The PhD in Computer Science program combines coursework, a Comprehensive I (breadth) exam by which the candidate demonstrates a breadth of knowledge in a broad range of research areas in Computer Science, a Comprehensive II exam by which the candidate demonstrates a depth of knowledge in the chosen research area, and seminars, leading to a thesis. 

Note: The School of Computer Science does not accept part-time students into the PhD program unless the applicant is currently an employee of the School.

PhD course requirements

The following is a brief outline of the PhD course requirements. 

PhD from master's:

  • 4 one-term graduate courses
  • at least 3 of the courses must be above the 600-level
  • a minimum of one 800-level course
  • any required remedial courses

PhD from bachelor's

  • 8 one-term graduate courses
  • at least 5 of the courses must be above the 600-level
  • a minimum of three 800-level courses
  • any required remedial courses

Students are permitted to carry over any extra courses from their MMath program at Waterloo. Note the courses must be noted as extra on the transcript.

PhD comprehensive requirements

PhD Comprehensive-I (Breadth)

The PhD Comprehensive-I (Breadth) requirement ensures that a student has sufficient breadth of knowledge to undertake research at the PhD level. A student meets the requirement by taking a number of advanced courses in a broad range of categories and areas of Computer Science. 

  • The 6 courses used must all have a minimum mark of 78% (B+ or equivalent).
  • Breadth courses must cover each of 3 broad categories in Computer Science (Computing Technology, Mathematics of Computing, and Applications). See Table 1.
  • 6 of the 11 areas shown in Table 1 must be covered by breadth courses.
  • Courses for the breadth requirement can include 4th year (400+ level) advanced undergraduate courses, courses taken at master's level and completed or proposed courses at doctoral level.

Table 1: Categories and Areas for Breadth Requirement

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PhD Comprehensive-II (Depth)

As of Fall 2019, new University regulations regarding comprehensive exams will come into effect. Graduate students within the Faculty of Mathematics should familiarize themselves with these regulations. In particular, based on these new regulations students are expected to complete their Comprehensive exam by the end of Term 7. 

Additional information about Comprehensive exams can be found here.

  • an oral exam normally taken within 7 terms of entering the PhD program which tests the student's preparedness to pursue thesis research
  • requires an oral presentation of a Research Proposal (not a Thesis Proposal) together with questioning by the Advisory Committee made up of the supervisor (and co-supervisor) and 2 additional faculty members from the School of Computer Science
  • the candidate must convince the committee that the chosen research area is suitable and demonstrate an appropriate breadth of knowledge in the chosen area
  • the committee must determine if there is a thesis topic in the area and whether the candidate is capable of completing such a thesis

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PhD seminar requirement

  • requires the presentation of 3 publicly-posted seminars (or lectures, possibly in 700 level courses) in the School of Computer Science
  • the purpose of this requirement is twofold: first, it ensures that each student participates in the academic life of the School and, second, it provides an opportunity for students to hone their presentational skills.

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PhD Internship (if applicable):

  • Students in the PhD Internship program must submit a work report. The work report should relate your internship to your academic program and must have an identifiable analytic component.  A report is unacceptable if it only contains a narrative, is a user's guide, or if it simply summarizes your work term tasks. Furthermore, the work report does not have to discuss original research or relate to a new technical discovery. The work report should:
    • Describe a topic that is relevant and that is not deemed confidential by your employer
    • Contain constructive criticism, conclusions and/or recommendations
    • Compare and evaluate several items or alternatives using various criteria
    • Discuss the underlying problem, your approach to solving the problem, and the progress you made

If the department is not satisfied with the quality of your report you will be expected to re-write it and resubmit within the required time frame.

PhD thesis

The PhD thesis oral examination culminates the candidate's research program. It exposes the candidate's work to scholarly criticism by members of the University, and gives the student the opportunity to defend it.

For regulations and guidelines see more details.

Have questions? Please visit our FAQ page.

PhD milestones: request for public posting 

PhD Seminar

PhD Defense