Ph.D. Examinations

During preparation for the doctoral degree, the student will be required to complete three examinations, including the final dissertation defense. These events are discussed below in the order in which they will occur during the student's program of study.

For students that entered in before Fall 2022, a different set of Qualifying Exam rules apply. Such students may choose that option or this one, whichever suits them best.

Qualifying Process

  1. Purpose: To determine the readiness of the student to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science.
  2. To be submitted:
    • Prior to the beginning of classes in the 4th Fall/Spring semester after entering the Ph.D. program with a previous master’s degree.
    • Prior to the beginning of classes in the 6th Fall/Spring semester after entering the Ph.D. program without a previous master’s degree.

    The student is allowed to attempt to submit materials at any time  until the student’s deadline has passed. The first attempt may be after the student’s first semester or summer term. Students will meet with their major professor to review their portfolio before submission.

  3. To be given: Qualifying Exam portfolios will be reviewed once per semester. They should be sent electronically to the Graduate Coordinator before the first day of the semester to be evaluated.
  4. Format: The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam consists of a portfolio demonstrating a student's competency in Coursework, Communication, and Research. These form the foundation of a successful Ph.D. program.
  5. Contents: A student's portfolio consists of evidence of competency in the three areas (details below). This evidence will include transcripts. syllabi for courses counting from outside of MSState, papers, presentations, and letters of attestation and support.
    • Coursework Students must past 3 classes with an A in graduate study: One in theory, one in their depth area, and one other. While the depth area course must be taken at MSState, other courses may be transferred with permission of the student's major professor. Outside courses must include their syllabus for evaluation.
    • Communication Students must demonstrate writing and presentation ability to communicate technical proficiency. Writing can be demonstrated by primary authorship on a published paper (attested to by any co-authors via letter) or evaluated by submitted work to the Faculty (usually done during a class or similar, but MS Theses or Project write-ups could be submitted). Presentations are also similarly demonstrated: Evidence of a conference presentation via its program or an evaluate of a significant class presentation by Faculty.
    • Research Students should do research with faculty and have that evaluated via a write-up. Students that have a paper accepted would have an easier time demonstrating this (and having faculty attest to this); other evidence is write-ups from RA supervisors or major professors. Students are encouraged to sign up for 8000 hrs with a faculty member (w/ their permission) to contribute to research as a means of demonstrating this.
  6. Grading: The student's response to each area of competency will be awarded one of the following grades.
    • PASS – indicating a response that clearly demonstrates the student is qualified for doctoral study.
    • FAIL – indicating that the response was not of acceptable quality for a doctoral student.
    • The overall grade of the qualifying exam is either a PASS or a FAIL. To achieve an overall PASS, a student must gain a grade of PASS on all elements. A student who has not achieved a PASS overall and whose deadline has passed will receive an overall FAIL grade.
    • A student who has not yet passed the exam overall may apply any grades of PASS received so far on competency areas toward passing the Qualifying process overall. Feedback on what is needed to improve will be sent to the student and major professor after evaluation.
    • At the time that the student is evaluated, the graduate faculty will conduct a review of the student’s status in the program. Such a review could result in passing the Qualifying process without conditions, or could result in binding recommendations from the graduate faculty or could result in strong recommendations that the student address a problem within a certain time frame, or could even result in dismissal from the program. This review will include, as a minimum, the following:
      • performance on the competency areas
      • progress and performance in coursework
      • any serious impediments to further progress toward the doctorate
    • If the graduate faculty decides to recommend dismissal of the student from the Ph.D. program due to failing the Qualifying process overall, the recommendation will be sent to the Dean within one month of the grading of the exam.

