the student decides to begin work on the area exam, the student must inform the Graduate Director of the general research area of interest and the members of the committee. At this stage, the area exam begins and the student has three months to complete the written exam. If more time is needed, the student must petition the Graduate Committee for an extension. The committee decides on whether or not to grant an extension and the length of the extension based on a majority vote.

Guidelines for formatting the literature review include:

  • 1-inch margins
  • 11pt font
  • single-column
  • double-spaced

A sample LaTeX document that conforms to the above requirements is available upon request. While using LaTeX is not a requirement, it is highly encouraged.

3.4.3  LOGISTICS AND GRADING

The Department offers core qualifying exams twice per year in the fall and spring. Different exams are offered in the fall and spring depending upon when the core courses are offered. Each core exam is offered once per academic year. It is graded as either passing or failing. Students should plan to take the exams during their first year in the program. If a student will not be taking an exam during the first two years in the program, he/she must petition the Graduate Committee for an extension. After the exams have been graded, the DGS notifies the students about whether they passed or failed each exam. Students can review the marked exams, but the Department keeps and maintains control of all graded exams. Students must receive an A or A- in each core class or  pass each of the core exams in order to continue in the program.

The area exam is graded as either passing or failing. Students can begin area exams after completing the core exams and their traditional Master's level coursework. The committee and student work together throughout the three months. At the end of three months, the committee decides on whether or not the review deserves a passing or failing grade. The adviser informs the DGS about the grade and the DGS notifies the student about whether or not he/she passed. A graded copy of the area exam is submitted by the adviser and maintained by the department. A student who does not pass has the opportunity to complete a new literature review over the next three months. The new review must contain different related literature than the first one. The topic area is not required to be different. A student can choose to have a different advisor for this second area exam. A student not passing the area exam after two attempts must leave the program.

Students must pass all exams before the end of their third year and before they can schedule the presentation and defense of their proposal. For legitimate reasons, with their adviser's support, students may petition the DGS for a postponement. Legitimate reasons include but are not limited to family and medical emergencies and professional obligations, such as conference travel to deliver a paper. The DGS may grant a first postponement, but subsequent postponements require approval of the Graduate Committee.

3.5  DOCTORAL SEMINARS

The purpose of the doctoral seminars is to expose students to the problems and methods in the most recent literature of different areas of computer science. Doctoral students must take three two-credit, pass/fail doctoral seminars. Students should take doctoral seminars only after they have completed Master-level course work in the area. Students must pass three doctoral seminars before the defense of their dissertation proposal. Doctoral seminars are numbered in the range 800–899.

3.6  DISSERTATION ADVISOR

Students should identify a dissertation advisor no later than their third semester. The dissertation advisor must be a full-time faculty member in the Department of Computer Science. The dissertation advisor need not be the same person advising the student on curricular issues.

If after agreeing to serve as a student's dissertation advisor, the advisor loses faculty status in the Department of Computer Science, then that advisor may remain as the student's primary mentor.  However, in such cases, a full-time faculty member in the Department of Computer Science must serve as co-mentor to regularly monitor the student’s research and progress toward the degree.

3.7  DISSERTATION COMMITTEE

After identifying a dissertation advisor and topic, students work with their dissertation advisor to form a committee consisting of at least three additional members who are full-time faculty in the Department of Computer Science, and qualified to supervise, guide, review, and judge critical aspects of the dissertation. If appropriate, one member of the committee can be such a person from another department at Georgetown or another university, or from industry or government. The student must inform the DGS about the external member and submit the external member’s CV and an explanation of the external member’s role/expertise on the committee. The DGS approves the committee by signing the Dissertation Proposal Form.

3.8  DISSERTATION PROPOSAL

Doctoral students must write a dissertation proposal, defend (or present) the proposal in a seminar open to the public, and obtain their committee's unanimous approval. The proposal is a serious scholarly work of high quality that identifies the problem of interest, related work, how existing approaches are inadequate, the proposed approach, the plan of study, how progress and success is to be measured, and preliminary results. The proposal should be supported with the student's peer-reviewed conference or journal publications.

Once students complete a final draft of their proposal, with their advisor's approval, they distribute the proposal to the other members of their committee for a period no shorter than three weeks. Once the committee determines that the proposal requires only minor modifications, students work with their committee to schedule a defense of the proposal. During this period, the advisor oversees any necessary changes to the proposal. See Section 4.13 on the timing of reviews and defenses.

