The aim of the program is for students to acquire the skills to produce successful research in Computer Science. A central component of the program is the interaction of the student with their research advisor, and with the research community. We expect that throughout the program advisors and students will determine the best course of action within the program, within the general rules below.

The PhD program proceeds in three phases:

  1. Qualifying Phase: acquire a basis of knowledge, techniques and skills in Computer Science
  2. Candidacy Phase: gain admission to candidacy
  3. Dissertation Phase: write and defend a dissertation

During the first phase, the Qualifying Phase, the students demonstrate knowledge in several fundamental subareas of Computer Science, start doing research, and refine their research interests, including identifying a research advisor. They will also show competence in writing, producing a technical document (a research or survey paper) that indicates that the student is qualified to pursue their studies eventually leading to a doctorate. The Qualifying Phase ends with a public exam, in which the student presents their paper, and answers questions. Success in this Qualifying Exam leads to the next phase where the student is expected to identify a research topic, and start doing research. This phase concludes with a Candidacy Exam, where the student demonstrates to their committee that they have a viable plan for their PhD. After successful completion of the Candidacy Exam the student will continue to do research, obtaining results that constitutes their PhD dissertation. The last phase concludes with a successful thesis defense. Throughout the process, students document successful research in appropriate publications.


Exceptions to the PhD program requirements will be made only in very extenuating circumstances. Students planning to petition for an exception should first consult their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Minor exceptions require approval of the Graduate Committee. Major exceptions require approval of the entire faculty. No exceptions can be made to University requirements.

Maintaining Good Standing 

To continue to advance through the PhD program, students must maintain good academic standing. In general, good standing means that the student is working actively in the Department’s research community under the guidance of an advisor, and making progress towards completing their dissertation within the allotted time frame.

Normally, students conform to the timeline below:

  • Have a research advisor by the end of Summer Quarter, but preferably by the end of Spring Quarter of their first year
  • Complete the coursework for the Qualifying Phase by the end of Spring Quarter of their second year
  • Pass their Qualifying Exam by the end of Autumn Quarter of their third year
  • Pass their Candidacy Exam by the end of the Autumn Quarter of their fifth year
  • Have their Thesis Defense by Spring Quarter of their sixth year.

These timeline requirements are automatically extended during approved leaves of absence.

Note: Meeting these requirements is the student’s responsibility.

Alternative Timelines and Exceptional Circumstances

There may be reasons for which students are not best served by the timeline above. In this case, the student and Advisor should submit an alternate plan to the Graduate Committee. The plan should include a new timeline and its justification.

A student who has joined the program under special circumstances and a timeline that explicitly differs from the standard 6-year one, will be subject to the timeline specified at their admission.

 Students with questions may contact Megan Woodward (Student Affairs Administrator), Ben Zhao (Director of Graduate Studies), Bahareh Lampert (Dean of Students in the Physical Sciences Division), or Amanda Young (Associate Director, Graduate Student Affairs) in UChicagoGRAD.