Doctoral Degree Program - University of Houston
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Doctoral Degree Program

The Ph.D. degree program in Computer Science provides for a rigorous foundation in theoretical and applied computer science. Students obtain in-depth knowledge by satisfying a breadth course requirement intended to ensure broad knowledge of computer sciences as well as satisfy a depth requirement in the ability to conduct research to advance knowledge and application of Computer Sciences to diverse fields.

Our program places a strong emphasis on research and on graduates making novel contributions to Computer Science in the form of a dissertation and scholarly publications. Students pursuing the Ph.D. degree are trained to become teachers, researchers, and technical leaders in industry, academia, or research labs.

Students will be prepared to be technical problem solvers, competent in the state of the art, and will master a particular aspect of Computer Science. They will be trained to identify and clearly formulate problems, to develop and analyze algorithmic solutions, and to direct research.

Fall 2021 - present

Course Requirements

Students who began the Ph.D. program Fall 2021 through present: A student must complete a minimum of 66 credit hours subject to the following restrictions:

  • At least 30 credit hours of COSC graduate-level courses 6320-6397, 7300-7397, with the following exceptions:
    • Can include 1 hour of COSC 6110
    • Can include up to 3 hours of COSC 6398 Special Problems if taken within the first four longer terms of the program¹
    • Can include up to 6 hours of non-COSC graduate courses¹
    • Can include up to 9 hours of transfer graduate coursework following university Transfer Credit policy¹
  • At least 24 credit hours of Doctoral Research (COSC 8x98).
  • At least 3, but not more than 12 credit hours of dissertation (COSC 8x99), to be taken in the term of anticipated graduation.
  • ¹Requires prior approval from the director of graduate studies via a Graduate & Professional Student Petition
Requirement Time Restriction
Research Advisor By end of first long term
COSC 6110 or COSC 6321 By end of second long term
RCE Exam By end of third long term
Breadth Requirement By end of second long term after passing the RCE exam
Dissertation Committee By end of fourth long term
Annual Review Each year starting in the third year
Proposal Defense By end of third long term after passing the Breadth Requirement
Dissertation Defense May not be in the same term as the Proposal Defense

Research Advisor

Students are urged to find a research advisor as early as possible. Full-time and part-time students must declare a research advisor by the end of the first long term by completing the Research Advisor Assignment form. Student may enroll in doctoral research hours once they have declared a research advisor.

Graduate Colloquium/Research Methods

All PhD students are required to pass COSC 6110 - Graduate Colloquium or COSC 6321 - Research Methods in Computer Science by the end of the second long term in the program.

Research Competency Evaluation (RCE) Exam

PhD students are expected to spend a substantial amount of time on research starting in the first semester. The RCE requires students to learn and demonstrate specific skills necessary to doing research early in their career. These include the ability to perform a literature review, understand and synthesize research topics, conduct independent and collaborative research to the standards of the chosen discipline, and communicate the findings in a scholarly fashion.

For the RCE exam, the student (in consultation with their research advisor) selects and conducts research on a topic, writes an ACM/IEEE style paper, and presents a talk, to be approved by the student’s RCE committee. A student may submit and present their own submitted or published research for RCE requirements. The RCE committee will evaluate the student with respect to two questions:

  1. Has the student demonstrated scholarship and potential to conduct original research?
  2. Has the student demonstrated the ability to communicate technical content effectively to a general computer science audience?

RCE Process

The student’s research advisor, with the consultation of the student’s RCE committee, assigns a research topic to the student no later than the beginning of the third long term. The student may also receive an initial selection of relevant literature. The project should be designed to test the student’s ability to independently conduct research at a level commensurate with his/her education.

The student will prepare a written report and an oral presentation of the project results. The research advisor may provide feedback during the preparation of the written report, but the report should be substantially the student’s own work. The report should include a statement of the problem, present a critical survey of relevant methods and existing state of the art solutions to the problem, present their own methods and proposed solution, results, and discussion. The length of the report should be similar to a standard paper in the research area. The report should be submitted to the student’s RCE committee at least one week prior to the RCE exam. The RCE exam consists of a public presentation of the project, followed by a closed–door oral examination.

RCE Committee

The student’s RCE committee should comprise of at least 3 Computer Science faculty members (not including the research advisor) and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. At least one committee member should be from outside the student's research area. The research project topic for the RCE will be selected in consultation with the student’s research advisor. Once the evaluation has taken place, the Chair of the RCE committee will inform the student and the Director of Graduate Studies about the outcome of the exam. Should a student switch their research advisor after completing the RCE requirement, the student is not required to retake the RCE exam.

RCE Deadlines

The RCE exam must be completed by the end of the third long term of the PhD program. It is not necessary to complete all coursework before attempting the RCE exam.

RCE Outcome

The student will either pass or fail the RCE exam, and this decision, based on a majority vote of the committee, will be communicated to the student immediately after the conclusion of the exam. Once the student passes, they may proceed with the preparation of the dissertation proposal. If failed, the student may request a second attempt. For a second attempt, the RCE committee will assign additional work, which should be completed and presented at the end of the next long term. Students who fail the second attempt will be discontinued from the PhD program.

Breadth Requirements

A student satisfies the core requirement by taking a set of three or more courses from the lists below. At least one course must be from the Theory list and one from the Systems list. The remaining course may be from either list. In exceptional cases, the Director of Graduate Studies may transfer or substitute at most two of the three courses based on equivalent courses taken at another university following transfer or course substitution policies. Similarly, any breadth course taken as a MS Computer Science student at UH may count towards the breadth requirement following transfer and course substitution policies. Time limitations apply to transferred and substituted courses.

Theory Systems
COSC 6320 Data Structures & Algorithms COSC 6340 Database Systems
COSC 6342 Machine Learning COSC 6360 Operating Systems
COSC 6364 Adv. Numerical Analysis COSC 6377 Computer Networks
COSC 6369 Theory of Computation COSC 6385 Computer Architecture

Breadth Requirements Completion Period

The “breadth requirement completion period” begins as soon as the student has successfully passed the RCE Exam. The breadth requirement completion period applies to PhD students as well as MS students who later pursue the PhD program.

Full-time students must complete the breadth requirements in at most two consecutive long terms after passing the RCE Exam. Part-time students (6 hours or less every term) must complete the breadth requirement in at most four consecutive long terms after passing the RCE Exam. Failure to complete this requirement within the specified timeframe normally results in an MS student not being allowed to continue into the PhD program and a PhD student being dismissed from the PhD program.

Fall 2020 - Summer 2021

Course Requirements

Students who began the Ph.D. program Fall 2020 through Summer 2021: A student must complete a minimum of 66 credit hours subject to the following restrictions:

  • At least 30 credit hours of COSC graduate-level courses 6320-6397, 7300-7397, with the following exceptions:
    • Can include 1 hour of COSC 6110
    • Can include up to 3 hours of COSC 6398 Special Problems¹
    • Can include up to 6 hours of non-COSC graduate courses¹
    • Can include up to 9 hours of transfer graduate coursework following university Transfer Credit policy¹
  • At least 24 credit hours of Doctoral Research (COSC 8x98).
  • At least 3, but not more than 12 credit hours of dissertation (COSC 8x99), to be taken in the term of anticipated graduation.
  • ¹Requires prior approval from the director of graduate studies via a Graduate & Professional Student Petition

Graduate Colloquium/Research Method Courses

All Ph.D. students are required to take either the Graduate Colloquium course (COSC 6110) or the Research Method course (COSC 6321) within the first two years of enrollment.

Research Advisor

Students are urged to find a research advisor as early as possible. Full-time and part-time students must have a research advisor declared by the end of the second long term by completing the Research Advisor Assignment form. Student may enroll in doctoral research hours if they have an advisor and have completed the core requirement.

Ph.D. Core

Core Completion Period

The “core completion period” begins as soon as the student has accumulated 18 or more hours of credits applicable to a graduate degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) in Computer Science. These include transferred credits, waived credits, and credits earned at UH. The core completion period applies to Ph.D. students as well as M.S. students who later pursue the Ph.D. program.

Full-time students must complete the core requirements in at most 2 consecutive long terms after the start of the core completion period. Part-time students (6 hours or less every term) must complete the core requirement in at most 4 consecutive long terms after the start of the core completion period. Failure to complete the core requirements with the required GPA and within the specified timeframe normally results in an M.S. student not being allowed to continue into the Ph.D. program and a Ph.D.  student being dismissed from the Ph.D. program.

Core Requirements

A student satisfies the core requirement by taking at least 4 core courses with:

  • At least 2 courses from the Theory list
  • At least 2 courses from the Systems list
  • At least 3.40 or higher core course GPA
  • No grade less than B
Theory Systems
COSC 6320 Data Structures & Algorithms COSC 6340 Database Systems
COSC 6342 Machine Learning COSC 6360 Operating Systems
COSC 6364 Adv. Numerical Analysis COSC 6377 Computer Networks
COSC 6369 Theory of Computation COSC 6385 Computer Architecture

The Director of Graduate Studies may in exceptional cases waive at most 2 of the 4 courses based on similar courses taken at another university. If a students takes Ph.D. core courses while enrolled as an M.S. student in the UH Department of Computer Science and is subsequently admitted to the UH Computer Science Ph.D. program, any Ph.D. core courses taken within 5 years prior to the date of the Ph.D. admissions can count towards meeting the Ph.D. core requirement.

Full-time students must complete the core requirements in at most 2 long semesters after core completion period begins. Part-time students (6 hours or less every semester) must complete the core requirement in at most 4 long semesters after the core completion begins. Failure to complete the core requirements with the required grades and GPA within the core completion period normally results in an M.S. student not being allowed to continue into the Ph.D. program and a Ph.D. student being removed from the Ph.D. program.

Fall 2017 - Summer 2020

Course Requirements

Students who began the Ph.D. program Fall 2017 through Summer 2020: A student must complete a minimum of 66 credit hours subject to the following restrictions:

  • At least 30 credit hours of approved, regular, or special topics (COSC xx97) courses. At most 6 of these 30 hours may be outside the Department with the approval of the student’s research advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • At least 24 credit hours of Doctoral Research (COSC 8x98).
  • At least 3, but not more than 12 credit hours of dissertation (COSC 8x99), to be taken in the term of anticipated graduation.

Graduate Colloquium/Research Method Courses

All Ph.D. students are required to take either the Graduate Colloquium course (COSC 6110) or the Research Method course (COSC 6321) within the first two years of enrollment.

Research Advisor

Students are urged to find a research advisor as early as possible. Full-time and part-time students must have a research advisor declared by the end of the second long term by completing the Research Advisor Assignment form. Student may enroll in doctoral research hours if they have an advisor and have completed the core requirement.

Ph.D. Core

Core Completion Period

The “core completion period” begins as soon as the student has accumulated 18 or more hours of credits applicable to a graduate degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) in Computer Science. These include transferred credits, waived credits, and credits earned at UH. The core completion period applies to Ph.D. students as well as M.S. students who later pursue the Ph.D. program.

Full-time students must complete the core requirements in at most 2 consecutive long terms after the start of the core completion period. Part-time students (6 hours or less every term) must complete the core requirement in at most 4 consecutive long terms after the start of the core completion period. Failure to complete the core requirements with the required GPA and within the specified timeframe normally results in an M.S. student not being allowed to continue into the Ph.D. program and a Ph.D.  student being dismissed from the Ph.D. program.

Core Requirements

A student satisfies the core requirement by taking at least 4 core courses with:

  • At least 2 courses from the Theory list
  • At least 2 courses from the Systems list
  • At least 3.40 or higher core course GPA
  • No grade less than B
Theory Systems
COSC 6320 Data Structures & Algorithms COSC 6340 Database Systems
COSC 6342 Machine Learning COSC 6360 Operating Systems
COSC 6364 Adv. Numerical Analysis COSC 6377 Computer Networks
COSC 6369 Theory of Computation COSC 6385 Computer Architecture

The Director of Graduate Studies may in exceptional cases waive at most 2 of the 4 courses based on similar courses taken at another university. If a students takes Ph.D. core courses while enrolled as an M.S. student in the UH Department of Computer Science and is subsequently admitted to the UH Computer Science Ph.D. program, any Ph.D. core courses taken within 5 years prior to the date of the Ph.D. admissions can count towards meeting the Ph.D. core requirement.

Full-time students must complete the core requirements in at most 2 long semesters after core completion period begins. Part-time students (6 hours or less every semester) must complete the core requirement in at most 4 long semesters after the core completion begins. Failure to complete the core requirements with the required grades and GPA within the core completion period normally results in an M.S. student not being allowed to continue into the Ph.D. program and a Ph.D. student being removed from the Ph.D. program.

