New Mexico State University

Milestones Towards the Doctoral Degree

Ensuring You Have an Appropriate Advisor

It is up to you to ensure that you have an advisor whose interests best match your own specialization in Computer Science. Find out what the faculty are interested in and do not hesitate to discuss your work with them. If you feel your current advisor is not appropriate, change to another one. Inquire at the department office about how to do this.

There may be no faculty member who is expert in a particular Computer Science area that you may have considered for doctoral research. You are strongly advised to choose another area in such a case. The committee can include members from universities other than NMSU. The committee must have at least one member who is an expert in your field of research, especially if that expert is not your advisor.

Removing Undergraduate Deficiencies

We take seriously the statement in the Graduate Catalog that

"Prospective candidates are expected to hold bachelor's or master's degrees from accredited institutions, based on curricula that include the prerequisites for graduate study in the department of their subject."

Hence, an important milestone is the removal of any undergraduate deficiencies. If you do not already have at least a bachelor's level background in Computer Science, you are likely to have several undergraduate deficiencies to remove. (See also the Undergraduate Deficiences)

If you must satisfy undergraduate deficiencies, the department has provided a course designation of CS 469 which will allow you to satisfy those deficiencies while maintaining full-time graduate status. However, none of the classes taken as CS 469 will apply towards graduate credit.

Qualifying Examination

This tests the breadth of your ability in Computer Science and potential for successfully completing doctoral research. The Examination is described in a separate section of this handbook.Note especially the timing information in that section.

Note that the Computer Science Department does require Ph.D students who have a Master's from our department to take the Qualifying Examination. These students are encouraged to take the Qualifying Exam no later than one semester after their Master's Degree graduation date.

The "Qualifying Examination" section of this handbook describes the examination in detail.

Application for Admission to Candidacy

After passing the Qualifying Examination and completing 12 credit hours of graduate work in residence beyond what is required for a Master's degree, the student must apply for Admission to Candidacy before registering for additional work. The application includes a specification of your program of study, and of the membership of your doctoral committee. The chairperson of this committee is your ``PhD Advisor.'' By this time you must also have chosen a general research area within which your dissertation will lie. (For a discussion of the notion of ``general research area,'' please see the sheets describing the Comprehensive Examination.)

The form to use for the application is referred to as the "Program of Study and Committee for Graduate Students Pursuing the Doctorate."

Changes in the membership of your Doctoral Committee are looked on with disfavor by the Graduate School (except of course when precipitated by, say, the departure of a member from the University). No change may be made without the prior approval of the Dean of the Graduate School.

See the rules in the Graduate Catalog for details on the required composition of the committee. All its members must be in the ``graduate faculty'', a category defined by the Graduate School. The section of this handbook that lists our faculty members and their interests also mentions whether they are in the graduate faculty.

Comprehensive Examination

This tests breadth and depth of knowledge, considerably beyond the Master's level, within the ``general research area'' you have chosen (see paragraph above on Application for Admission to Candidacy). The examination is part written and part oral. Further details are enclosed as a separate section in this handbook.

You will be allowed to take the examination when you have taken adequate course work to the satisfaction of the Department and Graduate School, and are otherwise considered by your doctoral committee to be prepared to take the examination.

Advancement to Candidacy

You will be formally advanced to candidacy upon the successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination, the recommendation of your doctoral committee, and the approval of the Dean of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Prospectus Evaluation

Within about a semester of passing the Comprehensive Examination, you must receive approval of a Dissertation Prospectus. This is a written document, containing the following at least:

  • a thorough survey, including proper literature references, of the area in which your intended research will lie
  • an outline of your intended research, covering motivation, goals, methods and tentative work plan.

The evaluation is performed by your Doctoral Committee, and rests not only on the written document itself but also on an oral presentation of its content to the committee.

The approved prospectus must be filed with the Department office.

If major changes in the direction of the research occur, you should write a new Prospectus and have it evaluated.

The Prospectus is a departmental requirement. The Graduate Catalog makes no mention of it.

Doctoral Dissertation

See Graduate Catalog. The Dissertation must conform to the rules laid down in the Graduate School booklet entitled "Guidelines for Preparing a Thesis or Dissertation."

Final Examination (Dissertation Defense)

This is an oral examination. It is primarily an examination of the work reported in your Dissertation, but can also cover any part of the student's general research area. The examination is conducted by your Doctoral Committee.

The committee will probably require you to give an oral presentation of your research during the examination, although there is no formal requirement that such a presentation take place. You should determine well in advance whether or not you will be required to make one.

The examination may be opened to the public at the discretion of the Department Head or your advisor.


PhD Advisor as opposed to previous advisor

When you form the doctoral committee as part of the Application for Candidacy, you choose your PhD advisor. This person need not be the same as the advisor you have had up to this point.


The Graduate Catalog and the Department impose various important deadlines concerning the various steps towards your doctorate. Observe them, and ask your advisor to arrange for the necessary paperwork to be done in good time. (The deadlines are for such things as the submission of various forms, the holding of the final examination, and the delivery of the dissertation to the university library.)

Foreign Language Requirement

The department currently does not impose one.

Thesis versus Dissertation

This University reserves the term Thesis for master's programs and the term Dissertation for doctoral programs.

GRE Subject Test Abolished

The department no longer requires doctoral students to take the GRE Subject Test.