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Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

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Stevens CS
Ph.D. in Computer Science

The objective Stevens Ph.D. program in Computer Science is to educate outstanding scholars for a career as computer science researchers. The goal is for the quality of Stevens graduates to be on par with those produced by the best Computer Science departments in the country.

Our Ph.D. program allows outstanding students who want to change the face of computer science to work with our world-class faculty in cutting-edge research. All Ph.D. students must have research interests in the areas supported by our current faculty. All Ph.D. students must study full time and receive full financial support. Students start their research immediately with a faculty advisor. The major research interests of the faculty in the department are:

  • Computer Security: privacy-preserving data mining, wireless network security, cryptography, phishing, botnets, and language-based security including information flow control.
  • Computer Vision, Visualization, and Graphics: 3D shape from images, differential geometry methods, organizing unorganized point clouds, dynamic scene analysis, shape analysis and indexing.
  • Software Engineering: high assurance, formal methods, trustworthy computing, software engineering education.

You can learn more by browsing the web pages of the faculty and research labs.

The quality of the CS research is demonstrated by the faculty's publication and funding record. Faculty consult and collaborate with companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, Verizon, Lucent Technologies, Daimler-Chrysler, and top industry laboratories and academic departments throughout the world.

Some of the most successful companies of the last fifty years grew out of student computer science research. Although one might think that the state of information technology is maturing, if anything the original problems are only increasing in scale as IT is deployed in ever more diverse ways. The Internet itself, a product of DARPA and NSF research, has become the focus of great concern, as it introduces new threats at the same time that it becomes ever more indispensable in our lives. All of this demonstrates the ever growing need for research that addresses these problems. A Ph.D. in Computer Science research will mark you as an individual of rare ability and authority in your career, whether you are continuing from undergraduate study into research, or returning from working in business or government because you want to chart your own career path.

If you have not done so already, we encourage you to browse the web pages of the faculty, and view their research interests and accomplishments. Our faculty is doing world-class research in security, programming languages, graphics and vision, software engineering and computer networks. We publish in the top journals and conferences in our fields, with funding from the most competitive funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation. We regularly collaborate with colleagues in the greater New York City area. For example, we are involved in running the semi-annual NYC Metro-Area Security and Privacy Day, a research meeting that began at Stevens. We also regularly consult with companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, Verizon, Alcatel Lucent, and top industry labs and academic departments throughout the world. Lucent Technologies and Daimler-Chrysler.

We are committed to involving our students early in research. If you are accepted into our program, you will be guaranteed of financial support. You will be immediately teamed with a faculty advisor with whom you should begin research. Your progress will be reviewed by the entire department at the end of each semester. You will regularly be exposed to research talks and meetings, and you will be expected to give talks yourself to inform others of your research activity. This marks our commitment to getting you involved early and vigorously in the exciting and challenging field of computer science research.

Application and Admission

The Computer Science Department requests applicants to provide more information than the Stevens-required minimum. Each applicant should submit the following materials to the Stevens Office of Graduate Admissions:

  • Official transcripts from all colleges attended for any length of time.
  • Official scores from the GRE general exam.
  • Three letters of recommendation. A good letter of recommendation is a short essay written by someone who has worked closely with the applicant, and contains specific information or examples of the student's accomplishments and potential rather than general compliments.
  • Statement of purpose. This statement is the student's opportunity to indicate his/her areas of interest and expertise, his/her goals, how and why Stevens is a good match for the student, and any further information that may not be evident from the student's transcripts or letters of recommendation. A statement of purpose, like a recommendation letter, should be specific rather than general.
  • Application fee.
  • In addition, students whose first language is not English must submit an official TOEFL score. This requirement will be waived if an applicant has a degree from a university in a country where English is the native language.

Applications are welcome at any time but decisions are generally made in mid Spring for admission to the PhD program for the following Fall semester. In particular, applications which are completed by February 15 will receive full consideration and applicants are notified of admission or denial no later than April 15. Occasionally, students may be admitted to the PhD program to start in the Spring semester. In order for applicants to possibly be considered to start in the Spring, applications must be completed no later than September 15.

Each application is evaluated individually, based on the student's potential for research in an area of expertise of the Stevens faculty. There are no specific standards for admission or rejection. However, in general, the minimum qualifications of successful applicants include:

  • GPA of at least 3.5 out of 4.0 in computer science or computer engineering.
  • Analytical and quantitative GRE scores in at least the 90th percentile.
  • TOEFL score of at least 600 (100 on the Internet-based test, 250 on the computer-based test).

In addition, the department typically conducts an interview with the applicant, either in person or by telephone.

Before submitting the application forms please verify that all requirements are met.

Full time study

To make progress on leading edge subjects in a fast moving field like computer science requires full time study. It is nearly impossible to do work that is important, timely, and novel at the pace afforded by part time effort---either one's result will be "scooped" or conditions will change within the field, rendering the work no longer current. Accordingly, PhD students will be admitted only for full time on-campus study. The department is committed to provide support (tuition and stipend) for all full time doctoral students. Such support may be a Research Fellowship, come either as a research assistantship, or a teaching assistantship. Students are also encouraged to apply for outside scholarships.

Advised study

Each doctoral student must at all times have a single advisor who is a tenured or tenure-track Stevens faculty member. The relationship between advisor and student is not merely an administrative one. Starting early in his/her career, the student will work on research projects to be determined by the advisor and student. Through this day-to-day interaction the student will learn the form and content of high quality research. The student's advisor will also guide the student through the program; e.g., advising on such matters as which courses to take, when to attempt the qualifying exam, what dissertation topic to pursue, etc.

Advisor-advisee relationship. The department aims to admit only students whose background and interests match those of the faculty. Each admitted student will be assigned an advisor whose expertise is well matched to the student. It is hoped that most students will remain with their initial advisors throughout their career, performing research with him/her. However, the advisor-advisee relationship is a voluntary one. If either the student or the faculty member becomes dissatisfied with the relationship, then the student must seek another advisor among the faculty. A student can change advisors at any time provided that the student's new advisor is willing to accept the student.

Policies and procedures


The Ph.D. degree requires 84 credits beyond the Bachelor's degree. Note, however, that students who are not yet doctoral "candidates" must obtain authorization by the Dean of Graduate Academics to enroll for CS 960 if their total number of reserach credits reaches 10 or more. Typically, authorization is granted after consultation with the students' advisor. The definition of the term "candidate" is left to each department, and the computer science department defines candidates to be students who have passed the qualifying exam, both written and oral parts.

Teaching, Service, and Presentations.

The student must carry out a teaching assignment approved by the department PhD Committee. This will usually consist of at least one term as a Teaching Assistant but other arrangements are possible. The department PhD Committee in consultation with the student's advisor may waive the teaching requirement. Teaching is often a uniquely effective learning experience and the intent of this requirement is to assure that all doctoral students have the benefit of having taught for at least one term.

Students are expected to be involved in departmental activities and to contribute to maintaining a vibrant community. (Check with your advisor to make sure that your name is on the Ph.D. Mailing List and keep up to date on the information about upcoming seminars.) Service will be arranged in consultation with the advisor, and will include such responsibilities as helping to host seminar speakers, ensuring that departmental information on the web pages is up to date, and recruiting new faculty and students.

Every candidate must give at least one research talk every year. This may be a 20 minute whiteboard talk in a research seminar (e.g., in the Secure Systems or Visual Computing seminar), or an outside talk such as a workshop or conference.

Progress review.

Each student's progress is reviewed by the entire computer science faculty near the end of the Fall and Spring semesters. Preparatory to this review, the student must submit a "Doctoral Activity Report" (DAR), using the form available from the Office of the Registrar. A completed DAR shall describe the student's progress since the last review, as well as plans for the time up to the next review. After drafting the report, the student shall submit it to his/her advisor for approval. Once approved, the DAR shall be submitted to the computer science department office, which will file it with the Office of the Registrar and of Graduate Academics.
It is acceptable to complete a DAR by writing just "See attached" and attaching a document prepared with a document-preparation system such as LaTeX or MS Word.

The outcome of the progress review meeting is that a student is placed into one of three categories: good standing, probation, or terminated. A student in good standing is making satisfactory progress toward his/her degree, and is expected to follow through on the plans outlined in his/her progress report. A student on probation is making inadequate progress toward his/her degree. A student on probation will receive a letter from the faculty that explains what remedial actions he/she must take to return to good standing, and by what time each action must be taken. No student will be terminated without spending at least the preceding semester on probation.

Qualifying Exam.

Each student must pass the qualifying exam early in his/her career. The exam has two purposes: to certify that the student is broadly educated in key areas of computer science and to demonstrate that the student has become acquainted with the process of performing original research.

Accordingly, the qualifying exam has two parts, written and oral. The written portion of the qualifying exam tests the student's knowledge of fundamental computer science at an elementary level, akin to that achieved in a Bachelor's program. The written exam tests three subjects: algorithms, programming languages, and operating systems. A student must pass all three subjects in order to pass the written exam. The exam is offered near the end of Fall and Spring semesters, timed so that grades are available at the progress review meeting.

A student may take the written exam at most twice. Any subjects passed the first time need not be taken the second time. The written exam should be taken during the student's first 2 semesters in the program. The written exam must be completely passed during the student's first 4 semesters in the program.

