Ph.D. Degree

Ph.D. Degree

Our Ph.D. Degree Program

Our GGCS doctoral degree prepares you to solve complex, long-term research problems. You can expect to graduate in four to five years and to work on a large research project, culminating in a dissertation. Our doctoral graduates join industries or go on to careers in academia, either as postdoctoral researchers or assistant professors.

Degree Requirements

  • Admission Requirements
  • Consideration for admission requires completion of Graduate Studies’ online application, with fee payment, by the stated deadline. Admission requires a bachelor’s degree, three letters of recommendation, and a complete application form, including official transcripts, GRE scores, TOEFL scores or IELTS score (if applicable), a statement of purpose, and a personal history statement.

    In addition to the admission requirements stated above, applicants are expected to demonstrate proficiency at the undergraduate level in four fundamental areas of computer science, and mathematics. The specified UC Davis courses exemplify the material:

    ♦   Computer Architecture --  ECS 154A (Computer Architecture)
    ♦   Operating Systems -- ECS 150 (Operating Systems and System Programming)
    ♦   Programming Languages --ECS 140A (Programming Languages)
    ♦   Theoretical Foundations --ECS 120 (Theory of Computation) and ECS 122A (Algorithm Design and Analysis)
    ♦   Mathematical Foundations -- ECS 132 (Probability and Statistical Modeling for Computer Science) or MAT 135A (Probability) or STA 131A (Introduction to Probability Theory), and one additional upper-division mathematics course

    These are referred to as the undergraduate proficiency requirements.

    Students may be admitted with one or more deficiencies in the undergraduate proficiency requirements. It is expected that the student will complete the undergraduate proficiency requirements by the end of their Ph.D. degree. This deadline may be extended by approval of the Graduate Advisors Committee of the Graduate Group.

  • Dissertation Plan
  • GGCS offers Plan B as described under Section 520 in the UC Davis Division Academic Senate Regulations. Plan B specifies a three member (minimum) dissertation committee, an optional final oral examination (made on an individual student basis by the dissertation committee), and an exit seminar.

  • Advanced Proficiency Requirements
  • All students who are in the Ph.D. program, or who expect to work toward a doctorate in computer science at UC Davis, are required to complete the Advanced Proficiency requirement. A student passes this requirement by a high level of achievement in graduate coursework and demonstrating “advanced” proficiency in the graduate breadth requirements. The GGCS breadth requirement includes demonstrated proficiency in four areas of computer science at the graduate level: Architecture, Systems, Theory and Applications.

    The student can satisfy the above requirements in one of the following ways:

    ♦   Completion of a Core course with a grade of A- or better
    ♦   Demonstration that one has taken a similar graduate course at another institution with a grade of A- or better. A Graduate Advisor must approve this option.
    ♦   Challenging the Core course (Credit by Examination) as per UC procedures, receiving a grade of A- or better.

    Core Courses
    ♦   Architecture Core  -- ECS 201A Advanced Computer Architecture; EEC 270 Computer Architecture    
    ♦   Systems Core -- ECS 240 Programming Languages; ECS 251 Operating Systems; ECS 260 Software Engineering
    ♦   Theory Core -- ECS 220 Theory of Computation; ECS 222A Design and Analysis of Algorithms    
    ♦   Applications Core -- ECS 230 Applied Numerical Linear Algebra; ECS 231 Large-scale Scientific Computation; ECS 234 Computational Functional Genomics; ECS 235A Computer and Information Security; ECS 236 Computer Security Intrusion Detection Based Approach; ECS 252 Computer Networks; ECS 256 Performance Evaluation; ECS 265 Distributed Database Systems; ECS 267 Wide-Area Distributed Information Systems; ECS 268 Scientific Data and Workflow Management; ECS 270 Artificial Intelligence; ECS 271 Machine Learning and Discovery; ECS 272 Information Visualization; ECS 274 Automated Deduction; ECS 275A Advanced Computer Graphics; ECS 276 Advanced Volume Visualization; ECS 277 Advanced Visualization; ECS 278 Computer-Aided Geometric Design; ECS 279 Topics in Character Animation

    45 units of upper division and graduate coursework are required. Full-time students must enroll for 12 units per quarter including research, academic and seminar units. Per UC regulations students cannot enroll in more than 12 units of graduate level courses (200) or more than 16 units of combined undergraduate and graduate level (100, 200, 300) courses per quarter.

