Doctoral Programs in Computer Science and Engineering

Updated January 2023

PhD Program Overview

The following requirements are for students who entered the program starting Fall 2018 or later. If you entered Doctoral Program prior to Fall 2018 see our Former Curriculum Requirements.

CSE offers Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Computer Science and in Computer Engineering, providing a research-oriented education in preparation for a research, industrial, or entrepreneurial career. These programs explore both the fundamental aspects and application of computation, spanning theory, software, hardware, and applications.

Course Requirements 

The 37-unit coursework requirement is intended to ensure that students are exposed to (1) fundamental concepts and tools, (2) advanced, up-to-date views in topics outside their area (the breadth requirement), and (3) a deep, up-to-date view of their research area (the elective requirement). Doctoral students are expected to complete the breadth and elective requirements within the first three years of the program. All required coursework must be taken for a letter grade, with the exception of CSE 292 (Faculty Research Seminar), which is only offered S/U.

To access the CSE PhD Program Course Planner worksheet:  click here

Units obtained from a single course cannot count towards both the breadth and the elective requirements; they may only be applied towards one or the other. Doctoral students who have taken similar courses elsewhere may petition for a waiver of the required courses or for substitution by alternative courses.

Breadth Requirement

The breadth requirement ensures that doctoral students share knowledge of fundamental concepts and tools from across broad areas of computer science and computer engineering. Each doctoral student must take each of these courses for a letter grade and maintain an overall breadth course GPA of 3.3 (except for CSE 292, for which a letter grade is not assigned). A student will typically complete all breadth courses within the first two years of graduate study. 
Breadth courses are categorized into ten areas and are listed here alphabetically:

  • Artificial Intelligence 
  • Bioinformatics
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Systems & Security
  • Database Systems
  • Graphics & Vision
  • Human-computer Interaction 
  • Programming Languages, Compilers, and Software Engineering
  • Robotics
  • Theoretical Computer Science

To fulfill the breadth requirement, students will select four out of the ten areas and take a single course from each of these four areas.

For courses approved to fulfill the breadth requirement, please see the CSE Graduate Course Structure for PhD Students.

Additionally, students are required to take CSE 292, a 1-unit Faculty Researcher Seminar, where CSE faculty present one-hour seminars of their current research work in their areas of interest.  This course is only taught in Fall quarters and offered for S/U grade only.

Elective Requirement

The elective requirement ensures that doctoral students acquire some depth of knowledge in a general research area early in their career, but it also does not preclude them from pursuing a breadth of topics, if it serves their research interests. The elective requirement is designed to be flexible and nimble enough to respond to the rapidly and constantly evolving dynamic disciplines of computer science and computer engineering. 

The elective requirement is also designed with heavy faculty mentorship in mind.  Students will consult with their faculty advisors to develop an academic plan that will include four courses from the aforementioned four separate breadth areas and five elective courses that may be selected from an approved set of courses featured in the CSE Graduate Course Structure for PhD Students.

Units obtained in the CSE 209 series, 229 series, 239 series, 249 series, 259 series, 269 series, 279 series, 289 series, 219, 290, 292, 293, 294, 298, 299, 500, and 599 do not count toward the elective requirement.

Research Exam Requirement 

The research exam in the first milestone in the Ph.D. program.  It has three goals:

  • Depth. The research exam verifies the student's ability to identify challenges and open problems in a focused area.  The exam should teach students how to navigate, acquire depth of knowledge, and perform critical analysis in a given research area; the exam should verify such abilities.
  • Communication. The research exam will verify the student's ability to communicate past and proposed research, orally and in writing.
  • Provide diverse feedback. The research exam provides the student with feedback on their research synthesis, analysis, and communication skills from CSE faculty beyond their advisor and outside their immediate research area.

As part of the exam, the student prepares and makes a presentation to their research exam committee.  The presentation can present results of their research and must also place that work in the context of related work in the field.

The exam committee comprises three faculty members (not including the student’s advisor), and the committee evaluates the student based on the goals above.

Student should complete the exam before the end of their second year of study.

Teaching Assistant Requirement 

Teaching is an important part of a doctoral student’s training. All students enrolled in the doctoral program must have one quarter of training as a teaching assistant. This is a formal degree requirement and must be completed before the student is permitted to graduate. The requirement is met by serving as a 50 percent teaching assistant and taking CSE 500 (Teaching Assistantship). CSE 599 (Teaching Methods in Computer Science) examines theoretical and practical communication and teaching techniques particularly appropriate to computer science, and students usually take it prior to or concurrent with the teaching assistantship.

Qualifying Examination and Advancement to Candidacy

The qualifying examination is a requirement for advancement to candidacy. Prior to taking the qualifying examination, a student must have satisfied the departmental course and research exam requirements and must have been accepted by a CSE faculty member as a doctoral thesis candidate. All doctoral students are expected to advance to candidacy by the end of their third year, and advancement is mandatory by the end of the fourth year. The examination is administered by a doctoral committee appointed by the dean of the Graduate Division and consists of faculty from CSE and other departments. More information on the composition of the committee can be obtained from the CSE graduate office. The examination is taken after the student and his or her adviser have identified a topic for the dissertation and an initial demonstration of feasible progress has been made. The candidate is expected to describe his or her accomplishments to date as well as future work.


The dissertation defense is the final doctoral examination. A candidate for the doctoral degree is expected to write a dissertation and defend it in an oral examination conducted by the doctoral committee. 

Departmental PhD Time Limit Policies 

Students must be advanced to candidacy by the end of four years. Total university support cannot exceed seven years. Total registered time at UC San Diego cannot exceed eight years.

Obtaining an MS

PhD students may obtain an MS Degree along the way or a terminal MS degree by completing the PhD coursework requirements (see details in the section “Doctoral Degree Program”); AND completing four units of CSE 299/298/293 OR an additional 4-unit, letter-graded, approved course from the CSE Graduate Course Structure; AND passing the PhD Research Exam.  Please note that completion of CSE 292 is not required for PhD students to earn the MS along the way or a terminal MS.

Financial Aid

Financial support is available to qualified graduate students in the form of fellowships, loans, and assistantships. For questions about financial support, please see our website: