PhD candidates choose and complete a program of study that corresponds with their intended field of inquiry.PhD candidates choose and complete a program of study that corresponds with their intended field of inquiry.

PhD in Computer Science

The doctor of philosophy in computer science program at Northwestern University primarily prepares students to become expert independent researchers. PhD students conduct original transformational research in extant and emerging computer science topics. Students work alongside top researchers to advance the core CS fields from Theory to AI and Systems and Networking. In addition, PhD students have the opportunity to collaborate with CS+X faculty who are jointly appointed between CS and disciplines including business, law, economics, journalism, and medicine.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Computer Science

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Computer Engineering joint with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Computer Science and Learning Sciences joint with the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP)

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Technology and Social Behavior joint with Computer Science and Communication

Joining a Track

Doctor of philosophy in computer science students follow the course requirements, qualifying exam structure, and thesis process specific to one of five tracks:

Within each track, students explore many areas of interest, including programming languages, security and privacy and human-computer interaction.

Learn more about computer science research areas

Curriculum and Requirements

The focus of the CS PhD program is learning how to do research by doing research, and students are expected to spend at least 50% of their time on research. Students complete ten graduate curriculum requirements (including COMP_SCI 496: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Computer Science), and additional course selection is tailored based on individual experience, research track, and interests. Students must also successfully complete a qualifying exam to be admitted to candidacy.

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Request More Information

Download a PDF program guide about your program of interest and get in contact with our graduate admissions staff.

Request info about the PhD degree

Opportunities for PhD Students

Cognitive Science Certificate

Computer science PhD students may earn a specialization in cognitive science by taking six cognitive science courses. In addition to broadening a student’s area of study and improving their resume, students attend cognitive science events and lectures, they can receive conference travel support, and they are exposed to cross-disciplinary exchanges.

The Crown Family Graduate Internship Program

PhD candidates may elect to participate in the Crown Family Graduate Internship Program. This opportunity allows the doctoral candidate to gain practical experience in industry or in national research laboratories in areas closely related to their research.

Management for Scientists and Engineers Certificate Program

The certificate program — jointly offered by The Graduate School and Kellogg School of Management — provides post-candidacy doctoral students with a basic understanding of strategy, finance, risk and uncertainty, marketing, accounting and leadership. Students are introduced to business concepts and specific frameworks for effective management relevant to both for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Career Paths

Recent graduates of the computer science PhD program are pursuing careers in industry & research labs, academia, and startups.


  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • MIT
  • Northeastern
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Washington
  • Naval Research Laboratory
  • Northwestern University

Industry & Research Labs

  • Adobe Research
  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Intel
  • Microsoft
  • Narrative Science
  • Nokia
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • VMWare
  • Yahoo