The purpose of the Doctor of Philosophy program in computer science is to prepare students for research and teaching positions in universities and colleges, and for research and leadership positions in industry and government. The primary aim of the program is to train students in the methods of scientific inquiry and independent research.

This is accomplished through advanced coursework and active participation with the faculty in their research programs. Doctor of Philosophy students are expected to have a broad knowledge of all fields of computer science and have a deep understanding of at least one of its areas. In addition to this requirement, a Doctor of Philosophy student must be up to date in all the developments in his/her major area of specialization. The most important component of the Doctor of Philosophy program is learning to perform independent and significant research in one's area of specialization.

Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree typically are completed in four to six years, depending on whether or not a student enters the program with an MS in computer science.




To ensure sufficient breadth at the graduate level, PhD students must complete at least 8 graduate courses offered by the Computer Science department (four by the end of their first year) with a GPA of at least 3.5, and a grade in each course of at least 3.0. The 8 courses must include at least two courses each in two of the three areas (Systems, Applications, Foundations/Theory) and one course in the third area. The remaining three courses can be selected from other graduate courses offered by the department, and in some cases, from other departments as needed to advance research. The Course Classification list is below.

The set of courses that students plan to take must be endorsed by their research advisor and the faculty Graduate Advisor. An approved study plan must be on file as part of completing the PhD degree requirements and advancing to candidacy. Please submit a PhD Study Plan to the Staff Graduate Program Advisor (SGPA) for review, or schedule an appointment with the SGPA to review your PhD Study Plan. 

PhD Study Plan


 For complete details on the PhD program, see the Graduate Student Handbook linked from this page:


With the approval of the Computer Science department's Graduate Advising and Affairs Committee (GAC), a PhD student may petition for exceptions for up to 3 of their 8 required Computer Science 200-level courses. These may be courses taken at another university, or from another department at UCSB. It is strongly preferred that you request exceptions for courses to fulfill electives over area requirements. This is an internal process and does not require approval from the Graduate Division.

Students sitting around table

To begin the process, you should write a paragraph explaining why this particular course is essential to your PhD studies. If it is a non-UCSB course, please provide a syllabus and/or course description to a faculty member in the department who teaches a course of similar material. The course need not be an exact equivalent of a course at UCSB but must be found to be comparable to graduate level courses in the department. The course exception must then be approved by 1) the “owner” of the course at UCSB, 2) your faculty advisor, and 3) the GAC. If the course is a UCSB course from another department, you make skip getting approval from the course “owner” but steps 2 and 3 still apply. Once you have the agreement of the course “owner” at UCSB (if applicable) and your faculty advisor, send the corresponding materials and approvals to the Graduate Student Advisor in the CS office, where it will then be sent to the GAC for review. A grade of B or equivalent must have been obtained in the excepted course in order for it to be considered for fulfilling one of your course requirements. Verification of course grade must be submitted to the GAC. Please also make sure you have an up-to-date PhD Study Plan on file, indicating how this course will be used to fulfill your course requirements.

All PhD students must enroll in CS 595N Faculty Research Seminar in the Winter quarter of their first year. In this seminar the Faculty will present their research focus to introduce students to the breadth of research within the department and to help students in identifying potential advisors. In addition to completing CS 595N, a PhD student must complete at least 4 units of CS 596, Directed Reading and Research, in their first year. PhD students are encouraged to get in the habit of registering for a minimum of four (4.0) 596 units every quarter. Once you complete your course requirements, you will register for a minimum of eight (8.0) 596 units every quarter until you graduate. Furthermore, all new graduate students must establish a GPA in their first quarter at UCSB. For CS students, this means completing at least one CS 2xx numbered course in your first quarter with a grade of B or better. 

Graduate Courses & Their Area Classifications (Foundations/Theory, Systems, or Applications).

Graduate Courses

Diverse group of students talking in CNSI lobby


To engage students in research during their first year, 4 units of CS 596 Directed Research is required.

Research is about pushing the limits of our understanding in the field of computer science. This can involve the design and execution of experiments, the proving of new theorems, the solving of open problems, the gathering and analysis of data sets, the invention of novel systems, the creation of new algorithms, the discovery of new applications of computing and/or among many other things. Students must manage their time wisely between research, course work, teaching, and growing their personal networks. It is important to start the process of finding a research adviser early, and to stay engaged with both other students and their PhD committees throughout the process.

After selecting an area of research, a student forms a doctoral committee to supervise dissertation research. The doctoral committee must be chaired by a ladder faculty member from the Department and should include a minimum of 3 UC ladder faculty; 2 (including the chair) must be in Computer Science, although faculty from other UCSB departments may also be members. In special circumstances, non-UCSB faculty may be members.


Teaching Assistant Requirement

All PhD students must work as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a minimum of one quarter for a Computer Science undergraduate course.


PhD students must successfully complete three examinations:

  1. Major Area Examination (qualifying examination)

  2. Thesis Proposal

  3. Dissertation Defense


Students at table and one standing and drawing on whiteboard

Major Area Examination (MAE)

After the doctoral committee approves a student's proposed major area, a major area examination tests the student's knowledge of this area and any necessary supporting areas. The intent of the MAE is to ensure the student has done a thorough examination of related work in their chosen field, to ensure sufficient background preparation to begin meaningful research; and to help the committee ensure the student’s selected research area has enough opportunity for meaningful contribution. The MAE must be completed by the end of the third year of study for the student to remain in good academic standing in the department. As a part of this oral examination, a student submits a set of relevant papers (a "Reading List," submitted in advance of your MAE to all committee members) from the major area and prepares a brief presentation. Passing this examination allows this student to advance to candidacy for the doctoral degree. Note: although a student may complete the MAE talk/exam without first completing all PhD degree course and TA requirements, a student cannot officially "Advance to Candidacy" until all of these requirements are met and a completed, signed PhD Study Plan is on file with the CS Student Affairs office. If this is the case, a student's advancement paperwork will be held and not signed nor submitted to UCSB's Graduate Division until all requirements are completed and verified. The MAE cannot be combined with any other oral examination, including the Proposal.

Thesis Proposal

After passing the major area examination, a student prepares a dissertation proposal that describes the dissertation topic, summarizes the relevant background literature, and presents a comprehensive research plan for the doctoral dissertation. The thesis proposal examination determines the feasibility of the research plan and the appropriateness of the research topic. The outcome of the proposal can be viewed as a contract between the student and the committee – the committee and the student should agree on a set of work that, if completed to the satisfaction of the committee, will result in the awarding of the PhD degree to the student. The Department strongly recommends that the proposal be completed by the end of the student’s fourth year. Further, the Department strongly recommends that the proposal be completed at a minimum of one year before the student’s dissertation defense.

Dissertation Defense

The final examination is the defense of the candidate's dissertation, which consists of a public seminar and an evaluation by the candidate's doctoral committee on whether the student has successfully defended the dissertation. Students are expected to have completed their dissertation and defended their thesis by the end of year 5 (or soon thereafter). Students should be nearing graduation by the end of 15 quarters, and are expected to completed their PhD degree in a maximum of 18 quarters to remain in good academic standing. For detailed information about filing your dissertation, please pay close attention to the details provided by UCSB's Graduate Division, which you can find here: