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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.

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 (

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? 

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. 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 Program Guide.


How do prelims work?

Typically at the end of your second year, you will take an exam that allows you to advance to candidacy. When you and your advisor agree that you are ready to advance, the graduate programs office will provide you with a link in which you will then upload your prelim paper one week before the start of prelims.  You will then await an email with your prelim details. On the day of your prelim, you will present your research in the form of a talk (that lasts ~an hour), answer questions from three assigned CSE faculty (none of whom are your advisor), and wait to receive the results via email.

Do we require someone to have a submitted paper?

A submitted (or published) paper is not a requirement for prelims.

What is “enough”?

Past prelim papers have typically been 10-20 pages in length. The prelim paper should include conceptualization through implementation and evaluation while demonstrating the various phases of research.

What happens if you are not ready to take the exam at the end of your second year?

You file a petition with the graduate program office.  The petition will need to be approved by the graduate chair and your advisor.

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 (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 (pdf).

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