Prior to Fall 2017

Course Requirements

Students who began the Ph.D. program prior to Fall 2017: A student must complete a minimum of 72 credit hours subject to the following restrictions:

  • At least 36 credits of approved, regular, or special topics (xx97) courses. At most 6 of these hours may be outside the Department with the approval of the student’s research advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • Between 24 and 30 credits of research hours (8x98) to fulfill the 72 hour degree requirement.
  • At least 6 but not more than 12 credits of dissertation (8x99).

Graduate Colloquium/Research Method Courses

All Ph.D. students are required to take either the Graduate Colloquium course (COSC 6110) or the Research Method course (COSC 6321) within the first two years of enrollment.

Research Advisor

Students are urged to find a research advisor as early as possible. Full-time and part-time students must have a research advisor declared by the end of the second long term by completing the Research Advisor Assignment form. Student may enroll in doctoral research hours if they have an advisor and have completed the core requirement.

Ph.D. Core

Core Completion Period

The “core completion period” begins as soon as the student has accumulated 18 or more hours of credits applicable to a graduate degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) in Computer Science. These include transferred credits, waived credits, and credits earned at UH. The core completion period applies to Ph.D. students as well as M.S. students who later pursue the Ph.D. program.

Full-time students must complete the core requirements in at most 2 consecutive long terms after the start of the core completion period. Part-time students (6 hours or less every term) must complete the core requirement in at most 4 consecutive long terms after the start of the core completion period. Failure to complete the core requirements with the required GPA and within the specified timeframe normally results in an M.S. student not being allowed to continue into the Ph.D. program and a Ph.D.  student being dismissed from the Ph.D. program.

Core Requirements

A student satisfies the core requirement by taking at least 4 core courses with:

  • At least 2 courses from the Theory list
  • At least 2 courses from the Systems list
  • At least 3.40 or higher core course GPA
  • No grade less than B
Theory Systems
COSC 6320 Data Structures & Algorithms COSC 6340 Database Systems
COSC 6342 Machine Learning COSC 6360 Operating Systems
COSC 6364 Adv. Numerical Analysis COSC 6377 Computer Networks
COSC 6369 Theory of Computation COSC 6385 Computer Architecture

The Director of Graduate Studies may in exceptional cases waive at most 2 of the 4 courses based on similar courses taken at another university. If a students takes Ph.D. core courses while enrolled as an M.S. student in the UH Department of Computer Science and is subsequently admitted to the UH Computer Science Ph.D. program, any Ph.D. core courses taken within 5 years prior to the date of the Ph.D. admissions can count towards meeting the Ph.D. core requirement.

Full-time students must complete the core requirements in at most 2 long semesters after core completion period begins. Part-time students (6 hours or less every semester) must complete the core requirement in at most 4 long semesters after the core completion begins. Failure to complete the core requirements with the required grades and GPA within the core completion period normally results in an M.S. student not being allowed to continue into the Ph.D. program and a Ph.D. student being removed from the Ph.D. program.


COSC Academic Policies

The following are required of all COSC PhD students regardless of when they started the program except when noted.

  1. Declare a research advisor (also known as dissertation committee chair)
  2. Satisfactory completion of COSC 6110 or COSC 6321
  3. *Satisfactory completion of the Research Competency Evaluation (RCE) Exam (*applicable to those in Catalog 2021-2022 and onward
  4. Satisfactory completion of the Core/Breadth Requirement
  5. Declare a dissertation committee
  6. Proposal Defense (preliminary examination): written proposal and satisfactory defense thereof.
  7. Dissertation Defense: written dissertation and satisfactory defense thereof.
  8. Satisfactory performance on Annual Reviews
  9. Publication of doctoral research. It is recommended to work towards one or more publications before the proposal defense and additional publications or submissions before the dissertation defense.
  10. Attend at least 5 department seminars per term. Effective January 2018. In addition, all Ph.D. students, regardless of year, are expected to attend at least one (1) Computer Science Focus on Research presentation per academic year. Ph.D. students in the third year or after are expected to present their research during at least one (1) Computer Science Focus on Research presentation per academic year.
  11. Maintain satisfactory progress. Failure to meet degree, department, college, and university requirements and policies may be dismissed from the PhD program.

