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Graduate Program


Computer engineering is a field that spans from electrical engineering to computer science. Computer engineers design, program, produce, operate, and maintain computer and digital systems. They generally apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics to the design of hardware, software, networks, and processes to solve technical problems. The CpE Program offers a Ph.D. degree, the primary focus of which is a dissertation describing publishable quality research (directed by a faculty advisor) of significant depth. The time limit for completion of the Ph.D. is seven years after admission to the doctoral program. The CpE Program also offers two Masters degrees: a Master of Science (MS), which requires a thesis, and a Master of Engineering (ME). Although most students finish within two years, the time limit for degree completion after entering the Masters program is five years for the MS and seven years for the ME. Degree requirements set by the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) are given in the SEAS Graduate Record and are additional to the following CpE Graduate Program requirements.

TO Apply: Prospective Graduate Students apply directly to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The Graduate Office will forward applications to the program to which the student is applying. Computer Engineering only accepts applications for the Fall semester. First offers are made in February.

For more information see Graduate Admissions to School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Research Areas of Focus

The faculty of both the Department of Computer Science and the Charles E. Brown Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering welcome Computer Engineering students who combine interest in hardware and software. Students have the freedom to focus on a traditional research area or to work with faculty in both departments to develop a personalized area of research interest.


The student should put together a Distribution Courses Form before the end of the first semester. The Distribution Course Form should be approved by the Graduate Director, who serves as the de facto advisor for all entering PhD students. Although an MS degree in CpE is not required, the Distribution Courses Form must meet a set of "pre-requisite coursework requirements," defined to include the architecture/design course requirement, analysis course requirement, mathematics course requirement and the three area requirements of the MS degree program. For the courses meeting the three area requirements, the student must receive a minimum grade of A-. Please see the Handbook for more information.

Petitions for substitution of the required courses by courses taken outside the university will be considered by the CpE Graduate Committee. While submitting a petition, the student is required to submit transcripts, detailed course syllabus, and may be asked to provide sample homework assignments and examinations. If such a petition is not approved, the CpE Graduate Committee may recommend that the student register for courses needed to fulfill their missing requirements. Alternatively, the student may be given the option to demonstrate core competency in the subject matter by taking the final examination of an appropriate course with the approval of the course instructor.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

Student desiring a PhD should take the qualifying examination as soon as possible.  Students entering with a master’s degree should take the exam no later than the beginning of their third semester.  Students entering with a bachelor’s degree should ideally take the exam by the beginning of their third semester, but no later than the beginning of the fourth semester.  (The exam should not be postponed in order to finish a master’s degree first.) The objective of the qualifying examination is to assess the student’s potential to begin doctoral-level research. The qualifying exams are administered at least twice a year, typically in January and August.  Students must pass the qualifying examination before beginning their fourth academic semester after admission to the doctoral program, unless otherwise approved by the CpE graduate Committee.

We have identified a set of six research areas from which each candidate will be required to select a primary research area and two secondary areas for the examination. The areas are: Computer Architecture; VLSI and Switching Theory; Operating Systems, Real-Time and Embedded Systems; Compiler, Software Systems and Software Engineering; Fault-tolerant Computing and Reliability Engineering; and Networks, Distributed Systems & Security.

The CpE qualifiers committee will announce one paper for each area about three months prior to the date set for an examination.  One month before the examination date, students will provide the CpE administrative coordinator their selections for the primary and secondary areas.  The paper for the primary area is expected to be studied in depth.  Students will be required to read and understand papers cited by the paper in the primary area as well as follow-on work.  The committee will ask questions to gauge the students’ detailed understanding of the primary paper and related work.  For the secondary areas, students should study the selected papers and be prepared to answer general questions on these papers.  Our goal for testing the student on these secondary areas is to determine the students’ multi-disciplinary abilities, a key factor that is becoming increasingly important in today’s research environment.

Two weeks before the oral exam date, the student will submit a written report on the paper in the primary area to the head of the CpE qualifiers committee.  The student should also prepare a 20-minute (max) presentation on the primary paper, and a 10-minute (max) presentation on each secondary paper summarizing their salient points, for delivery at the oral examination.

The oral examination will be in two parts:

Part I:  Primary area test -- This is a 1-hour examination, which will start with the student’s 20-minute presentation on the paper selected by the student in the primary research area.  The committee will then ask in-depth questions on the presentation, the assigned paper, related papers, and other topics in the selected primary area.

Part II:  Secondary area test -- This is a 1-hour examination, each half of which starts with the student’s 10-minute presentation on the two secondary papers selected by the student.  The committee will then ask broad questions on the presentation, the assigned papers and other topics in the selected secondary areas.

Students will be evaluated on the combined written submission and oral examination.  The result will be a clear-cut pass or fail for the entire exam; no remedial work will be allowed to alter the outcome.  A student who fails the qualifying exam on the first try must retake it at the next offering.  A student who fails the examination twice will lose financial support and must leave the program at the end of that semester.

Advancement to Candidacy and Dissertation Proposal, Defense, and Graduation

The culmination of the PhD program is the defense of the dissertation. After a student has successfully passed the qualifying examination, the student is now formally admitted to the PhD program. The student should put together a Proposal Examining Committee of at least five faculty members, including the research advisor and one member outside the student’s advisor's department.  Two of the faculty members must be from the ECE department and two members must be from the CS department. A member of the committee who is not in the advisor home department qualifies as the outside member.

The guidelines for the proposal should match the requirements in the advisor's home department.

The dissertation will be the result of the final research outlined in the dissertation proposal. It is expected that the work be of sufficient quality to warrant journal publication. The dissertation defense, which is announced publicly, is an oral defense before the student's Ph.D. final examining committee as well as any other interested faculty, students or other persons.

At a minimum, all Ph.D. candidates are required to submit an advisor-approved article related to their research to a refereed journal or conference, prior to completing their dissertation defense. If the student’s advisor is not a co-author of the paper, the advisor must provide the CpE graduate committee with a note indicating the advisor’s approval of the paper.

After the defense of the dissertation, the student should follow the Graduation Procedures as outlined on the SEAS Graduation Procedure website. The information on the ECE and CS webpages may be out of date. Please follow the instructions outlined by the Graduate Dean's office.

Graduate Teaching Requirement

Students are strongly encouraged to complete one semester of guided undergraduate teaching experience. Working as a Teaching Assistant will fulfill the requirement.   Students are also encouraged to apply for a teaching fellowship through the Dean's Office. Another model is to work with a faculty supervisor who may or may not be the student’s advisor, to co-teach an undergraduate course.


Useful Links

Lists of PhDs Awarded

SEAS Degree Requirements

SEAS Graduation Procedures

SEAS Enrolled Student Forms

Information for International Students

Center for American English Language & Culture (SPEAK test, English Language Proficiency)