INF PhD Examinations

Students in the doctoral degree in Informatics and Computing (PHDINF) must successfully complete a series of examinations, namely a Comprehensive Examination, an Advancement to Candidacy Examination, and a Dissertation Defense (see Policy 100806 “Requirements for Theses and Dissertations”).

Comprehensive Examination

 
The comprehensive examination (CE) establishes a student’s mastery of foundational topics in their research area, their analysis and synthesis abilities, and their ability and future potential for excellence in designing and executing original research. The first attempt at the CE is completed in the student’s fourth term in the program, usually in the spring of their second year. Students having entered this doctoral program already having earned a master’s degree may, with the consent of their advisor, elect to take the CE exam as early as their second term in the program, usually in the spring of their first year.
The outcome of this examination is assessed by the student’s CE committee and reported in writing to the student within one week of the oral portion of the examination. The CE committee consists of the student’s dissertation chair and at least two other members who are selected in consultation with the dissertation chair. All members of the CE committee must hold terminal degrees in their field and have expertise relevant to the student’s work and at least two members must be SICCS faculty. A representative of the SICCS Graduate Affairs Committee may participate in the CE committee as a non-voting member, taking part in both written and oral portions of the CE exam.
The CE consists of a written and oral defense portion: The written portion consists of a paper that presents, analyzes, and synthesizes literature related to the student’s research area, with a specific emphasis on aspects of this analysis that identify promising topics for the student’s dissertation research and the discussion of preliminary results from the student’s independent research. This paper should be written on a topic selected in close consultation with the student’s dissertation chair and/or CE committee members, but the writing and research work described must be the student’s own original work. The paper should be of a format and length determined to be appropriate by the student’s dissertation chair.
The oral portion consists of an oral defense of the written portion of the CE lasting no longer than two hours and scheduled no earlier than two calendar weeks after the student submits the written portion to their CE committee. The oral portion of the examination begins with the student delivering a 30-minute presentation on their work that is documented in the written portions, and is open to the public. Students subsequently answer questions by members of the CE committee on aspects of their research or any other topics relevant to their work, including questions aimed at establishing the student’s mastery of foundational topics in their research field. The portion of the exam following the student's presentation may, in part or in its entirety, be closed to the public at the discretion of the student's dissertation chair.
There are two possible outcomes to the CE, a Pass or Fail, and a two-thirds vote of the CE committee is needed to affirm an outcome of Pass. An outcome of Pass indicates that the student may continue in the doctoral program and begin preparations for their Advancement to Candidacy Examination. An outcome of Fail indicates that the student has failed their examination. An outcome of Fail will result in the student being placed on academic probation on the grounds of not having passed required doctoral program examinations. Students achieving an outcome of Fail are allowed a second attempt to re-take the CE no later than in the semester subsequent to the term in which they took their first attempt, but no further attempts are permissible. If a doctoral student has not achieved a Pass on their CE in either their first or second attempts before the end of their fifth term in the program, they may be dismissed from the program with no degree awarded.

Advancement to Candidacy Examination

 
The Advancement to Candidacy (AC) examination establishes a student’s mastery of their research area and their ability to excel in the development of original research in their field. A student must earn a Pass in their CE at least one year before attempting the AC examination.
The first attempt at the AC is completed in the student’s sixth term in the program, usually in the spring of their third year. Students having entered this doctoral program already having earned a master’s degree may, with the consent of their advisor, elect to take the CE exam as early as in their fourth term in the program, usually in the spring of their second year. The outcome of this examination is assessed by the student’s dissertation committee, the composition of which is outlined in Policy 100806 “Requirements for Theses and Dissertations,” and reported in writing to the student within one week of the oral portion of the examination. A representative of the SICCS Graduate Affairs Committee may participate in the dissertation committee as a non-voting member, taking part in both written and oral portions of the AC exam.
The AC consists of two portions: The written portion consists of a dissertation prospectus that comprehensively synthesizes literature related to the student’s research area, presents an original and significant research topic, describes research hypotheses and the methodologies used to validate or refute these hypotheses, describes the outcomes of major milestones already completed, and clearly presents an achievable plan for completing remaining work and the final dissertation. This prospectus should be written in close consultation with the student’s dissertation chair and/or dissertation committee members, but the writing and research work described must be the student’s own original work. The prospectus should be of a format and length determined to be appropriate by the student’s dissertation chair.
The oral portion consists of a seminar that presents and defends the dissertation prospectus lasting no longer than three hours and scheduled no earlier than three calendar weeks after the student submits the written portion to their dissertation committee. The oral portion of the examination begins with the student delivering a 45-minute presentation on their work, and is open to the public. Students subsequently answer questions by the members of the dissertation committee on aspects of their research or any other relevant topics, including questions aimed at establishing the significance and originality of the student’s work in the broader disciplinary context. The portion of the exam following the student's presentation may, in part or in its entirety, be closed to the public at the discretion of the student's dissertation chair.
There are two possible outcomes to the AC: Pass, and Fail. An outcome of Pass indicates that the student may continue in the doctoral program and—pending the completion of all other pertinent requirements—advance to candidacy (please see policy 100805 “Requirements for the Doctoral Degree, Ph.D”). A three-quarters consent of the entire dissertation committee is needed to affirm an outcome of Pass. An outcome of Fail indicates that the student has failed their examination and does not meet requirements to proceed in the doctoral program. An outcome of Fail will result in the doctoral student being placed on academic probation on the grounds of not having passed required doctoral program examinations. Students achieving an outcome of Fail are allowed a second attempt to re-take the AC examination no later than in the semester immediately subsequent to the term in which they took their first attempt, but no further attempts are permissible. If a doctoral student has not achieved a Pass on their AC examination before the end of their seventh term in the program, they may be dismissed from the doctoral program with no degree awarded.

Discontinuation in the Doctoral Program

 
Students who voluntarily elect to discontinue in the PHDINF program, students who have not achieved a Pass in their Comprehensive Examination after their second attempt, or students who have not achieved a Pass in their Advancement to Candidacy examination after their second attempt may elect to apply their earned graduate course credits toward a master’s degree offered through SICCS. Students may select from among available degree offerings in consultation with the Associate Director for Research and Graduate Programs and as appropriate to the specific coursework taken.
There are two important points in this context: Students electing a thesis-based master’s program will be required to prepare and defend a thesis, according to all relevant thesis-related requirements and policies of that program. Additionally, students who have transferred graduate course credits from another institution for credit toward the INFPHD program are limited to the use of only 9 of these units toward a master’s degree program.