Preliminary Examination

  1. Purpose: To assess the student's competence to complete the Ph.D.
  2. To be taken: This examination will be scheduled after the student has completed, or is within 6 hours of completing, all course work and has had a dissertation topic approved by members of his/her committee.
    • When a student is nearing the end of coursework, if the student's GPA is less than 3.0 at the end of the most recently completed term, then the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination must be postponed until the current GPA is at least 3.0. (The student must enroll for at least one hour during the term in which the Examination is given; this is normally the case for Ph.D. students.)
    • The dissertation topic should be a relatively short (2-3 page) description of the expected topic of research and should include a discussion of one or more specific research issues related to the topic that are promising areas for dissertation research. If a student's committee or research topic changes after the student has passed the preliminary examination, the student's committee will determine if the student must take another preliminary exam.
  3. To be offered: The examination will be scheduled by arrangement with the student's Graduate Committee.
  4. Format: The exam is closed to the public. The exam consists of two parts, the major exam and the minor exam.
    • Major Exam: The major examination will be administered by the student's Graduate Committee. The exam will consist of a written examination composed by the Committee and an oral examination. Each committee member other than the minor professor (but including the major professor) will contribute one question or set of questions for the written examination.
    • Minor Exam: If the student has a minor, the minor exam will be administered by the minor advisor. The minor professor will be invited to conduct the minor exam in combination with and using the same procedure as the major exam.
    • The major professor will collect the questions into a single examination that will be given to the student and Committee members. The time allotted for preparing written answers will be approximately 7 days. Written answers to the examination will be returned to the major professor who will distribute copies of all of the student's written answers to all of the Committee members.
    • The oral examination for the major exam will be scheduled approximately one week after the written answers have been completed by the student. The oral examination for the minor exam (if there is one) should be conducted separately from the oral portion of the major exam. During the oral portion of the major exam the student may give a short presentation to address any issues related to the examination that were raised by a Committee member or that the student has determined need clarification. Further questioning related to the written examination by the Committee is expected during the oral examination. If the student has a minor, the minor professor may choose to participate in the oral portion of the major examination.
  5. Contents: The exam will cover material from related course work and material in the major area and the minor area if the student has a minor. A primary intent of the examination is to determine if the student can explore relationships in materials taught in different courses and in the research topic. The student's answers should not be a simple summary of other people's ideas. Rather, the answers should reveal a depth of understanding and original thought that demonstrates that the student is prepared to perform original research in the dissertation topic area.
  6. Instructions: When the major professor gives the preliminary exam questions to the student, he/she should emphasize the depth of the answers expected. He/she should also inform the student as to which members of the Committee supplied which questions. During preparation of the written answers, the student may ask a particular committee member for clarification of a question. However, questions during the written portion of the exam must be limited to clarification of the interpretation of a question. Once the written responses have been submitted to the Committee, individual committee members must advise the major professor of serious deficiencies in the written answers. The major professor will communicate these concerns to the student with instructions that the student must be prepared to address these concerns during the oral portion of the exam.
    • The student may consult any published references he/she would like while answering the examination question. The same rules for citing references and avoiding plagiarism apply for the written portion of the examination that apply to a term paper, thesis, or dissertation.
  7. Grading: If the student has a minor, the grade received on the minor exam will be determined by the minor professor. The grade received on the major exam will be determined by the examining committee. The student will be permitted one retry for each examination. A second attempt to pass the examination must be accomplished within four to six months of failure. A second failure results in dismissal from the program.

Dissertation Defense

  1. Purpose: This examination is to permit the student to demonstrate a mastery of techniques of research in computer science and to demonstrate a distinct contribution to the field of investigation.
  2. To be taken: After all other examinations and the dissertation have been completed.
  3. To be offered: By arrangement with the Graduate Committee, before the deadline for final examinations established by the Office of Graduate Studies.
  4. Format: The final examination is an oral defense of the dissertation that is open to the public. There is an open question period that is open to the public, and a closed question period open only to the candidate and the Graduate Committee.
  5. Contents: The examination will cover the research attendant to the dissertation.
  6. Grading: The acceptability of the dissertation will be determined by the Graduate Committee. Action to be taken upon failure will be determined by the Graduate Committee.
  7. Report of results: The major professor reports the results of the examination to the Office of Graduate Studies.
    • The dissertation must follow the format specified in the Standards for Preparing Dissertations and Theses available from the Office of Graduate Studies and in the form and style outlined in the Departmental Guidelines for Preparing Dissertations, Theses, and Project Reports.
    • Approval of the dissertation proceeds from the committee, to the Graduate Coordinator of the Department, and thence to the Dean of Engineering. After all approvals are obtained, the student must submit a completed signature page on bond paper and an electronic copy of their dissertation to the Library following the directions given at in the Catalog. The electronic copy must conform to all regulations as outlined in the Graduate Studies Bulletin. In addition, the student must submit an additional signed approval page to the departmental office.