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Information For Current PhD Students


Information by degree progress

Frequently asked questions

  • Guaranteed funding, changing advisors, preliminary exams, course equivalency, mental health and wellness

Additional information

  • Registration and course drop deadlines, internships, external fellowships, funding and insurance
  • Important forms
  • Additional CSE, Rackham, and U-M links

Information by degree progress

This provides a summary of milestones throughout the PhD process.  If you have additional questions, please reach out to the Graduate Program Office.  Additional information can also be found in the CSE graduate program guide.  

What to expect your first year

First, there isn’t one right way to do grad school.  Everyone’s journey will be different.

In your first year, your goal is to find an advisor with whom you have a good working relationship, to start research, and to take classes.

An Advisor
An advisor/advisee relationship is a mutual agreement between the student and the faculty member.  The advisor’s role is to guide and counsel the student on the research and academic planning for, and completion of, the Ph.D. degree.

Courses and registration
Registration opens in the beginning of June. You must register for at least one OPEN course prior to the first day of classes to avoid being assessed a late registration fee (see Rackham’s policy).  After registering for an open course, you may be interested in registering for other courses.  However, you may not be able to directly get into the course(s) you would like.  If you find yourself in this situation, you should get on the waitlist.  Many of the CSE classes are by override only.  That means that you should reach out to the professor to request that you be added to the course.  Alternatively, you can attend the first day of that class to obtain an override from the instructor.

Required courses: Breadth, Depth, Cognate
You will select courses from four categories: breadth, depth, and cognate.  Courses that count towards the PhD requirements and are in CSE have two different designations: breadth and depth.  Breadth courses are associated with one of the five research areas (hardware, software, artificial intelligence, interactive systems, theory) and provide students with a broad coverage of topics in the area.  Depth courses are not associated with an area.  They provide a deeper coverage into a topic of interest.  You can find the designation for each course in the CSE Degree Requirements List.

You are required to take three breadth courses and complete each with a grade of B+ or better. Equivalency is possible (see below).  You will take two depth courses with a grade of A- or better.  These courses cannot be completed via equivalency.

Cognate courses are those not taught in CSE.  Graduate courses taken from other programs cannot overlap in content with any CSE course related material. Any course in question must have prior approval of the CSE Graduate Program Committee.  Equivalency is possible (see below).

Please speak with your advisor to determine which courses to take.  Please see the CSE graduate program guide to learn more about breadth, depth, and cognate courses.

Intro to Graduate Research
This is a one-credit class taught in CSE.  This seminar series is designed to introduce you to the skills needed to be a successful graduate student researcher in computer science and engineering.  Throughout this course, not only will you be exposed to new research methods early in your career, but you will become familiarized with skills current graduates have found integral for success. Course topics include promoting your research, developing a healthy relationship with your advisor, publishing in computer science, and developing teaching skills.

The objectives of this course are to:

  • Prepare you to perform research in computer science
  • Provide advice on forming effective and healthy relationships with your advisor(s) and colleagues
  • Develop your skills in technical communication
  • Prepare you for future positions, from being a GSI to finding an internship and beyond!

Course equivalency requests
You can satisfy breadth and cognate requirements by requesting equivalency for graduate courses that you have previously completed at an accredited graduate-degree-granting institution.  Note that equivalency will remove the requirement that you take a course, but it does not grant credit nor do these courses contribute to your overall GPA.  

The process for obtaining equivalency for breadth courses is:

  • You complete the CSE Course Equivalency Form available via this webpage for each course.
  • Submit to the CSE faculty who most recently taught the course (atlas.ai.umich.edu) as many items from the list as possible (e.g. course outline, course description, work you completed for the course, etc.) and ask them to sign the form, if they approve your request.
  • If the faculty instructor approves your request, then you must submit it to your CSE academic advisor for approval. (Electronic signatures suffice.)
  • If approved by your academic advisor, then the request must be submitted to the CSE Graduate Programs Office for consideration by the Graduate Committee (please email the form, do not submit a physical copy).
  • If your request is approved by the Graduate Committee, you will be notified via email.

