Ph.D. Degree Requirements


1. Introduction

This document is tailored for graduate students in the Computer Science Department, providing essential details on degree requirements and other important aspects of graduate study. Graduate education in the department is managed by the Associate Chair, who is also the Graduate Program Director, along with the Assistant Director and Graduate Coordinator, collectively referred to as the “Graduate Office.” 


For information regarding campus-wide graduate study requirements, policies, and deadlines, please refer to the resources provided by the UMCP Graduate School and in the Graduate Catalog. Specific information about registration and coursework requirements for our programs can be found here.

2. Ph.D. Degree Requirements

2.1 Ph.D. Advising

In the Ph.D. program, every student is either assigned a faculty advisor or has mutually agreed upon an advisory relationship with a faculty member upon entering the program. The initial advisor assignment is typically based on the student's stated research interests at the time of admission. However, it's recognized that research interests may evolve, or changes in faculty capacity or interests may occur, necessitating a change in advisors. Generally, the faculty member with whom you are actively conducting your Ph.D. research should serve as your advisor. You should ideally identify your advisor by the end of your first year, but no later than the end of your second year. 

You are expected to meet with your initially assigned advisor at least once during the first semester. Following this initial meeting, you should plan for more frequent consultations to discuss your academic and research progress. 

In cases where you accept a research assistantship with a professor who is not your current advisor, that professor may become your new advisor. It's important to officially notify the Computer Science Graduate Office whenever there is a change in your advisor.

Before the commencement of any advising relationship, both you and the supervising faculty member are expected to meet to review and confirm the expectations for this relationship. This includes a summary of the nature of the required duties. To facilitate these discussions, a Statement of Mutual Expectations template can be found on the Graduate School's Forms webpage.

2.2 Grad Review

Every April, the Grad Review Committee reviews the progress of graduate students in the program. The findings from this review are then discussed in a faculty meeting. 

Key Focus Areas:

  1. Coursework Performance: Students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 for all courses taken at the University. Low grades are closely monitored.
  2. Qualifying Coursework Completion: Completion of qualifying coursework is expected by the end of the fifth semester. Concerns arise for students who have not met this requirement within this timeframe.
  3. Advancement to Candidacy: Advancement to candidacy is generally expected by the third or fourth year, with the latest acceptable timeline being the end of the fourth year. Any delays in achieving this milestone necessitate a departmental petition (refer to section 2.4). Failing to advance to candidacy by the fifth year requires a petition to the graduate school and is considered a significant concern.
  4. Dissertation Defense Timeline: Defense of the dissertation is expected within two years of advancing to candidacy. A delay beyond the third year is a red flag.The Graduate School requires 12 credits of 899 doctoral dissertation research credits. In most cases, this requirement is satisfied by two semesters (fall/spring) of post-candidacy registration, in which the candidate is automatically registered for six credits of Doctoral Dissertation Research (899) per semester.
  5. Petitions for Extensions: Petitions for extended time to advance to candidacy or for delayed dissertation defense must be strongly supported by the advisor. The student must provide a detailed explanation for the delay.

Students identified as not making satisfactory progress will receive direct communication from their advisor and the Graduate Office.

Students who encounter specific challenges or delays have the option to request an extension from the Graduate School. These requests should include a detailed timeline and plan of action. Support from the student’s advisor is needed before submitting your form to the Graduate Office via the submission form.

2.3 Pre-candidacy Requirements

The Computer Science graduate program is structured as a two-stage program, with an expected total duration of five to six years which is a smaller duration than the time limitations set by the Graduate School's policies. In the initial "pre-candidacy" stage, students develop foundational knowledge in Computer Science ("breadth") and specialized knowledge in their research subarea ("depth"), under the mentorship of a graduate faculty advisor.

Minimum Requirements for Advancement to Candidacy

To advance to candidacy in the Computer Science graduate program, students must meet the following requirements:

  1. Complete at least six MS/Ph.D. Qualifying Courses at the 600–800 level
  2. Achieve a minimum of four A's (includes A- and A+) and two B's (includes B-) or above in Qualifying Courses to demonstrate mastery
  3. Ensure that the Qualifying Courses cover at least four different areas. Courses that are eligible for two areas will have only one count towards degree requirements. Whichever area the student has not yet taken as part of a breadth requirement will be used by default.

In addition, students must:

  1. Enroll in the Ph.D. seminar course “How to Conduct Great Research” (CMSC800) 
  2. Complete two additional “Elective” graduate courses (600-800 level), which can be outside the department and do not necessarily need to be qualifying courses, but must be completed with a grade of B- or higher

Qualifying Course Designation is provided by the graduate office. For a course to be considered as qualifying, its grading must be primarily based (at least 75%) on a combination of homework, programming assignments, research projects, and exams. Among these, written exams must constitute at least 30% of the overall grade. 

* Professional master's courses do not count towards the qualifying or elective course requirements for a Ph.D. degree.

Students with previous graduate-level preparation can waive up to three courses. However, the mastery requirement of achieving 4 A’s in qualifying courses cannot be waived.

For detailed information on coursework requirements, waivers, and a list of available courses, students should refer to the program's webpage

2.4 Preliminary Examination and Advancing to Candidacy

The Ph.D. Preliminary Examination, required after completing coursework and before the end of the fourth year of your admission to the program, assesses your readiness for dissertation research. You and your advisor decide when you are ready to take this step. It's expected that there will be at least a one-year gap between your proposal defense and the final dissertation defense. 

The proposal defense is an oral examination to review your preparation to conduct your proposed dissertation research and your plan of research. These are described in a proposal document. Your mastery over both fundamental concepts and the research literature in three areas related to your research are also examined. This is done via a “reading list” with about 10 publications (fundamental texts or research papers) in each of these areas. The reading list must be formatted according to the bibliographic standards in your field.

The goal of the examination is for the committee to discover whether or not you understand the subject matter sufficiently well to carry out the proposed research. The proposal document must be deemed satisfactory by your advisor before release to the rest of the committee. At a minimum, it should describe your proposed research, survey relevant literature, and propose a timeline for your research. The examination covers both the proposal document and the reading list.

Composition of the Preliminary Examination Committee

The preliminary examination committee must include a minimum of two faculty members whose primary appointment is within the Computer Science department.

  1. Your dissertation advisor, serving as the committee chair
  2. A departmental representative from outside your research area and may be suggested by your advisor. This representative must be a tenure-track faculty member in Computer Science, within a different field committee than the committee chair (Refer to Field Committee membership details here)
  3. At least one additional graduate faculty member, chosen by you and your advisor. This person could be outside the department or could be a co-advisor
  4. The committee must include at least 50% CS TTK faculty representation (Refer to the FAQ page for a detailed explanation)

Inclusion of External Committee Members

For inclusion of external committee members (those not affiliated with UMD or not part of the graduate faculty), submit a request at least six weeks prior to the exam date. Your request must include a concise justification, a list of existing committee members, and a CV of the proposed external committee member. To submit this request, please complete this Google form. External members or non-CS faculty are permitted, as long as these CS representation percentages are upheld.

Candidacy Advancement Documents

At least two weeks before the day you intend to take the exam, submit the oral exam scheduling form and share your proposal and reading list with each examination committee member. After this, a draft announcement will be prepared and sent to you and your advisor for review before it is circulated to the department. Once your proposal is received, our office will send the Action of Ph.D. Preliminary Examination Committee to your committee members. Note that your preliminary exam cannot be conducted without a submitted written proposal.

Written Proposal Document and Reading List Requirements

Your dissertation proposal document must describe your proposed dissertation research and outline the steps necessary for its completion. The proposal, which requires your advisor’s approval, should include:

  • A description of the work completed so far
  • A plan for your proposed research
  • A survey of relevant literature 
  • A proposed timeline for completing your research, along with a discussion of potential risks or assumptions
  • Reading lists that encompass basic and applied knowledge in three areas related to the proposal, with approximately 10 references each
  • Ensure all references in your proposal adhere to the formatting and style guidelines outlined in the University of Maryland Thesis and Dissertation Style Guide
  • While not mandatory, it is highly recommended that your proposal follows the Dissertation style guide. Templates are available here

Conduct of the Preliminary Examination

At least one week before the exam, the department distributes a notice of the examination, inviting all members of the department to attend as non-voting participants. The examination committee chair may invite additional non-voting participants. Unless otherwise specified in this section or exempted with approval from the Graduate Office, the protocol for attending the examination and provisions for remote participation adhere to the Graduate School's policy.

Examination Structure

The oral examination typically spans two hours and encompasses the following segments:

  1. Your presentation of the dissertation proposal (about 30-45 minutes)
  2. Questions and discussion of the proposal in an open forum
  3. Questions and discussion of the proposal in a closed setting with the committee
  4. An examination based on the reading list

During this examination, you will be expected to demonstrate a level of competence that is necessary to complete the research plan.

