Computer Science PhD Program

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is designed to prepare students for research careers in academia and industry. The PhD degree is awarded upon successful completion of a minimum of 72 credits. A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 must be achieved to graduate. Individual courses require a minimum of a B- for course credit.

Duration of Study

The expected length of the PhD program is 8 Semesters and 4 Summer Sessions. The PhD degree includes the following steps:

  • Securing a Dissertation Advisor
  • Successful completion of program coursework
  • Passing the qualifier
  • Passing the Dissertation Proposal Defense to obtain Candidacy status
  • Preparing, submitting, defending, and archiving a Doctoral Dissertation

PhD Course Requirements

Students entering the PhD Program must complete the requirements below:

  • 300-level courses* (6 credits)
  • Graduate Seminar (non-credit)
  • Winter Enrichment Program (non-credit) 

The Academic Advisor may request the completion of additional courses. Courses taken while pursuing the KAUST MS degree cannot be counted towards the PhD course requirements. Courses must be technical courses and cannot be substituted with Research, Internship, or Broadening Courses to fulfill degree requirements.  

*One course must be a CS course (excluding CS 394).

Graduate Seminar (non-credit)

Students must register for CS 398 and receive a Satisfactory grade for two Semesters during their PhD.

Winter Enrichment Program (non-credit)

All students must register for WE 100 and successfully complete one Winter Enrichment Program (WEP), usually taken in the first year of study. Students who completed WEP as part of their KAUST MS must take the program again.

PhD Candidacy

In addition to the coursework requirements, students must successfully complete the required PhD candidacy milestones to progress toward PhD candidate status. These milestones are as follows:

  • A subject-based qualifier
  • PhD Proposal Defense

Once students have advanced to candidacy, students are designated as PhD or Doctoral Candidates.

Qualifying Exam

All PhD students must successfully pass the qualifier within 3 semesters and 1 summer session after commencing the PhD program. The CS qualifier is course-based. Students must pass three courses to pass the qualifier using the following rules:

  • One of the courses must have a grade of A- or A; the other two must have a grade of B+ or better. 
  • All three courses must be selected from eligible qualifier courses. The list of eligible qualifier courses is available on the CS website. The list sorts all eligible qualifier courses into several research areas. The qualifier courses must be from three different research areas.
  • The three courses must be taught by three different Faculty. 

Additional details about the procedure of the qualifier: 

  • The KAUST PhD program stipulates that students must take at least two 300-level courses during the PhD candidacy. These two courses may be used as qualifier courses. 
  •  PhD students can use courses they completed before starting their PhD as qualifier courses, e.g., courses taken while completing an MS at KAUST. 
  • No waiver will be given for any courses taken outside of KAUST. 
  • The list of eligible courses, the research areas, and the way the courses are sorted into research areas can change over time. Students should choose courses and areas according to a single version of the course list: either the version of the eligible course list that was current at the time of the start of the PhD  or an eventual updated later version. 
  • As soon as students pass the qualifier, they should submit a filled-out qualifier form to the GPC including a transcript. The qualifier form is available on the CS website. Upon verification, students will receive confirmation that they have passed the qualifier.  

Dissertation Proposal Defense

The Dissertation Proposal Defense aims to demonstrate that students have the ability and are adequately prepared to undertake PhD level research in the proposed area. This preparation includes necessary knowledge of the chosen subject, a literature review, and preparatory theory or experimentation.

The Dissertation Proposal Defense is the second part of the qualification milestones that must be completed to become a PhD candidate. PhD students must successfully defend the Dissertation proposal by the end of their fifth Semester after commencing the PhD program.

The Proposal Defense Committee, which must be approved by the Dean, must consist of at least three members and typically includes no more than six members. The Chair, plus one additional Faculty member must be affiliated with the student's Program. The Committee is as follows:

Member Role Program Status
1 Chair Within program
2 Faculty Within program
3 Faculty Outside program
4 Faculty or approved Research Scientist Inside KAUST

Notes:

  • Members 1-3 are required, member 4 is optional
  • Members 2 or 3 may serve as the Co-Chair
  •  Adjunct Professors and Professors Emeriti may retain their roles on current Committees, but may not serve as Chair on any new Committees
  • Professors of Practice and Research Professors may serve as members 2 or 3 and may also serve as Co-Chairs
  • Once constituted, the composition of the proposal Committee can only be changed with the approval of both the academic advisor and the Associate Dean.

View a list of Faculty and their affiliations here.

Proposal Defense Results

There are four possible outcomes from this dissertation proposal defense. A pass is achieved when the committee agrees with no more than one dissenting vote. In the instance of a pass with conditions, the entire committee must agree on the required conditions and if they cannot, the dean decides. The deadline to complete the conditions is three months after the defense date, unless the committee unanimously agrees to change it. Conditions must be met before the end of the students fifth Semester. In the instance of a fail without retake, the decision of the committee must be unanimous. Students who fail without retake or who fail the retake will be dismissed from the University.

Students who successfully pass the Dissertation proposal Defense are deemed PhD Candidates. At the end of the proposal Defense, a PhD Proposal Results Form must be completed and submitted to the GPC. 

Dissertation

The Dissertation is the final milestone of the PhD program. Students must complete the following:

  • Petition to Defend Dissertation/ Form Dissertation Defense Committee 
  • Defend Dissertation 
  • Archive Dissertation

Petition to Defend Dissertation

Students must determine the Defense date with the agreement of all members of the Dissertation Defense Committee. It is the sole responsibility of students to submit the required documents in consultation with the GPC and the Dissertation Advisor by the deadline published in the Academic Calendar and at least 2 months prior to the Defense date.

Students must defend their Dissertation and obtain the final approval of the Dissertation Defense by the end of their fourth year (8 Semesters and 4 Summer Sessions). Students must follow the Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines available on the KAUST Library webpage when they write their Dissertation.

Formation of Dissertation Defense Committee

The PhD Dissertation Defense Committee, which must be approved by the Dean, must consist of at least four members and typically includes no more than six members. At least three of the required members must be KAUST Faculty, and one must be an external examiner who is external to KAUST. The Chair, plus one additional Faculty member must be affiliated with the student's Program. The external examiner is not required to attend the Defense but must write a report on the Dissertation and may attend the Dissertation Defense at the discretion of the Program.

 
Member Role Program Status
1 Chair Within program
2 KAUST Faculty Within program
3 KAUST Faculty Outside program
4 External examiner Outside KAUST
5 Approved Research Scientist Inside KAUST
6 Additional Faculty Inside or outside KAUST

Notes:

  • Members 1-4 are required; members 5 and 6 are optional
  • Co-Chairs may serve as either members 2, 3 or 6
  • Adjunct Professors and Professors Emeriti may retain their roles on current Committees but may not serve as Chair on any new Committees
  • Professors of Practice and Research Professors may serve as members 2, 3, or 6 depending upon their affiliation with the ' 'student's program; they may also serve as co-Chairs
  • Visiting Professors may serve as member 6 but not as the external examiner
  • The only requirement with commonality with the Proposal Committee is the Academic Advisor, although it is expected that other members will carry forward to this Committee.
  • Co-supervisors can be considered one of the above four members required, provided they come under the categories listed (i.e., meet the position's requirements). 

View a list of faculty and their affiliations here.

Dissertation Defense

The Dissertation Defense is a public presentation followed by a Q&A and an oral Defense. It should last three hours at most. 

A Pass is achieved when the Committee agrees with no more than one dissenting vote. In the case of a Pass, the Dissertation must be archived within 2 weeks. In the instance of a Pass with conditions, the entire Committee must agree on the required conditions and if they cannot, the Dean decides. The deadline to complete the conditions is three month after the defense date, unless the committee unanimously agrees to change it. If the conditions will take more than three months, or more than one member casts a negative vote, one retake of the defense is permitted. The deadline to complete the retake is decided by the Committee with a maximum of six months after the Defense date, unless the Committee unanimously agrees to reduce it. Students who have exceeded their duration of study must apply for an extension as per the Time Limit and Extension Policy. All conditions must be met by the end of the extension period which prevails over the date set by the Committee. In the instance of a Fail without retake, the decision of the Committee must be unanimous. Students who fail without retake or who fail the retake will be dismissed from the University.

The outcome of the Dissertation Defense must be recorded by submitting the Dissertation Defense Evaluation Form within 2 days after the Defense to the Office of the Registrar.

Dissertation Document

Students must follow the Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines available from the KAUST Library when they write their Dissertation.

Dissertation Archiving

Students must archive the Dissertation in the KAUST Library two weeks from the final result form. This must not exceed the deadline published in the Academic Calendar.