You can also satisfy the cognate requirement via an equivalency request.  However, the policy is a bit different because it requires Rackham approval.  If you have completed non-CSE graduate-level coursework at an accredited graduate-degree-granting institution, you may ask your advisor to approve up to 3 credit hours (on a semester calendar, or 5 credit hours on a trimester calendar) of cognate coursework to fulfill Rackham’s cognate requirement. If approved, the final, official transcript from that institution must first be submitted (even if no degree was awarded) to the Rackham Graduate School. Then, the advisor must send an email to the Graduate Programs Office requesting that the graduate-level course (including name and number) from the accredited institution be used ‘in spirit’ to satisfy Rackham’s cognate course requirement. The Graduate Coordinator will forward the request to Rackham’s Academic Records and Dissertations area for consideration. If approved, an email will be sent to the Graduate Coordinator, advisor, and student.

Preliminary exam/qualification

Your goal is to identify a directed research project, a project that is yours from start to finish.  This gives you the opportunity to identify a research topic of interest and, fundamentally, to understand what research is and what the thesis process will be like.  

The Preliminary Examination (Prelim) is a major component of the Ph.D. qualification process.  The goal is to assess research readiness and is evaluated through a written report of a project done in a research-oriented directed study, followed by a 80 minute oral exam by three faculty members not including your research advisor.  

For more information on the preliminary exams, please review the Student Guide for CSE Preliminary Exams.

Deadlines for CSE registration:
August 21, 2022 for September 2022 Qualifying Exam
December 16, 2022 for January 2023 Qualifying Exam
April 14, 2023 for May 2023 Qualifying Exam

Exam dates:
September 2022 Qualifying Exam:  September 12 – 23, 2022
January 2023 Qualifying Exam:  January 17 – 27, 2023
May 2023 Qualifying Exam:  May 8 – May 19, 2023 (may be extended to May 26, depending on how many students register)

Each student will be given an oral examination on the student’s directed study project and on material directly related to the student’s research area. This examination will be administered during the qualification examination period in January, May, or September. The specific dates are posted each summer on CSE’s website for the upcoming academic year. Students sign up via a link provided by the Graduate Programs Office, upload the prelim paper five business days before the start of prelims, and wait to receive an email with the prelim details. Once all the above requirements for Qualification have been met, a decision whether the student is qualified to continue in the Ph.D. program is made by vote of the CSE faculty.

Paper requirements
The paper is expected to be a formal report that demonstrates the research process and should be comparable in length, scope, and style to a journal or conference paper in your research field. It is not required for this paper to be published, accepted, or under review by a conference or journal at the time of your prelim. While your advisor should help you with research and writing, it is required that the vast majority of the paper’s research and writing is conducted by you, and that you are the paper’s primary author.

Papers co-authored with other students may be submitted, however, these are still subject to the requirement that you have conducted the vast majority of the paper’s research and writing, and that you are the paper’s primary author. In such a case, you must outline your contribution by uploading a one- page description (as the first page of your prelim paper) that clarifies what you, versus your co-authors, have done (with regard to both the writing and research).

Oral presentation
On the day of your prelim, you will present your research in the form of a talk, and answer questions from three assigned CSE faculty (none of whom are your advisor/s) about your research and closely related work. 80 minutes is the allotted time for the preliminary exam. You should aim for a talk that is approximately 40 minutes, with the remaining time being allocated for questions. 

What happens next?
After the conclusion of the prelim, each faculty examiner will submit a report on the examination to the graduate committee. Based on these reports, the graduate committee makes recommendations to the entire CSE faculty regarding each student completing their prelims. Then the entire faculty votes on your prelim and qualification. After the meeting where the discussion and voting take place, you will receive word from your advisor regarding the outcome. Thereafter, you will receive the results via email.

Qualification is the combination of: completing your breadth coursework (B+ or better), depth coursework (A- or better), directed study coursework (three credits), passed your preliminary exam, and have a reciprocal working relationship with an EECS faculty member (research advisor). 

Advancing to candidacy
Next, is candidacy, which is the combination of: qualification, fulfilling your cognate course requirement (at least 3 credits, approved by advisor), completing your Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship (RCRS) Training, and completing your CSE Candidacy Checklist (signed by advisor and submitted to the Graduate Programs Office).  Once you do this, you are a PhD candidate!

Additional information
In case you have additional questions, concerns, or need further clarifications on the above requirements, please contact your advisor or the CSE Graduate Programs Office.