Subsequent to the examination, candidates will be asked to step out while the committee deliberates. The committee's determination may be a pass, fail, or a deferred decision. Your committee chair reports the outcome to the department via Adobe Sign. Should the committee defer its decision, the dissertation advisor will detail the intended measures to resolve the decision to the department. 

The committee member designated as the department representative is responsible for ensuring adherence to these procedural guidelines.

Upon passing the preliminary examination, you may proceed to "advance to candidacy." Please submit the Application for Admission to Candidacy, signed by your advisor, through the CS Graduate Form Submissions. For effective advancement from the first day of the following month, submit this form to the Graduate Office before the 24th of the current month. Following the approval from the Registrar's office, you will also be promoted to Stipend Level III.


If you are unable to propose before the end of the 4th year, please request an extension through the CS Graduate Form Submissions, providing justifications for the extension. This request must include a letter from your advisor supporting the extension and describing the circumstances that have prevented you from proposing. Additionally, the extension request must outline a plan for when you plan to propose and complete your research. 

2.5 Candidacy and Dissertation Defense

Conducting Research as a Candidate

Upon passing the Ph.D. Preliminary Exam and advancing to candidacy, candidates will be registered by the Graduate School for CMSC 899: Doctoral Dissertation Research for six credits each fall and spring semester until the degree is awarded. Waivers of Registration may be granted only under the University's policy for Leave of Absence for Graduate Students for Childbearing, Adoption, Illness, or Dependent Care (see Graduate School’s Registration Policies).

Candidates are expected to contribute original research to the field of computer science, articulating their findings in a dissertation. Guidance on dissertation structure is provided by the advisor, adhering to the format prescribed by the UMCP Graduate School.

*Tuition for CMSC899 is a flat rate of $1,350.00 (in-state) or $2,626.00 (out-of-state) for 6 credits. But if any 898 or below graduate level courses are taken simultaneously, those credits will be charged at the standard Graduate level Tuition and Fees scale ($828.00 per credit for residents and $1,805.00 for non-residents). For detailed information, refer to this link.

Composition of the Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committee must consist of a minimum of five members, including your advisor. All members must hold appointments as regular, adjunct, or special members of the UMCP Graduate Faculty. Essential composition requirements are:

  • A minimum of three Full Members from the Graduate Faculty
  • A minimum of two Full Members from the CS faculty (excluding affiliates)
  • One Dean's Representative who is a tenured member of the Graduate Faculty must have a tenure home different from the student’s program and that of the chair and any co-chair(s)
  • The committee must include at least 50% CS TTK faculty representation (Refer to the FAQ page for a detailed explanation)

Note: Regardless of the affiliation of the dissertation committee's chair, the Dean's Representative cannot be from the CS department. All Regular professors (tenure-track and above) in the Computer Science Department are Full Members of the Graduate Faculty (Graduate Faculty Categories can be found here).

Scholars from other institutions or those appointed as research faculty on this campus may be requested as committee members. Your request must include a concise justification, a list of existing committee members, and a CV of the proposed external committee member. To submit this request, please complete this Google form. Requests should be submitted at least six weeks in advance of the exam. For further information about nominating faculty for dissertation committees and due dates for the nomination form, see the Graduate Faculty Policy.

Approval of the Dissertation Committee

For the formation of the dissertation committee, submit a signed Nomination of Dissertation Committee form to the Graduate Office by the deadline stated for that semester. This action is generally required by the third week of the semester of anticipated degree completion. Any subsequent changes in the committee composition necessitate filing a revised nomination form. Once approved, committee appointments remain valid even if the approval occurs in a different semester from the defense.

Dissertation Defense Protocol

Scheduling the Defense

After your dissertation has been finalized to the satisfaction of your advisor, you are to arrange your dissertation defense. This entails submitting an oral examination scheduling form to the Computer Science Graduate Office at least two weeks prior to your intended defense date. Additionally, distribute a copy of your dissertation to every member of your dissertation committee with at least two weeks advance notice. Upon finalizing the defense details, send a Google Calendar invitation to both your committee members and the Graduate Coordinator.


