During the first few semesters, the student focuses on obtaining a breadth of knowledge in computer science. Full-time students must complete all requirements for the core qualifying examination by the end of their third semester. Part-time students may take up to six semesters to complete the core qualifying exam requirements. The timing is measured from the student’s semester of Ph.D. program entry, regardless of whether the student is concurrently enrolled in another degree program. The only exception is that students in the accelerated B.S.-Ph.D. program may begin the timing when they complete 128 credits.
To pass the core qualifying exam, students must meet the grading criteria in a course in each of five areas. The grading criteria are that the student must earn a grade of A in a course in at least two of the areas, and that no more than one of the five courses may have a grade of B+. No course with a grade lower than B+ will count. The student may earn A- grades in the remaining courses. Students who do not meet the grading criteria in an area may take additional courses in that area until the required grade is achieved.
A list of courses that may be used for each area is available on the Computer Science Department Web site. All students must pass Area 1, Area 2, and Area 3. Students may, in consultation with their advisers, choose any two additional areas from Areas 4-8. In general, when courses are offered at both the 4000 level and 6000 level, only the 6000-level course is included on the list of eligible courses. In some cases, students who were enrolled at Rensselaer prior to joining the Ph.D. program may have already taken 4000-level versions of courses whose 6000-level counterparts are qualifying exam courses. In these circumstances, up to two of the 4000-level versions of core qualifying exam courses may be counted toward the core qualifying exam.
The second year is devoted to research exploration and selection of a doctoral committee. By the end of the second year, students must pass a research qualifying exam demonstrating breadth of knowledge in their research area. The research qualifying exam is supervised by three faculty members and may take the form of coursework, a survey paper, and/or an oral presentation. If courses are used for the research qualifying exam, they may not also be counted for the core qualifying exam.
In the third year, the student develops a detailed understanding of the chosen research area and prepares a research proposal. The student must pass an oral candidacy exam by the end of the third year. The candidacy exam is an oral exam focusing on a thesis proposal and administered by the student’s doctoral committee. The student begins by presenting the thesis proposal and is then questioned by the committee.
In addition to the above requirements, the student must earn a total of 72 credits beyond the bachelor’s level, with at least 36 course credits and at least 24 dissertation research credits. Students entering the program with an M.S. degree must earn a total of 48 credits, at least 12 of which must be course credits and at least 24 dissertation research credits. All doctoral students are expected to have presented at least one public lecture (such as a conference presentation) on their research prior to their defense.