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 algorithms, artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, data science, high-performance computing, human-computer interaction, software engineering, machine learning, and computer systems.

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., or with an M.S. in a field that does not adequately prepare the student for the Ph.D. qualifier exam, the applicant will earn an M.S. in computer science 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.

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, found on the MS in CS page. 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 normally 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.) However, due to Covid-19, the following policy has been adopted for Spring 2021 admissions:

The GRE General Test is no longer required (due to the logistical and financial challenges they pose to some students, and disagreement concerning their predictive value) but you may send scores if you wish. (We do not have a cutoff and generally are influenced only by extreme scores.) If you send them, GRE scores should be sent to us directly from ETS (Institution code is: 4867; Department code is: 0402).

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 endeavor than the coursework-oriented education applicants may be familiar with, so we take an applicant’s ability to articulate your objectives seriously. The statement should be about the future, not the past. We do not need to hear that you have been interested in computers ever since you were a child, that you overcame many obstacles, etc. Rather, we want to hear about your career objectives, and what you hope to accomplish in our program to achieve these objectives.

Applicants should arrange for three letters of reference addressing potential for graduate coursework, research and teaching. These letters are very important and strong letters go a long way in making your application stronger. The Graduate Division application site provides a way to specify who may upload confidential letters of reference directly to that site: do not have them sent to ICS.

Graduate Division requires that international applicants whose native language is not English take either the TOEFL or the IELTS. See here for more information on the requirements. In addition, our department imposes the following requirement for TOEFL scores: 600/250/100 or above for the Ph.D. program

Application Checklist

You must submit your application online to Graduate Division

The supplementary documents, which must be uploaded as part of your Graduate Division application, consist of the following items

  • ICS Express Information Form (PDF — please leave blank the Social Security Number)
  • ICS Graduate Assistantship Application Form (PDF) (if applying for an assistantship)
  • ICS Tuition Waiver Application (PDF) (if applying for a tuition waiver; preference is given to Hawaii residents)
  • Statement of Purpose (optional for MS applicants; required and of critical importance for Ph.D. applicants)
  • Request three letters of reference. This is done by entering names and e-mail addresses of letter writers via the Graduate Division Application Web site

Please submit your application by January 15th (foreign applicants) or February 1st (others) for Fall admission, and by September 1st (foreign applicants) or September 15th (others) for Spring admission. Applications received after these dates will be considered on a space-available basis, and may not be considered for financial aid.

All application materials 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.


Questions about the application process can be answered by contacting Graduate Division and/or e-mailing the ICS Graduate Chair.

Information for current  Ph.D. students

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.

Some degree requirements are imposed by the Graduate Division. Please begin by reading the Graduate Division Requirements page. You may want to bookmark the Graduate Division Home Page.

Getting Started with ICS 690

All new students (MS or PhD) must enroll in and pass ICS 690 in the first semester in which it is offered. Since it is offered in the fall, you should enroll in your first semester if you start in the fall, or in your second semester if you started in the spring. This course is supervised by the Graduate Chair and is CR/NC.

ICS 690 is now designed to help orient new students to the program and to learn about faculty research areas and interests. It is also required to graduate. If you fail to take it in your first (or second) semester, you will be taking it later when it is no longer as helpful to you.

If you took ICS 690 under the “old system”, you do not need to take it again. Prior requirements that students give presentations in ICS 690 are no longer in effect. Ph.D. students now give presentations annually in a departmental research seminar.

Demonstrating Core Competency

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

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.
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.

Portfolio: Research Readiness and Professional Capacity

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.

Contents of Portfolio
  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 in a field relevant to the student’s intended PhD work, 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; 11 point 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, but are not required. Students should report all forms of research, teaching, and service to the community and to the discipline when preparing their portfolios.

You may find Philip Johnson’s essay Why and how to create a high quality Ph.D. portfolio site useful.

Submission of Portfolio

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.

Evaluation of Portfolio

The portfolio is approved by a two-thirds majority vote of a quorum of the ICS faculty (typically at a graduate committee meeting). The portfolio shall be distributed to the faculty in advance of the meeting at which it will be voted upon.

The graduate program chair shall designate two faculty members who shall review the portfolio and summarize arguments both pro and con, following criteria of academic review. 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 this capacity. If the student feels there is a serious conflict with a faculty member that should preclude serving in this role the student should discuss it with the graduate chair or program chair more than a week in advance of the meeting.

The student’s advisor is strongly encouraged (but not required) to attend the portfolio review to provide relevant information, but may not vote or be selected as one of the two reviewers.

Deadlines for Portfolios

Portfolios should be submitted at least 10 days in advance of the graduate committee meeting in which they will be evaluated. (Ask the graduate chair about scheduling.)

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 third year of the Ph.D. portion of their studies.  Failing to meet either deadline will result in dismissal from the program.

The portfolio must be approved before undertaking the Proposal Defense.

Dissertation Committee

A Dissertation requires 5 committee members, including your advisor and a University Representative from outside your program. See the Graduate Division Committee Composition page about selecting members for your dissertation. The student should choose committee members in consultation with his/her advisor.

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.

