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What to Expect In the First Year of Your PhD

First, there isn’t one right way to do grad school.  Everyone’s journey will be different. Here are some general areas students can expect to navigate during their first year in the program. Please be sure to review CSE policies regarding these areas in the CSE Graduate Program Guide.

An Advisor

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/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. Students may also consider being co-advised (some students have more than one advisor who helps supervise their research progress).

Directed Study and Research Potential
A Ph.D. precandidate must demonstrate potential for conducting original research under the supervision of an advisor. This may be accomplished by completing at least two (2) hours of research-oriented directed study (CSE 699) prior to the Preliminary Exam.* These must be taken as a Rackham CSE student at UM, and at least one of the two required credits of CSE 699 must be taken within the first two terms of the Ph.D. program.

*For students admitted prior to FA 2023, three credits of EECS/CSE 699 are required for students admitted prior to FA 2023; two credits of EECS/CSE 699, and taking EECS/CSE 601 (1 credit) are required for students admitted for FA 2023 and afterwards

Note: Ph.D. precandidates may NOT use CSE 599 – Directed Study towards the satisfaction of degree requirements – that course is for terminal MS/MSE and SUGS students only.

Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship (RCRS)

You should work to complete your Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship (RCRS) Training (please note that these are 4 in-person workshops and PEERRS online RCRS training on My LINC). This is a candidacy requirement (see Rackham’s Candidacy Requirements for more info). Students should aim to complete this training prior to preliminary exams.

Required courses

You will select courses from three 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, human centered computing, theory) and provide students with a broad coverage of topics in the area.  You are required to take three breadth courses and complete each with a grade of B+ or better. Equivalency is possible (see below). 

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 two depth courses and complete each with a grade of A- or better.  These courses cannot be completed via equivalency.

Cognate courses are Rackham graduate-level courses 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 your advisor.  Please check out this guide for how to determine if a course qualifies for Rackham Graduate credit. Here’s additional Rackham policy regarding cognates. 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. Please see the CSE Course List for PhD Students to determine which CSE courses count towards which designation.

Intro to Graduate Research – CSE 601
CSE 601 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!

Breadth 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.

Cognate course equivalency request
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.