CIS Doctoral Degree Requirements

General Requirements

All doctoral work, including the dissertation, must be completed within ten years of matriculation as a graduate student at Penn.

To be in good standing the student is required to maintain satisfactory progress and to achieve the CIS PhD benchmarks in a timely manner.

The student is required to maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.

During their doctoral career, Ph.D. students must take four seminar courses - CIS 600/level courses, CIS 800/PhD Special Topic Seminars and designated CIS 700/Special Topic courses; two courses related to the dissertation research area, and two in an unrelated area. Two half-credit seminars may be counted as one course for purposes of this requirement. A doctoral student who enters the program with a master's degree is only required to take two seminar courses at Penn if she/he took two seminar-level courses while pursuing the master's degree curriculum. Students who have done previous graduate work prior to matriculating at Penn should submit the petition to transfer that coursework to their University of Pennsylvania transcript.

Click here to access a summary of the CIS benchmarks for satisfactory progress towards the Ph.D.

CIS PhD Program Requirements

Enrollment/Worksheet

For the first two years of their doctoral career, Ph.D. students enroll in four courses, Independent Studies, etc. in the Fall and Spring semesters; billing is at the full-time rate.
After the second year of study, in order to meet University and fiscal constraints, full-time enrollment in the Fall and Spring is three courses, Thesis Research, etc.; billing is at the full-time rate.
During their doctoral career, Ph.D. students must take four seminar courses - CIS 600/level courses, CIS 800/PhD Special Topic Seminars and designated CIS 700/Special Topic courses - during their studies at Penn; two courses related to the dissertation research area, and two in an unrelated area. Two half-credit seminars may be counted as one course for purposes of this requirement. A doctoral student who enters the program with a master's degree is only required to take two seminar courses at Penn if she/he took two seminar-level courses while pursuing the master's degree curriculum.
Once a student has been in the doctoral program for five years, he/she is billed at a reduced rate.
Once a doctoral student has made the dissertation proposal, he/she is registered for CIS 995/Dissertation.
Doctoral students have a worksheet which they can use to monitor enrollment and completion of milestones. On the worksheet Qualifications Evaluation is completion of the WPE I requirement; Candidacy Examination is completed of the dissertation proposal; Dissertation Defense is the successful completions of the dissertation defense; the worksheet is not formatted to show completion of the WPE II requirement. Students can access the worksheet through PennInTouch; advisors can access the worksheet through AdvisorInTouch. If there is a problem re: the worksheet send email to cisphd@seas.upenn.edu.

Research Affiliation Process

During the first year of the Ph.D. program, each student is assigned an academic advisor. This faculty member will typically not be the student's ultimate supervisor. Their role is to help with planning coursework and with initiating the process of binding with a permanent research advisor.

It is the student's responsibility during the first year to explore relationships with potential research advisors. Ways of doing this include taking courses (especially advanced seminars) taught by faculty members in the student's area of interest, attending research group meetings, and undertaking independent studies with potential advisors.

It is very strongly recommended that Ph.D. students take at least one independent study during their first year; taking one or more each semester is encouraged. Note, however, that this is not a requirement: it is a good idea for most, but not all, students. For example, a student coming into the Ph.D. program from a non-CS undergraduate program may need to spend a significant part of the first year building up background knowledge; this should be discussed between the student and their academic advisor.

Official bindings between students and research advisors are made at the end of the second semester, following final exams. This process is overseen by the graduate chair, taking into account both faculty and student preferences. Students should talk with potential advisors before the binding process begins, to settle, if possible, on plans for advising arrangements. (I.e., the official binding process is intended mainly to ratify arrangements that have been agreed in advance.) In rare cases, the binding process may fail, resulting in no binding to an advisor for a particular student. In this case, the student's support will continue for the remainder of the first year — i.e., until the end of the summer - by which time they must find a research advisor in order to continue in the program.

Written Preliminary Examination (WPE) I and II

Doctoral students are required to pass the Written Preliminary Examination, which consists of two parts:

  • The WPE I is the exam testing basic proficiency in core areas of computer science. Access these links for: WPE I Regulations | WPE I Resources
  • The WPE II is the special area exam testing the candidate's analytical and presentational abilities, and it is taken in the semester following the student's passing of the WPE I. Access this link for: WPE II Regulations

 

Teaching Practicum

Students participating in the teaching practicum will be registered for one credit of CIS 895/Teaching Practicum, in addition to three course/independent study credits for a total of four credit units.

Teaching Practicum assignments are made by the graduate coordinator, the graduate chair, taking into consideration specific requests from faculty and/or students. Satisfaction of the requirement is based on end-of-semester evaluations by course instructors.

It is expected that a student will spend approximately 15 hours per week on the teaching practicum.

In accordance with the Pennsylvania English Fluency in Higher Education Act, Penn is required to certify to the English fluency of all students acting as teaching assistants whose native language is other than English. To fulfill this requirement, international students must register for Penn's English Language Program (ELP) Speak Test; click here for information re: registering for the Penn ELP Speak Test.

