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.

Graduate Study
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 EECS 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 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 Trainee Requirement

All full-time doctoral students in EECS must serve as either:

  • A teaching assistant (TA) for at least three quarters OR
  • A TA for two quarters and a teaching trainee (TT) for one quarter or a TT for two quarters
  • An instructor for an EECS course or approved McCormick course for one quarter

One quarter of service as a McCormick graduate tech tutor may be substituted for one quarter of TT. This requirement must be fulfilled before graduation.

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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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Programs of Study

Upon receiving a PhD, a candidate should have a solid background in his or her field as preparation for a career in research or teaching. To ensure that each student receives this background, students are required to choose and complete the program of study (POS). Students entering without the prerequisite knowledge to enroll in the POS courses will be required to take additional preparatory course work.

Each of the programs of study are housed in a research interest group, and the curriculum and requirements for each POS are available in the department’s graduate study manual.

Cognitive Systems

The Cognitive Systems research interest group conducts research focused on understanding how the mind works (with a computational focus), and on creating systems for education, performance support, and entertainment that exploit principles of cognitive science and artificial intelligence.

Computer Engineering and Systems

The Computer Engineering and Systems research interest group is comprised of two academic division wings: computer engineering and computer science. Research is conducted in architecture, operating systems, distributed and parallel systems, compilers, the interface with software systems, robotics, databases, VLSI, networking (including security), and performance analysis. 

Computing, Algorithms, and Applications

The research faculty members who are interested in computing, algorithms, applications focuses on algorithms, theory, applications, and software and hardware implementations. Current research areas include bioinformatics, computational economics and finance, continuous and discrete optimization, database algorithms, formal methods, networking algorithms, security algorithms, self-assembly, and VLSI CAD algorithms.

Graphics and Interactive Media

The Graphics and Interactive Media research interest group is an interdisciplinary group involved in the human-centered design of computational media systems. The group brings faculty members from computer science, communication science, design, learning sciences, psychology, and radio/television/film to study not only the machine itself, but also the human user and their closed-loop interactions with the machine.

Signals and Systems

The Signals and Systems research interest group broadly covers signals, including images and other forms of information and their acquisition, representation, processing, analysis and interpretation, coding, transmission through networks, wireless and other channels, and the control of linear and non-linear dynamic systems.



Solid State and Photonics

The Solid State and Photonics research interest group shares the main research interests of design, analysis, and proof-of-concept development of solid-state and photonic devices and systems.

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Graduate Study Manual

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

Graduate Study Manual