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. Before Fall 2023, another exam (the Preliminary Exam) was also required, but was replaced by the University with the Proposal Defense; students who have not yet advanced to Candidacy no longer can take the Preliminary Exam and will do the Proposal Defense instead.

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.

Proposal Defense

  1. Purpose: To assess the student's readiness to complete the Ph.D.
  2. To be taken: This defense will be scheduled after the student has completed, or is within 6 hours of completing, all course work.
    • 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. Proposal Defense 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 Proposal Defense is given.
    • If a student's committee or research topic changes after the student has passed the Proposal Defense, the student's committee will determine if the student must take another Defense.
    • If a student is also taking a Minor, they will need work out the details of their Minor Examination separately with their Minor Professor.
  3. To be offered: The Defense will be scheduled by arrangement with the student's Graduate Committee.
  4. Defense Content: One week before the scheduled Defense, the student gives the committee a Dissertation proposal following the Department's rules for Preparing Theses and Dissertations (the signature page will list only Committee members.) The proposal must contain:
    • An introduction to the research being proposed and research goals/questions addressed.
    • A review of the relevant research in the area and discussion of the research's relevancy/motivation.
    • A proposed approach to completing the research including hypotheses, proposed research methodology/procedures/experiments, and potential publication plan.
  5. Format: The Proposal Defense is closed to the public. The student will present an oral defense of their proposed research, based upon their written Proposal. At this time, the student and his/her Committee may negotiate specific changes in the proposed work. If the work is not approved during this meeting, another proposal sessions may be required as appropriate.
  6. Completing the Proposal: When the Proposal is passed, the signed written proposal signature page is kept with the CSE office. The agreed upon changes to the final Proposal should be kept by the student and committee, and may also be archived by the Department.

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.