WPE-II Regulations

Goals and Requirements

The purpose of the Written Preliminary Exam Part II (WPE-II) is to demonstrate the candidate’s ability to analyze, evaluate, and present computer-science research in both written and oral forms — normally but not necessarily in the area in which they intend to carry out their dissertation work. The focus is on independence and high-quality exposition.

The WPE-II must be passed by the end of the summer after the student’s second year. It is graded pass / fail. A ‘fail’ may be retried at most once.

The basic requirements are:

  1. A written report.
    • Approximately 10,000 to 15,000 words. No specific format is required, but for reference this corresponds to around 15 to 25 pages of single-spaced 10-point text.
    • Single-authored.
    • Students may, if they wish, ask others for comments on a draft of the report, as long as they make any corrections themselves.
  2. A public oral presentation.
    • 40-45 minutes in length.
    • Followed by a question-and-answer period — questions from the committee first, then (time allowing) from others in the audience.

Both the report and the oral presentation must be addressed to a clearly identified audience, with clear success criteria, agreed in advance between the student and their committee.

Admissible Forms of WPE-II Report

The WPE-II report can take a number of forms:

  1. A summary and comparison of two to four seminal papers in an area.
    • Typical audience: Beginning PhD students in the area.
  2. A critical survey of existing work on a specific research theme, explaining, relating, and evaluating several existing papers.
    • Typical audience: Either PhD students in all areas of computer science or beginning PhD students in the area.
    • This might be structured as a survey article or a proto related-work section for a dissertation.
  3. An in-depth tutorial on a technical topic.
    • For example, guiding readers through some landmark result with extra context and intuition.
    • Typical audience: PhD students in all areas of computer science.
  4. A technical report based on the student’s research.
    • Research collaborators (e.g., the student’s advisor) should be acknowledged as such on the report’s front page, but the student should be listed as sole author of the report and must write all the words in the version that is submitted for the WPE-II.
    • In cases where the WPE-II report is closely linked to a conference submission, acceptance at the conference is neither necessary nor sufficient for passing the WPE-II.
    • Audience: The PC of a specific conference (to which a paper based on the report might ultimately be submitted).
  5. Other formats may be used, if approved by all members of the student’s WPE-II committee.
    • In every case, the report should constitute a substantial piece of single-authored technical writing, demonstrating strong expository skills.

Whichever format is selected, the front page of the submitted report should explicitly declare its intended audience. This can be one of the following:

  • CIS PhD students in any area.
  • First-year PhD students in a specified research area.
  • The program committee of a specified conference.
  • Other (to be agreed in advance with the committee chair).

Logistics of WPE-II Process

The steps in the WPE-II process are as follows:

  1. Select a member of the faculty (i.e., a member of the CIS graduate group) — not the student’s advisor — who agrees to act as the WPE-II Chair.
  2. With the WPE-II Chair, select two other members who agree to be the WPE-II committee. These may be the student’s advisor(s), university faculty outside CIS, or from outside the university (such as an industry researcher).
  3. In collaboration with the WPE-II Chair, choose a format for the report and (if applicable) a set of papers to be covered.
  4. Submit the WPE-II approval form and obtain approval from the WPE-II Chair and Graduate Group Chair of the WPE-II approval form. This step should be completed before beginning to work on the report.
  5. Choose a date for the oral presentation.
  6. Write the report and deliver it to the committee at least two weeks before the oral presentation.
  7. Make the oral presentation.

The scheduling of the public oral presentation of the WPE-II is the responsibility of the student; it is a good idea to begin scheduling as early as possible. The oral presentation announcement to faculty, fellow doctoral students, and postdocs, with abstract, committee members, room, time, etc., should be sent by the student to all CIS doctoral students, postdocs, and faculty (by emailing cis-doctoral@cis.upenn.edu) at least two weeks prior to the presentation, with a reminder the day before. Click here to access the emailing guidelines.


  • The SEAS space reservation website has information about availability, technology, and procedures for reserving conference rooms; use this site to reserve the room for your presentation. You can also reserve rooms in 3401 Walnut by contacting Lily Hoot (lhoot@seas.upenn.edu).
  • The department maintains a collection of past WPE-II reports that may be useful. As of 2021, all use the “explain and compare 2-4 papers” format, but others should be added in time.
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
Email: redian@seas.upenn.edu

Staci Kaplan
Program Manager for DATS (Data Science MSE)
Office: 308 Levine
Phone: 215-573-2431
Email: stacilk@seas.upenn.edu

Britton Carnevali
Doctoral Program Manager
Office: 310 Levine
Phone: 215-898-5515
Email: brittonc@cis.upenn.edu

Graduate Coordinator for ROBO
Office: 459 Levine
Phone: 215-573-4907
Email: robo-coord@seas.upenn.edu

Liz Wai-Ping Ng
Associate Director for Embedded Systems MSE program
Office: 313 Levine
Phone: 215-898-8543
Email: wng@cis.upenn.edu

Ashley Culver
PICS Program Coordinator Academic Advisor for SCMP
Office: 3401 Walnut, 5th Fl.
Phone: 215-573-6037
Email: ashleycr@seas.upenn.edu