Getting your Master’s Degree

If you are enrolled in the PhD program, you can get your Master’s Degree (MS) along the way.  To be eligible for the CSE M.S. program, students must not already hold a master’s degree in computer science or an equivalent field. (CS, CE, EE, ECE, IS, Robotics, Data Science).  You first request that the master’s be activated by emailing the CSE Graduate Programs Office with the following information:  UMID, advisor, preferred degree citation (Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Science in Engineering (M.S.E.), based on whether or not you received an Engineering bachelor’s degree – only doctoral students who received an Engineering bachelor’s degree are eligible for the MSE degree citation).  This allows you to apply for a CSE (embedded) master’s degree (along the way to your PhD).  In this case (not in the PhD case!) Rackham allows the transferring of credits.  You can request that transferred credits apply to the master’s degree requirements by including them in your PhD Student Master’s Plan of Study.

The thesis proposal

What is a thesis proposal?
The thesis proposal is a precise definition of the intellectual area in which your thesis will be situated. The goal is to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of that area. You will provide a write-up that gives a general description of your research problem to be addressed, an outline of the approach that will be taken, and what you have done so far along this journey. You will also take part in an oral presentation during which you will present the proposed dissertation research, including relevant background material and preliminary research results.  During and after the presentation, the Dissertation Committee will explore the research area with you to determine whether you have completed this phase successfully. The Dissertation Committee will prepare a report on the outcome of the proposal presentation, and a copy of the completed report will be placed in your file.

How do you form a dissertation committee?
Your committee for your thesis proposal is your dissertation committee.  Guidelines for CSE dissertation committee formation are outlined in the CSE graduate program guide and on page 2 of the Dissertation Committee Request Form. Further information may be found on Rackham’s website outlining the requirements for dissertation committees.  The committee must have:

  • At least four members, three of whom are members of the Rackham Graduate Faculty (i.e. primary tenure-track faculty appointments in a Rackham doctoral program), and two of whom are from the doctoral candidate’s home program
  • A sole chair or two co-chairs
  • A cognate member who is familiar with the standards for doctoral research and holds at least a .50 appointment in a Rackham doctoral program, other than the student’s home department/program.

If you have any other questions or need further assistance, please reach out to the Graduate Programs Office.

Once you complete the form, ask your advisor to approve and sign.  Once it is signed by your advisor, email it to the CSE Graduate Programs Office for CSE Graduate Committee consideration.  If approved, the dissertation committee will be submitted to Rackham for final approval.

How do you update your dissertation committee?
If you at any time need to update the configuration of your committee, please submit a new Dissertation Committee Request Form to the Graduate Programs Office with the updates to your committee so that it can be submitted to Rackham for approval.

What do you bring to the thesis proposal?  What do you do after?
You will bring the thesis proposal form to your thesis proposal.  You will fill out the form with information about your committee.  After you have completed the oral presentation, your advisor will enter the outcome, sign on behalf of the committee (if all are in agreement), and and email the form as a .pdf attachment to the CSE Graduate Programs Office as soon after your thesis proposal as possible.

Final oral defense

If you’ve completed your thesis proposal during a prior term and there are no changes you’ll be requesting to your dissertation committee, then you are ready to proceed with your final oral defense.

Registering for the term
Depending on the defense date you and your committee settle on, you must register for the corresponding full term (for 8 hours of EECS 995 – candidacy, under your advisor’s section). If you’ll be defending during June, July, or August, you must register for the full Spring/Summer term (and not the Spring half nor Summer half term/s), and you should hold off on registering until after you’re absolutely certain of your June, July, or August defense date. If you end up registering for the full Spring/Summer term and you’re assessed a late registration fee, let the CSE Graduate Programs Office know so that a request can be made to have the fee expunged.

Rackham’s policies for registering for the Oral Defense
Please see Rackham’s website for up-to-date information about how to register and prepare for your final oral defense.

When you submit your pre-defense registration request to Rackham, please enter Jasmin Stubblefield’s name and uniqname (jstubb) as your department contact. 

Preparing for the Oral Defense
Now that your defense date, time, and location have been provided to the Rackham Graduate School’s Academic Records and Dissertations area, you must email the following information to [email protected] for your CSE defense flyer at least ten business days prior to your defense date:

  • Your abstract title and text (of 350 words or less) in the body of the email
  • Chair(s) name
  • Date, time and location/Zoom info (if it is a hybrid event, you must provide us with both the room location and the Zoom info)
  • A headshot photo (in .jpg format)
  • Your shirt size

Lastly, please complete the CSE Graduate Programs Exit Survey.

Completing degree requirements
Your doctoral degree requirements will need to be completed with the Rackham Graduate School’s Academic Records and Dissertations area

If you have any other questions, please contact the Graduate Program Office, [email protected].

FAQS about the PhD program in CSE

Got a question about the CSE PhD program and can’t find an answer? You might be able to find an answer to frequently asked questions below.

Guaranteed funding

What is guaranteed funding?

It is a guarantee from CSE that you will have funding to cover your tuition, health insurance, and a stipend for 5 years. The length of the guarantee changes to 4 years if you entered the PhD program with a relevant master’s degree, or 3 years if you entered the PhD program from the CSE master’s program.  This is true for both domestic and international students.

Can your advisor take it away?

Departmental fellowship funding is typically for one year (other fellowships may have longer duration) and in most cases will not be discontinued as long as the terms of the fellowship award are being met. Faculty advisors, in most cases, cannot take away fellowship funding. This funding type is reserved for some first-year PhD students.

GSRA funding is by term (4 months) and typically is not discontinued in the middle of a term. This type of funding is managed by individual faculty and it is possible for it to discontinue  in future terms if the faculty member deems it appropriate.

If your advisor determines that GSRA funding is unavailable for a term you will need to sign up to be a GSI until new funding is identified by your advisor. If this is an instance of your advisor indicating that the relationship isn’t working out and advising you to find a new advisor, you should apply for GSI funding and talk to the graduate programs coordinator immediately.

GSI funding is by term (4 months) and in most cases will not be discontinued as long as the terms of the GSI appointment are being met. Note, there is an application period for GSI funding that takes place several months before the beginning of a term so students should plan accordingly.

What if something happens in the middle of the term and you can’t get a GSI; does the department still guarantee your funding?

GSRA appointments run for an entire term so this is unlikely to happen. If it does happen it is the responsibility of your advisor to continue funding you for the remainder of the term and you are still guaranteed funding. If this happens to you please reach out to the grad programs coordinator for advice. Note, there is an application period for GSI funding that takes place several months before the beginning of a term so students should plan accordingly and apply for a GSI appointment if conversations with their advisor indicate that GSRA funding may not be available in the following term.

What happens if you do not receive a paycheck?

This shouldn’t happen.  If it does, please contact Karen Liska (liska@umich.edu).

Changing advisors

How do I change advisors?

You may have some questions, such as: How do I have a conversation about changing advisors?  Who should I talk to?  Who should help me with my concerns about changing advisors?  How do I maintain a positive relationship with my old advisor?  When is it time to switch advisors?  Does my current advisor want me to find a new advisor?  What do I do if my advisor wants to go in a technical direction that is different from my current research plan?  Is the funding still guaranteed while searching for a new advisor? How much time do I have to search for a new advisor? What happens to the prelim while I’m in the middle of switching advisors? What if my advisor tells other advisors not to accept me as a student? 

Detailed information about changing advisors can be found on this page.

Logistically, you will submit this form, completed and signed by your old and new advisors, to the graduate programs office.

Am I allowed to have a primary advisor outside of CSE?

Yes, however, a CSE faculty must be found to act as an academic advisor. This will help to make sure that you remain aware of CSE’s milestones and procedures. The academic advisor may also act as a research co-advisor, but this is not a requirement. More information may be found in the CSE Graduate Programs Guide (Google Doc).

Course equivalency

What is “course equivalency”? What is it good for?

This is only for satisfying breadth requirements. If you have previously taken a graduate-level class that is very similar to one of the EECS courses that satisfy a breadth requirement, you can request equivalency. If the professor teaching the EECS course, your advisor, and the graduate committee approve, then you can use it to satisfy that breadth requirement. The equivalent course, however, does not satisfy any other requirement. It will not appear on your transcript, it is not calculated into your GPA, and it does not count for credit.

You should request this as soon as possible since it can help you plan which courses to take. The equivalency form (pdf) may be found via the following the link.

Mental health and wellness resources

Where can I find mental health resources?

To see a listing of U-M on-campus resources for concerns related to mental health issues, visit tiny.cc/distresssignals_coe (pdf).

What if I still have questions?

We are happy to talk with you about any of your questions. Please contact the Graduate Programs Office for further information or for suggestions of others with whom you can discuss your situation.

Don’t forget that detailed information is available in the CSE Graduate Programs Guide (Google Doc).

If after browsing this list and the resources on this website you still have a question you may submit it via this Google form.

Additional Information

Registration and course drop deadlines
The U-M Office of the Registrar website provides access to course registration and drop/add dates. To access this information, visit this webpage. Under “Calendar Type,” select “Registration.” Select the academic term you are interested in from the drop-down menu. Then press “Submit.”

CSE links


Rackham and U-M links