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Ph.D. Program

The doctor of philosophy degree is regarded as a research degree and is granted on the basis of scholarly proficiency, distinctive achievement in a special field, and the capacity for independent, original investigation. The first two criteria are tested in coursework and a qualifying examination, the last by a dissertation that must present the results of substantial research clearly and effectively. A combination of these accomplishments, rather than the mere accumulation of residency and course credits, is the essential consideration in awarding the doctorate.

A minimum of 48 semester hours of course credit is required. Approval of the selection of courses must be obtained from the student’s advisor and supervisory committee, and the course of study as a whole must be unified so that all its parts contribute to an organized program of study and research. Unlike the general College of Engineering requirements, graduate credit may not be obtained for courses at the 400-level. In addition, a student is expected to have completed at least 24 hours of dissertation research and to have fulfilled residency and other requirements of the Graduate School.

Ph.D. Requirements (72 Credit Hours)

Credit Hours

The student must successfully complete 72 total credit hours, as follows:

  • 24 hours of CS 699 Dissertation Research
  • 48 hours of graduate-level course work in computing
    • At least 24 hours of this coursework must be from courses that are taken within the Department. Students may not count CS 511, CS 512, CS 591, CS 592, CS 598, CS 599, CS 691, CS 692 or CS 699 courses towards this total.
    • The remaining hours of a student’s required coursework may include:
      • Additional graduate courses taken within the Department. This may include CS 511, CS 512, CS 591, CS 592, CS 691 and CS 692 courses
      • Graduate coursework transferred from other institutions
      • Courses taken outside of computer science, which must have the approval of the student’s major professor

Additional Requirements

  • The student must pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam is composed of a Qualifying Exam Written Document and an Oral Presentation. The student must select an advisor for their Ph.D. Qualifying Exam and choose two members for their Ph.D. Qualifying Exam committee from the Department of Computer Science. The department will appoint an additional faculty member to serve on the student’s Ph.D. Qualifying Exam committee.
  • The student must select a dissertation advisor and a dissertation committee. The committee contains at least five members, including the dissertation advisor. Four members must be from the faculty of the Department of Computer Science, and one member must be from outside the department.
  • The student will develop a written research proposal. This should contain an introduction to the research area, a review of relevant literature in the area, a description of problems to be investigated, an identification of basic goals and objectives of the research, a methodology and timetable for approaching the research, and an extensive bibliography.
  • The student will deliver an oral presentation of the research proposal, which is followed by a question-and-answer session that is open to all faculty and which covers topics related directly or indirectly to the research area. The student’s committee will determine whether the proposal is acceptable based upon both the written and oral presentations
  • The student will develop a written dissertation that demonstrates that the student has performed original research that makes a definite contribution to current knowledge. Its format and content must be acceptable to both the student’s committee and the Graduate School.
  • The student will defend the written dissertation. The defense includes an oral presentation of the dissertation research, followed by a question-and-answer session. The student’s committee will determine whether the defense is acceptable.
  • Other requirements may be specified by the Graduate School and by the College of Engineering.
  • Students are required to register for CS699 the semester after passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam, although students may register for CS699 prior to passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. However, regardless of when students first register for CS699, once registered for CS699 students must register for at least 3 hours of CS699 every subsequent fall and spring semester in which they are enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Separate rules apply for Final-Semester Dissertation (699) Minimum Registration Hours.

Ph.D. Requirements Prior to Fall 2011

Credit hours

The student must successfully complete 72 total credit hours, as follows:

  • 24 hours of CS 699 Dissertation Research
  • 48 hours of graduate-level course work with a grade of A or B, subject to the following restrictions:
    • At least 6 hours of theory courses (CS 500 Discrete math, CS 601 Algorithms, CS 602 Formal languages, CS 612 Data structures)
    • At least 6 hours of software courses (CS 600 Software engineering, CS 603 Programming languages, CS 607 Human-computer interaction, CS 614 Compilers, CS630 Empirical Software Engineering)
    • At least 6 hours of systems courses (CS 567 Computer architecture, CS 606 Operating systems, CS 613 Networks, CS 618 Wireless networks)
    • At least 6 hours of applications courses (CS 535 Graphics, CS 560 or 591 Robotics, CS 591 Security, CS 609 Databases)
    • At least 3 hours from each category above must be completed at The University of Alabama
    • Any non-CS courses should be relevant to the student’s research area, and approved by the student’s dissertation advisor and committee (preferably in advance)
    • The student may obtain a maximum of two grades of C or lower in graduate-level CS courses, however such courses would not apply toward the 48 hours of course work. Any student who earns a third grade of C or lower shall not be permitted to remain in the Ph.D. program.

