PhD in Computer Science Candidacy Exam

The Computer Science candidacy examination serves to define the student’s research domain, to evaluate the student’s knowledge and understanding of the fundamental and seminal results in that domain, and to assess the student's readiness to perform research.

The student should take the candidacy examination no later than the end of the second academic year of graduate studies at Drexel University. At this point the student is expected to be able to read, understand, analyze and explain advanced technical results in a specialized area of computer science at an adequate level of detail. Additionally, the student should demonstrate that they can satisfactorily identify the open technical problems and opportunities in their research domain.

For the candidacy examination the student should prepare a written summary of a defined set of published manuscripts. The contents of the summary are presented to the student's candidacy committee and the student is questioned about the material. A significant part of the summary and presentation should be a description of the technical gaps in the previous work and the identification of possible research projects that address these gaps. The examination committee will evaluate the written summary, the oral presentation and the student’s answers.

If the student has published a research paper or has had a paper accepted for publication at a workshop, symposium, conference or in a journal or book, AND the student is the primary author of the paper, they may include their paper in the list of papers to be summarized in the candidacy report. The student should highlight the technical contribution of their paper and its relation to the open problems identified in the other papers.

Normally, students will do an independent study with their advisor the term before the candidacy exam as part of the preparation for the examination.

Selection of Manuscripts

The student, under the supervision of their advisor, will identify an area of computer science as the research domain and will also identify a set of published manuscripts that cover three or four fundamental and seminal results in that domain. The material can comprise conference and journal papers, book chapters, thesis chapters and technical reports. The examinee is expected to select about 10 manuscripts in consultation with the advisor, but no less than six.

The Candidacy Document

The candidacy document should distill and summarize the central ideas of the selected material and synthesize connections/themes between these ideas.

The length of the written document should be between 15 and 20 pages in single-column format, including the bibliography. Special emphasis should be placed on identifying technical gaps in the summarized research, and the open research problems stemming from these gaps. The document should conclude with a listing of  possible research projects that could address the open problems identified by the student. The document does not need to provide possible technical solutions to the research projects. These details will be provided during the student's proposal examination.

Although the candidacy document will summarize the selected material, the document should be original work of the student alone. Verbatim quotes from the selected manuscripts should be limited. Whenever such quotes are necessary, they should be included in quotation marks followed by a reference to the original authors.

The student will prepare the candidacy document and send it to the members of the candidacy committee at least two weeks before the examination.

Examination Committee

The advisor will assist in overseeing the selection of the members of the examination committee. The student, with input from the advisor and the committee, will arrange for a mutually convenient oral examination date and time.

The committee should consist of at least three tenured/tenure-track/research faculty members, with at least two of them coming from the Drexel Computer Science (CS) faculty, which includes the student's advisor. The research areas of the committee members should be related to the student's topic. The chairperson of the candidacy examination committee should be a member of the computer science faculty and can be the student's advisor.

The chairperson will communicate the outcome of the examination to the student and the CS Graduate Advisor.

The Examination

The examination will consist of an oral presentation by the student followed by a question‐and‐answer session. The oral presentation should take approximately 45 minutes. The examination will be open to the general public. The oral presentation will be followed by questions and answers, with the general audience first asking questions. The chairperson may limit the number of questions from the audience to maintain the timely pace of the exam. Then the student will be questioned in a closed session by their committee. After that the examination committee, in a closed session, will discuss and decide the outcome of the examination.

The student will be evaluated for their understanding of the previous work, the quality of the document, the clarity and structure of the presentation and their ability to answer questions and to identify open problems in the research domain.

Examination Results

The candidacy can have one of two results:

  • Passed Examination
    The Candidacy Examination is passed if the student receives the unanimous approval of the Candidacy Examining Committee (if properly constituted). In the absence of a unanimous vote within the Committee to pass the candidate, the Chair (or one of the Co-chairs) should consult with the Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Studies for a final determination.
  • Failed Examination
    In the event that the student fails the doctoral candidacy examination, the exam may be retaken once. The second exam should be conducted by the end of the first term of the student's third year of graduate studies. A second failure results in forfeiture of degree eligibility. Up to the conclusion of the second attempt, the student must observe continuous registration regulations.


Two forms are required for the candidacy exam and should be taken to the exam, making sure to have enough copies for all committee members. The Committee Chair is responsible for submitting the forms to the CS Graduate Advisor within 48 hours of the exam:
The Dissertation Advisory Committee Appointment form should be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies within six months of passing the candidacy exam: