Admission to the PhD degree
Admission procedures for students not currently enrolled in the Computer Science graduate program at WPI are described in the Graduate Catalog.
Applicants who are accepted into the PhD program with a Bachelor's degree only (PhD-90) are required to complete a minimum of 90 credits in the PhD program, at least 30 for the MS component and at least 60 for the PhD component.
Applicants who are accepted into the PhD Program with a Master's degree (PhD-60) are only required to complete 60 credits in the PhD program. For acceptance into the PhD-60 program the applicant's previous Master's degree must be judged by the Department to be relevant for our PhD program. Once accepted into the PhD-60 program a student cannot transfer to the Computer Science MS program.
PhD-90 students must complete a CS MS degree as the first step towards the PhD. However, the PhD breadth requirement is more demanding than the MS breadth requirement. Consequently, those students should satisfy the PhD breadth requirement instead while obtaining the MS degree. All other requirements for the MS degree remain the same.
WPI Computer Science MS students in good standing may apply to the PhD program (PhD-60) by submitting:
- a new graduate application form (for the PhD);
- at least one new recommendation from a WPI Computer Science faculty member, using the standard graduate admissions recommendation form;
- a revised Statement of Purpose; and
- a current transcript.
These should all be submitted to Graduate Admissions. This may be done before or after satisfying the Qualifying Requirements.
Students are advised to contact the department for detailed rules, as there are departmental guidelines, in addition to the university’s requirements, for the PhD degree.
Upon admission, the student is assigned an academic advisor and together they design a Plan of Study during the first semester of the student’s PhD program.
The student must satisfy the PhD Qualifying Requirement, consisting of the Breadth Requirement and the Research Qualifying Requirement. Students must successfully complete the PhD Qualifying Requirement before being allowed to continue in the PhD program. Once both portions are passed, the student becomes a “PhD Candidate”. Any student admitted into the Computer Science graduate program at WPI may attempt this requirement.
The PhD Breadth Requirement is intended to be a measure of a student's breadth of knowledge in the field.
Research Qualifying Requirement
The Research portion of the Qualifying Requirements tests the student's ability to conduct research. Only one attempt may be made to satisfy this requirement. This requirement must be completed no later than one year after completing the breadth (PhD Bins) requirement. The research qualifier may precede completion of the breadth requirement. The student must satisfy one of the two research qualifying options listed below. The student may pass, fail, or be required to do additional work before passing this requirement.
- The student registers for three credits of Directed Research (CS598) with at least one faculty advisor. Before the directed research begins the student must notify the department, through the graduate secretary, that it is part of the Qualifying Requirements. The student should also identify the general area of the work. The graduate committee will then appoint a co-advisor for the directed research. The primary and appointed advisors will evaluate the student's work at the end of the semester to determine if the student has shown sufficient research potential to become a PhD Candidate. The student will typically submit a written report.
- The student uses a research paper to satisfy the Research
Qualifying Requirement, with the support of a faculty
advisor. The research paper must satisfy all of the
- The research described in the paper must have been conducted while the student was at WPI.
- The student must be one of the authors of the paper and must have contributed substantially to the ideas and research in the paper.
- The paper must have been submitted to a selective peer-reviewed Computer Science venue (e.g., conference or journal).
As part of this requirement, and under either option above, the student must deliver a presentation about the research to the department (e.g., in a research seminar). The student must notify the department, through the graduate secretary, of the time and place of this presentation at least one week in advance.
Upon successful completion of the PhD qualifying requirement, the student becomes a computer science PhD candidate. The student’s Dissertation Committee must be formed within the first year of candidacy. The student selects a research advisor from within the CS department, and together they select, with the approval of the CS Graduate Committee, three additional members, at least one of whom must be from outside the WPI CS department. The Dissertation Committee will be responsible for supervising the comprehensive examination, and approving the dissertation proposal and final report.
PhD Coursework and Research
The PhD degree requirements consist of a coursework component and a research component, which together must total at least 60 credit hours beyond the master’s degree requirement. The coursework component consists of at least 27 graduate credits, including 3 credits of graduate level mathematics. These 27 coursework credits must contain at least 15 graduate credits in computer science. Coursework credits taken outside computer science must be approved by the student’s advisor.
The student may also enroll for research credits, but is only allowed up to 18 research credits prior to the acceptance of the written dissertation proposal by the Dissertation Committee. With the approval of the Dissertation Committee, the student applies for and takes the PhD comprehensive examination. This examination must be passed prior to the completion of the dissertation defense and is normally taken after some initial dissertation research has been performed. With approval of the Dissertation Committee, the student applies for and takes the dissertation proposal examination, usually within one year of the PhD candidacy.
The PhD research component consists of at least 30 credits (including any research credits earned prior to the acceptance of the dissertation proposal and excluding any research credits applied toward a master’s degree) leading to a dissertation and a public defense, which must be approved by the student’s Dissertation Committee.
The Computer Science Department recommends that CS PhD students take IDG 501 (Seminar in College Teaching).
Comprehensive Examination (The Depth Exam)
The Comprehensive Examination is designed to test the student’s depth of knowledge in three areas of computer science. The Comprehensive Examination and the Dissertation Proposal can be completed in either order. However, the time between passing the examination and acceptance of the proposal should be less than six months.
The areas selected for the Comprehensive Examination must be acceptable to both the student and the committee, and may be suggested by the student. At least one of the areas should be related to the student’s dissertation research. However, some attempt should be made to include an area outside the research, to ensure some breadth as well as depth.
The examination is administered by the student’s Dissertation Committee. The student’s Dissertation Committee (or its designees) prepares questions for the student, who then has three weeks to prepare written answers. The answers are returned to the committee, which conducts an oral examination of the student based on the questions. The committee may pass the student, fail the student, or require additional work before reconsidering the result. Students may re-take the Comprehensive Examination at most once. The time frame for re-taking the Comprehensive Examination is determined by the Dissertation Committee.
The Dissertation Proposal is a written document describing the student's proposed work. The Dissertation Proposal should be sufficiently detailed to convince the Dissertation Committee of the student's understanding of the problem domain along with the significance of the proposed work.
To complete this requirement the student makes a public presentation of the proposal immediately followed by private questioning from the Dissertation Committee, which then determines the outcome of the proposal. The committee may accept the proposal, reject the proposal and recommend pursuit of a different topic, or require the student do additional work before reconsidering the proposal. The time frame for the student to do required additional work on the Dissertation Proposal is determined by the Dissertation Committee.
With the approval of the Dissertation Committee, the student schedules a Dissertation Defense. This defense is open to the public and is immediately followed by private questioning from the Dissertation Committee, which then determines the outcome of the Defense. The committee may accept, reject, or require additional work of the student before reconsidering the dissertation. The time frame for the student to do required additional work on the Dissertation is determined by the Dissertation Committee.
All examiners must approve the form and content of the final version of the dissertation. It must conform to the WPI Regulations for Preparation of Theses and Dissertations. For a Doctoral dissertation the title page is signed by the Advisor(s), all members of the Dissertation Committee, and by the Department Head. This is a Computer Science Department requirement. When it has been approved, the dissertation must be submitted electronically.