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 Graduate Handbook 

Introduction and General Information

Welcome to the Department of Computer & Information Science (CIS) at Penn.


For academic or administrative concerns re: the Computer & Information Science/PhD, Master of Science in Engineering in Computer & Information Science, or Master in Computer & Information Technology programs, please contact the CIS Graduate Coordinator, Mike Felker,, or your advisor. Computer & Information Science Graduate Chair  Dr. Lyle Ungar;  Master in Computer & Information Technology Program Director, Dr. Chris Murphy.                       

For academic or administrative concerns re: the EMBS program, please contact the Embedded Systems Program Director  Dr. Rajeev Alur, and Ms. Liz Wai-Ping Ng, , Associate Director, Embedded Systems Graduate Program & PRECISE Center Manager


A list of CIS faculty and staff can be found on the department's people page.

An overview of the faculty by research areas can be found on the department's research overview page.

For technical questions, visit the CIS Answers site.


Academic resources can be found @

General resources including the link to UPenn's Counseling & Psychological Services Office are @

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Common Policies and Procedures for all CIS Graduate Programs

Engineering School Policies

The CIS graduate programs are governed by the departmental policies and procedures described in the present document as well as the common rules of the Penn School of Engineering and Applied Science described in the SEAS graduate handbook.

Transferring Programs

Master's students may request to be considered for a transfer to another master's program in the CIS Department after completing one semester in the masters program in which they were initially admitted; click here for transfer request.

Cumulative GPA Requirement

A minimum GPA of 2.7 for Master's students must be maintained in order to be considered in good academic standing. If this minimum is not maintained, academic probation or dismissal from the program will be invoked. A 2.7 final GPA must be achieved to graduate in all situations. (Effective Fall 2007 class)

PhD students must maintain a GPA of  at least 3.0.

Failure to maintain the minimum GPA requirement will result in placement on academic probation, prevent graduation and may result in dismissal from the School.

Students cannot graduate with a grade of D+ or lower in a core course.

SEAS Graduate Student Good Academic Standing Rule:

    • To remain in good academic standing, graduate students are required to maintain a minimum GPA throughout the graduate program and make satisfactory progress toward their declared program.  Master’s students are required to maintain a minimum GPA of 2.7 at the end of every semester, and must be completing the appropriate courses in accordance with their degree program, as agreed upon with his/her assigned Faculty Adviser.

    Ph.D. students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 at the end of every semester. In addition, they must be making satisfactory progress toward the degree, including taking courses as approved by the assigned Faculty Adviser, and satisfactorily passing/completing requirements such as the Qualifying Exams and the Dissertation proposal.

    Students not making satisfactory academic progress may receive a warning or be placed on probation.  In the absence of improvement in the subsequent semester, students on warning or probation may be dropped from their program


Generally a course is equvalent to one course unit.

Doctoral students: Funded PhD students must maintain full time status by taking four courses in the Fall and Spring semesters respectively. Students participating in the teaching practicum are considered full time while taking only three course units.

Master's students:  Three courses in the Fall and Spring semesters respectively constitutes full-time enrollment for master's students.  Summer enrollment is not required.

A typical enrollment for a master's student could be:

First Fall Semester          3 courses

Spring Semester              3 courses

Second Fall Semester      3 courses

Second Spring Semester  1 course (acceptable for visa purposes if final semester)

    Total                   10 courses - graduation

Part-time students: Part-time students must take one or two course units each semester during both Fall and Spring (not Summer) semesters in order to remain continuously enrolled. For part-time PhD students, additional rules apply---see below.

Failure to maintain continuous enrollment will result in the student being dropped from the School's rolls. Students are required to be continuously enrolled while in graduate school, unless an official leave of absence is requested by the student and granted by the graduate group chair. One exception is that students who have completed all their degree requirements before the beginning of a given semester and are to graduate in that semester may petition the Associate Dean to be exempted from registration.

Unclassified students must register for at least one course each academic year.

University of Pennsylvania reviews of courses can be found at

Except for CIT 597, only MCIT students should enroll in CIT courses.

