Computer Engineering Ph.D.

Admission to this program is suspended for 2020-21 academic year.*

*This program statement was revised on 11/22/19

Advancement to Candidacy

Base Requirement

In their first year, graduate students must show proficiency in three fundamental subjects: 1) computer algorithms and data structures; 2) computer architecture; and 3) one of the following three subjects—logic design, circuits, or software systems. Proficiency can be demonstrated by either completing one of the associated undergraduate courses, by establishing that an equivalent undergraduate course has been completed elsewhere, or by passing the final examination (or project when deemed appropriate by the responsible faculty) of an associated course. Students should obtain a computer engineering base requirement worksheet for the list of associated courses and instructions on fulfilling this requirement.

All graduate students must meet the base requirement by the end of the spring quarter of their first year in the program.

Course Requirements

A Ph.D. student is required to complete a total of at least 58 credits of graduate courses, which must consist of:

Core requirements

CSE 200Research and Teaching in Computer Science and Engineering


CSE 201Analysis of Algorithms


CSE 220Computer Architecture


CSE 200 to be taken in fall quarter of the first year

Research Credits

Up to 10 credits of CSE 297, Independent Study or Research; or CSE 299, Thesis Research

Graduate courses not seminars

Up to 10 credits of either graduate courses not seminars in related disciplines outside the School of Engineering (requires adviser and computer engineering graduate director approval).

Graduate Courses from Within the School of Engineering

All remaining courses must be regular 5-credit graduate courses from within the School of Engineering (with adviser and grad director approval); courses that do not count include all courses numbered CSE 280, CSE 296, CSE 297, and CSE 299. At least 20 credits of these remaining courses must be computer engineering graduate courses as listed in this site.

Course Selection

Course selection should form a coherent plan of study and requires adviser approval. Undergraduate courses may not be used to satisfy Ph.D. course requirements.

Ph.D. students who have satisfied the requirements for the master's degree are eligible to receive a master's degree.

Pre-Qualifying Requirements

To continue in the Ph.D. program, students must pass a preliminary examination in their chosen research area by the end of their third year. Preliminary examinations are held during the first three weeks of each spring quarter; students must petition the computer engineering graduate committee for an examination in their chosen area two weeks before the end of winter quarter.

Examination committees consist of four faculty members, two chosen by the student and two by the computer engineering graduate director. The format of this oral examination is up to the examination committee; the examination will typically evaluate both general knowledge of the chosen area and specific understanding of selected technical papers. The preliminary examination requirement is waived for students who advance to candidacy by the end of their third year.


Qualifying Examination

Students must submit a written dissertation proposal to a School of Engineering faculty member. By accepting the proposal, the faculty member becomes the student's dissertation supervisor. The student may choose a faculty member outside the Computer Engineering program faculty within the School of Engineering as adviser only with approval from the computer engineering program director. The dissertation proposal is publicly and formally presented in an oral qualifying examination given by a qualifying examination committee, approved by the computer engineering graduate director and the graduate division. The student must submit his or her written dissertation proposal to all members of the qualifying examination committee and the graduate adviser at least one month in advance of the examination.

Post-Qualifying Examination

Students are advanced to candidacy after they have completed the course requirements, passed both the preliminary and qualifying examinations (or just the qualifying examination if passed prior to the end of the student's third year in the program), cleared all Incomplete grades from their records, have an appointed dissertation reading committee, and paid the filing fee. Students who have not advanced to candidacy by the end of their fourth year will be placed on academic probation.

Transfer Credit

Up to three School of Engineering courses fulfilling the degree requirements of either the M.S. or Ph.D. degrees may be taken before beginning the graduate program through the concurrent enrollment program.

Ph.D. students who have previously earned a master's degree or have successfully completed graduate-level classes as regular students in a graduate program in a related field at another institution may apply for a modified program of course requirements taking into account their previous coursework. Such a modified program should specify the coursework that will be completed at UC Santa Cruz, which must include no fewer than four graduate-level courses and must be approved by the student's adviser and the computer engineering graduate director. These four courses must be taken while in the graduate program at UCSC.

Application for a modified program of course requirements must be made within the first year of graduate study at UC Santa Cruz and will be reviewed by the graduate director and a committee of three faculty members approved by the graduate director. Copies of the syllabi, exams, other relevant coursework, and the relevant transcript from the other institution, must accompany the application. Interviews with the committee members may be required to properly assess the coursework.

Acceptance of prior work for course transfer and modified programs of study is at the discretion of the program.

Letter Grade Policy

The Computer Engineering program requires letter grading for all courses applied toward its master's and Ph.D. degrees with an exception for up to 10 credits of the student’s choice and the following courses: Research and Training in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE 200), Master's Project (CSE 296), Independent Study or Research (CSE 297), Thesis Research (CSE 299), and seminar courses (CSE 280 series). This policy includes courses used for these degrees that are sponsored by other departments. To ensure they will receive a letter grade, students should check that they have selected the letter grade option no later than the 15th day of instruction each quarter for each class in which they are enrolled.


Where appropriate, research internships with companies, research organizations, or government labs are recognized as an integral part of the research leading to the Ph.D. dissertation. At the adviser's discretion, internships in an appropriate company, research organization, or government lab may be required for individual students.



Each student must write a Ph.D. dissertation. Each Ph.D. candidate must submit the completed dissertation to a reading committee at least one month prior to the dissertation defense. The appointment of the dissertation reading committee is made immediately after the qualifying examination and is necessary for advancing to candidacy.

Dissertation Defense

The candidate must present his or her research results in a public seminar sponsored by the dissertation supervisor. The seminar is followed by a defense of the dissertation to the reading committee and attending faculty who will then decide whether the dissertation is acceptable or requires revision. Successful completion of the dissertation fulfills the final academic requirement for the Ph.D. degree.

Academic Progress

Each year, computer engineering faculty reviews the progress of every student in the graduate program. Students not making adequate progress towards completion of degree requirements (see the UC Santa Cruz Graduate Handbook for policy on satisfactory academic progress) are subject to dismissal from the program. Students with academic deficiencies may be required to take additional courses. Full-time students with no academic deficiencies are normally expected to complete the degree requirements at the rate of at least two courses per quarter. Full-time students must complete CSE 201 and CSE 220 within two years and normally must complete all course requirements within three years for the Ph.D. program.

Students receiving two or more grades of U (Unsatisfactory) or below B- in School of Engineering courses are not making adequate progress and will be placed on academic probation for the following three quarters of registered enrollment. Withdrawing or taking a leave of absence does not count as enrollment. Part-time enrollment is counted as a half of a quarter of enrollment.

Should any computer engineering graduate student fail a School of Engineering course while on probation, the Computer Engineering program faculty may request the graduate dean to dismiss that student from the graduate program. If, after being removed from probation, the student again fails a School of Engineering course, he or she will return immediately to academic probation.

Graduate students experiencing circumstances or difficulties that impact their academic performance should contact their adviser and the graduate director immediately. Students may appeal their dismissal.