The Ph.D Program in Computer Science is designed for students who want to contribute to the study of the description and representation of information and the theory, design, analysis, implementation, and application of algorithmic processes that transform information.

Students receive advanced training in the scientific principles and technology required to develop and evaluate new computer systems and applications. Our curriculum covers all major areas of computer science, with active research in artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, human-computer interaction, software engineering, machine learning, computer systems, etc.

See our list of recent Ph.D. graduates and dissertation titles.

Information for prospective Ph.D. students

An applicant may be admitted with a Bachelor’s degree or with an M.S. degree in computer science or a related field. If the applicant enters without the M.S., the applicant will earn the M.S. before proceeding to the “PhD portion” of the program.

Applications are accepted for both Spring and Fall semesters. The applicant should attend to the fact that requirements are imposed by both the Graduate Division and the ICS Department, and ensure that materials are sent to the proper recipient.

Graduate Division Requirements

It is important for you to carefully read the information on the Graduate Division Admissions page as well as this page (see here for additional requirements for international applicants). (For academic policies, degree requirements, etc. see the Graduate Division Site.)

ICS Requirements

Applicants with Bachelor’s degrees must satisfy the admission requirements of the ICS master’s program. Please read this first.

Applications must include all forms listed in the next section. Official transcripts of your coursework and degrees to date are required. The general GRE scores (Analytic, Quantitative, Verbal) are required. (There is no specific cutoff score. Scores are evaluated in light of your application as a whole. The GMAT will be considered as an alternative if the GRE is not available in time for your application deadline, but you must notify us of the substitution.)  The GRE scores must ben sent directly to us from ETS (Institution code is: 4867; Department code is: 0402). The Computer Science GRE is no longer available and not required, but in the case of applicants entering without an M.S., a past score at the 85th percentile or better may save you from having to take “deficiency” courses (see Coursework for the ICS master’s program).

Applications must include a statement of purpose. In this statement, describe your motivations for entering the program, including research and teaching interests. A Ph.D. is a fundamentally different kind of endeavour than the coursework-oriented education you may be familiar with, so we take your ability to articulate your objectives seriously. Send the statement of purpose to the ICS department along with your ICS Express Information Form (below).

Applicants should arrange for typically three letters of reference addressing your potential for graduate coursework, research and teaching to be sent to the ICS Graduate Chair (see contact information at the bottom of this page). These letters are very important and although they are not required, strong letters go a long way in making your application stronger.

Applicants from foreign countries must have sufficient financial support, must be proficient in English, and must submit a TOEFL (minimum 600/250/100 for the paper/computer/internet test).

Application Checklist

If you send your application materials to the wrong office your application may be delayed or even denied as being incomplete. The materials that are required by the Graduate Division will be forwarded to the ICS Department once the Graduate Division determines that your application is complete. It is your responsibility to communicate with Graduate Division to ensure they have all of the required materials. Until they do, we won’t see your application.

Graduate Division Ph.D. Degree Requirements

As with admissions, requirements are imposed by both the Graduate Division and the ICS Department. Please begin by reading the Graduate Division Requirements page. You may want to bookmark the Graduate Division Home Page.


Information for current  Ph.D. students

Note: the program was redesigned effective for new students admitted Fall 2006. Students under the “old qualifier system” should visit this page for their ICS requirements.


The ICS Ph.D. program is designed with the following objectives: (1) Certify the student’s core competency in computer science and address any deficiencies in this competency as efficently as possible, so that the bulk of the student’s Ph.D. program is focused on research. (2) Prepare the student to do research through an apprenticeship with a faculty member, assessing readiness to do research with a research portfolio that is analogous to a professional tenure and promotion portfolio.

I. Core Competency

The Ph.D. student shall demonstrate core competency in computer science by meeting the following two requirements:

I.A. Masters Degree:

Students shall complete a Masters’ degree in Computer Science or related field.

  1. What counts as “related” is at the discretion of the graduate program chair, assisted by the admissions committee.
  2. Those who enter without a MS shall go through the ICS MS program as part of their degree process.
  3. Students are considered to be in the “PhD portion” of their studies once they meet the requirement for the MS degree, even if it has not yet been awarded.
I.B. Qualifying Exam:

The qualifying exam will cover core knowledge of computer science at the level that might reasonably be expected of a job interviewee with a master’s degree. A study guide is available here.

  1. Exams are designed and given by a committee of the faculty convened by the graduate program chair.
  2. Students shall take the qualifying exam at the end of the first semester of the PhD portion of their studies.
  3. Students may attempt the qualifying exam only twice.
  4. Students must pass this qualifying exam no later than end of the first year of their PhD studies.
  5. Failure to pass within the time period of B4 (i.e., by the second attempt) leads to dismissal from the program.
  6. The exam committee may specify one of three results of a qualifying exam: (1) Unconditional pass; (2) conditional pass; (3) failure, requiring a second attempt or dismissal from the program. A “conditional pass” may include conditions such as that the student take and pass a given course with B+ or better the next time it is offered. Conditional passes are used when a student demonstrates reasonable competency in all but one or two specific areas.

