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University of Pittsburgh    
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 12, 2024
2017-2018 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.

Our graduate students come from all corners of the globe and are able to pursue research topics in most areas within computer science and in many application areas within other disciplines. They are able to take advantage of the diverse faculty research collaborations with other departments and programs within the University such as the Learning Research and Development Center, the Intelligent Systems Program, the Telecommunications Program of the School of Information Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the School of Medicine.

General Policies

Advisors and Student Evaluations

When a student enters the Department he or she will be assigned a temporary advisor. The temporary advisor will guide the student in making course selections and will provide advice and information about the students’s academic program. The advisor will sign the student’s registration form each term, except when the student is on probation. During a probationary period, the student must have the registration form signed by the Graduate Enrollment Officer. A student may change advisors at any time, after obtaining the agreement of the new advisor. The advisor presents information about his or her students at the annual student performance evaluation meeting.

When a student begins to do independent work on either a MS or PhD project, he or she will negotiate with a faculty member to supervise this work and to become the student’s principal advisor. The principal advisor replaces the temporary advisor, and assumes the responsibility for guiding the student in his or her academic program, for signing his or her registration form, and for presenting information about him or her at the annual student performance evaluation meeting. The principal 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 will normally meet with their advisor weekly.

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 provide the advisor with any supporting material that the advisor requests for the evaluation meeting. 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 performance goals. Failure to meet those goals may result in termination from the program.


The following parties share responsibilities for a student’s academic progress:

The student is expected to:

  • be knowledgeable of SCI and departmental regulations;
  • keep his or her advisor current about his/her academic status (i.e., provisional or probation), progress, and plans;
  • register for courses on time (preferably as early as possible);
  • assist the administrator in CSD Graduate Programs Office in keeping current his or her file, including an up-to-date mailing address;
  • notify the administrator in the CSD Graduate Programs Office if he or she changes advisor;
  • provide advisor with materials for the student annual evaluation meeting;
  • (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; and
  • deliver two copies of a final MS thesis or PhD dissertation to the CS Library (please refer to the templates online here).

The advisor is expected to:

  • assist the student in selecting courses and sign his or her registration form (except in the case of students who are on probation, whose forms must be signed by the Graduate Enrollment Officer);
  • 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 and a principal advisor;
  • 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; and
  • 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;
  • announce the timing of PhD preliminary examinations to all graduate students and faculty;
  • oversee the preparation, grading and review of these examinations; and
  • report the results of the examinations to the student, the student’s advisor, the administrator in CSD Graduate Programs Office, and the Dean.

Calculation of GPA and Repeating Courses

For CSD purposes, a student’s quality point average (GPA) will be computed according to the following guidelines:

  • All graduate-level courses taken during fulfillment of degree requirements, even if more than the minimally required number, will be used in computing the GPA. This includes courses taken outside the Department, with GPEC approval, after enrolling in the CSD.
  • The following courses are not used in computing a GPA: courses taken to remove a deficiency while on provisional status; elective courses not carrying graduate credit; courses taken prior to admission; and courses for which non-letter grades are given (i.e., courses in which the student receives G, I, N, S, or W).

Note also that students are prohibited from repeating courses in the CSD solely for the purpose of increasing their GPA. If a course is repeated solely for this purpose, only the first grade received will be used in computing the GPA. Repetition of failed foundation courses is expected, and the second (or subsequent) grade will be counted toward the GPA.

Registration Requirements and Statute of Limitations

University regulations impose certain conditions on a student’s registration, including the following:

  1. Continuous registration. Any student who does not register for at least one credit during a 12-month period is automatically put on inactive status. In order to resume his or her program, the student must reapply for admission, and pay the application fee. If readmitted, the student must complete any review work stipulated by GAFA.
  2. Level of registration. A student must be registered at all times for a number of credits fairly reflecting his or her utilization of departmental resources. In particular, a student must be registered for thesis or dissertation credits during any term in which he or she confers with his or her thesis advisor. A student must also be registered in the term in which they take preliminary and comprehensive examinations. Moreover, a student must be registered for at least one credit during the 12-month period preceding graduation, and must be registered during the term in which he or she is graduated.  Note: foreign students should consult appropriate INS legislation to determine level of registration for legal purpose (see OIS).
  3. Statute of Limitations. Requirements for the master’s degree must be completed within a period of four calendar years from the student’s initial registration for graduate study. Requirements for the doctoral degree must be fulfilled within a period of ten calendar years from the student’s initial registration for graduate study. For those students entering with a master’s degree in computer science, requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within a period of eight calendar years from their first registration for graduate study. The CSD applies the eight-year, post-MS limit to students with MS degrees both from other universities and from the University of Pittsburgh.

A student is not permitted to continue in his or her graduate program when the statute of limitations has been reached.  Under exceptional circumstances a candidate for an advanced degree may apply for an extension of the statute of limitations.  Applications must state the reason for the delay, provide evidence of continuing progress toward the completion of the degree and include 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; and then submitted 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 .

 Independent Study and Directed Study

Students may elect to undertake individual study under the supervision of a faculty member. A student who wishes to register for CS 2000 (Master’s Thesis), CS 2910 (Master’s Project), CS 2990 (Independent Study), CS 3000 (PhD Dissertation Research), or CS 3900 (PhD Directed Study) must submit an individual study permit request for approval by the supervising faculty member. The approved title and short description for these courses must be submitted to the CSD Graduate Programs Office before the student is allowed to register in these courses.

Transferring Courses

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 both 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 Neural Networks. In that case, the student might petition only for a transfer of 3 credits.

Finally, in yet another case, suppose that a MS student enters having previously taken graduate-level courses in Compiler Design and in Principles of Database Systems. Since only one out-of-department course can be counted for the MS degree, the student may request the transfer of 3 credits for only one of the two courses (say, CS 2210 ), thereby placing out of the requirement. The student may then request placement out of the requirement for the second course (in this example, CS 2550 ), though the credits for this course will not transfer.

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, and normally within the student’s first term. 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 look into 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 following regulations apply to courses taken outside the CSD:

  • Only courses taken at an accredited graduate institution and in which the student received a grade of B or better will be considered for transfer of credit or for use to place out of a requirement;
  • For the MS degree, no more than one course (3 credits) that is either taken out-of-department or is 1600-level 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 transfer credits may be acceptable. Note however, that at most 4 of the 12 required courses for the PhD may be taken outside the department. 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 courses in the CSD.
  • 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.

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 substitution form, available from the administrator in the CSD Graduate Programs Office, signed by the student’s advisor. If the petition includes a request to place out of a requirement, the form should also be signed by a CSD faculty member who teaches the equivalent course. Students may contact the GPEC chair if they need assistance in locating the appropriate faculty member(s).

for courses taken prior to enrolling in the CSD:

  • a transcript showing the course name and grade;
  • an explanation of course numbering and grading systems at the university where the course was taken;
  • a syllabus for the course;
  • a course description.

courses that the student would like to take after enrolling in the CSD:

  • a course description;
  • a syllabus for the course, if available;
  • a statement of the reasons that courses within the CSD will not satisfy the student’s goals or constraints; and
  • the signature of the principal advisor endorsing the petition.

For requests to transfer credits, GPEC will either recommend approval or reject the petition. If GPEC recommends approval, it will send the recommendation to the Dean, who will make a final decision and notify the student. GPEC will make the final decision about requests to place out of requirements, and will notify the student directly.

Awarding of Teaching Assistantships

The CSD supports a number of students with Teaching Assistantships and Fellowships (TAs/TFs). In awarding these, the Department gives priority to PhD students. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 a TA.
  3. The eligibility requirements for a TA are:
    1. they are not placed on probation
    2. they score at least a 4 in the English Language Fluency Test
    3. they perform their TA/TF duties satisfactorily
    4. they complete their preliminary examinations by the end of the third regular term of enrollment.
    5. they have been in the program no more than 5 years.
    6. they have maintained an S in the CS 2003  course.
  4. 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. Please contact your advisor (by March 1) for details.
  5. All other students will be considered for support on a case-by-case basis. Criteria used in giving support to these students will include:
    1. the number of course requirements already completed
    2. scholarly performance, including GPA and evidence of research potential
    3. the results of attempts to pass the preliminary examination
    4. the score in the English Language Fluency Test, and
    5. the quality of previous teaching performance (if applicable)
    6. Note that it is often the case that some TA 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.
  6. In order to be considered for financial aid for the Fall term, a student has to file an application in the CSD Graduate Programs Office by March 1st. Copies of a vita, an up-to-date grade report and teaching evaluations (when applicable) must be enclosed with the application. Awards for the Fall term will normally be for a full academic year (i.e., Fall and Spring terms), except in the case of emergency positions as noted above. Applications for the Spring and Summer terms are due Nov. 1 and Mar. 1, respectively.
  7. A student who has signed a TA 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 TA assignment, he or she is bound by that assignment. Students violating this rule will not be eligible for TA 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 and to complete an application.

For some external fellowships and awards, the CSD may nominate a maximum number of students. For example, the Andrew Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship restricts the number of students that a department may nominate. 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: A 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. Apply: 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, the following criteria was established for the 2006-2007 Andrew Mellon Fellowship:

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