  • Special Requirements
  • The Graduate Group requires all Ph.D. candidates demonstrate at least one quarter of college level teaching experience. We strongly recommend that this includes lecturing or leading a discussion section. In addition, each student is required to participate in an exit seminar, in which the research is presented to the UC Davis academic community. This seminar will be administered by the dissertation committee, and will take place after all committee members have approved the dissertation, but before the dissertation has been filed with the Office of Graduate Studies.

  • Committees
  • Admissions Committee
    Completed applications are evaluated by the Admissions Committee, with the assistance of other faculty in the Graduate Group. The Admissions Committee consists of six Graduate Group faculty. Based on a review of the entire application, a recommendation is made to accept or decline the applicant’s request for admission. The recommendation is forwarded to the Dean of Graduate Studies for final approval of admission. Notification of admissions decisions will be sent by Graduate Studies. Applications are accepted from September (when the admission system opens) through January 15 for the next Fall-entering class.

    Graduate Advisors Committee
    The Graduate Advisors Committee is composed of GGCS faculty members appointed by Graduate Studies. Every student who does not have a Thesis Advisor will be assigned a Graduate Advisor from the Graduate Advisors Committee. Until a student has a Thesis Advisor, the assigned Graduate Advisor will monitor the progress of the student and provide guidance on his/her academic program. Each GGCS graduate student is responsible for meeting with his or her Graduate Advisor at least once per quarter.

    Qualifying Examination Committee
    The student, in consultation with his/her Thesis Advisor, nominate five faculty members to serve on the Examination Committee. The Thesis Advisor must be selected before the Qualifying Examination Committee is formed. The Thesis Advisor must be on the qualifying exam committee but cannot be chair of the committee. The membership of the Qualifying Exam Committee must satisfy the following conditions:

    ♦   The chair of the committee must be a member of the Academic Senate of UC Davis, and a GGCS member.
    ♦   At least three members of the committee must be members of the Academic Senate of the University of California and GGCS members.
    ♦   It is recommended (by the Academic Senate) that one member of the committee be a faculty member outside of the Graduate Group in Computer Science.

    These nominations are submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies for formal appointment in accordance with Graduate Council policy. The Qualifying Exam Committee conducts the exam and submits results to the Office of Graduate Studies.

    Dissertation Committee
    The Dissertation Committee consists of three members who will guide the student in research. Graduate Studies must approve this committee. Guidelines for choosing the members of the dissertation committee are as follows:

    ♦   At least two of the members must be members of the Academic Senate of the University of California.
    ♦   At least two of these members must be members of the Graduate Group in Computer Science.
    ♦   The Chair of this committee must be a member of the Graduate Group in Computer Science.
    ♦   The Chair of the Dissertation Committee is the student’s Thesis Advisor.
    ♦   The composition of the dissertation committee is entered on the Advancement to Candidacy Form.

    The role of the Dissertation Committee is to advise the doctoral student on the research topic and methods, and then to review the final completed dissertation for acceptance. The Committee Chairperson, the Thesis Advisor, should determine the desires of the individual members regarding assistance with the research and dissertation review at the time the Dissertation Committee is constituted.

    Students are expected to meet with their Thesis Advisor at least quarterly. Dissertation committee members are expected to read and comment on a dissertation within four weeks from its submission. This time limit policy does not apply to summer periods for faculty holding nine-month appointments. The student and faculty will coordinate a timeline for the student to present the thesis to the dissertation committee. This timeline must allow all dissertation committee members enough time to fulfill their responsibilities within the four-week deadline.

  • Advising Structure and Mentoring
  • A student’s Thesis Advisor supervises his/her thesis or project, and serves as Chair of the Dissertation Committee. A student’s Graduate Advisor serves as a resource for information on academic requirements, policies, and procedures in the absence of a Thesis Advisor. The Graduate Program Coordinator assists students with appointments, requirements, university policies, and in identifying a Thesis Advisor. Mentoring Guidelines can be found in the graduate student handbook.

  • Advancement to Candidacy
  • Before advancing to candidacy for a doctoral degree, a student must have satisfied all requirements set by the graduate program, must have maintained a minimum GPA of 3.5 in all course work undertaken (except those courses graded S or U), and must have passed the Qualifying Examination before a committee appointed to administer it. Normally, students advance to candidacy by the end of their 9th quarter; students must pass their QE by the end of the ninth quarter in order to remain eligible for academic appointments (TA, GSR, AI, etc.). The student must file the appropriate paperwork with the Office of Graduate Studies and pay the candidacy fee in order to be officially promoted to PhD Candidacy. Refer to the Graduate Council website for additional details regarding the Doctoral Qualifying Examination.

