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University of Pittsburgh    
2020-2021 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  May 28, 2024
2020-2021 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Department of Computer Science

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The faculty of the Department of Computer Science are committed to high quality graduate education. The broad scope of their research enables them to convey to graduate students a comprehensive, state-of-the-art understanding of computer science and its application to a wide range of other disciplines. A substantial level of sponsored research has been achieved thereby providing financial support for many graduate students in the form of research assistantships.

The graduate program in Computer Science is designed to prepare students for leadership careers in research and education in computer science. Our graduate students come from all corners of the globe to pursue education and research in most areas within computer science and in many application areas within other disciplines. They engage deeply with current research in computer science, and learn to carry out original research and contribute to the expanding body of knowledge within their research area. They are able to take advantage of the diverse faculty research collaborations and pursue multidisciplinary research with other departments and programs within the School of Computing and Information and across University schools, including the Intelligent Systems Program, the Learning Research and Development Center, the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the School of Medicine.

Policies for the Department of Computer Science

Advisors and Student Evaluations

New students are assigned a temporary advisor when they enter the program. The temporary advisor is a faculty member of the Department of Computer Science whose main role is to guide the new student, until a permanent research advisor is selected. Responsibilities of a temporary advisor include helping incoming students select coursework, approving their registration each term, providing advice and information about their academic program, and helping them acquaint themselves with faculty research interests to enable them to make an informed decision about selecting a permanent advisor. The temporary advisor must run the annual review and evaluation of the student’s performance, unless a permanent advisor has been selected.

Doctoral students must select a research advisor, whose research interests closely align with their own, by the end of the second year. Master students who seek to engage in independent work on either a thesis or a project must negotiate with a faculty member to supervise their work and become their research advisor. Doctoral and MS Students may change advisors at any time, after securing the consent of a new research advisor. It is the responsibility of the student to drive the process of switching advisors.

The research advisor assumes the responsibility for guiding the student in his or her academic program, for approving registration each term, and for presenting information about him or her at the annual student performance evaluation meeting. The research advisor also guides the student in selecting an appropriate research problem for a MS project, MS thesis, or PhD dissertation, and oversees the work. All students should meet with their advisor at least once per term. Students engaged in research are expected to hold weekly meetings with their advisor.

A student who loses his or her advisor, for whatever reason, must inform the GPEC Chair about the situation. The student must find a new research advisor within a reasonable period of time, not to exceed one term from when separation has occurred. A temporary advisor may be appointed until a new permanent advisor is selected.

Doctoral students, particularly those who seek to conduct inter-or multi-disciplinary dissertation research, may opt to select two co-advisors from fields of their interest to supervise their doctoral program. At least one of the co-advisors must be a full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty member of the Computer Science Department (CSD). The co-advisors have the responsibility to provide their doctoral student knowledgeable support concerning their academic programs, to establish and maintain a research program consistent with departmental standards, and to serve as intellectual mentors to ensure timely progress toward completing their research program.

The CSD co-advisor is responsible for approving the student’s registration every term and for attending the CSD student annual performance review meeting to discuss the student’s results, progress through the program, and other matters as they arise.

Annual Student Performance Evaluation Meeting

Once a year, the CSD faculty will hold a meeting to evaluate student progress. In that meeting, information about each student’s academic progress during the previous 12-month period is presented by his or her advisor. It is the student’s responsibility to fill out a self-evaluation form when requested by the Graduate Program Administrator. After the meeting, students will receive a letter from the GPEC chair describing the faculty’s assessment. Students who are not making satisfactory progress in the program will be sent a warning letter stating specific future performance goals. Failure to meet those goals may result in termination from the program.


Students and advisors share the responsibilities for timely academic progress:

A student is expected to:

  • be knowledgeable of SCI and departmental regulations and policies;
  • register for courses on time (preferably as early as possible);
  • fill in the online yearly evaluation form when requested to do so;
  • assist the Graduate Program Administrator in keeping current his or her file, including an up-to-date mailing address;
  • notify the Graduate Program Administrator if he or she changes advisor;
  • (for doctoral students) file an application for candidacy for the PhD degree, after passing the dissertation proposal examination and at least eight months before the defense of the dissertation;
  • follow the published instructions on SCI procedures for graduation, including filing an official application for graduation early in the term in which graduation is expected.

An advisor is responsible for the following:  

  • assist the student in selecting courses;
  • counsel the student and verify that his or her planned program is appropriate, given the student’s academic goals and the CSD regulations;
  • assess the student’s progress towards a degree and provide him or her with advice;
  • present information about the student’s progress at the annual student performance evaluation meeting;
  • assist the student in selecting a research area;
  • validate the appropriateness of the student’s research problem for a MS project or thesis or PhD Dissertation;
  • assist the student in forming thesis, comprehensive examination, proposal and/or dissertation committees, as appropriate;
  • oversee the student’s oral examination for an MS thesis, doctoral comprehensive examination, doctoral dissertation proposal meeting, and doctoral dissertation defense examination. In all cases, after the examination has been completed the advisor will secure the signatures of all committee members, complete the required forms, give them to the administrator in the CSD Graduate Programs office, and communicate the results to the student.