3.9  PROPOSAL DEFENSE

For the public defense of the proposal, students should plan a 45-minute presentation with 15 minutes reserved for public questions. The student, advisor, the members of the committee, and the DGS or a designee must be physically or virtually present for the public defense of the proposal.

After the period of public questions, the advisor excuses members of the audience so the committee can privately question the student. The advisor then excuses the student so the committee can deliberate in private about the sufficiency of the proposal and any required modifications. The student must pass with a unanimous vote.

After these deliberations, the advisor invites the student to rejoin the discussion and delivers the committee's decision as well as any required modifications to the proposal. If the proposal is acceptable, then the advisor, committee, and student agree to any required modifications, which the advisor should communicate to the committee, the DGS, and the student via email after the conclusion of the defense. The dissertation advisor oversees any required modifications to the proposal.

At the proposal defense, the committee completes the Graduate School's Dissertation Proposal Form which should be filled out prior to the proposal defense by the student. Necessary approvals include the advisor, committee, and DGS. The DGS must also receive a copy of the final version of the dissertation proposal. Students must make sure that they also satisfy the Graduate School's requirements for the dissertation proposal.

3.10  CANDIDACY

Once students have completed the MS requirements, passed three doctoral seminars in different areas, passed the written qualifying exams, and gained their committee's approval of their proposal, they are admitted to candidacy and are eligible to pursue their dissertation project.

3.11  APPRENTICESHIP IN TEACHING PROGRAM

During their final two years in the program, students must participate in the Apprenticeship Teaching program. All doctoral students must complete the workshops related to the following topics:

  1. Introduction to Teaching Resources
  2. Assessment and Grading
  3. Syllabus Design
  4. Effective Classroom Interaction
  5. The Teaching Portfolio

To complete the workshop requirements, students participate in two elective workshops that vary from semester to semester. Examples include:

  • Learning Styles
  • Online Writing
  • What does ‘Diversity in the Classroom’ Mean?

While not required, students may opt to complete the requirements for the program by completing authentic teaching tasks, which include classroom observation, syllabus design, and a video-taped teaching practice. This is particularly useful for students planning to pursue an academic career.

When appropriate, doctoral students may teach in the department. Doctoral students may serve as teaching assistants with duties that include holding office hours and grading assignments. They may lead one-credit discussion or laboratory sections in conjunction with three-credit courses that faculty offer. Finally, doctoral students who plan academic careers may be able to teach or co-teach an elective topics course at the undergraduate level toward the end of their program.

3.12  DISSERTATION REVIEW

Once students complete a final draft of their dissertation, with their advisor's approval, they distribute the dissertation to the other members of their committee for a period no shorter than three weeks. Once the committee determines that the dissertation requires at most  minor modifications, students work with their committee and the DGS to schedule a public defense of the dissertation, the details of which must be finalized and agreed upon two weeks in advance of the defense date.  Students should also get signatures from their committee members for the Graduate School's Doctoral Dissertation Reviewers' Report. This signed form is then submitted to the DGS. The vote on the Doctoral Dissertation Reviewers' Report must be unanimous for acceptance. After all parties agree with the schedule, the DGS submits the completed Doctoral Dissertation Reviewer's Report to the Graduate School at least one week prior to the date of the defense.

During this period, the advisor oversees any necessary changes to the dissertation. See Section 4.13 on the timing of reviews and defenses.

3.13  DISSERTATION DEFENSE

Dissertation defenses are public. For the public defense of the dissertation, students should plan a 45-minute presentation with 15 minutes reserved for public questions. Students should also bring the Graduate School's Doctoral Dissertation Cover Sheet. The student, advisor, the members of the committee, and the DGS or a designee must be physically or virtually present for the entirety of the public defense of the dissertation.

After the presentation, the committee can choose to meet privately with the student to ask more questions. Once the committee is satisfied with the question/answer session, the committee excuses the student and meets privately to vote whether to accept the dissertation. The vote must be unanimous for acceptance.

After these deliberations, the advisor invites the student to rejoin the discussion and delivers the committee's decision as well as any required modifications to the dissertation. If the dissertation is acceptable, then the advisor, committee, and student agree to any required modifications, which the advisor should communicate to the committee, DGS, and the student via email after the conclusion of the defense. The advisor and committee complete and sign the Doctoral Dissertation Cover Sheet and Dissertation Defense Report Form, and return both to the DGS. The advisor distributes copies of the assessments to the student, the members of the committee, and the DGS. The DGS signs the Dissertation Defense Report Form and delivers it to the Registrar.