If you register for a class as an Audit, you will be charged the same tuition & fees as if you registered for the class for a credit/grade.

Students should try to drop classes during the add/drop period to avoid financial penalty.  If a student withdraws from a class after the add/drop period, the "Withdrawal from a Course petition" - - is used.

Time Constraints: All doctoral work for full-time and part-time candidates, including the dissertation, must be completed within ten years from the student's matriculation as a graduate student at Penn.

Full-time and part-time master's students must complete the program requirements within seven years of matriculation at Penn.

Retaking classes: As noted in the SEAS Graduate Handbook -
"At the discretion of the instructor, the student can work with the instructor to improve the grade to "C" or higher with additional course work. At the discretion of the instructor, the student can retake the course by attending the course again (in a subsequent term) without registering or paying additional tuition, and will receive a grade change if earned.
If the instructor does not agree to either (1) or (2), the student's only option is to register and pay tuition for the course again. Upon successful completion of the retake, the original registration will be changed to 'withdraw'. [Thus the original course and grade will not be counted toward graduation or GPA; i.e., SEAS will not allow the course to be counted twice toward the degree. . . . .No course may be retaken/re-registered to improve a grade of "C" unless the content is different. (Students may, with instructor's permission, do additional work to improve this grade, however)."

Transfer Credit

Graduate courses taken at another university prior to starting the CIS graduate program, and not used to complete the requirements for an undergraduate program, may be transferred to the Penn transcript. Up to two courses can be transferred to the master's program; up to nine courses can be transferred to the doctoral program.  The transfer credit petition can be accessed at ; please include a copy of the transcript, course descriptions, syllabi, etc., for the courses to be transferred with the petition. You should review all this with your advisor; if the advisor is not able to determine if a course is equivalent to the University of Pennsylvania course, the instructor of the relevant course will need to be consulted to make the determination.  If there is not an equivalent course at the University of Pennsylvania, an independent study may be used.


Directions & procedures for registering using the PennInTouch registration system are available from

During the advance registration period each semester, CIS grad students are placed on an administrative ``hold''; this is to assure that students should consult with their advisors before registering for classes. Before you can register using PennInTouch, the hold must be cleared, either by submitting a paper permission form signed by both student and advisor, or by an e-mail from the advisor to Mike Felker. Once the "hold" is released, students can register, add/drop classes, etc. using PennInTouch.


The Student Financial Services website,, provides information regarding billing, billing schedules, payment plans, resources, etc.

Courses, even those taken in another school of the University, are billed as SEAS courses.

If you detect any sort of discrepancies in your bill, please contact Mike Felker or the CIS Business Office (business@cis). CIS students receiving any kind of financial support, stipends, etc., from SEAS or the CIS department should check the CIS Business Office,  293 Towne regarding payments. For students receiving departmental funding, the CIS Business Office will process payment of tuition and fees.

Leave of Absence

A student may be granted a leave of absence---generally for military or medical reasons, but other circumstances will also be considered. The student must submit a petition to the Graduate Group Chair for approval. Final approval rests with the Associate Dean. A student who plans to leave SEAS either temporarily or permanently must submit to the Graduate Group Chair a ``Petition for Action'' form, available at 

A Ph.D. student who has reached dissertation tuition status will not be granted a leave of absence, except for military duty or medical reasons, or in cases where the student receives a grant for dissertation research abroad and the grant does not include funds to pay home institution fees. A one-year leave for the birth or adoption of a minor child is available.

A student not in dissertation status who desires a leave of absence must submit a request to the graduate group chairperson and to the Graduate Division Office. No language or other degree examinations may be taken while a student is on leave of absence. The granting of a leave of absence does not automatically change any time limits (with the exception of time spent in the military service, which does not count against time limits).


Students should try to drop classes during the add/drop period to avoid financial penalty.  If a student withdraws from a class after the add/drop period, the "Withdrawal from a Course petition" - - is used.

