Our PhD students select and complete a program of study from one of our six research interest groups.Our PhD students select and complete a program of study from one of our six research interest groups.

PhD in Computer Science
Curriculum & Requirements for PhD Program

The PhD program trains students in the methods of research—how to formulate a research problem and how to proceed in a logical and systematic way to find its solution. Students are urged to select their research topics—and corresponding research adviser—as soon as possible. Full-time PhD students should identify a research adviser no later than the end of the first academic quarter of enrollment and will choose a research topic soon thereafter.

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Admission to Candidacy

A PhD student receiving financial aid must be admitted to candidacy within three academic years of starting the program, or two academic years following completion of the MS degree. Admission to candidacy requires meeting the academic requirements of one of the CS programs of study and passing a qualifying exam for that program.

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PhD Prospectus

Students must have a prospectus (dissertation proposal) approved by their committee no later than the beginning of the fifth year of study to remain in good academic standing. The prospectus must be approved by a faculty committee.

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Final Exam

An announcement of the exam will be posted in the department. The student’s file will be checked for any missing documents, grades, etc. that need to be completed for the exam and awarding of the degree. The file and the report of the committee on examination of candidate form will be given to the student’s adviser prior to the exam and should be in the exam room for reference. After the exam, the report must be signed by all committee members. The student’s adviser will return the completed signed paperwork and file it with the graduate coordinator’s office immediately upon completion of the final exam.

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Every candidate is required to present a dissertation indicating evidence of original and significant research. A copy of Instructions for the Preparation of Dissertations may be obtained from The Graduate School.

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Teaching Assistant (TA) Requirement

A Ph.D. student must TA at least once during their time in the Ph.D. program.

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The total number of quarters required for a PhD from The Graduate School is eight. A student who receives an MS degree from Northwestern or a student entering with an MS degree from another university in an area relevant to the PhD degree can be granted up to six units of credit, if approved by the adviser and the department. These credits can only count toward the departmental requirements, not those of The Graduate School.

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Joining a Track

To ensure that students attain the breadth and depth of knowledge required for a career in research or instruction, students join a track and are expected to follow the track course requirements, qualifying exam structure, and thesis process. Students entering without the prerequisite knowledge to enroll in the track courses will be required to take additional preparatory course work.

Each of the tracks are housed in a research interest group, and the curriculum and requirements for each track are available in the CS PhD manual.

  • Theory
  • Systems and Networking
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • Interfaces
  • Computer Engineering

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PhD Manual

To see the curriculum and requirements for each program of study in each of the department’s research interest groups, please download the CS PhD manual:

CS PhD Manual

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