The Chairperson of GPEC is expected to:

  • act on petitions for transfer of credit, substitution of course requirements, and similar matters;
  • report the results of the prelim examinations to the student and the student’s advisor.

Registration Requirements and Statute of Limitations

The CSD abides by the SCI registration requirements and regulations pertaining to statute of limitations. See the SCI Credit & Enrollment Policies for details regarding these items.

Under exceptional circumstances a candidate for an advanced degree may apply for an extension of the statute of limitations.Students seeking support in extending their statute of limitations, should provide the CSD with the reason for the delay, evidence of continuing progress toward the completion of the degree and a plan and proposed date for the completion of the degree.The request must be made in writing, approved by the student’s advisor, GPEC, and the Department Chairperson.The Department will submit recommended extensions to the Dean for final action.Each student who requests an extension of the statute of limitations must be prepared to demonstrate proper preparation for the completion of all current degree requirements.

Under special circumstances, a graduate student may be granted one leave of absence. Consistent with regulations, a maximum leave of two years may be granted to doctoral students or one year to master’s students.An application for a leave of absence must state the reason for the request, and must be approved by the student’s advisor, GPEC, and the Department Chairperson, and then submitted to the Dean for final action.If approved, the time of the leave shall not count against the total time allowed for the degree(s) being sought by the student.

Grading Options

All formal course requirements in the CSD must be completed with letter grades. Directed and independent study, and thesis and dissertation research must be taken with the S/N grading option. This includes CS 2000  , CS 2003 , CS 2910 , CS 2990 , CS 3000 , and CS 3900 .

Transferring Credit

Normally, students will fulfill CSD course requirements by taking graduate-level courses within the CSD, while they are enrolled in the department. However, in some cases, it may be desirable for a student to count coursework done outside the CSD and/or prior to the time the student enrolls in the department. In such cases, written approval of GPEC is required.

Students can petition GPEC to use courses taken outside the Department in two different ways. First, students may apply to transfer the credits for these courses, using the credits towards the total number needed for a degree. Second, students may apply to use these courses to place out of requirements, i.e., to substitute a course taken elsewhere for a course required by the CSD.

Note that these actions neither entail one another nor are mutually exclusive. For example, a student might enter the CSD having previously taken a graduate-level course in Operating Systems. In that case, he or she might petition both to receive 3 transfer credits and to place out of the requirement to take CS 2510 . In another case, a student might have taken a course that is relevant to graduate studies in computer science, but does not directly correspond to any course required by the CSD, for example, a course in Signal Processing. In that case, the student might petition only for a transfer of 3 credits.

Petitions to count courses taken outside of the CSD must be submitted according to the following schedule:

  1. A petition to count a course to be taken outside the CSD during a given term must be submitted no later than 2 weeks after the start of the registration period for that term.
  2. A petition to count course(s) taken prior to enrolling in the CSD must be submitted within the first two terms after entering the program. A student must submit all petitions to transfer or substitute courses taken prior to enrollment at the same time. Petitions should be submitted during the first three weeks of any given term and GPEC will meet shortly thereafter to evaluate the merit of these petitions.
  3. Normally, an incoming student will not enroll for credit in courses outside the CSD during his or her first term in the program. In unusual cases, an incoming student may petition GPEC during the first week of classes to count such a course.

The University’s Academic Regulations for transfer credits apply to courses taken outside the CSD. The following restrictions also apply to CSD students:

  • For the MS degree, no more than one course (3 credits) that is either taken out-of-department or is 1600-level / CS 20xx can be counted. This does not include the required course in theory or algorithms (CS 1510  or CS 1511 ). In no case will a 1000-level course taken prior to enrollment in the CSD count towards the MS degree (including CS 1510  / CS 1511 ).
  • For the PhD degree, no more than 24 credits taken at the MS level may be transferred from out of the department. In addition, for courses taken beyond the MS level, 12 more credits may be transferred. Note however, that at most 4 of the 12 required courses for the PhD may transferred. Thus, additional transfer credits (beyond 12 used to satisfy required courses) may be used towards the 72-credit requirement, but students must still complete 8 of the required courses after enrolling into the PhD program.
  • After enrolling in the program, students will not normally be given approval to take a course outside the CSD in place of a required CSD course, if the student could take the required CSD course within the next academic year. At most two courses taken outside the CSD can be counted towards the required courses after joining the PhD program.

Petitions to transfer credit and/or place out of requirements must be submitted to GPEC. For each course the student must submit the following:

  • A transfer/course petition form, available from the administrator in the CSD Graduate Programs Office. The form provides information about the material to be submitted along with the petition.

If GPEC recommends approval, it will send the recommendation to the Dean, who will make a final decision and notify the student.

The Dean’s Office then shares the approval with the Records Office for processing. Forms and School-level regulations regarding transfer credit are linked and explained on the . All materials noted on the SCI Transfer Credit Request Form must be submitted with a student’s petition to transfer credit.

Awarding of Assistantships

The CSD supports a number of students with Teaching Assistantships (TA) and Teaching Fellowships (TF). The following policies apply to the awarding of TAs and TFs; note that these policies are subject to the Department having adequate funds, as discussed below.

  • Students may be admitted with or without support. Those offered support will be offered full support, except under extenuating circumstances. Students may be offered partial support during the summer.
  • All PhD students admitted with support typically continue with the same level of support for the first two years, provided that he/she meets the eligibility requirements for the Assistantship.
  • The eligibility requirements for a Teaching Assistantship or Fellowship are:
    • They are not placed on probation.
    • They score at least a 4 in the English Language Fluency Test.
    • They perform their Teaching Assistantship duties satisfactorily.
    • They complete their preliminary examinations by the end of the second regular term of enrollment.
    • They have been in the program no more than 5 years.
    • They have maintained an S in the CS 2003  course.
  • PhD students in their 3rd year or beyond are also typically given support. However, responsibility for providing the financial support typically moves from the department to the student’s advisor. Students must consult with advisors regarding financial support by the end of their second spring term of residence.
  • All other students will be considered for support on a case-by-case basis. Criteria used in giving support to these students will include:
    • the number of course requirements already completed
    • scholarly performance, including GPA and evidence of research potential
    • the results of attempts to pass the preliminary examination
    • the score in the English Language Fluency Test, and
    • the quality of previous teaching performance (if applicable)
      • Note that it is often the case that some teaching assistantship positions become available only on very short notice before the start of a term. In order to satisfy the Department’s teaching needs, these positions may be filled on an “emergency” basis, following these criteria as preferences. Students receiving these emergency appointments should be aware that their appointment does not imply any preferential treatment for appointments in subsequent terms.
  • A student who has signed anassistantship contract may resign from all or part of the assignment for a given term any time up to four weeks before the start of that term. If a student does not resign from the assistantship assignment, he or she is bound by that assignment. Students violating this rule will not be eligible for assistantship positions in any subsequent term.

Fellowships and Awards

Each year, there are several opportunities for graduate fellowships and awards. It is the student’s responsibility to watch for these opportunities, to determine eligibility, to seek faculty endorsement, and to complete an application.

For some external fellowships and awards, the CSD may nominate a maximum number of students. When a fellowship or award limits the number of nominations, the CSD will follow a four-step procedure to select the actual nominations. Note that a nomination by the department does not necessarily imply the awarding of a fellowship.

  1. Determine eligibility: student is eligible for a fellowship if he/she meets the criteria established by the organization that grants the fellowship. In addition, a student must be in a good academic standing and meet certain criteria that are determined by the department. The specific department criteria will be announced each year prior to the fellowship deadline.
  2. Seek advisor endorsement: An eligible student must discuss the fellowship with her/his advisor and get the agreement of the advisor to write a letter of recommendation.
  3. Complete an application: If a student is eligible and has an advisor’s endorsement, then a fellowship application should be completed and submitted to the Computer Science Department.
  4. Selection of final nominees: The applications will be made available to the whole CSD faculty, who will vote on the final set of nominees. The faculty will vote based on the application materials and additional information about students’ departmental activities that include attendance of departmental colloquia, and participation in the departmental research competitions. A student should write the application in a way that is clear to a non-specialist. The final set of nominees may submit their applications to the fellowship organization.

As an example of department criteria for fellowship eligibility:

  1. Passed preliminary examination
  2. An author on at least two papers
  3. Primary author on at least one paper
  4. A GPA of 3.60 or better

Grievance Procedures

Students who believe that a decision about their academic program has been made on the basis of incomplete or incorrect information may appeal the decision. To do this, the student should prepare a letter that outlines his or her position and provide evidence that supports the claim that the decision was inappropriate. The student should send the letter to the CSD Chairperson, after securing the endorsement of his or her advisor. The CSD Chairperson may either reject the appeal or forward it to the Dean for consideration. Appeals must be made within thirty days of the date of notification of any decision.



Computer Science Department


School of Computing and Information


Graduate Admissions and Financial Aid Committee


Graduate Programs and Examinations Committee


Quality Point Average



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