  • Qualifying Examination and DIssertation Requirements
  • Qualifying Examination
    General Information
    To be eligible for the Qualifying Examination, the student must have satisfied all course requirements, have removed all undergraduate deficiencies, and must have at least a 3.5 GPA in courses taken in the program of study. Passing this exam makes the student eligible for advancement to candidacy. The Qualifying Exam should be taken by the ninth quarter and no later than the end of the fifteenth quarter after admission to the PhD program.

    The primary purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to validate that the student is academically qualified to conceptualize a research topic, undertake scholarly research, and successfully produce the dissertation required for a doctoral degree. The Qualifying Exam must evaluate the student’s command of the field, ensuring that the student has both breadth and depth of knowledge. It must not focus solely on the proposed dissertation research. In addition, the Qualifying Exam provides an opportunity for the committee to provide important guidance to the student regarding his or her chosen research topic. The Qualifying Examination is a formal, oral examination to ascertain the student’s readiness to conduct PhD-level research in the major area of study.

    Written Portion of the Qualifying Exam: the Thesis Proposal
    Prior to the Qualifying Examination the student must prepare a Thesis Proposal containing a thorough discussion of a proposed thesis topic. This paper must be submitted to the Qualifying Examination Committee at least two weeks prior to the examination. The Thesis Proposal is an independently prepared proposal describing the student’s dissertation-specific research aims, hypotheses, progress to date, and experimental approach. Concepts within the research proposal can be discussed with others (such as the student’s Thesis Advisor and peers), but the writing of the proposal should be solely the student’s work, as the proposal will also serve as evidence of the student’s proficiency in scientific writing. The Qualifying Exam Committee is responsible for assessing that the student’s scholarly preparation and writing proficiency are satisfactory before advancement to candidacy. Furthermore, the Thesis Proposal will provide information that may be discussed during the oral exam.

    Oral Portion of the Exam
    The oral portion of the qualifying exam will be 2-3 hours in length. The examinations differ in structure, depending on the area of research and the members of the examining committee. The student will be asked to give a formal presentation of the thesis proposal. The committee will question the student on this proposal, and will question the student to determine the student’s competence in both the major and minor areas of study.

    The committee will evaluate the student’s general qualifications for a position in academia or in industry, the student’s preparation in his/her specific area of study, the student’s previous academic record, performance on specific parts of the examination, and the student’s potential for scholarly research as indicated during the examination and in the student’s publication history.

    Outcome of the Exam
    The committee can issue any of the following grades for the examination:

    ♦   Pass -- In this case, the student can apply to the Graduate Studies for Advancement to Candidacy for the degree. At this time a dissertation committee is officially selected to direct the student in the research, and to guide the student in the preparation of the dissertation. The committee must be approved by Graduate Studies.

    ♦   Not Pass -- In this case, the committee has two options:

         ♦   It can decide that the student’s Thesis Proposal is not sufficient and ask that it be re-thought or re-written. In this case, the committee will ask the student to remedy the problems in the proposal and retake the examination within a specified time frame.
         ♦   It can decide that the student’s knowledge within the major and minor areas is not sufficient for continued progress for the PhD. In this case, the committee can ask the student to take some additional coursework and retake the examination within a specified time frame.

    ♦   Fail -- In this case, the student is not permitted to continue in the Ph.D. program.

    The student can only retake the Qualifying Examination once. If a passing grade is not achieved by the second attempt, the student cannot continue in the PhD program. If a unanimous decision takes the form of “Not Pass” or “Fail”, the Chair of the Qualifying Exam Committee must include in its report a specific statement, agreed to by all members of the committee, explaining its decision, the Chair must inform the student of its decision. Having received a “Not Pass” the student may attempt the Qualifying Exam one additional time; the Qualifying Exam report must list the specific conditions and timing for the second exam. After a second examination, a vote of “Not Pass” is unacceptable; only “Pass” or “Fail” is recognized. Should the student receive a “Fail” on the first or second attempt at the exam, the student will be recommended for disqualification from the program to the Dean of Graduate Studies.

    The Dissertation
    The Ph.D. dissertation demonstrates the ability of the student to carry out an independent original research project of high quality. It reflects a level of attainment in research, not the fulfillment of a list of requirements. An acceptable Ph.D. dissertation is not only an original contribution to the field, but is generally characterized by a broad scope of applicability.

    The dissertation must be submitted to each member of the dissertation committee at least one month before the student expects to make requested revisions; committee members are expected to respond within four weeks, not including summer months for nine-month faculty. Informing committee members of progress as writing proceeds helps the members to plan to read the dissertation and provide feedback within this time frame. The dissertation must be approved and signed by all members of the Dissertation Committee before it is submitted to Graduate Studies for final approval.

    Filing of the Dissertation with the Office of Graduate Studies is normally the last requirement satisfied by the candidate. The deadlines for completing this requirement are listed each quarter in the campus General Catalog (available online or from the Bookstore). A candidate must be a registered student or on Filing Fee status at the time of filing a dissertation, with the exception of the summer period between the end of the Spring Quarter and the beginning of Fall Quarter. The Dissertation will be prepared, submitted and filed according to regulations instituted by the Office of Graduate Studies. Satisfaction of this requirement must be verified by the Dissertation Committee Chair.

    Exit Seminar
    Each student is required to participate in an Exit Seminar, in which the candidate’s research is presented to the UC Davis academic community. This seminar will be administered by the Dissertation Committee and will take place after all committee members have approved the dissertation, but before the dissertation has been filed with the Office of Graduate Studies. Adequate scheduling of the Exit Seminar is the responsibility of the student.

  • Normative Time to Degree
  • It is expected that the student will complete the undergraduate proficiency requirements within the first four quarters of study, the Advanced Proficiency within the first six quarters of study, and the Qualifying Examination between the sixth and ninth quarters of study. Completion of all requirements is normally accomplished in fifteen quarters of study. The maximal time period allowed for completion of each requirement is as follows:

    ♦   A student’s Program of Study must be submitted and approved by the end of four quarters of study.
    ♦   The student must complete the Advanced Proficiency Requirements by the end of the sixth quarter of study.
    ♦   The student must complete the Qualifying Examination by the end of the ninth quarter of study.
    ♦   The student should complete all requirements for the PhD by the end of the 15th quarter of study.
    ♦   Students who fail to complete all the requirements within the “normal” time period are referred to the Educational Policy Committee of the Graduate Group.

    The Committee considers the student’s entire record, including examination scores and letters of support, particularly from the student’s Thesis Advisor. The Committee exercises wide discretion: it may decide that no action is necessary; that the student should be allowed more time in which to complete the requirement; that certain of the requirements should be waived; that certain remedial actions should be taken; or that the student should be advised to leave the program. The committee attaches great weight to the Thesis Advisor’s letter of support. It is therefore extremely important that students involve themselves in research under some faculty member early in the program—preferably by the end of their third quarter.

  • Typical Timeline
  • ♦   Year 1
    -- Fall: ECS 201A, ECS 293A, ECS 390, ECS 299
    -- Winter: ECS 240, ECS 252, ECS 299
    -- Spring: ECS 222A, ECS 231, ECS 299

    ♦   Year 2
    -- Fall: ECS 260, ECS 289G, ECS 299
    -- Winter: ECS 251, ECS 271, ECS 299
    -- Spring: ECS 272, ECS 299; Advanced Proficiency Requirements completed

    ♦   Year 3
    -- Fall: ECS 299; Program of Study submitted and approved; Application for Qualifying Exam
    -- Winter: ECS 299; Qualifying Examination; Advancement to Ph.D. Candidacy
    -- Spring: ECS 299

    ♦   Years 4 - 6
    -- ECS 299; Dissertation Research Completion; Exit Seminar Completion

  • Sources of Funding
  • Financial assistance for graduate study comes in the form of fellowships, Teaching Assistantships (TA), and Graduate Student Research (GSR) positions. The standard form of Ph.D. graduate student support in a 50% TA position for the first three quarters and either a 50% TA or 45% GSR position for the remainder of a student’s academic career. The amount and type of aid that the department can offer varies from year to year depending on the number of TA and GSR positions that are available, the fellowships that the department is authorized to award, and the number of students requesting financial assistance. We strongly encourage all qualified applicants to apply for many external fellowships offered by both government and private agencies.nnn

  • PELP, In Absentia and Filing Fee Status
  • Information about PELP (Planned Educational Leave), In Absentia (reduced fees when researching out of state) and Filing Fee status can be found in the UC Davis Graduate Studies website.

  • Leaving the Program Prior to Completion of the Ph.D. Requirements
  • Should a student leave the program prior to completing the requirements for the Ph.D., he or she may still be eligible to receive the master’s degree if they have fulfilled all the requirements. Students use the Change of Degree Objective form available from the Office of the University Registrar.