A student who plans to leave SEAS either temporarily or permanently must submit to the Graduate Group Chair a ``Petition for Action'' form, available at  The petition requires the approval of the Graduate Group Chair and the Associate Dean. A student who is considering withdrawal is strongly encouraged to meet with the Graduate Group Chair to discuss their situation and options. Students are responsible for dropping all registered courses in the semester they wish to withdraw to effectively stop the billing process (i.e., withdrawal from the School does not automatically cancel course registration). Once a student has withdrawn from SEAS, he or she may request reinstatement by writing a letter to the Graduate Group Chair. Reinstatement requires Graduate Group Chair and Associate Dean approval; it is not guaranteed.

If a student withdraws from the Ph.D. program after reaching dissertation status and subsequently applies for re-admission, the student must pay the dissertation fees that would have been due during the withdrawal period.


All University course descriptions can be found at

CIS course web pages can be found at

Office Space

Office space for PhD students is allocated by an office committee made up of CIS students and staff. Consult for more information.

Due to space constraints, offices are not normally assigned to masters students.


The CIS department encourages collaboration among graduate students. However, it is important to recognize the distinction between collaboration and cheating, which is prohibited and carries serious consequences.


Cheating may be defined as using or attempting to use unauthorized assistance, material, or study aids in academic work or examinations.


Some examples of cheating are:

  • collaborating on a take-home exam or homework unless explicitly allowed
  • copying homework
  • handing in someone else's work as your own; and plagiarism

If you have a question about what constitutes cheating, ask the course instructor or contact the CIS Graduate Coordinator.



Grievance Procedures Guidelines

In general, a Graduate student with a grievance should first discuss the matter with the immediate supervisor of the individual involved. In case of conflicts of interest, then the next non-conflicted level should
be engaged.

For academic matters the normal hierarchy is (as applicable):

a) relevant course teaching assistant;
b) relevant course faculty instructor;
c) Graduate Program Director;
d) Graduate Group Chair;
e) Department Chair;
f) Associate Dean;
g) Ombudsman, /
At any point the student may wish to circumvent steps a)-f) and contact
the Ombudsman.

If a graduate student has a grievance concerning a non-academic matter,
the suggested procedural steps should be discussion with (as applicable):

a) Graduate Program Director;
b) Graduate Group Chair;
c) Department Chair;
d) Associate Dean;
e) Ombudsman, /
At any point the student may wish to circumvent steps a)-d) and contact
the Ombudsman./

Information about University grievance procedures policy can be found at

Please also contact Mike Felker,, 215 898 9672 re: a grievance or other problems.


Many of the CIS forms needed for administrative concerns can be found at

Many of the SEAS administrative forms are at


Information re: applying for a degree/graduation can be found at

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The Master of Science in Engineering in Computer & Information Science - CIS/MSE


Students are allowed a maximum of seven years to complete the MSE degree program.

Course Requirements


The MSE degree program is designed to allow flexible planning of advanced study. The MSE student develops their own advanced study focus, and can arrange interdisciplinary programs in such areas as CIS and Telecommunications, CIS and Computational Linguistics, CIS and Biomedical Computation, etc.


The MSE degree requires completion of ten course units that satisfies all of the following requirements:

At least seven of the ten course units required for the degree must be CIS courses; the four core courses are included in this requirement.   Courses meeting the seven CIS course requirement must be CIS 500-level courses.

(1)Core courses:

  • Four from the following seven  core courses: CIS 500 Software Foundations, CIS 501 Computer Architecture, CIS 502 Analysis of Algorithms, CIS 505 Software Systems,  CIS 511 Theory of Computation, CIS 520 Machine Learning, CIS 555 Internet & Web Systems.

The four core courses must include:

  • at least one of either CIS 501 or CIS 505 or CIS 555 or CIS 500 for those students trying to complete the CIS/MSE requirements for December 2014 graduation. .
  • at least one of either CIS 502 or CIS 511.

(2) Core &  three CIS elective courses:

(3) Three CIS or non-CIS elective courses:

Advanced study in a specific area of computer science is encouraged. Besides coursework, students may pursue Independent

Studies to increase their depth of knowledge in a specific area. Students are also encouraged to submit a master's thesis (see below) which may count as two course units of Masters Student Thesis Research, CIS 597.

Master's Thesis

A student working on a master's thesis may enroll in two course units of CIS 597/Masters Thesis Research, which count as electives towards the ten credits needed for the CIS/MSE degree.  An MSE student who wishes to write a thesis chooses a thesis advisor, who must belong to the CIS graduate group, and a suitable thesis topic.

The student and thesis advisor then work together to form a thesis committee consisting of the advisor and two other members, at least one of whom must be a member of the CIS graduate group.

The student and advisor complete the MSE thesis approval form at which is signed by the thesis committee members and approved by the CIS graduate group chair. At the time designated on the approval Form, the student submits a written thesis proposal to the thesis Committee for review. The thesis Committee will evaluate the proposal and make recommendations on how it can be improved.

Once the thesis has been approved by the student's thesis advisor, a copy is given to each of the other members of the thesis committee for review. A public presentation of the work is then made; after this presentation, the thesis committee will give final approval or disapproval. The announcement of the presentation must be submitted to the graduate coordinator for posting at least two weeks prior to the presentation.  At is information re: availability, technology, & reserving SEAS conference rooms for the presentation.

All the requirements of the thesis must be satisfied and approved before the thesis submission date specified by the office of the associate dean for academic affairs. When final approval of the thesis is obtained, an original and a photocopy (both unbound), with the advisor's and graduate group chair's signatures, is submitted to the SEAS Graduate Office, 109 Towne.

Instructions re: the formatting & submission of the completed thesis can be found @


CIS/MSE Plan of Study

An online Plan of Study form for CIS/MSE students is being developed and should be available shortly.  For now students who wish may use the hard copy Plan of Study at

Cumulative GPA

A minimum GPA of 2.7 for Master's students must be maintained in order to be considered in good academic standing. If this minimum is not maintained, academic probation or dismissal from the program will be invoked. A 2.7 final GPA must be achieved to graduate in all situations. (Effective Fall 2007 class). Students are permitted to graduate with an F grade in a course; however, no grade lower than a C- will be counted towards the degree. In particular, a C- grade or better must be achieved in the core courses or they must be retaken.


Undergraduate students may begin an engineering graduate program while still completing their undergraduate program. Application is normally made before the end of the student's junior year.  Students submatriculating in the CIS/MSE are strongly encouraged to complete the core requirements as soon as possible.

Go to for more information and to access the application for submatriculation.


Graduation Check List for MSE Students

  • Watch for email announcements re: applying for graduation.  Information re: applying for a degree/graduation can be found at
  • If needed, master's thesis instructions should be obtained early on in the writing stage. You should make your advisor aware of the need for a timely reading and signature before graduation.
  • Check that your academic record is cleared of Incompletes, No Grade Reported, and Unsatisfactory Progress. and that your gpa meets the requirements..
  • Students who graduate in August or December may participate in the following May Commencement; a student graduating in August may participate in the May Commencement prior to graduation - contact Mike.)
  • Make sure that your bursar's bill is cleared before the end of the final semester.



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The Master of Computer and Information Technology - MCIT


Students are allowed a maximum of seven years to complete the MCIT degree program. It is expected that full-time MCIT students will take the six required courses during the first two semesters of enrollment and the four electives during the final semester.

The MCIT degree program requires the completion of ten course units comprising:
6 Required Courses
  CIT 591, Programming Languages & Techniques I (Fall)
  CIT 592, Mathematical Foundations of CS (Fall)
  CIS 593, Intro to Computer Architecture (Fall)
  CIT 594, Programming Languages & Techniques II (Spring; prerequisite: CIT 591)
  CIT 595, Digital System Organization & Design (Spring; prerequisite CIT 593)
  CIT 596, Theory of Computation (Spring; prerequisite CIT 592)
4 Electives - CIS graduate courses; may include one pre-approved non CIS graduate course

The four electives may be taken a pool of recommended graduate courses:

Appropriate for all MCIT students:
•CIT 597 - Programming Languages and Techniques III (Web programming)
•CIS 550 - Database and Information Systems
•CIS 554 - Programming Paradigms
•CIS 555 - Internet and Web Systems (heavy workload)
•CIS 573 - Software Engineering

Additional suitable (but somewhat more specialized) courses:
•CIS 505 - Software Systems
•CIS 534 - Multicore Programming and Architecture
•CIS 542 - Embedded Systems Programming (including Android)
•CIS 551 - Computer and Network Security
•CIS 552 - Advanced Programming

One course from the list of pre-approved non CIS graduate courses, found here, maybe used as an elective. 

Graduate courses offered in other departments may count as an elective with the prior approval of the MCIT program director; in general, such courses must have a strong technical component in order to be approved.

The MCIT Plan of Study Form

A completed MCIT Plan of Study Form. available at, must be approved by the MCIT Program Director and is kept on file in the CIS Graduate Office; it will be used along with the student's transcript to verify fulfillment of course requirements. Changes to the Plan of Study may be made with the Director's approval.

Cumulative GPA

A minimum GPA of 2.7 for Master's students must be maintained in order to be considered in good academic standing. If this minimum is not maintained, academic probation or dismissal from the program will be invoked. A 2.7 final GPA must be achieved to graduate in all situations. (Effective Fall 2007 class).


Continuing in the MSE Program

MCIT students may apply to continue in the MSE program.  Students pursuing this route need to have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0; such candidates should apply when the majority of the MCIT requirements have been met..  In addition to the ten courses required for the MCIT program, students continuing in the MSE program need to take six additional CIS graduate courses.  Within the total sixteen courses, the total CIS courses taken must include four from the following list, including at least one of either 501 or 505 and at least one of either 502 or 511:

CIS 500/Software Foundations
CIS 501/Computer Architecture
CIS 502/Analysis of Algorithms
CIS 505/Software Systems
CIS 511/Theory of Computation
CIS 520/Artificial Intelligence

Satisfactory completion results in the awarding of the MCIT and MSE degrees. The MCIT-MSE Transition Approval Form is available at

Graduation Check List for MCIT Students

  • Watch for email announcements re: applying for graduation. Information re: applying for a degree/graduation can be found at
  • Check that your academic record is cleared of Incomplete, No Grade Reported, and Unsatisfactory Progress notations and that your cumulative GPA meets all requirements.
  • Students who graduate in August or December may participate in the following May Commencement.
  • Make sure that your bursar's bill is cleared before the end of the final semester.

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The Doctoral Degree - PhD/CIS


General Requirements

All doctoral work, including the dissertation, must be completed within ten years of matriculation as a graduate student at Penn. The student is required to maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.

During their doctoral career, PhD students must take four seminar courses - CIS 600/level courses, CIS 800/PhD Special Topic Senimars and designated CIS 700/Speciall 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.


For the first two years of their doctoral career, PhD 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.

Once a student has been in the doctoral program for five years, i.e. completed ten fall/spring semesters as a full-time doctoral student, 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 who leave the graduate program either temporarily or permanently due to graduation, employment, internship, medical reasons, etc., must complete and submit a CIS Doctoral Student Change of Status Form, accessible at


The "Research Affiliation" Process

During the first year of the PhD 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 PhD 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 PhD 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.

The Written Preliminary Examination

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.
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.

WPE I Policy and Procedures

The following revised WPE-I regulations, effective 12/04, apply to all current CIS doctoral students, regardless of date of matriculation in the doctoral program.

The purpose of the WPE-I is to ensure that students pursuing the PhD degree have a graduate level of competence in the fundamentals of computer science. We call this level of competence a doctoral foundation.

The doctoral foundation is defined by the syllabi in the following six graduate courses:

CIS 501 - Architecture
CIS 505 - Software systems

CIS 502 - Analysis of Algorithms
CIS 511 - Theory of Computation

CIS 500 - Software Foundations
CIS 520 - Machine Learning (formerly Intro to Artificial Intelligence)

A student passes the WPE-I by passing four of the six WPE-I exams. Two exams must be passed in the first year; four must be passed by the end of the second year. The four exams must include either 501 or 505, and either 502 or 511.

The department will appoint a three-member committee for each of the courses, with the instructor for the current year acting as head of the committee. Each committee will finalize and publically announce the course syllabus by the second week of the semester. These syllabi will serve both as plans for the courses and as reading lists for the corresponding sections of the WPE-I. Decisions concerning the WPE-I as a whole will be made by a six-member joint committee comprising the chairs of each of the area committees. All six courses will have written in-class final exams, taking place during the usual university final examination period. Only the results of these final exams will determine whether students have passed the WPE-I.

The final exams will be set and graded by the assigned three-member faculty committee who also set the syllabus. The same committee will determine precisely the minimum performance on each specific exam that would constitute a WPE-I pass. As a general guideline, the committee will ensure that the students that pass have demonstrated mastery taught in the corresponding course. The final exams for courses offered in the Summer will not be used to meet the WPE-I requirement.

The WPE-I results are separate from the grade in the course; i.e., the complete courseload (e.g., homeworks, projects, midterms, quizzes) as well as the criteria for obtaining the grade in the course, are set separately from the WPE-I passing criteria.

Students submit the WPE-I exams anonymously. The identity of the students will not be known to the faculty until after decisions are made about what constitutes passing or failing in a specific WPE-I exam.

Copies of the previous years' exams along with past relevant course handouts, exams, etc., may be found on the department's WPE-I resources page.

WPE II, Framework and Guidelines

The purpose of the WPE-II Exam is to demonstrate the candidate's ability to analyze, evaluate, and present an existing body of research, normally (but not necessarily) in the area in which they intend to carry out their dissertation work.

The WPE-II should be passed in the student's second year.  The WPE-II approval form is at ; for the word version, click here.

The deliverables of the exam are:

  1. Critical review - a significant (15-25 pages) piece of scholarly expository writing based on a coherent selection of 2-4 papers from the research literature in the chosen area.
  2. Presentation - a 45-minute oral presentation, followed by questioning by a panel of faculty.

The logistics are organized as follows:

  1. The student identifies a topic and selects an WPE-II chair, who agrees to administer the exam. The student and the chair agree upon two other committee members and the two to four technical papers to be critiqued. A student's advisor may be a member of the WPE-II Committee, but cannot be the WPE-II Chair. Two members of the committee (including the chair) should be from CIS. One committee member (not the chair) should be a non-specialist in the chosen topic.
  2. A short written proposal (using a standard form), naming the committee, describing the area, and listing the technical papers, is submitted to the CIS Graduate Group Chair (via the Graduate Coordinator) for immediate consideration and approval (1 week maximum delay).
  3. From the date of this approval, the student has exactly 30 days to prepare a critical review of the selected papers in the chosen area.
  4. The faculty including the WPE-II committee members may answer specific questions about the papers but should not assist in analyzing either the content, the significance, or the accuracy of the selected work.
  5. Copies of the finished critique should be delivered to each of the WPE-II committee members on or before the end of the 30 day period.
  6. A date should be set for the formal Oral exam to be held within three weeks (but not less than one week) after the critique is to be handed in. (Given that at least three faculty schedules need to be coordinated, negotiations for the date of the oral exam should begin at least three weeks before the written critique is handed in!) Scheduling the oral exam is the student's responsibility.
  7. At the Oral Exam, the candidate is expected to present the content of the critique as though presenting a technical paper at a conference. Thus, visual aids etc. are expected to be used and the performance evaluation is to be based on technical sharpness, presentation style, command of the area, and effectiveness of visual aids. The presentation should be roughly 45 minutes in length. Note that while fluency in English is desirable, the most important criteria will relate to the candidate's ability to `get the material across' to their audience.
  8. The presentation is open to the general public and is followed by a question and answer period (covering both the critique and the general area). The WPE-II committee may elect to continue with a closed question and answer period followed by a discussion.
  9. As with all talks and oral examinations in the CIS Department, WPE II talk announcement - with abstract, committee members, room, time, etc. - should be posted by the graduate coordinator to the appropriate graduate and faculty email lists. at least two weeks before the event.
  10. The WPE-II is graded either pass or fail: A `fail' may be retried at most once.