Dissertations Committee

The dissertation committee must be comprised of a minimum of four members to include three internal members (inclusive of the research advisor who serves as the dissertation committee chair or co-chair) who have their primary faculty appointment within the major department and one approved external member from outside the major department at UH, industry or other academic institution who is acceptable to the department and approved by the college. A faculty member with a joint appointment in the major department is considered as an external member unless he/she chairs the committee. In this case, an additional external member outside the major department is required. After these minimum requirements for committee members are satisfied, additional committee members may be approved, but at least 50% of the committee must be tenured/tenure-track faculty at the University of Houston. Research faculty, instructional faculty and emeritus faculty may serve on dissertation committees, but not chair the committees. However, a research professor may serve as a co-advisor with a tenured/tenure-track faculty. For the purpose of the committee composition, an emeritus faculty is considered as internal non-tenure-track faculty member.

Proposal Defense

A student must pass a proposal defense (also referred as the preliminary examination) administered by the student’s dissertation committee. The purpose of the proposal defense is to evaluate and give feedback on the proposed dissertation research of the student. Candidates should have one or more publications before the proposal defense and additional publications or submissions before the dissertation defense.

The student must prepare the dissertation proposal document using the NSM PhD dissertation template and present the proposal to the dissertation committee. The proposal document should include an overview of the proposed work, relevant related work, completed work, and a plan for the work to be completed in the dissertation. The presentation should cover the same topics in the proposal document, and include a listing of coursework completed, publications, and a proposed timeline for key activities to complete in the dissertation. The proposal document should be submitted to the dissertation committee at least two weeks before the proposal defense.

Proposal Defense Announcement

The proposal defense is open to the public and should be announced two weeks in advance. All may ask the student questions related to the proposal or the student’s preparation for doctoral-level research. The committee may have a closed session with the student at the end of the proposal defense. Details on how to announce the defense can be found on the Defense Guidelines page.

Proposal Defense Outcome

The committee will submit a written report to the Director of Graduate Studies concerning the student’s performance on the proposal defense and assign an overall evaluation of satisfactory (pass) or unsatisfactory (fail). A student will be informed of the outcome and upon receiving a satisfactory evaluation the student becomes a PhD candidate.

Proposal Defense Deadline

Full-time and part-time students must attempt the proposal defense no later than the end of the third long term after completing the core/breadth requirement. The proposal defense cannot be held before fulfilling the core/breadth requirement. The proposal defense must be completed at least one term before the dissertation defense.

Dissertation Defense

A PhD candidate will be required to present their dissertation in a public defense. The dissertation defense and the proposal defense may not be scheduled in the same term. The dissertation committee decides the acceptability of the dissertation. Candidates are expected to publish results of their dissertation research prior to the dissertation defense. Candidates should have one or more publications before the proposal defense and additional publications or submissions before the dissertation defense.

Dissertation Defense Announcement

The dissertation defense is open to the University community and the student must inform the department at least two weeks in advance so that it can be publicized. Details on how to announce the defense can be found on the Defense Guidelines page.

Annual Review

Every PhD student must complete the formation of a dissertation committee no later than the end of the 2nd year in the program. Each student will be reviewed annually by the dissertation committee during a review meeting; the review is mandatory starting on the 3rd year. The review meeting should be integrated to the proposal defense in the year in which the proposal defense takes place, and it is not necessary in the year of the dissertation defense.

After meeting with the student, the dissertation committee will submit a “PhD Annual Review - Committee Evaluation Form” to the Director of Graduate Studies. The evaluation can be satisfactory “S”, unsatisfactory “U”, or needs improvement “NI”. If the student receives a “U” or “NI” grade, the student must be provided with a clear plan to return to a satisfactory status and reviewed again in the next long term. A subsequent evaluation of “NI” or “U” can result in removal of the program.

PhD Annual Review Deadlines

  1. Self-Evaluation Form must be submitted by the student before the following deadlines: October 31 (during fall reviews) or May 31 (during spring reviews)
  2. Committee Evaluation Form must be submitted by the dissertation committee no later than the end of the Spring or Fall semester.

Time Limitations

Students who enroll as doctoral candidates must complete their degree requirements within 10 years of the date of first enrollment with a doctoral degree objective. All courses used towards the degree, including transferred and substituted courses, must not be older than 10 years at the time of graduation. Failure to comply will result in the candidate being ineligible for a doctoral degree.

Doctoral students who fail to complete their dissertation within five years after completion of the comprehensive examination must retake the examination.

Refer to the Time Limitations of Completion of Degree Requirements section of the Graduate Catalog.

UH and NSM Academic Policies

Graduate School Academic Policies
College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics Academic Policies