Additional Requirements

  • The student must pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam is composed of a Qualifying Exam Written Document and an Oral Presentation. The student must select an advisor for their Ph.D. Qualifying Exam and choose two members for their Ph.D. Qualifying Exam committee from the Department of Computer Science. The department will appoint an additional faculty member to serve on the student’s Ph.D. Qualifying Exam committee.
  • The student must select a dissertation advisor and a dissertation committee. The committee contains at least five members, including the dissertation advisor. Four members must be from the faculty of the Department of Computer Science, and one member must be from outside the department.
  • The student will develop a written research proposal. This should contain an introduction to the research area, a review of relevant literature in the area, a description of problems to be investigated, an identification of basic goals and objectives of the research, a methodology and timetable for approaching the research, and an extensive bibliography.
  • The student will deliver an oral presentation of the research proposal, which is followed by a question-and-answer session that is open to all faculty and which covers topics related directly or indirectly to the research area. The student’s committee will determine whether the proposal is acceptable based upon both the written and oral presentations
  • The student will develop a written dissertation that demonstrates that the student has performed original research that makes a definite contribution to current knowledge. Its format and content must be acceptable to both the student’s committee and the Graduate School.
  • The student will defend the written dissertation. The defense includes an oral presentation of the dissertation research, followed by a question-and-answer session. The student’s committee will determine whether the defense is acceptable.
  • Other requirements may be specified by the Graduate School and by the College of Engineering.
  • Students are required to register for CS699 the semester after passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam, although students may register for CS699 prior to passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. However, regardless of when students first register for CS699, once registered for CS699 students must register for at least 3 hours of CS699 every subsequent fall and spring semester in which they are enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Separate rules apply for Final-Semester Dissertation (699) Minimum Registration Hours.

Timetable for the Submission of Graduate School Forms for a Doctoral Degree

This document identifies a timetable for the submission of all Graduate School paperwork associated with the completion of doctoral degree in Computer Science at the University of Alabama.

Deadlines for Taking the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam

If the student has an M.S. in CS, the first attempt at the qualifying exam should be completed by the end of the third semester in the PhD program. For example, students with an M.S. in CS who enter the Ph.D. program Fall 2012 must complete the first attempt at the exam by Fall 2013.

If the student has a BS in CS but not an M.S. in CS, the first attempt at the qualifying exam should be completed by the end of the fourth semester in the Ph.D. program. For example, students with a B.S. in CS who enter the Ph.D. program Fall 2012 must complete the first attempt at the exam by Spring 2014.

If the student does not have a B.S. in CS, the first attempt at the qualifying exam should be completed by the end of the fifth semester in the Ph.D. program. For example, students with a B.S. in CS who enter the Ph.D. program Fall 2012 must complete the first attempt at the exam by Fall 2014.

Students are allowed two attempts to successfully complete the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. Students who do not pass their first attempt must retake the exam at the next offering of the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam.

The student may withdraw from the process before the due date of the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Written Document if the advisor feels the student attempt at the qualifying exam is not sufficient. However, a withdrawal will be counted as a fail on the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam.

Curriculum Practical Training

In an effort to attract higher quality international students and to enhance the reputation and collaboration opportunities of the UA Computer Science graduate program, students are encouraged to participate in high quality, research-oriented experiences that can be sponsored under the Curricular Practical Training (CPT). It is expected that these experiences will coincide with the research area of the major professor.

PhD students are allowed to apply for the option of conducting a CPT as part of their graduate work, under specific conditions.

  1. Student must have completed 4 semesters of coursework and his/her Qualifying Exam
  2. Student must be nominated by and have the support of his/her advisor
  3. The experience must be deemed high quality (in terms of research impact and contribution to dissertation activities)
  4. Student must write a short essay describing how the proposed CPT experience would be beneficial to his/her career (e.g. help with dissertation, provide contacts for future jobs)
  5. Student must agree to return to UA upon completion of CPT and finish their degree

A faculty committee will review the application materials and approve or deny the CPT request. The goal of the committee will be to ensure that the CPT experiences are helpful to the student and that we are sending out high-quality students to represent the department well.

For more information

For additional information about the doctoral program, contact Dr. Susan Vrbsky or your thesis advisor.