Ph.D. with a Major in Computer Engineering


Students receiving a Ph.D. in computer engineering are expected to achieve and demonstrate a mastery of the discipline and to significantly advance the state of knowledge through an original research effort.

The graduation requirements fall into the categories of completion of a specified number of graduate credits in appropriate subjects with an acceptable grade point average, demonstration of understanding of the discipline of computer engineering as evidenced by examination, and, completion of a substantial research effort documented in a doctoral dissertation.

All requirements must be completed within 7 years of entry into the program.

The steps for completion of the doctoral program are:

  1. Initial advising
  2. Basic course work preparatory to the commencement of research work
  3. Selection of a research advisor and supervisory committee
  4. Advanced course work in the chosen research area and guided thesis research preparatory to taking the qualifying examination
  5. Successful completion of the qualifying examination as determined by the doctoral advising committee
  6. Dissertation research supervised by the candidate’s doctoral advisor
  7. Successful defense of the research leading to the Ph.D.

Admission Requirements

Prerequisites to admission to the Ph.D. program are:

  • Attainment of a Master of Science degree in computer engineering or a related field including computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics, or physics. In the case of direct admission without a previous Master of Science degree, the Baccalaureate degree must be conferred prior to the time the student begins classes as a graduate student, and the student will fulfill the requirements for and obtain a Master of Science degree and then continue working toward the Ph.D. Also, the student’s Grade Point Average must be at least 3.4 on a 4.0-point basis in the student's junior and senior years.
  • The student should possess a reasonable level of mathematical maturity.
  • All applicants to the Graduate Division must submit an official Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test score before their application can be considered.
  • Foreign students are required to submit their scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or its equivalent in addition to the GRE scores.

Initial Advising

Upon entry into the Ph.D. program, students are assigned a faculty advisor who acts as an academic advisor. The responsibilities of this advisor are to examine the student's prior background and current state of knowledge, and to recommend courses to be taken in preparation for the commencement of research work.

Credit Requirements

All students entering the program are expected to possess knowledge equivalent to the following CSE courses:

  • CSE 1341 Principles of Computer Science
  • CSE 1342 Programming Concepts
  • CSE 2240 Assembly Language Programming and Machine Organization
  • CSE 2341 Data Structures
  • CSE 2353 Discrete Computational Structures
  • CSE 3342 Programming Languages
  • CSE 3381 Digital Logic Design
  • CSE 4344 Computer Networks and Distributed Systems I
  • CSE 4345 Software Engineering
  • CSE 4381 Digital Computer Design

A minimum of 54 graduate credits is required beyond the baccalaureate degree in order to achieve the Ph.D. degree. Of this, a minimum of 27 credit hours must be at the 8000 level. In addition to these 54 hours, 24 hours are required for dissertation credit. Of the 54 graduate credits, a maximum of 30 credit hours may be used if an entering student possesses an M.S. in an appropriate major from another institution. The following core courses must be taken at SMU if the student has not received credit for these at another university:

  • CSE 7343 Operating Systems and System Software
  • CSE 7344 Computer Networks and Distributed Systems II
  • CSE 7381 Computer Architecture
  • CSE 7387 Digital Systems Design

A minor, usually in an area of computer science, electrical engineering or mathematics, of a minimum of 12 credits supporting the chosen research area is required. These courses may be taken in CSE or a department separate from CSE. The minor requirement may be satisfied by transfer credit.

All full-time Ph.D. students in residence at the main campus of SMU may enroll in the CSE seminar class CSE 8198 for one hour of credit per semester. Students must have at least 1 hour of credit from CSE 8198 and can have no more than 3 hours that count toward the coursework requirement. The CSE 8198 course is graded on a PASS/FAIL basis with a grade of PASS requiring the attendance of at least two-thirds of the CSE departmental seminars and Distinguished Speaker series. The seminar coordinator will keep attendance records.


No graduate credit is earned for a course in which a grade of less than "C-" is earned. Such courses do, however, count toward the total GPA. In order to graduate, a student must have a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. If at any point a student's GPA drops below 3.0, the student is placed on academic probation. The student then has one semester to raise his/her GPA back up to 3.0 or be dismissed from the program. For part-time students, one semester is taken to mean 6 credit hours. It is the policy of the School of Engineering that courses in which an "Incomplete" is granted affect the GPA effective the semester in which the Incomplete was granted rather than when it is removed. Therefore, a student should consider himself/herself to be on academic probation if the grade on currently completed work in the course in which the "I" was granted would cause the GPA to drop below 3.0.

Advanced Study

Advanced study in computer engineering consists of a major concentration area. A concentration area consists of a number of courses that are related to a specific sub-field of computer engineering. The major concentration consists of a minimum of 18 credits, no more than 6 of which can be independent study.

Credit earned for the core courses (CSE 7343, 7350, 7381 and 7387) will not be counted for the concentration area. The student must file an Advanced Study Degree Plan with the department. No degree plan is accepted until approved by the Chair of CSE. Credits received prior to filing a degree plan are not guaranteed to count toward graduation.

Research Advisor and Supervisory Committee

Within two semesters from joining the Ph.D. program, the student must find a research advisor and form a supervisory committee. It is the responsibility of the student to find a faculty member willing to provide a research topic or to supervise a topic of the student's choosing. The research advisor must be one of the full-time faculty members of the CSE department. The research advisor, together with the student, should prepare the Advanced Study Degree Plan discussed above. They should also form the supervisory committee. The supervisory committee is made up of at least five members. Three resident tenured or tenure-track faculty members are drawn from the student’s department and one resident tenured or tenure-track faculty member from each minor field. The chair of the supervisory committee shall be a resident tenured or tenure-track member of the school faculty and shall normally be the dissertation director and a member of the student’s department. Thus, a minimum of four members must be resident tenured or tenure-track faculty of Southern Methodist University. The supervisory committee must be submitted to the Chair of CSE and the Director of the Graduate Division for approval.

Qualifying Examination

The student must complete all the core courses with an average grade of B+ or better before he/she can appear for the qualifying exam. The student will give a written proposal to the committee members. The timing of this submission will be determined by the thesis advisor and usually occurs at the 40-50% completion point of the thesis research.

Committee members will submit questions to the Ph.D. dissertation director; the director and the members will negotiate the content of the questions. The questions will generally be from areas related to the student’s area of research and hence the questions will be submitted only after student has submitted the written proposal. However, should a majority of the committee judge that the student has not shown strong credentials in one or more of the core areas, the examination may include questions designed specifically to determine whether or not the student has sufficient background in those areas. Exams will be graded by each submitting member and given back to the chair. The chair, along with the other members will decide the outcome (Pass/Fail) of the exam.

The written portion of the qualifying examination is a take home (open book) exam which will have 4 questions. (Even though there will be more than 4 members in the committee, usually one member will be from outside CSE and will not be required to submit a question.) The questions will be given to the students on a Friday as determined by the committee chair and the answers will be due back on the following Friday. The student must attain an average score of 70% and a minimum score of 50% on each individual question in order to receive a passing grade.

After passing the written portion, the student will appear for the oral portion of the qualifying examination. In addition to evaluating the presentation based on the proposed research, the oral part will also address any deficiencies the written exam may reveal. The student should schedule the oral presentation at the time the written proposal is submitted, even though he/she will be eligible to appear for the oral presentation only after passing the written portion.

Students will have a maximum of two attempts to pass the qualifying examination.

If a student changes her/his area of research significantly, or if significant changes are made to the composition of the supervising committee, the student may be required to repeat the qualifying examination.

Current students who have already passed the Preliminary Counseling Examination and have not yet taken the qualifying examination will not be required to take the written portion of the qualifying examination.

Change of Committee or Concentration

A student may change concentration, research advisor, or supervisory committee at any point, subject to the approval of the CSE faculty. Such a change will generally require the formation of a new supervisory committee, and will definitely require the filing of a new advanced study plan. The student must take a qualifying examination in the new concentration area to be admitted to candidacy. In the event that the student changes concentration after being admitted to candidacy, the candidacy is revoked and the student must pass the qualifying examination in the new concentration. Two attempts are allowed for a student in this position. A student may also change areas before being admitted to candidacy. In this event, it is possible that one or more unsuccessful attempts will have been made to pass the qualifying examination. The student may, at the discretion of CSE, be allowed two attempts in the new concentration, but under no circumstances will more than three attempts be allowed at the exam. It is also possible that a student will change research advisor or composition of the supervisory committee, while still retaining the same concentration areas. Such changes may be made only with the approval of CSE. If the research advisor is changed, the new research advisor may, at his/her discretion, require a new qualifying examination. In addition, if the make-up of the supervisory committee changes substantially, CSE may require a new qualifying examination to be taken with the newly constituted committee.

Doctoral Dissertation

The most clearly distinguishing characteristic of a program leading to the Ph.D. degree is the requirement that the candidate write a dissertation embodying the results of a significant and original investigation. The dissertation must make a real contribution to the engineering discipline, and it is expected to be a mature and competent piece of writing. The work reported in the dissertation may be either basic scientific research, engineering research, or creative design.

The typed original and five copies of the dissertation, each including a copy of the abstract, must be delivered, together with two extra copies of the abstract and one extra title page, to the director of the Graduate Division before the examination period in a regular semester and before examinations in a summer term. Upon the successful completion of the dissertation defense, the original abstract must be signed by the dissertation advisor, and the original half-title page of the dissertation must by signed by all of the CSE faculty members attending the dissertation defense.

A copy of the bound dissertation will be sent to the student as soon as it is available following successful completion of the dissertation defense.

Dissertation Defense (Final Examination)

Upon completion of all other requirements, a dissertation defense of the candidate will be announced, registered with the Graduate Division, and subsequently conducted by the supervisory committee. The candidate must make six unbound copies of his dissertation available to the Graduate Division for distribution to the members of the supervisory committee at least two weeks in advance of the dissertation defense. This defense, which is conducted orally, must enable the supervisory committee to satisfy itself that the dissertation is an original piece of work, either in research or creative design, that it has been carried out in keeping with the highest standards of investigation and reporting, and that it makes a contribution to knowledge that is of value to the engineering profession or scientific community. The defense must be scheduled with the CSE departmental office and posted in the School of Engineering. This defense is open to the public, with the possible exception of a period during which general questions in computer science and engineering may be asked that is open only to committee members and CSE faculty. Satisfactory performance on this defense constitutes the last requirement to be met for the Ph.D. degree.

Ph.D. | Computer Engineering (pdf)