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Comprehensive Exam

The purpose of the comprehensive exam in a PhD program is to determine the preparedness of students to perform tasks composing the scientific research process: demonstrate knowledge in core areas of their specific emphasis, reading and understanding relevant scientific literature, determining a relevant research question, performing experiments such that the research question can be answered, writing and publishing the results, and presenting results orally. Moreover, due to the specific nature of the PhD in Computing program, the research questions generally include novel implementations of computational methods.


The comprehensive exam comprises four elements:

  1. Emphasis core courses: The purpose of this requirement is for the students to have a breadth of knowledge and practical understanding in their particular emphasis area.
  2. Synthesis paper: The purpose of this requirement is to prepare the students early on their scientific reading and writing abilities.
  3. Computing artifact: As the program grants a PhD in Computing, the purpose of this requirement is that students who graduate from this program will be able to make a contribution in their respective emphasis areas through computation.
  4. Oral presentation:  This is a presentation of the content of the synthesis paper and a formal examination on advanced knowledge necessary for the synthesis paper and computing artifact.

Emphasis Core Courses

Each emphasis in the program has a different set of courses from which the course work can be fulfilled. As part of the comprehensive exam, students must earn a B or better in 3 specific courses prior to the end of the semester they are registered for COMPUT 691. The courses for each emphasis area are as follows:

  • Computational Science and Engineering:  
    • CS 507 Computing Foundations for Computational Science,
    • MATH 566 Numerical Methods II, and
    • MATH 572 Computational Statistics.
  • Computer Science:  
    • CS 521 Design and Analysis of Algorithms or CS 561 Theory of Computation,
    • CS 554 Advanced Operating Systems, and
    • CS 573 Advanced Software Engineering.
  • Cyber Security:  
    • CS 567 Applied Cryptography or both MATH 508 Advanced Public Key Cryptology and MATH 509 Symmetric Key Cryptology,
    • CS 575 Software Security, and
    • CS 622 Advanced Network Security.

Resources for Students and Faculty

Further guidance and resources for the comprehensive exam can be found in the Comprehensive Exam Guide for Students, and the PhD in Computing Comprehensive Exam Policy.

Download the Comprehensive Exam Guide for Students (PDF)