Doctoral Students

General Degree Information 

The PhD program in the Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) department consists of three components: coursework, research, and thesis preparation. Early on in your career as a graduate student you will take courses to fulfill background, breadth and supporting program requirements. You will also take courses that help to develop and refine your research writing skills; these skills include information analysis and synthesis as well as written and verbal presentation capabilities. This part of your graduate career ends when you cross the threshold presented by the Preliminary Oral and Written Examinations ( WPE and OPE).  Taken in conjunction, these examinations serve as an early test of your research ability. More information on the WPE/OPE process can be found here. 

Once you have passed the WPE and OPE you will be formally admitted to PhD candidacy and are ready to begin the second  phase of your career as a doctoral student. During this phase your coursework lightens and your research increases as you focus on the definition and pursuit of your specific thesis topic and begin to prepare for your Thesis Proposal Examination. The Thesis Proposal Examination should be taken 1-2 years after passing the Preliminary Oral Examination and is a presentation pertaining to research directly related to your thesis proposal. This examination will test the full range of your expertise regarding your thesis topic in order to evaluate your preparation for thesis research and the suitability of your thesis research plan.  More information about the the Thesis Proposal Examination can be found here.

Once you pass the Thesis Proposal Examination you will be in the full swing of research. During this stage you will synthesize all of the skills you have learned up to this point and use them to distill the material that will become the core of your doctoral thesis. Your days and nights will be filled with intense thesis preparation and research into your thesis topic and finally you will produce a complete thesis dissertation document which you will defend orally during your Final Oral Examination aka Thesis Defense. More information on the Final oral Examination can be found here. The successful completion of these activities yields your Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Computer Science!

Throughout your career as a doctoral student you will receive support from your Academic Advisor(s), peer and research groups, departmental program administrator as well as a number of individuals across campus who work to best facilitate your progress through your degree program. Our primary goal is to make sure that your experience is positive, productive and prepares you for a successful career beyond the University of Minnesota. The entirety of the Ph.D. process is complex and at times rife with academic and administrative requirements. Specific deadlines and procedures are outlined  in the menu items to your left and course requirements as well as a sample degree plan are provided below. If you have questions regrading your degree individual degree plan, please do not hesitate to reach out to your advisor, the DGS or the Graduate Program Administrator for help.  


Credit Requirements 

  • Each student must complete 31 credits of graduate-credit coursework, including:
    • 16 graduate credits from 5xxx or 8xxx courses with a CSci designator
    • 5 breadth courses (15 credits)
    • 1 credit of CSci Colloquium (CSci 8970)
    • 6 credits of supporting program coursework or 12 credits from a minor program
    • CSci 8001/8002 unless advised otherwise by research advisor
    • Other graduate-level credits to reach a total of at least 31 credits which may include related field courses from programs other than CS or courses (graduate level courses in the College of Science and Engineering) for a graduate minor
  • 24 Thesis Credits
  • All CSci courses included in the graduate degree plan must be taken A-F if the A-F grading basis is offered. All major credits must be 5xxx or above.
  • Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.45 on courses appearing in the graduate degree plan and no courses with a grade below a C- can be included.


A total of 55 credits are required to complete the Ph.D. in Computer Science: 31 course work credits and 24 thesis credits with a GPA of 3.45 or higher. Of the 31 coursework credits,16 must be CSci program courses and no course with a grade below C- may be counted towards degree completion. Transfer credits from a previously acquired M.S. degree may apply to your Ph.D. program, please speak with your Graduate Program Administrator for information on transfer credit. All courses must be taken at the 5xxx-8xxx level in order to apply towards a Ph.D. degree. Within the required 31 credits of coursework there are subsets of course requirements termed Breadth, Background and Supporting program requirements.

  • Breadth – Breadth coursework consists of 5 courses (typically 15 credits) taken within 3 subject areas. The Breath requirement exists to help expose the student to diverse Computer Science research topics and methods. There is 3.45 GPA minimum requirement for this coursework. For more detailed information please visit the Breadth Requirements page. 

  • Supporting Program-   A minimum of 6 credits of supporting program coursework are required for this degree. The Supporting Program is defined as a minimum of 6 semester credits of coherent coursework outside CS in a field within the College of Science and Engineering (e.g., EE, Math, Stat, IEOR, etc.), Management, Cognitive Science and other related fields. These courses should contribute to the student’s research or career goals.

  • Background Knowledge - Background coursework cover concepts that are integral to a minim core body of knowledge that all Computer Science Ph.D. students are expected to posses. These concepts are required prerequisites and all students in the Ph.D. program are required to fulfill the background requirements, there are a number of ways to fulfill these requirements, for more information visit the background knowledge page.