The purpose of the oral portion of the qualifying exam is for the student to demonstrate promise in doing independent original research. The student will perform some work as specified by and under the supervision of his/her advisor. Ideally, this work would consist of the actual production of publishable research results; however, depending on circumstances, it may be more appropriate for the student to perform some type of pre-research work. The student will write a report detailing his/her effort and accomplishments. The student will give a public, announced talk detailing his/her effort and accomplishments. The paper will be read, and the talk attended, by the student's advisor and two other pre-selected regular Stevens faculty members. These three faculty will decide whether the student has passed the oral exam. In style, the report and the talk must be similar to research presentations given by experienced researchers. If either the report or the talk is judged to be inadequate in either content or presentation, this fact will be taken into account during the faculty's evaluation of the student that semester. The student may be terminated, placed on probation, required to prepare a new report or talk, perform further research, or some other remedial action(s).

The oral qualifier must be announced at least one week in advance on the cs-faculty and cs-phd-students mailing lists. The document must be in the hands of the faculty members at least one week in advance.

The oral qualifying exam must be passed no more than 12 months after passage of the written qualifying exam, or by the end of student's 5th semester in the program, whichever is earlier.

Thesis proposal.

To demonstrate that he/she is ready to undertake dissertation research, the student must write and present a thesis proposal. The written document must describe the proposed research so that an appropriately informed computer scientist---although not necessarily someone who is an expert in the topic---can understand the proposal. The written proposal should contain an explanation of the problem and why it is important, a sketch of the proposed solution, and background information that serves to indicate that the problem is unsolved and what prior or related approaches to this or similar problems have already been investigated. After writing the document, the student must make a public presentation of the proposed work. The document must be read---and the presentation should be attended---by the persons who are expected to form the student's dissertation defense committee. The presentation must allow reasonable time for appropriate questions by any person in attendance. After the presentation, the dissertation committee will decide whether the student's proposal indicates that he/she is ready to do the proposed work successfully.

The proposal must be announced at least one week in advance, on the cs-faculty and cs-phd-students mailing lists. The proposal document must be in the hands of the committee at least two weeks in advance.

If the proposal is judged to be inadequate in either content or presentation, this fact will be taken into account during the faculty's evaluation of the student that semester. The student may be terminated, placed on probation, required to prepare a new talk, perform further research, or some other remedial action(s).

Dissertation defense.

The department follows the Stevens-wide procedures for the dissertation defense, including committee composition. The defense must be announced at least two weeks in advance, on the cs-faculty and cs-phd-students mailing lists as well as a Stevens-wide announcement originating with the Registrar's office. The thesis document must be in the hands of the committee at least four weeks in advance. For more information please refer to the online catalog.

Required rate of progress.

Stevens imposes certain deadlines on the student:

  • Students who have a Master's degree must complete the doctoral degree within 6 years.
  • The thesis proposal must be presented at least 12 months before the degree is awarded.
  • It is "recommended" that the qualifying exam be attempted no more than one year after entry to the program or after receipt of the Master's degree, whichever comes first.

In addition, a certain rate of progress through the program is typical and expected:

  • The written qualifying exam should be attempted in the first two semesters.
  • The written qualifying exam must be passed by the end of the fourth semester.
  • The oral qualifying exam must be passed by the end of the fifth semester (or no more than 12 months after passage of the written exam, whichever is earlier).
  • The thesis proposal should be presented by the end of the sixth semester.

These are only guidelines: meeting all these targets does not necessarily constitute satisfactory progress nor does failing to meet any necessarily constitute unsatisfactory progress.


It is expected that students, once enrolled in the doctoral program, will remain enrolled full time without interruption until graduation. However, sometimes it is necessary for a student to take a leave for a reason such as personal difficulty, health, etc. If such a situation arises, the student must petition the faculty in writing for a leave, which, if granted, will last for one semester. To extend the leave, a new petition must be filed. Neither indefinite leave nor excessive repetition of leave is permitted. While the student is on leave, any time limit he/she faces (e.g., completing the qualifying exam within two years) is suspended for the length of the leave.


The faculty reserve the right to make exceptions to any of the rules and procedures described above, in order to promote and preserve the health of the doctoral program and to ensure each student's prompt and effective progress through the program.

Where can I get advice?

In addition to your advisor, the PhD Studies committee is available to discuss your questions, concerns and suggestions. The current chair is Prof Wetzel; the other members are Profs Compagnoni, Dietrich, Kamberov, Mordohai, Nicolosi, and Wang. Our goal is to foster a fruitful and comfortable working relationships among students, advisors, and the department.

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Daniel Duchamp
Research Professor & Department Director
Room 313
Phone: 201.216.5390
Fax: 201.216.8249

Dawn Garcia
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Room 317
Phone: 201.216.5578
Fax: 201.216.8249

Sherry Dorso
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Lieb 317
Phone: 201.216.5328
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