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PhD Qualifying Policy - Effective Spring 2014
(approved Jan 8, 2014)

Department of Computer Science
Utah State University

The aim of this exam is to demonstrate the students ability to write a technical research paper and to follow a complete research methodology on a small scale. While publication of the paper is not a requirement, it must be in a publishable format. The requirements of this exam are as follows:

1. PhD Paper and Presentation Examination

  • The expectations for this paper are as follows: (a) The student is the primary author of the paper, and its topic has been agreed to by his/her PhD faculty supervisor (b) It is at least six pages in length written in the accepted publication format for the targeted conference or journal (c) The paper should be written in the style of a standard technical research paper, i.e. incorporating elements such as an introduction, significance, problem definition, methodology, experimental results, discussion, and correct citations.
  • When deemed ready by their major professor, the student will defend their paper in a public meeting before their PhD committee. The defense date must be set at least 10 working days from the exam date. The length of the oral presentation is at the discretion of the supervisory committee, but will not exceed two hours.
  • All members of the supervisory committee must be present at the exam in person or remotely.
  • The goal of this qualifying policy is to provide early validation of a student’s ability to succeed in the research component of the doctoral program. The student must not only defend the paper but also their understanding of the foundations and state-of-the art of the paper’s research focus.
  • Upon completion of the paper defense, each member of the PhD committee will vote indicating his or her approval or disapproval of the paper as an indication of appropriate capability for a doctoral student; this will be a majority rules vote. If the student fails this qualifier, he or she must rewrite the paper to address the inadequacies identified by the committee. The student will have one additional opportunity to retake and pass the exam within three months in order to continue in the program.
  • While there is some flexibility in the scheduling of the qualifier, it is important that it be completed early in one’s program. For that reason the student will complete this exam within a maximum 24 credits or two years. Extensions beyond the 24 credits or two years require approval of the student’s graduate committee.

2. Thesis Proposal Defense

The primary objective of the thesis proposal defense is to determine the quality of the research proposed by the candidate. It is expected that the quality of the proposed research will be worthy of a Ph.D. in Computer Science. The requirements of this exam are as follows:

  • At least 10 days before the examination the student must submit to the committee their written proposal. This proposal must be approved by the major professor before it is distributed. The proposal should be written in the style of a standard technical research proposal, i.e. incorporating elements such as an introduction, specific aims, significance, innovation, methodology/approach, preliminary results, impact, software data sharing plan, project timeline and correct citations.
  • The thesis proposal defense is conducted by the student’s supervisory committee and chaired by the examination chair selected according to the standard USU practice. This meeting is open to the public. The format of the thesis proposal defense is an oral presentation followed by questions. The length of the oral presentation is at the discretion of the supervisory committee, but will not exceed two hours.
  • All members of the supervisory committee must be present at the exam in person or remotely.
  • The supervisory committee grades the candidate’s performance in terms of two grades: pass or fail.
  • After the defense, the supervisory committee produces a written report documenting the student’s performance. The report offers a justification of the committee’s decision.
  • In case of failure, the candidate will have one more opportunity to pass the thesis proposal defense. If the candidate fails the retake, the candidate may reapply to the Ph.D. program.
  • While there is some flexibility in the scheduling of the proposal, it is important that it be completed in a timely manner. For that reason the student will complete this exam within a maximum 36 credits or three years. Extensions beyond the 36 credits or three years require approval of the student’s graduate committee.