The PhD Qualifier Examination

The first major “rite of passage” in the PhD program is the PhD Qualifier Examination. All PhD students must pass the Qualifier Examination before the end of their 4th semester of enrollment(actual completion date is approximately half way through the 4th semester).

The Qualifier Examination consists of 3 parts:

  • A PhD Course Requirement which is designed to evaluate the student’s basic proficiency in core areas of computer science (completed by the end of 3rd semester).
  • A Written Critique and Presentation (WCP) testing the student’s analytical and presentational abilities in a particular area of computer science (completed in their 3rd or 4th semester).
  • A Final Evaluation by CS faculty based on the student’s performance in the first two parts is done in the middle of the 4th semester.  The decision of the faculty that a student may stay or leave the program is final and there is no petitioning of this decision.


Complete 4 Classes or their Final Exam

  • All Students must show competency in CS 401 and 3 additional classes (from the pre-approved list) by either enrolling in the class or taking the in-class comprehensive final exam.
  • Any 400 or 500 level CS class that has an in-class comprehensive final exam with a comprehensive syllabus available at the beginning of the class is an eligible course.  If the class is not part of the pre-approved list below, a petition must be submitted two weeks prior to the start of the semester.
  • Must earn at least a “B” in all classes, and a minimum of two A’s” in the required 4 classes.
  • The Course Requirement must be met by the end of the students 3rd semester in the program.
  • If taking the Final Exam to meet the course requirement, instructor of the class 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 MS from the CS department at UIC, they may petition to use classes from the pre-approved list to satisfy the PhD qualifier course requirement, provided they were taken within the last 5 years.  CS 401 must have been completed with a CS instructor.
  • Students who have received a BS degree from the CS department at UIC may not use any coursework done while an undergraduate to satisfy the PhD qualifier course requirements.  They may choose to take other classes on the list or take the final exam of the course already completed.
  • Pre-approved list of classes that can be used for the course requirements of the qualifier: 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.


The purpose of the Written Critique and Presentation (WCP) is to demonstrate the student’s ability to analyze, evaluate and present an existing body of research (normally but not necessarily) in the area in which they intend to carry out their dissertation work.  The WCP should be completed in the student’s second year in the program (completion date is approximately half way through the 4th semester).

Deliverables of the exam are:

  • Critical review – a significant (15-25 pages; ~7000words=20pages) piece of scholarly expository writing based on a coherent selection of 2-4 papers from the research literature in the chosen area.
  • Presentation – a 45 minute oral presentation, followed by questions from the committee.

Logistical Organization:

  1. WCP committee is made up of three members: WCP Chair (not advisor), your advisor and third member appointed by DGS. A student’s advisor may choose not to be a member of the WCP Committee. All members of the committee (including the chair) should be from CS. One committee member (not the chair) should be a non-specialist in the chosen topic. Student may submit 2-3 names of the third committee member they prefer, however the DGS may/may not choose the third member from this group.
  2. The student identifies a topic and selects a WCP chair (not advisor), who agrees to administer the exam. The chair picks two to four technical papers to be critiqued.
  3. A short written proposal naming the committee, describing the area and listing the technical papers is submitted to the CS DGS (via the Student Affairs Office in 905 SEO) for immediate consideration and approval (1 week maximum delay). This proposal is submitted on the WCP Committee Form.
  4. The DGS selects the third member and approves the committee. From the date of this approval, the student has exactly 60 days to prepare a critical review of the selected papers in the chosen area.
  5. The faculty including the WCP committee members may answer specific questions about the selected work but should not assist in analyzing the content, the significance, or the accuracy of the selected work.
  6. Copies of the finished critique should be delivered to each of the WCP committee members on or before the end of the 60 day period.
  7. A date should be set for the formal Oral Presentation to be held within three weeks (but not less than one week) after the critique is to be handed in. Consideration to coordinating three committee members schedule should be given when deciding on a date of the presentation; it is highly recommended negotiations for the date of the presentation should begin at least three weeks before the written critique is handed in. Scheduling the oral exam is the student’s responsibility.
  8. At the Oral Presentation, the candidate is expected to present the content of the critique as though presenting a technical paper at a conference. Thus, visual aids etc. are expected to be used and the performance evaluation is to be 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 that while fluency in English is desirable, the most important criteria will relate to the candidate’s ability to `get the material across’ to their audience.
  9. The presentation is open to the general public and is followed by a question and answer period (covering both the critique and the general area). The WCP committee may elect to continue with a closed door question and answer period followed by a discussion.
  10. 10. As with all talks and oral examinations in the CS Department, WCP Presentation announcement – with abstract, committee members, room, time, etc. should be sent to the Student Affairs Office (905 SEO) for advertisement to the graduate and faculty email lists at least a week before the event.
  11. The WCP is graded with a numerical score 1-5 with 1 being best performance, and a short evaluation of the student’s performance.
  12. This exam 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 thesis proposal and/or thesis. This is acceptable.

A conference paper, master’s thesis, etc. 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 their WCP committee chair.