In addition to the Background, Breath and Supporting Program requirements, there are requested & required classes that a Ph.D. student must fulfill in order to complete the coursework portion of a degree program:

  • 1 credit of Colloquium, this course is included in the total number of credits counted towards your degree. 
  • All PhD students are requested to take CSci 8001(1 cr) and CSci 8002 (2 cr) Introduction to Research in Computer Science I and II.
  • Additional course work to total 31 credits
  • Students have 5 years from satisfactorily passing their WPE/OPE to complete coursework.

Thesis Credits: In addition to Coursework credit, a minimum of 24 thesis credits are required in order to complete the Ph.D. program. These courses may only be taken following the completion of the WPE/OPE and admission of a student to  Ph.D. candidacy. It is the recommendation of the department that you maximize the thesis credits you take each semester and it is our hope that you will complete the thesis credits in 2 semesters. Most students will be able to take half in one semester and the other half the next semester. If you still have some classes to take, you can register for the class(es) and then register thesis credits for the rest of the credits up to the maximum allowed each semester of 14 credits total.

When you have completed all of your thesis credits, you will be put in a reduced fringe classification which allows you to only register for one credit, CSci 8444 which is designated as the PhD full time equivalent credit. This credit gives you full time status for your visa requirements for international students and also full time status if you hold a graduate assistantship. Your assistantship will only pay for one credits so if you take any additional credits after you have completed all of your thesis credits, the tuition for those credits will be your responsibility. For international students who wish to do CPT during the summer and to register for CPT in the fall, you should not register for CSci 8444 but instead request a reduced course load and submit to ISSS. For those who hold an assistantship, you must also submit a Special Graduate Assistant Registration Tuition Benefits Status Request form, This form must be submitted before the semester begins and is to be signed by your advisor, your employer (your advisor if an RA, by the DGS if TA) and then by the DGS. It should be submitted to the office and we will make sure it has the DGS signature and then fax it to the Grad Assistant Office. If you have any questions about the distribution of course and thesis credits over your career, please be sure to discuss with the Coordinator.

Things to remember: 

  • Students who take 6 credits or more are considered full time graduate students. All international students and students who hold a graduate assistantship, fellowship or traineeship are required to be full time students.
  • Almost all of the graduate level courses in CS (5000 level and above) are 3 credits each.
  • Special topics courses (CSci 5980 or 8980) are courses taught one time only and are good options if the topic is of interest to you. These do not count towards breadth requirements.
  • All CS courses must be taken A/F unless only offered S/N, such as Colloquium or Plan B project. No more than one-third of the courses on your graduate degree plan (courses that will count towards your degree) can be taken on the S/N basis.

Degree Progress

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed and the degree awarded within five calendar years after passing the preliminary oral examination. Graduate School policy dictates a departmental annual review of Ph.D. progress for all students. Each fall CS PhD students will be required to complete an Annual Review form.  This form is used by the student’s research advisor to note student progress through the program. All forms are reviewed by the Director of Graduate Studies for satisfactory progress.  Progress Guidelines are available in Appendix A of the Graduate Student Handbook.


The Graduate academic advisor(s) can answer most questions and advise students on degree requirements, department procedures, or general issues about being a graduate student. To contact your graduate advisor please e-mail or visit the main office to set up an advising appointment.

The Director of Graduate Studies is the official advisor of record for all students unless an advisor was assigned at the time of admission. Master's students will choose an advisor for their plan B project or plan A thesis after completing a few courses in their area of interest, attending seminars and engaging in individual discussions with members of the faculty, typically by the second semester. Plan C and MCS students do not need to complete this step. Only faculty with graduate education responsibilities are eligible to serve as advisors for graduate students. The advisor-advisee relationship is a mutual and an advisor must agree to advise any student. Once a student determines his or her advisor they will fill out a  Declaration of Advisor form. A student may change advisors at any time using the same form. Please note that the new and the previous advisor must sign to acknowledge this change.

Most PhD students have been assigned advisors in their field of interest at the time of entry into the university. Students are encouraged to talk to their assigned advisor as well as other faculty members in their interest area to deterimine if their assigned advisor is best suited to their research goals.  We expect you to find an advisor and suitable research by the end of your first year in the program. Advising is a mutually voluntary arrangement. You never will be obligated to work with someone against your choice, and no faculty member is obligated to take on any particular student. 

For questions regarding the advising process please contact: