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.

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 requirementCandidacy 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

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

CIS PhD Program Requirements

Course Requirements

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 at least four graduate-level courses (exception: courses used to fulfill WPE-I requirement, Independent study, and Dissertation research, cannot be used to fulfill this requirement) during their studies at Penn. A doctoral student who enters the program with a master’s degree is only required to take two graduate-level courses at Penn if she/he took two graduate-level courses while pursuing the master’s degree curriculum.

During the first year students must take EAS 900 – Responsible Conduct for Research in Engineering:

  1. Eight hours of in person training conducted through workshops. These sessions will be held virtually and will be split up into four two-hour blocks. Attendance is mandatory.
    -The fourth session is department specific; this information will be sent from CIS.
  2. Two courses in Knowledge Link.
    -CITI Responsible Conduct of Research
    -Confronting Bias: Thriving Across Our Differences (you will be asked to create a LinkedIn Learning account. If you have a LinkedIn account, you may choose to link the course to your existing account. It is not required to do so).

These EAS 900 workshops are mandatory for first-year students and held every Fall at the SEAS level.  Emails regarding the schedule will come directly from the Graduate Academic Dean’s office,

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.

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 fulfill the teaching practicum requirement by acting as a teaching assistant for two semesters. 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.

Information re: the Interactive Performance Test (IPT) for international students who will be TAs can be accessed @

To register for the IPT online – You are completing the form as an individual student.
Check “My department has agreed to pay the test fee.
The 26-digit BEN number to be charged is
130 – 1303 – 1 – 000000 – 5304 – 4323 – 0000

For “Name of department personnel who can verify the above BEN number” – Britton Carnevali
For “Email of department personnel who can verify the above BEN number” –
For “Phone of department personnel who can verify the above Ben number” – 8-5515

If there is a question send email to

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. The external need not attend the meeting. You should discuss expectations with your committee.

Students complete the Dissertation Proposal Approval Form which is approved by their Advisor and the Graduate Group Chair; email 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 consists of a written document and a 1-hour oral presentation. The document should be at least 10,000 words and include a proposal for remaining work to be completed prior to graduation. The 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 School’s Space Reservation website has information re: availability, technology, and reserving CIS/Engineering conference rooms.

CIS doctoral students can use to send the announcement of the: dissertation proposal defense to their fellow CIS Ph.D. students, faculty, and post-docs; click here to access the guidelines for using

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 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

The School’s Space Reservation website has information re: availability, technology, & reserving CIS/Engineering 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 School’s Space Reservation website has information re: availability, technology, & reserving CIS/Engineering conference rooms.

CIS doctoral students can use to the announcement of the dissertation defense to their fellow CIS Ph.D. students, faculty, and post-docs click here to access the guidelines for using

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.

Once the thesis has been defended, the student can request that tuition/fees be waived; click here for the form to make this request. Please note, commencing 2019 SEAS administrative regulations have made approval for the tuition/fees waiver difficult to obtain and it is not recommended to follow this option.

Doctoral Dissertation Resources:

Penn Graduate Student Center (GSC): links to Penn resources including the Dissertation Manual, preparation guidelines, online resources, useful software, etc.

GSC “Navigating the Dissertation” events: Navigating the Dissertation seeks to help doctoral students be successful in the dissertation process through workshops, resources, dissertation groups, and Dissertation Boot Camp. The Boot Camp offers an environment and support for intense, focused writing time, and provides participants with the structure and motivation to overcome typical roadblocks in the dissertation process.

EAS 510 Course: The EAS 510 course is primarily for Penn Engineering graduate students who use English as a second language and who need to develop the communication skills for their academic and professional careers.

Weingarten Learning Resources Center: The WLRC provides academic support services and programs for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

Thesis Submission/Graduation Checklist

Information re: applying for graduation, thesis formatting, etc. can be accessed here.

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

The following signed documents are needed for the thesis submission:

You can download the documents and complete them yourself. You can access your transcript and Ph.D. worksheet through PennInTouch.

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; your transcript/worksheet needs to be approved for graduation. When submitting your final signed department forms, you will also need to submit your signed Title page.  All are needed to obtain the signature of the SEAS Associate Dean on the SEAS PhD Degree Certification. Please note these are OFFICIAL documents that are included with the submission of your thesis and they should be completed thoroughly, neatly and efficiently.

Graduate Program:

Your CIS Contacts:

Redian Furxhiu
Graduate Coordinator for on-campus MCIT, CIS/MSE and CGGT programs
Office: 308 Levine
Phone: 215-898-1668

Staci Kaplan
Program Manager for DATS (Data Science MSE)
Office: 308 Levine
Phone: 215-573-2431

Britton Carnevali
Doctoral Program Manager
Office: 310 Levine
Phone: 215-898-5515

Graduate Coordinator for ROBO
Office: 459 Levine
Phone: 215-573-4907

Liz Wai-Ping Ng
Associate Director for Embedded Systems MSE program
Office: 313 Levine
Phone: 215-898-8543

Julia Esposito
PICS Program Coordinator, SCMP Academic Coordinator
Office: 3401 Walnut, 5th Fl.
Phone: 215-573-6037