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PhD in Computer Science

The objective of this program is to prepare exceptionally qualified individuals for research careers in academia and industry. The program is designed for students who offer evidence of exceptional scholastic ability, intellectual creativity, and research motivation. The PhD degree is viewed as a certification by the faculty that the student has a solid foundation in computer science and has performed original research in the area.

The requirements for the PhD in Computer Science include:

  1. Coursework Requirements
  2. A Comprehensive Exam Portfolio
  3. A Dissertation Proposal
  4. A Dissertation Defense

Students will be assigned a temporary adviser during their first semester. Each student should identify a research area of interest and a suitable thesis adviser during their first year. By the time they file a plan of study, they will also have selected a thesis Advisory Committee, for which their adviser will be the chair.

PhD in CS students have the option to study in either Clemson (McAdams Hall) or Charleston (Zucker Family Graduate Education Center), SC. For more information on Charleston graduate programs, please click here.

Coursework Requirements

Coursework requirements for the PhD vary depending on if the student is entering with either a BS or MS degree, and if the student plans to earn an MS degree en-route. Courses are intended to demonstrate breadth in computer science as well as experience in research. All PhD students are required to complete:

  • 1 credit hour of Introduction to Faculty Research (a CPSC 9500 offered in your first semester),
  • 3 credit hours of Research Experience (typically in your second semester as CPSC 8880 or CPSC 9500 credits),
  • at least 6 additional credit hours of PhD seminar courses (CPSC 9500), and
  • 18 credit hours of doctoral research (CPSC 9910).

Students are also required to complete the following graded coursework. Consult the graduate handbook for specific requirements as to which courses may be used.

Beginning DegreeDegree(s) EarningGraded Credit HoursTotal Credit Hours (counting the above)
MS PhD 12 40
BS PhD (direct entry) 30 60
BS PhD + MS en-route 42 70

Coursework must also satisfy the requirements for the PhD Portfolio's demonstration of core competencies. Once a student decides which courses they plan to take they file a plan of study (GS2) with the graduate school. Students entering with an MS must declare their plan of study by the end of their second semester, while students entering with a BS are required to declare their plan of study by the end of their fourth semester.

PhD Portfolio Requirements

On behalf of the faculty, the PhD program coordinator chairs a committee to perform the comprehensive exam for each PhD student. The form of this examination is a portfolio review that certifies competency in core areas of computer science and demonstrates potential for research. Students are given at most two opportunities to pass this exam. Upon passing this exam, the student is admitted to PhD candidacy. Students entering with an MS must submit their portfolio before the beginning of their fourth semester; students entering without an MS, before the beginning of their sixth.

Students must demonstrate superior mastery of the material in four of seven core areas of computer science. Mastery is demonstrated by achieving a grade of A, or through letters of support. Consult the graduate handbook for alternate options. The core areas are identified as follows:

PhD Core AreasCourse(s)
Algorithms and Theory 8380, 8390, 8400
Graphics and Visualization 8050, 8170, 8190
Computer Networks 8510, 8520, 8530
Information Management 8620, 8630, 8650
Languages and Translators 8270, 8280, 8290
Software Engineering 8720, 8730, 8750
Systems 8200, 8220, 8240, 8550

One course should be selected from each of four core areas. At least one of the four selected core courses must be from the Formal Thinking course group, which consists of: 8280, 8380, 8390, 8400 and 8730. At least one of the four selected core courses must be from the Implementation course group, which consists of 8050, 8170, 8190, 8220, 8270, 8290, 8520, 8530, 8550, 8620, and 8650.

Students must also demonstrate potential for research. A research paper in which a significant component of the writing was done by the candidate must be included. The paper should be of sufficient quality to indicate that the student has the ability to conduct original research and make an acceptable written presentation of the results. Although not required, students are strongly encouraged to submit the paper to a conference or workshop. For such submissions, the student may be the sole author or may be a co-author with other faculty and or other students. However, if the paper has joint authorship, the other authors must submit written documentation identifying those sections of the paper that were written by the candidate. The paper does not have to be accepted or published to be included in a successful portfolio. Although a published paper provides more convincing evidence for research potential, a rejected submission, along with peer reviews, can also be used by the Graduate Affairs Committee to evaluate potential in research. The paper may or may not be related to the student's eventual dissertation area. A candidate's MS research paper, thesis, or a derivative thereof may be used to satisfy this requirement.

Additionally, the student must provide a statement of purpose, a brief curriculum vitae, and two supporting letters of recommendation from School of Computing faculty.

There are also additional, optional elements of the portfolio as outlined by the graduate handbook.

Dissertation Proposal

Upon entering candidacy, the student will complete a dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal is a document presented to the student's thesis Advisory Committee. The purpose of the proposal is to inform the committee of the nature and scope of the proposed dissertation and to obtain their approval and guidance concerning the proposed research. The written proposal should include the following items:

  • an outline of the included material
  • a concise review of the state of knowledge in the general area of interest
  • a description of the proposed dissertation area, along with a concise review of the state of knowledge in the specific area of the proposed dissertation
  • a concise explanation of the problem(s) to be investigated
  • a discussion of the results expected from solving the problem(s) and their impact on the state of knowledge in the general and specific areas of interest.
  • a bibliography

The written proposal must be communicated through a public oral presentation. The Advisory Committee will be asked to give written approval of the proposal after the presentation, and that approval will be primarily based on the written document. If the proposal is not approved, the proposal may be repeated an indefinite number of times subject to the approval of the Advisory Committee. The proposal must be presented and approved at least six (6) months before the dissertation is completed.

Dissertation Requirements

The doctoral dissertation is the written record of the research that the student has conducted and must provide evidence of the student's ability to independently perform original research leading to the discovery of significant new knowledge. Thus, the dissertation should demonstrate the student's technical mastery of the subject, independent scholarly work, and conclusions that modify or enlarge what has previously been known. The dissertation is expected to:

  • Identify a significant open question or problem in computer science.
  • Describe the current state knowledge of the area(s) involved.
  • Present a solution or solutions to the problem that was identified.
  • Report on the results of the research conducted, substantiate those results, and demonstrate the originality and contribution of the results.

The format of the dissertation must conform to the current SOC and Graduate School standards. Copies of the dissertation must be delivered to the student's Advisory Committee members at least two (2) weeks prior to the final oral examination.

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