In cases where the WPE-II topic falls in the student's main research area, there may be substantial overlap between the written critique and the Related Work section of the thesis proposal and/or thesis. This is fine.

A conference paper, masters thesis, etc. cannot simply be submitted verbatim as a substitute for the WPE-II. However, parts of prior written work on which the student is the sole author may be re-used as the basis for part or all of a WPE-II paper. Details should be negotiated between the student and their WPE-II committee chair.

Sample WPE II papers are at

At is information re: availability, technology, & reserving CIS/SEAS conference rooms. 

The Teaching Practicum

The Teaching Practicum is a requirement for the PhD degree, and it applies to all PhD students regardless of their source of funding and full- or part-time status. Normally, students participate in the teaching practicum during their second year, assisting with one course per semester. However, the requirement may be postponed for students who have not passed all sections of the WPE-I, at the request of the advisor.

Sttudents 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 and 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.

English Fluency Certification Policy

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, and who have not taken either the Test of Spoken English or the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview, or who score below 270 on the TSE or below Superior on the ACTFL. The evaluation of English fluency includes the Test of Spoken English, a formal performance test administered by Penn's English Language Program. Students needing English fluency certification will be given a voucher to take to the ELP.

Thesis Proposal

The objective of the thesis proposal 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.

A dissertation committee of at least three Penn faculty, not including the dissertation advisor, is appointed for the Proposal Defense and is responsible for following the progress of the student's research. All CIS dissertation committees include an external examiner in addition to the three Penn faculty.

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?

There is no firm timing requirement for the thesis proposal. However, for maximum benefit, it should generally take place as early as possible—after the basic ideas for the dissertation have gelled and some preliminary results have been obtained, but before the bulk of the work is undertaken.

The proposal document should be delivered to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the defense, to allow time for thorough reading.

At is information re: availability, technology, & reserving CIS/SEAS conference rooms. 

There are no official forms for the thesis proposal.

Check under Defense of Dissertation for formatting information.

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).

At least two weeks before each event, students should send an announcements to the graduate coordinator for posting to the appropriate graduate and faculty email lists. Announcements should include name, title,a brief abstract, committee members, chair and advisor, day, time, and place.

At is information re: availability, technology, & reserving 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 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.

At is information re: availability, technology, & reserving SEAS conference rooms. 

Contact Mike for the Acceptance of Dissertation form that is signed at the defense.

Information & links re: formatting the thesis, submission of the thesis to the University, etc. are at


Graduation Check List for PhD Candidates

  • Watch for email announcements re: applying for graduation. Information re: applying for a degree/graduation and thesis formatting can be found at
  • Make sure your bursar bill is cleared before the end of the final semester. Any outstanding balance will prevent you from receiving your diploma. A large outstanding balance might prevent you from graduating.
  • Check that your academic record is clear of all F's, Incompletes, No Grade Reported, and Unsatisfactory Progress (any of which will prevent you from graduating), that your cumulative gpa is at least 3.0. and that you have taken the appropriate courses for the PhD degree (including at least four 600 level courses).
  • If you have completed all degree requirements (including the defense of your dissertation) before your last semester, and you need only to submit your dissertation, you may be eligible to be exempted from tuition payments for the last semester. See Mike to get the form for this exemption.
  • Dissertation Submission - All PhD candidates are governed by procedures established in the School of Arts & Sciences Graduate Office, 3401 Walnut, Suite 322A, and dissertations are submitted there. It is necessary to schedule an appointment (by calling 898-7444) to submit the dissertation.
    Three forms must accompany the dissertation. One of these forms certifies that the student has met all PhD requirements, and it is signed by the dissertation advisor, the Graduate Group Chair, and the Associate Dean. The ``153'' form certifies that the dissertation is ready for microfilming, and it is signed by the Graduate Group Chair only. An ``Acceptance of Dissertation'' form, signed by your advisor, dissertation committee members, and the graduate group chair must also be submitted with your dissertation - contact Mike Felker re: these forms & needed signatures.  The CIS department does not require the dissertation to have an index.


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The Master of Science in Engineering in Embedded Systems curriculum information is at -


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