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The first major “rite of passage” in the computer science PhD program at UIC is the qualifier examination. All PhD students must pass the qualifier examination before the end of their fourth semester of enrollment; the actual completion date is approximately halfway through the fourth semester.
The qualifier examination consists of three parts:
- Course breadth requirement: Designed to evaluate basic proficiency in core areas of computer science. This requirement must be completed by the end of the third semester.
- Written critique and presentation: Tests analytic and presentation skills in a particular area of computer science. This requirement must be completed in the third or fourth semester.
- Final evaluation: Provides a faculty evaluation of performance in the first two parts of the examination. This is done in the middle of the fourth semester.
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To complete this requirement of the qualifier exam, students must show competency in CS 401 and in three additional classes from a pre-approved list by either enrolling in the course and performing up to standard or by taking the in-class comprehensive final exam. Students must earn at least a “B” in all four courses and a minimum of two “A’s” from among the four. This course requirement must be met by the end of the third semester in the program. Students may choose not to enroll in a course and instead take the final examination to meet the course requirement. If students choose this option, the course instructor should be notified of the student’s intent at the beginning of the semester, and the student must take the final exam at the regularly scheduled time for other students enrolled in the course that semester. Any 400-level or 500-level computer science course that has an in-class comprehensive final exam, along with a comprehensive syllabus available at the beginning of the course, is eligible. Courses that fulfill this requirement are: CS 401 (with CS instructor), CS 411, CS 412, CS 421, CS 422, CS 440, CS 441, CS 442, CS 450, CS 461, CS 466, CS 473, CS 474, CS 476, CS 478, CS 480, CS 487, CS 488, CS 511, CS 512, CS 553, CS 581, CS 583, and CS 586. If the class is not on this list, students may petition for a substitution. The petition must be submitted at least two weeks prior to the start of the semester. Note for PhD students who completed their master’s or undergraduate study at UIC: Students who received an MS in computer science at UIC may petition to use courses from the approved list to satisfy the qualifier exam course requirement, provided the courses in question were taken within the last five years. CS 401 must have been completed with a CS instructor. On the other hand, students who received a BS degree from the computer science department at UIC may not use any coursework done as an undergraduate to satisfy the qualifier course requirement. They may choose to take other courses on the list or take the final exam of a course they have already completed.
- Complete 4 courses by the end of third semester
- CS 401; or petition to substitute with an advanced 5xx algorithm course
- At least one course from each of the 3 areas: Theory; AI/ML/DS/HCC; and SW/Systems
- CS 494 and CS 594 (special topics) courses are not eligible
- Minimum two ‘As’ and nothing less than a B in the four required courses
- Refer to https://go.uic.edu/CS-Qualifier-Courses for the 3 areas and applicable courses
- If the chosen course from the list has an in-class comprehensive final exam, the student can satisfy the requirement by taking the final exam without enrolling in the course
- If taking the final exam to meet course requirement, the instructor of the course should be notified at the beginning of the semester of the student’s intent and the final should be taken at the regularly schedule time for that semester
- If the student received a BS from UIC, they may petition to use CS 401 ONLY to satisfy the PhD qualifier course requirement. The course must have been taken within the last 5 years and completed with an ‘A’. They may not use any other coursework completed while an undergraduate to satisfy the remaining PhD qualifier course requirements.
- If the student received a MS from the CS department at UIC, they may petition to use courses from the list to satisfy the PhD qualifier course requirement. Eligible courses must have been taken within the last 5 years
- Complete 4 courses by the end of third semester
Written Critique and Presentation
The written critique and presentation (hereafter, WCP) allows students to demonstrate their ability to analyze, evaluate, and present an existing body of research. This research is usually, but not necessarily, in the area in which they plan to do their dissertation work.
The WCP should be completed in the student’s second year in the program. The target completion date is about halfway through the fourth semester).
The WCP consists of two deliverables:
- Critical review: a significant piece of scholarly expository writing based on the selection of two to four papers from the research literature in the chosen area. The critical review typically ranges from 15 to 25 pages, assuming that 7,000 words results in 20 pages.
- Presentation: 45-minute oral presentation followed by questions from faculty
The WCP is evaluated by a three-person committee: a designated WCP chair (who must be someone other than the faculty advisor) and two other members.
The student identifies a topic and selects a chair for the WCP who agrees to administer the exam. The chair cannot be the student’s faculty advisor. The student picks at least 3 peer-reviewed technical papers to be critiqued, which the chair must approve.
The second member of the committee can be (but does not have to be) the student’s advisor. Student nominations are welcome for the third member of the committee; students may submit two to three names of the third committee member they would prefer, but the final decision is up to the director of graduate studies.
Students must write a short proposal naming their desired committee members, describing the area of research, and listing the papers that will be included in the critical review. This proposal must be submitted to the director of graduate studies, via the Student Affairs office in 905 SEO, for consideration and approval. A turnaround time for approval of at least one week should be anticipated. Students should use the WCP Committee Form for this proposal.
The director of graduate studies will finalize and approve the committee. From the date of this approval, the student has exactly 60 days to prepare the critical review.
During this 60-day examination period, the student may ask the faculty, including the WCP committee members, specific questions about the selected work, but faculty members should not assist in analyzing the content, significance, or accuracy of the selected work.
Copies of the finished critical review should be delivered to each committee member on or before the end of the 60-day period.
The presentation component of the WCP should be held within three weeks—but not less than one week—after the critical review is handed in. Scheduling the presentation is the student’s responsibility and should be handled in advance of when the critical review is handed in.
For the presentation, the candidate is expected to deliver the content of the critical review as though presenting a technical paper at a conference. Visual aids and other relevant materials are expected, and the evaluation is based on technical sharpness, presentation style, command of the area, and effectiveness of visual aids. The presentation should be roughly 45 minutes in length. Note: Fluency in English is optimal, but the most important criteria will relate to the candidate’s ability to get the material across to the audience.
Presentations are open to the general public and followed by a question-and-answer period covering both the critical review and the general research area. The WCP committee may elect to continue with a closed-door question-and-answer period followed by a discussion.
As with all talks and in-person presentations in the computer science department, a WCP presentation announcement—including an abstract, names of the committee members, time, date, and location—should be sent to the Student Affairs office (905 SEO) at least a week before the event for inclusion in faculty and graduate-student email lists.
The WCP is graded with a numerical score from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating the best performance. The committee also provides a short evaluation of the student’s performance.
The WCP cannot be repeated.
In cases where the WCP topic falls in the student’s main research area, there may be substantial overlap between the written critique and the Related Work section of the dissertation proposal and/or the dissertation itself. This is acceptable.
A conference paper, master’s thesis, or other similar document cannot simply be submitted verbatim as a substitute for the WCP. However, parts of prior written work on which the student is the sole author may be re-used as the basis for part or all of a WCP paper. Details should be negotiated between the student and the WCP committee chair.
Success or Failure on Qualifier Examination
If a student is deemed to have passed the qualifier exam, the student proceeds forward in the course of study toward the PhD in computer science. If a student is deemed to have failed the qualifier exam, the student must leave the program. The decision of the faculty on the qualifier examination is final; there is no petitioning of the decision.