What Is the Curriculum of a Doctoral Degree in Computer Science?

A Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science program prepares graduates to become professors or researchers for academic institutions, the technology industry or businesses. Completing a Ph.D. in Computer Science can take from five to seven years. The curriculum of a doctoral degree in computer science consists of a set of required courses, comprehensive examinations and a dissertation. Read on to learn more about this degree program. Schools offering Computer Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Computer Science Ph.D. Overview

The curriculum of a doctoral degree in computer science is very different from that of a bachelor's or master's degree. Fewer courses are required; instead, students are expected to devote the majority of their time to original research, teaching assistantships and their final thesis project.

Important Facts About a Doctoral Degree in Computer Science

Concentrations Programs are individualized based on research interests; research styles include theoretical, systems, and applied
Possible Careers Computer Engineer, Computer Programmer, Educator, Computer Systems Analyst, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Data Scientist, Software Engineer
Online Availability Residency typically required; may be offered partially online
Key Skills Creativity, problem solving, oral and communication skills, computer systems knowledge, independent researching

Required Courses

For most Ph.D. programs in computer science, students are required to complete relatively few hours of coursework, compared to undergraduate degrees. Required courses typically include departmental seminars led by university faculty and visiting researchers and experts. Doctoral students also work closely with their advisors to determine which graduate-level courses to take that match their research interests and area of expertise. At Cornell University, for example, courses are categorized in areas such as computer systems or artificial intelligence. Specific courses may include:

  • Computer system architecture
  • Programming languages
  • Algorithms
  • Machine learning
  • Computational biology

Comprehensive Exams

The next step in the curriculum for a doctoral degree in computer science is the comprehensive exam. This exam, or series of exams, tests the breadth of students' knowledge of fundamental concepts in the field. At Stanford University, for instance, the exams test competency in computer systems, artificial intelligence and applications, and mathematical and theoretical foundations. Depending on the university, the comprehensive exams may include a written component, a practical component and an oral component.


The most important part of any doctoral program is the dissertation. The bulk of a Ph.D. student's work is devoted to the doctoral dissertation, which is developed under the supervision of a thesis advisor. Once the dissertation is completed, it must be submitted for review to a committee and most likely defended orally by the student.

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