PhD Degree Breadth Requirements

The PhD degree Breadth Requirement involves students taking courses from "bins". This provides students with graduate level breadth in Computer Science.

A bin is a small collection of related graduate courses. Every bin has a name (e.g., Theory). Some bins have been labeled as "essential".

PhD students are required to achieve at least a B grade in courses from six different bins. These six bins must include all three essential bins. Students must achieve an A grade in at least four of the six bins, including an A grade in at least one essential bin.

The essential bins are Theory, Algorithms, and either Systems or Networks.

Other bins are Design, Compilers/Languages, Graphics/Imaging, AI, and Databases.

Courses with a 5000 number (e.g., 5003, 5084) are "preparatory courses", designed specifically for students with insufficient background knowledge or skills. While graduate credit can be earned for these courses, they cannot be used by PhD students to satisfy a bin requirement.

The breadth requirement must be satisfied by the time the student achieves the following number of graduate credits: for PhD-90: 54 credits (18 courses); for PhD-60: 36 credits (12 courses).

Students admitted to the CS PhD program with only a bachelor's degree (i.e., PhD-90) 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.

The Bins

The following list shows the PhD bins and the courses in them. Courses listed in multiple bins may only be used to satisfy the requirements of one bin.

      Theory: 503 (Found.), 521 (Logic), 559 (Adv. Th.)

      Algorithms: 504 (Analysis), 584 (Algs)

      Systems: 502 (OS), 533 (Perf. Eval.), 535 (Adv. OS)

      Networks: 513 (Intro LAN/WAN), 529 (Multi. Net.), 530 (HP Net.), 577 (Adv.Net.)

      Design: 509 (SE), 546 (HCI), 562 (Adv. SE)

      Compilers/Languages: 536 (Langs.), 544 (Compilers)

      Graphics/Imaging: 543 (Graph.), 545 (Im. Proc.), 549 [Vision], 563 (Adv. Gr.)

      AI: 534 (AI), 538 (Ex. Sys.), 539 (Learning), 540 (AI Design), 549 [Vision]

      Databases: 542 (DATABASE), 561 (Adv. DATABASE)

For each bin, a bin committee consisting of full-time CS faculty is responsible for the administration of requirements related to that bin. These responsibilities include: recommending courses to be added or removed from their bin; determining which independent studies and special topics courses should be included in their bin; and deciding on student petitions concerning their bin. The membership of the bin committees will be reviewed annually by the Department Head.

Additional Requirements

  1. Independent study and special topics (CS 525) courses can be counted as belonging to a particular bin with the approval of the bin committee. Approval should be sought by the instructor prior to the start of the course.
  2. Students who have already completed graduate work elsewhere may petition the appropriate bin committee to use that work to satisfy the requirement of taking a course from that bin. If the content of that graduate work is considered acceptable by the bin committee, then the grade the student received for that work will be used to determine whether the petition is approved.
  3. Students who do not achieve at least a B grade in a course from a bin, or the required number of A grades within the bins, can either retake the course, take a different course within the bin, or, if it is in a non-essential bin, take courses in other bins to satisfy the breadth requirement.
  4. BS/MS students who received BS/MS credit for an undergraduate course can have that undergraduate course satisfy the appropriate bin requirement.
  5. Students enrolled prior to November 2006 may choose to graduate either under these rules or any rules that have been active since they first registered for the degree program. For example, students who took the old written Qualifier Exam once and failed, or conditionally passed, may now switch to the new rules. Some leniency in the time limits may be granted for students transitioning to the new rules.
  6. These new rules do not affect the requirement that Ph.D. students must successfully complete one graduate level mathematics course.


The original motion passed by the CS department can be found at:

      November 2006 PhD Requirements Motion