The dissertation advisor oversees any required modifications to the dissertation. Once the student completes these modifications to the satisfaction of the advisor and committee, the dissertation advisor should notify the DGS so the DGS can sign the Doctoral Dissertation Cover Sheet and deliver it to the Graduate School. At this point, the student can begin the final formatting of the dissertation.

3.14  FINAL FORMATTING OF THE DISSERTATION

Once students pass their defense and complete all required modifications, they then set the dissertation in the Graduate School's required format. For more information on this process, see the Graduate School's page on theses and dissertations. For formatting dissertations, the Graduate School provides a Word template and a LaTeX style sheet.

3.15  MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS

Doctoral students must maintain and complete their course work with a grade-point average of 3.0.

3.16  MILESTONES FOR DOCTORAL STUDENTS

The department expects doctoral students to complete their degree requirements in no more than five years. To ensure that students complete their degree requirements within these time limits, the department holds students to the following milestones.

Doctoral students must finish their MS-level courses by the end of their second year. They must pass all of their qualifying examinations before the end of the fourth year, but most should finish by the end of their third year. Students will generally typically defend their proposal before the end of their fourth year. Students must give their committee ample time to review their dissertation draft. Finally, students must defend their dissertation before the Graduate School's deadline for their last semester.

3.17  TIME LIMITS

Five years is the expected time for doctoral students to complete all requirements for the degree. Doctoral students must complete all of the requirements for the degree in no more than seven years. They must complete all Master's requirements in no more than two years. They must pass all of the qualifying exams before the end of their fourth year. After ascending to candidacy, doctoral students must complete all remaining degree requirements in no more than five years.

Doctoral students may petition the Graduate Committee to extend these deadlines. See below for timing.

3.18  ANNUAL REPORTS

At the end of each academic year, doctoral students must submit a short report to the DGS. The report should describe the progress made toward the completion of their degree requirements and list significant accomplishments for the period, such as completing one's course work, passing a qualifying exam, or submitting a paper for publication. The report can also document any professional or personal issues that may have impeded progress. The DGS meets with students individually to discuss the report. Advisers are also asked to provide a list of concerns or issues to the DGS. After these meetings, the DGS talkes to the committee about each student, and determines whether or not a student is making reasonable progress. If not, the student will be informed of concerns and may be placed on academic probation. 

3.19  REGULAR MEETINGS WITH DOCTORAL COMMITTEE

After ascending to candidacy, doctoral students must communicate with their advisor and doctoral committee at least once per semester to discuss their progress on the dissertation project. If the advisor, committee, or student has any concerns about progress on the dissertation, an email should be sent to the DGS.

3.20  EXTENSIONS OF TIME

Students must petition to go beyond their sixth academic year. Department funding is only available for a maximum of five years. Students must submit a statement describing the reasons for the request, a description of the current state of the dissertation project, a letter of support from the advisor, a timeline of remaining milestones, and the current draft of the dissertation. Students must submit their petition to the DGS before the midpoint of their final semester. Such extensions of time are designed to accommodate short interruptions in progress of duration less than one semester, and are not designed to supplant personal, military, or medical leaves of absence. Students may request extensions of time through their advisor, the DGS, and the Graduate School using the Student Petition for Change to Graduate Program. See the Graduate Bulletin for more information about requests for extension of time limits and leaves of absence.

A second extension may be granted, but only in the case of complicating circumstances. In addition to the previous requirements, students must submit documentation of the complicating circumstances and letters of support from the members of the committee. The Graduate Committee must approve the petition with a majority vote.

3.21  ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

One primary goal of the CS graduate program is to support the scholarship of our PhD students. In particular, we have a strong interest in supporting the dissemination of their research at conferences. When funds are available, the Department will support travel to conferences.

All doctoral students in good standing are eligible for travel funds each year. There is an allocated amount for travel for each PhD student. Currently, it is set to $1000, but it may change based on availabe funding. The DGS will announce the amount for a particular academic year at the beginning of the fall semester. Students can use these funds to attend any academic conference that is useful for their studies. This money cannot be rolled over from one year to the next. Details about the travel funds can be found in the CS Graduate Student Box directory.

All doctoral students in good standing are eligible to apply for summer support. If funding is available, the DGS will inform students about the deadline for applications. Details about submitting an application can be found in the CS Graduate Student Box directory.