Thesis Proposal Approval

The objective of the thesis proposal approval is to evaluate the direction and progress of the thesis project, to assess its suitability, to determine whether the student has in-depth knowledge of concepts fundamental to the research, and to ensure that the student is capable of pursuing independent research.


During the third year of doctoral studies, students must assemble a thesis committee of at least three Penn faculty, (the dissertation advisor is not one of the three), and one external committee member and present them a five page description of proposed research. (The external need not attend the meeting.) Students complete the Dissertation Proposal Approval Form which is approved by their Advisor and the Graduate Group Chair; email cisphd@seas.upenn.edu to access the Dissertation Proposal Approval Form; you can share the google doc Dissertation Approval Form with your advisor, committee and the graduate group chair. If needed the thesis committee may be changed prior to the thesis proposal.

Thesis Proposal Defense

Students must defend their thesis proposal by the end of their fourth year in the doctoral program, and at least a year before the thesis defense.
The proposal document and presentation should clearly address the following questions:

  • What exact problem, issue, or question is this research concerned with?
  • What limitations or failings of current understanding, knowledge, methods, or technologies does this research resolve?
  • How significant is the problem, issue, or question?
  • What new understanding, knowledge, methods, or technologies will this research generate? How does this address the purpose of the work?
  • What experiments, studies, or prototypes will be produced to achieve the stated goal?
  • How will achievement of the goal be demonstrated and the contribution of the work measured?

The thesis proposal defense must take place at least one year before the thesis defense.
The proposal document should be delivered to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the defense, to allow time for thorough reading.
The SEAS Space Reservation website has information re: availability, technology, & reserving CIS/SEAS conference rooms. 
CIS doctoral students can use cis-doctoral@seas.upenn.edu to send the announcement of the: dissertation proposal defense to their fellow CIS PhD students, faculty, and post-docs; click here to access the guidelines for using cis-doctoral@seas.upenn.edu.

Scheduling and Announcements of Public Presentations

The scheduling of the oral defense of the WPE-II, thesis proposal, and thesis are the responsibility of the student. Given that these events all involve multiple busy people, it is a good idea to begin scheduling them well in advance (a few weeks ahead for the WPE-II and thesis proposal; at least two months ahead for the thesis defense).


CIS doctoral students can use cis-doctoral@seas.upenn.edu to send announcements re: their WPE II presentation, dissertation proposal defense, and dissertation defense to their fellow CIS PhD student, faculty, and post-docs; click here to access the guidelines for using cis-doctoral@seas.upenn.edu.

The SEAS Space Reservation website has information re: availability, technology, & reserving CIS/SEAS conference rooms.  Use this to reserve the room for your presentation that best fits your needs.

Defense of the Dissertation

When the student and research advisor are satisfied with the dissertation, the dissertation committee evaluates the written dissertation and there is a second oral defense at which the committee establishes that the project has been completed and makes an original contribution to knowledge worthy of the PhD degree. The thesis defense should take place at least a year following the dissertation proposal defense. The committee's decision and any additional feedback is communicated informally to the candidate on the day of the defense, followed by a formal recommendation to the graduate chair within the next few days. The dissertation should be delivered to the committee at least three weeks in advance of the defense, to allow time for thorough reading.


The SEAS Space Reservation website has information re: availability, technology, & reserving CIS/SEAS conference rooms.

 
CIS doctoral students can use cis-doctoral@seas.upenn.edu to the announcement of the dissertation defense to their fellow CIS PhD students, faculty, and post-docs; click here to access the guidelines for using cis-doctoral@seas.upenn.edu.
Click here to download the University Acceptance of Dissertation form 152; complete the Acceptance of Dissertation form and have your advisor(s) and all committee member sign it at the defense.

Information and links for formatting the thesis, submission of the thesis to the University, etc. can be found here
Thesis Submission/Graduation Checklist
Information re: applying for graduation, thesis formatting, etc. can be accessed @ www.cis.upenn.edu/current-students/graduate/advising/graduation.php

Students must make an appointment to officially submit the thesis by contacting

gas-degree@sas.upenn.edu.

The following signed documents are needed for the thesis submission:

- University Acceptance of Dissertation form 152 from dissertation defense
- SEAS PhD Degree Certification; click here to access form
- University Microfilming Certification of Dissertation form 153; click here to access form

You can download the documents and complete them yourself. You can access your transcript and Ph.D. worksheet through PennInTouch (link @ https://portal.apps.upenn.edu/penn_portal/intouch/splash.html)

Be sure all grades, etc. are posted correctly; due Penn administrative constraints, the only appropriate grades for CIS 999 THESIS/DISS RESEARCH are S(atisfactory) or U(nsatisfactory).

Prior to submitting the thesis send email to cisphd@seas.upenn.edu; your transcript/worksheet needs to be approved for graduation and the signed forms & 153, and a copy of the signed coversheet, are needed to obtain the signature of the SEAS Associate Dean on the SEAS PhD Degree Certification