The department will issue an announcement of the defense examination to all graduate faculty members by sending an invitation to dept [-at-] cs [dot] umd [dot] edu. This invitation encourages graduate faculty to attend as non-voting participants. Additionally, the chair of the examination committee has the discretion to invite further non-voting attendees. The announcement will also be posted on

Conducting the Defense

The defense is an oral examination capped at two hours, structured as follows:

  1. Public Presentation: The candidate presents the main aspects of their research, typically not exceeding 45 minutes. The audience may ask questions, but the Chair of the Dissertation Examining Committee has discretion over the relevance of questions and the time allocated for responses.
  2. Formal Examination: Conducted by the Dissertation Examination Committee, this session is open to members of the Graduate Faculty and graduate students from the candidate’s program. Only the Dissertation Examining Committee may pose questions during this part. Departments may restrict attendance to only the Dissertation Examining Committee and Graduate Faculty members.
  3. Final Discussion and Voting: After the formal examination, only the Dissertation Examining Committee members are permitted to attend the final discussion and vote to reach a decision on the acceptability of the defense.

For further information about procedures for oral disserataion examination, see the Doctor of Philosophy Degree Policies.

Remote Defense

Current Graduate School policy allows for a committee member to request permission to participate in a dissertation defense remotely. Only in exceptional cases would remote participation be permitted for the student, a committee chair, and/or the Dean’s Representative. The procedure for remote participation in a PhD defense is managed by the Graduate School. To ensure timely processing, requests should be submitted at least 10 business days prior to the defense date. Further details are available on the Graduate School's website. To submit a request, the committee chair should use this link.

Post-Defense Requirements

To fulfill your degree requirements, you must:

  • Pass the oral defense
  • Implement all modifications to the dissertation as required by your committee
  • Submit the revised dissertation electronically to the Graduate School.

Be mindful that the Graduate Office will provide you with a reminder and the necessary deadline for the electronic submission of your dissertation. For detailed information regarding the dissertation defense process, refer to the UMCP Graduate Catalog.

2.6 Graduation Requirements for Ph.D. Students

Ph.D. candidates intending to graduate should follow this checklist for Ph.D. Students to ensure all steps and requirements are met.

Pre-Graduation Steps

During the semester you plan to graduate, ensure to complete and submit the following by the Graduate School's specified deadlines:

Post-Defense Documentation

After successfully defending your dissertation, promptly attend to the following:

  • Report of Examining Committee: This is to be completed through AdobeSign.
    • All members of the committee (except the Chair of the committee) will be sent a notification 3 business days prior to the defense date indicated on the Nomination form.
    • The Chair will receive the REC form after all the members of the committee have signed off on the form.
  • Dissertation Filing: Submit your dissertation to the Graduate School, adhering to the guidelines provided here

Dissertation Embargo Option

If you wish to place an embargo on the publication of your dissertation:

  • Thesis and Dissertation Embargo Request: If desired, students have the option to place an embargo of up to two years on electronic access to their document via ProQuest's Digital Dissertations and DRUM without the need for approval from the Graduate School. You may submit a Dissertation Embargo Request via CS Graduate Form Submissions if you’d like to place an embargo that’s more than 2 years

Note that all forms are subject to strict deadlines. To avoid any delays in your graduation process, submit all documentation as per the schedules provided by the Graduate School.

Post-Dissertation Submission 

Upon the completion of your dissertation submission, ensure to follow these critical steps:

  1. Surveys: Complete the Graduate School Surveys as well as the departmental survey
  2. CMNS Commencement Registration: Make sure to register for the CMNS Commencement (Mid-Semester, Fall & Spring). For more information on commencement, refer to the CMNS website

3. Travel Grants for PhD Students

The Computer Science Department offers travel grants for Ph.D. students with expenses related to attending conferences at which their papers have been accepted. The allocation of these grants is competitive, and the Graduate Director is responsible for making the award decisions. Students may apply anytime by submitting their applications to the Graduate Office.

The grant amounts are capped at $500 for domestic and $1000 for international travel. The conference attended should be reputable, and the student's request should be supported by their advisor. Please note that during their time in the degree program, students may only receive up to $1000 in grant funding, and this is contingent on the availability of departmental funds.

To submit your application, please fill out this form, detailing your request, and upload a combined PDF. This PDF should include a copy of your accepted paper and a statement of support from your faculty advisor (this can be in the form of an email).

Additionally, students are also encouraged to apply for funds for conference registration fees and matching travel funds through the Graduate School’s travel grants.

To process applications for these Graduate School grants, the required forms must be signed by the CS Business Office. Forms for these grants should be forwarded to reimbursements [-at-] cs [dot] umd [dot] edu for review and signature by the CS Business Office.

4. Internships

Graduate students may undertake paid internships during the summer months. International students should check with International Education Services (IES) for the procedures to be followed.