Frequently Asked Ph.D. Questions

  • How do I get a Ph.D. in computer science?
  • The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy are the satisfactory completion of the advanced proficiency requirements, qualifying examination, completion of an approved program of study, and writing a dissertation approved by your thesis committee. The time frame varies but the following list shows the approximate time frame and sequence to follow:

    ♦   Typical Time to Degree: 4-5 Years
    ♦   Undergraduate Proficiency (UGP) Requirements
    ♦   optionally, Master’s Degree Requirements
    ♦   Major and Minor Area of Study
    ♦   10 Graduate Courses (includes Advanced Proficiency Requirements)
    ♦   optionally, get a Master’s degree along the way
    ♦   Qualifying Exam (taken when all coursework is complete: 6th-9th quarter of study)
    ♦   Approved Dissertation and Exit Seminar

  • How many courses must I take?
  • At least ten graduate courses are required, exclusive of seminar (290, 290C, 298) and research (299) units. This may include all courses taken in the Master’s program if applicable. A grade of A- or better in the four core areas, and a grade of B or better must be obtained in all coursework used to satisfy degree requirements.

  • What is a Program of Study?
  • The student, in conjunction with the faculty/dissertation advisor, develops the program of study. The form is available from the graduate student service advisors. For a Ph.D. student, this includes both a major and minor area of study. The major area must include at least thirty units of coursework (six units of the 30 come from 299) that form a consistent program in a research area of Computer Science. The minor area must include at least fifteen units of coursework, including at least three graduate courses, and excludes any 299 units. No course with a grade less than a B can be used on the program of study. When complete, the student must submit the form to the graduate student service advisors for approval from the Educational Policy Committee.

  • What is the teaching requirement?
  • The Graduate Group requires all Ph.D. candidates to demonstrate at least one quarter of college level teaching experience. We strongly recommend that at least one of these quarters includes lecturing or leading a discussion section.

  • What is the process for setting up my Qualifying Exam?
  • At least two months before you plan to take your Examination, find a suitable time when your planned committee members can attend. Allow for approximately 2.5 – 3 hours. Next, coordinate a room reservation on COWS. Once the date is set, complete the Qualifying Examination Application. Submit it to the graduate student service advisors at least 5 weeks before your scheduled exam date, who will then get the signatures needed and forward it to the Office of Graduate Studies.

  • What is Advancement to Candidacy?
  • Advancing to candidacy means completing all the prerequisites for doing research toward the degree. For the Ph.D. degree, this means completing all course requirements and passing the Qualifying Exam. Please submit the Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the graduate student service advisors.

  • I have questions about preparing and filing my dissertation. Who do I talk to?
  • For assistance in the preparation of your dissertation, see the Office of Graduate Studies website on filing your dissertation. You must make an appointment with the Student Affairs Coordinator in order to file your dissertation. 

    You are responsible for observing the filing dates and for preparing the dissertation in the proper format. As part of the filing process, you will fill out the University Microfilms International (UMI) Doctoral Dissertation Agreement form on which you indicate your willingness either to have the University supply copies of your dissertation to interested persons immediately, or that such permission should be withheld for a period of time, up to a maximum of three years.

    Filing your dissertation is the last step in the process leading to the awarding of your degree. The final copy of your dissertation, which is ultimately deposited in the University Library, becomes a permanent and official record. You have the choice of submitting either your entire manuscript, or only your dissertation abstract, to UMI Dissertation Publishing. Both options provide higher visibility of your achievements. If you submit your entire dissertation to UMI, it will be returned to Shields Library, where it will be bound and stored. The packet of information that was sent to you when we returned your approved candidacy form contained the forms you need to submit with your manuscript.

  • What is the filing fee?
  • The Filing Fee Program is for students who have completed all requirements for degrees except filing theses or taking final examinations, and who are no longer using University facilities. The Filing Fee is a reduced fee, paid in lieu of registration fees. It is assessed only once. The Filing Fee option preserves your candidacy status with the University; however, you are no longer considered a full-time registered student by the University, and are not entitled to the same benefits and privileges as a registered student. You are allowed two quarters plus one extension of Filing Fee. To file, complete the Filing Fee Request and submit to the graduate student service advisors.

  • What is the exit seminar?
  • In the exit seminar, the candidate’s research is presented to the UC Davis academic community. This seminar is administered by the dissertation committee, and takes place after all committee members have approved the dissertation, but (usually) before the dissertation has been filed with the Office of Graduate Studies.

  • I am graduating. After I file my dissertation, is there any additional paperwork I need to complete?
  • Yes! Please see the graduate student service advisors to complete the Graduate Exit Checklist.

  • Can I take classes outside Computer Science?
  • Yes, you may take up to 12-units (3 classes) of electives outside Computer Science in a related area, and they will count towards your Ph.D. degree requirements.

Be sure to also see our general frequently asked questions for graduate students. For any additional information, please email our advisors at