Scheduling the PhD Proposal Defense
  1. The student must confirm with the ICS Graduate Chair the eligibility of the proposed committee members before scheduling the defense. The student must submit the proposal title and abstract, a draft of the proposal including references, the proposed committee, and a brief justification of the appropriateness of committee members to the ICS Graduate Chair by 21 days before the proposal defense to allow time for this process.
  2. The student must schedule a proposal defense meeting at a time that the dissertation committee and the ICS Graduate Chair can attend, and arrange a room. The room should be scheduled for 3 hours, in case time is needed to discuss revisions to the work before it commences. (If you want to use POST 302, contact the ICS office to reserve it.)
  3. At least 14 days in advance of defending the proposal, the student must provide each member of the dissertation committee and the ICS Graduate Chair with a reading copy of the proposal. Students are encouraged to have received feedback from each committee member and revised the proposal accordingly, so that the proposal copy to be defended reflects at least one round of informed revision.
  4. At least 14 days in advance of defending the proposal, the student must distribute an announcement of the proposal defense that includes the title and abstract of the proposal by email to all ICS faculty members and graduate students. The announcement must specify the time and place of the defense and specify that the general public (including ICS faculty and students) are invited to attend. (Faculty may elect to do this on behalf of the student, but it is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the announcement is made.)
Grad chair as ex-officio member

Graduate program chairs have the privilege of being ex-officio (nonvoting) members of all committees in their program. Students should include the ICS graduate program chair when scheduling MS Plan A, Phd Proposal, or PhD Dissertation Defenses, and when distributing the associated document.

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.

Scheduling the Ph.D. Final Defense

A. Scheduling of the final oral examination requires submission of the following information to the ICS Graduate Chair at least 21 days in advance of the intended examination date (to allow for resolving issues in time to meet the university requirement for a public announcement 14 days in advance):

  1. The intended date and time of the defense.
  2. The intended room, which has been reserved. The room should be reserved for at least 2.5 hours to allow sufficient time for follow-up discussion. (If you want to use POST 302, contact the ICS office to reserve it.)
  3. The title and abstract to be used for the announcement.
  4. For each dissertation committee member,
    • Written confirmation that the member can attend the specified date and time, except when remote participation or proxy has been approved, in which case the student shall attach appropriate approval forms (not needed for fully remote defenses during the pandemic);
    • A written indication of whether or not that member believes that there is reasonable evidence that the research will ready for defense by the specified date;
    • Optionally and independently of the judgment in (b), written comments concerning work that the committee member recommends be done before the defense for the research to be acceptable; and
    • Committee members may meet this requirement by sending (a-c) to the ICS Graduate Chair via email, with courtesy copy to the student and the dissertation chair.

B. Each committee member has the right to require a draft of the dissertation one week before approving scheduling of the formal defense. A committee member may opt to waive this right if that member already has sufficient evidence of defense readiness from prior communications with the student.

C. A majority of the committee must indicate that the research will be ready for the formal defense before the defense is scheduled. This majority must include the dissertation chair. Assent to schedule the defense does not constitute a promise that the student will pass.

D. At least 14 days in advance of the oral examination, the student shall complete all of
the following:

  • Meet all appropriate ICS and Graduate Division guidelines for the defense, including the official announcement in the University Calendar (
  • Distribute an announcement of the final defense that includes the title and abstract of the proposal by email to all ICS faculty members and graduate students. The announcement must specify the time and place of the defense and specify that the general public (including ICS faculty and students) are invited to attend. (Faculty may elect to do this on behalf of the student, but it is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the announcement is made.)
  • Provide each member of the dissertation committee and the ICS Graduate Chair with a reading copy of the dissertation.

Dissertation Format. See the Graduate Division Style Policy for format requirements. The ICS department does not have further requirements: students and their advisors can make style and formatting decisions appropriate for the document as long as Graduate Division guidelines are followed. ICS graduate students have created a LaTeX template for the dissertation, which may be used by students writing their dissertation using LaTeX

Conducting the Final PhD Defense

A. The student’s presentation shall not extend beyond one hour from the scheduled start time. Subsequently, all who attend shall be offered the opportunity to question the candidate during the public portion of the defense. However, only committee members participate in determining the outcome. The committee shall have the opportunity to discuss the defense in private (without the public or student present) immediately after the public event has ended and before signatures are requested. At this time, each committee member will assess the final dissertation document via departmental program assessment forms.

B. After the oral examination is complete, the dissertation committee members should sign Form III only when they are ready to indicate one of the following two outcomes:

  • A “pass” if the dissertation research is adequate, and the student has successfully defended the dissertation research, and the dissertation document is accepted, possibly subject to specified modifications.
  • A “fail” if any of the above conditions are not met.

C. Committee members should not sign “Doctorate – Dissertation Submission (Form IV”) until they believe that any necessary modifications (from F1.c) are adequately completed. The student is responsible for providing each committee member with the evidence they require.

D. If the dissertation is accepted, the student shall provide the program with a copy of the complete dissertation after all of the changes and corrections have been made. This copy shall become the property of the program and will be made available to all interested students and members of the faculty.

E. If a dissertation is not accepted, the student may submit another dissertation, subject to Graduate Division and Program time limits.


If you have questions, contact the ICS Graduate Chair.