II. Research Readiness and Professional Capacity

ICS 690

Students must pass the seminar course ICS 690 in each semester of the “PhD portion” of their program. The seminar requires an attendance of 10 sessions per semester for Ph.D. students who have not passed their Ph.D. proposal, and only 5 sessions per semester for Ph.D. students who have passed their Ph.D. proposal before the beginning of the semester (i.e., who have had Form II processed and signed by the graduate chair).

Ph.D. Portfolio

By the end of the first year of the PhD portion of studies, the student will choose by mutual consent or be assigned a PhD program advisor. (This need not necessarily be the final PhD dissertation advisor.) The advisor will guide the student in preparing a portfolio that includes the following.

  1. Statement of purpose: A one to two page statement, written by the student, of the student’s professional interests in research, teaching, service, and/or product development.
  2. Evidence of Core Competency: Documentation of the accomplishments of part I.
    • Evidence of MS degree
    • Results of qualifying exam and evidence that any conditions have been met.
    • (Optional:) Other evidence, such as professional employment in Computer Science.
  3. Evidence of Scholarly Ability: Evidence of ability to identify, critically analyze, and research a problem, and of written communication skills, in the form of two or more items authored by the student and reviewed by doctoral level scholars. The first item (literature review) is required; at least one of the remainder must be supplied.
    • Written Literature Review in the proposed area of study of 20-30 pages, following the graduate division dissertation format and reviewing at least 20 published works. (The student may elect to change the area of study at the proposal stage.) Guidelines for formatting the literature review include:
        • 1-inch margins
        • 11pt font
        • single-column
        • double-spaced
    • Thesis by the student from MS Plan A.
    • Publication(s) in reviewed journals or conferences. Evidence of quality such as acceptance rates or citation indexing should be provided. For multi-author publications, the student must provide a description of what his/her contribution was to the article.
    • Technical report(s) on research project(s) that were supervised by a faculty member and read and approved by two other faculty members. ICS 699 projects may be included.
  4. Other Evidence of Professional Capacity (Optional): At the discretion of the student and the advisor, other material may be included in the portfolio. A professional vita of employment, professional presentations, reviewing of papers for conferences and journals, competitive fellowships or other external funding awards, patents, teaching, and service on committees or as graduate student representatives contribute to the candidacy decision. Letters of reference may also be included. Students should report all forms of research, teaching, and service to the community and to the discipline when preparing their portfolios.

Students must submit their portfolio by the end of their second year in the Ph.D. portion of their studies, and must have their portfolio approved by the end of their 3rd year of the Ph.D. portion of their studies.  Failing to meet either deadline will result in dismissal from the program. The portfolio is approved by a two-thirds majority vote of a quorum of the ICS faculty (typically at a faculty meeting). The portfolio shall be distributed to the faculty in advance of the meeting at which it will be voted upon.

Professor Philip Johnson has developed TechFolios to support the development of professional portfolios, including ICS Ph.D. portfolios. Anthony Christe’s portfolio provides an example of how TechFolio can be used for this purpose.

The graduate program chair shall designate one faculty to argue for the student’s case and one to argue against the student, who may both vote as they see fit. Faculty that have a conflict of interest with the student (e.g., advisor or co-advisor, co-author on research articles, direct supervisor) cannot serve in these capacities.

A student can communicate to the graduate chair, without any justification, the name of at most two faculty members that are excluded from voting and from serving in the two above capacities. To preserve anonymity, the graduate chair will exclude two faculty members from voting and from serving in the two above capacities as a matter of course for each portolio evaluation meetings. These two faculty members will have been either excluded by the student or picked at random by the graduate chair, unbeknownst to the faculty as a whole.

It is strongly suggested that students submit their portfolio to the Graduate Chair as a URL that points to a Web page that contains all the  required material, rather than providing hard copies.


The portfolio must be approved before undertaking the Proposal Defense.

III. Proposal Defense

Before commencing the final dissertation research, the student shall give a public defense of his or her PhD proposal. Students prepare a research proposal that includes a literature review in the chosen topic area (this usually is but is not required to be derived from the literature review from the portfolio) and a description of research topics to be investigated. This work should be done under the direction of an appropriate faculty advisor.

After forming a committee, students take an oral examination covering their general preparation for the research involved, as specified in the General and Graduate Information Catalog.

Once the student passes the proposal defense, Form II must be processed.

It is generally advised that the proposal defense be scheduled for a time period of 3 hours. Although many proposal defenses are under 2 hours, depending on the level of feedback provided by the committee the defense may go over 2 hours.

IV. Final Defense

Students then conduct their research and write a dissertation under the direction of the advisor.

The dissertation must be presented to and approved by a doctoral committee, as specified in the General and Graduate Information Catalog.

Dissertation Format

ICS graduate students have been maintaining a LaTeX template for the dissertation, which should be used by students planning for write their dissertation using LaTeX

Graduate Chair Coordinates

Dr. Edoardo Biagioni
Department of Information and Computer Sciences
1680 East West Road, Room 317
Honolulu, HI 96822
808 956-3891 (office)
808 956-3548 (fax)