Doctoral Program

The Department of Computer Science boasts twelve different research groups with cutting-edge facilties and technology. The diverse research interests of our faculty attracts graduate students and researchers from all over the globe. Our research groups produce world-renowned papers and advancements and contribute to the ever growing exploration of computers and technology. Graduate students also have the opportunity to collaborate with relavent industry partners. The Department of Computer Science has a strong graduate program and is one of the highest recruiting research groups on campus. We typically have ~150 graduate students enrolled in both M.Sc. and Ph.D. programs.

A Ph.D. graduate must have demonstrated both breadth and depth of knowledge in his or her discipline. The requirements for a Ph.D. degree in Computer Science can be summarized as follows:

1. The student must demonstrate knowledge over a broad aspect of Computer Science. The student must successfully defend a breadth statement as a part of the Qualifying Examination.
2. The student is expected to have a deeper knowledge of one of the breadth topic areas. This knowledge is tested through a Comprehensive Examination in which the student must achieve acceptable standing.
3. The student must fulfill a residency requirement of at least 18 months. Residency is defined as living in, or near Saskatoon, regular attendance on campus, regular interaction with the student's supervisor, and participation in the affairs of the student's research lab and/or of the department.
4. The student must complete least 6 credit units at the graduate-level, as determined by the student's advisory committee.
5. Students must regularly attend the CMPT 990 seminar series during the period of their residency.
6. The student must complete a thesis, designated as CMPT 996, which is judged to be a substantial and worthwhile contribution to knowledge in Computer Science.
7. Ph.D. students are required to present the results of their thesis research in the Department Seminar Series.
8. Completion of the GSR 960 ethics course (for students starting September 2007 or later).

It is the student's responsibility to ensure all requirements of the Program of Studies have been completed, registration is current, outstanding fees are paid, and University deadlines are met for convocation.

The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to evaluate the breadth of the Ph.D. candidate's background preparation in computer science at 3rd year level or higher. The candidate is expected to complete this examination at the beginning of the Ph.D. program, normally within the first 12 months of entering the program. As soon as possible after joining the program, Ph.D. students should submit to the graduate chair a "breadth statement" which consists of a detailed description of the relevant courses taken, and designate which topic areas described in the qualifying examination they believe each course falls under. The document will be reviewed by the student’s advisory committee* and the graduate chair will communicate for which subject areas the student will be given credit and how many areas are yet to be covered. Credit for a subject area will be given if the student has completed a full-term course at the third-year level or higher, which is deemed by the advisory committee to fall within that topic area. The outcomes of this process are either:

1. That it is determined that the student has covered at least 5 topic areas in computer science and has passed the qualifying exam; or 

2. That it is determined that the student has covered fewer than 5 topic areas. In such cases, the student is granted a conditional pass of the qualifying examination subject to taking the necessary number of courses in areas not already deemed to be covered to bring the number of covered subject areas up to 5.

Acceptable topic areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Programming languages
  • Software engineering
  • Computer architecture
  • Networks
  • Systems
  • Theory
  • Databases
  • Data Science
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer graphics
  • Vision, Image processing
  • Bioinformatics
  • Modeling and Simulation, Operations research and Scientific Computing
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Social Computing
  • Others (e.g. those listed in ACM's Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Computer Science p.58 or others)

Criteria for Coverage: A topic area is considered to be covered if the candidate has completed with satisfactory** result at least one graduate level course on that topic in the Department (or a comparable course from a reputable university) or has completed at a very good** level a third- or fourth-year course in an honours or equivalent program.

Especially for interdisciplinary theses, when it is known that the thesis area necessarily involves deep knowledge in areas other than those listed above, this knowledge may be substituted for one of the areas.

At most one topic area may be covered by demonstration of industrial/research experience which is judged to be commensurate with knowledge and skills that would be taught in a university course in that topic area at the third year level or higher.

For students transferring from the CS MSc program, an initial research proposal should be submitted and defended in front the PhD advisory committee describing the research progress made and outlining future directions of research for the PhD program; this is in addition to the 5-topic breath requirement***. 


* If a student wishes to have their breadth statement evaluated prior to formation of their advisory committee, the graduate committee will evaluate the breadth statement.

** The University of Saskatchewan’s grading standards define “very good” (>80%) and “satisfactory” (>70%).  Non-UofS course grades will be converted using established grade conversions (e.g. those used to determine admission averages) and judged according to the UofS grade equivalent.

*** This is required to satisfy the CGPS policy that the student must pass “a Qualifying Exam at least as rigorous as MSc thesis defense” in order to transfer to PhD from MSc program.


For the convenience of current U of S grads, the following guidelines illustrate how U of S might be mapped onto topic areas.  Final approval rests with the student’s advisory committee.  Courses that appear in multiple topic areas may be used to cover any one, but only one, of those topic areas.

Programming languages (821, 823, 835, 863, 340, 435, 440, 442).

Software engineering (816, 817, 846, 856, 306, 350, 370, 371, 470). 

Networks (815, 832, 855, 433, 434,).

Systems (815, 832, 842, 865, 332, 432, 436),
Theory (810, 360, 364, 463).

Databases (355)
Data Science (826)
Artificial Intelligence (820, 862, 317).
Computer graphics (829, 876, 485)

Vision, image processing (819, 487).

Bioinformatics (830, 857, BINF 400, BINF 300). 

Modeling and Simulation, Operations research and Scientific Computing (851, 858, 394).
Human Computer Interaction (811, 817, 840, 866, 381, 479, 480, 481)
Social Computing (868, 412) 

Other (e.g. 498, 898, in an appropriately designated topic)

The graduate committee has prepared a set of instructions for preparing your breadth statement.

The main objective of the comprehensive exam is to demonstrate knowledge of the research frontier in the student’s area of research, and to ensure that there are sufficiently many open questions in the area to offer a number of potential directions from which to form a research proposal and thesis for the student's doctoral work. In consultation with their supervisor (and their advisory committee if it is deemed helpful), the candidate selects a topic for their comprehensive exam that encompasses the general area in which they expect to conduct their thesis research. The main deliverable of the comprehensive exam is a survey paper which comprises a thorough review of the chosen topic area in terms of both breadth and depth. When it comes to the expected length and expected number of references for the paper, reasonable expectations will depend on the scope, the level of research activity in, and the maturity of the topic area, and the opinion of the student's advisory committee. Typically, comprehensive exam papers are 20-30 pages long, and contain 50-150 references. Students should consult their supervisor regarding such expectations, and their advisory committee if helpful. The paper is evaluated against the standard of quality for a publishable survey paper in a reputable refereed journal or conference proceedings in the area. There will be an oral examination. During this examination, the student gives a presentation based on their paper, and then answers questions regarding their paper and presentation. The purpose of the questions is to establish that the student has gained a sufficient breadth and depth of the area. Students who are in doubt about the expectations for their comprehensive exam should consult their advisory committee.


  • The comprehensive examination should be completed within 24 months upon entering the Ph.D. program.
  • The comprehensive examination is conducted by the candidate's advisory committee.
  • The candidate is required to submit their written paper to their advisory committee at least two weeks prior to the date of the oral examination.
  • During the oral examination, the presentation will be between 15-20 minutes. The examination committee will then examine orally the breadth and the depth of the knowledge of the candidate in the chosen area.
  • To pass the comprehensive examination, a pass in both the oral examination and the paper are required.
  • The possible results of the examination are either:
    • pass,
    • fail
  • If a student fails the comprehensive exam, the resulting procedure is detailed in the CGPS Policies and Procedures Manual – a second examination is possible with permission of the Dean of CGPS.
  • The candidate's supervisor and advisory committee are not permitted to provide significant editorial assistance in the preparation of the comprehensive exam paper. This paper should be representative of the student’s own independent writing ability. The supervisor affirms this with the awarding of a passing grade on the comprehensive examination.
  • The paper should not contain the student’s own novel research that will be included in their Ph.D. thesis. Similarly, the advisory committee will only ask questions regarding the literature and not the student’s own Ph.D. research or their progress in their own research.


Before beginning detailed work on the thesis, the student must secure the acceptance of a proposal by his/her Advisory Committee. The proposal will specify, as precisely as possible, the research component of the thesis and its goals.  It will include a tentative layout for the thesis and the initial results of a literature survey, but its main focus will be on the research project and how it is likely to contribute to the discipline in which the thesis research is being carried out. The proposal is accepted only after it has been defended in a meeting of the Advisory Committee, open to interested graduate students and faculty.

Graduate students are required to maintain continuous registration in certain courses until their program is complete.

There are three terms for all graduate students:

Term 1 Regular Session (September - December)
Term 2 Regular Session (January - April)
Term 3 Spring/Summer Session (May - August)

CMPT 996.0 - Thesis: In order to maintain your status as a full time student, you must register in this course each and every term (Terms 1, 2, and 3) until you complete your program.
CMPT 990.0 - Seminar: You must register in this course during every Term 1 and Term 2 (regular session terms) that you spend in your program until you receive credit for the course.  This course is not offered in Term 3 (spring/summer) and registration for Term 3 is not required.

Every student in our Ph.D. program is required to present their thesis research in a seminar. The seminar should be given when the research is sufficiently progressed, but before writing and submitting a Ph.D. thesis. The seminar is to be given during the regular term, September - April 30.

Sections of the CGPS Policies Manual that are most relevant to current graduate students are summarized/paraphrased below. The CGPS Policies and Procedures manual remains the authoritative document for these rules and regulations.

Advisory Committees (CGPS Policies Manual)  It is the responsibility of the Advisory Committee to assist in course selection and definition of research area, provide support and advice, regularly evaluate the student's progress by meeting at least once yearly, to take appropriate and timely action in view of this progress, and to keep records of this evaluation and all actions taken.  

A Ph.D. advisory committee must consist of:

  • The graduate chair or designate, as advisory committee chair;
  • The supervisor(s);
  • A cognate member (faculty member from outside the student's home department); and
  • At least two additional members.
Program of Studies (CGPS Policies Manual) Within the first year of a student's registration in a graduate degree program, the Advisory Committee is charged with the responsibility of developing an individualized program of studies on behalf of the student. When signed by the Graduate Chair and approved by the CGPS, the Program of Studies forms a contract between the University and the student such that successful completion of the noted courses and other requirements, passing required examinations and defence of the thesis/exhibition (if applicable) will result in the conferring of the Postgraduate Diploma or degree.

Permission to Submit Thesis for Defence (CGPS Policies Manual) It is expected the student will follow the advice of the Supervisor and the Advisory Committee in establishing when the thesis is ready for examination. A meeting of the advisory committee must take place in order to approve the thesis for defence.

Student-Supervisor Agreement It is important to review this agreement with your supervisor to set clear expectations of your time in the program.

In compliance with CGPS policy, the Graduate Committee meets annually to review the status of every graduate student registered in Computer Science. Prior to this meeting, a report is prepared by each graduate student's supervisor outlining the progress of that student towards his or her degree. Ph.D. students are required to prepare a summary of his/her progress during that year on their Ph.D. thesis research. This information, along with other indicators of the student's performance (i.e. marks in courses, steps taken en route to thesis completion, etc.), is examined and a decision is made on whether or not that student is making acceptable progress in the graduate program. If a student so chooses, he or she may write a short document outlining concerns he or she may have, and this will be added to the information used by the Committee. This document will be kept confidential, even from someone on the Committee, should the student so desire.

This checkpoint should be taken very seriously by both students and faculty members, and every effort should be expended by students to complete courses, and by faculty members to get all marking done, before this meeting so that the student's record is as complete as possible.


Before a thesis may be scheduled for defence, your advisory committee must have a meeting to approve your thesis for defence. For Ph.D. candidates, the committee must meet in person. A thesis may not be released to the external examiner until the advisory committee approves the thesis for defence.


As part of your pre-defence meeting, your advisory committee must determine names of potential external examiners. Committees must recommend at least 3 names for Ph.D. exams. For Ph.D. degrees, the external examiner must be from another university.  

The external examiner must have an "arm's length" relationship with the student, supervisor and members of the advisory committee. For detailed information on selection of external examiners, and selection criteria for Ph.D. external examiners, see the CGPS policies manual.

Upon receipt of the suggestions for the external examiner, the graduate program assistant will forward the names to the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (CGPS) for approval. The curriculum vitae of the first choice of External Examiner and a rationale for the choice must be submitted to the CGPS along with notification that the student is ready for defence.

The student must not send a copy of the thesis to the external examiner.  This is handled by the College of Graduate Studies.


Once the external examiner has been approved, the thesis defence can be scheduled. The graduate program assistant or student's supervisor will work with the examining committee to schedule a date and time at which all examiners are available. Students must not contact the external examiner. Sufficient time must be allowed so that the graduate program assistant can get the notification to CGSR at least 4 weeks before the desired defence date. For full details, see the CGSR policies manual.

At least seven days prior to their defence, students must provide a Dissertation Summary (not bound with the thesis) to the CGPS Programs Advisor.

The production of a thesis is the culmination of any graduate program. The research embodied in the thesis and the actual writing of the document are essential elements of graduate training. Long after course work and term papers are forgotten, the thesis endures as a lasting record of a graduate student's accomplishment. With that in mind, we offer some suggestions on how to approach this challenging task.

The proper presentation of thesis work is very important. The key to good presentation is organization and clarity. Just as a properly organized computer program is the result of applying a methodology during program development, a properly organized thesis is the result of applying a methodology when developing the thesis. A top-down approach using iterative refinement is as applicable to the writing of a thesis (or a paper) as it is to the design of computer systems. A preliminary outline is expanded to a detailed outline, and then to initial drafts of each of the subsections.

Each chapter, section, and subsection should have an introduction (stating the content and purpose), a body, and a conclusion (summarizing the important points presented and possibly establishing a lead-in to the next unit). It is wise to review each thesis chapter, possibly with your thesis supervisor, at each level of refinement. The end product of such a process is almost always more understandable than starting at page one and writing until a final page becomes necessary.


Clarity is very important in scientific writing. Although clarity cannot be equated to simplicity, there is certainly a high degree of correlation. Since the material you are presenting is of a highly technical nature and is difficult enough to understand, the use of highly complex sentence structures will add little to the comprehensibility of a paper or a thesis. Unless you are particularly adept with prose, simple straightforward sentence structures are recommended. A number of commonly accepted rules for good writing style should be followed (for example, always write in the present tense and avoid writing in the first or second person). Most students would benefit from reading some books on the subject of writing style available in the library or bookstore (for example, A Manual for Writers by Kate L. Turabian or The Elements of Style by W. Strunk and E. B. White). A Handbook for Scholars by Mary-Claire van Leunen is recommended as an excellent guide to the technical issues of form. Another useful publication is the Chicago Manual of Style from the University of Chicago.


The format of a thesis is also important, and it is the student's responsibility to ensure that the correct format is followed. In particular, attention should be given to matters such as title page, table of contents, abstract, list of figures, list of tables, footnotes, quotations, figure captions, table captions, references and citations, and appendices. Each department maintains certain conventions within the guidelines set out by the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (see the guidelines for thesis preparation, available on-line at the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies web site). It is suggested that previous theses from the Department be examined for guidance. While the use of the computer-based text-processing facilities is encouraged for thesis preparation, the use of such facilities do not provide license for you to depart from acceptable standards--especially with respect to the production and placement of figures and tables, headings, margin size, or the size of print.


These document templates will assist in the production of a thesis document that corresponds to CGPS rules for thesis formatting.

The thesis defence is an oral examination, open to all interested members of the department.  Your examining committee will consist of your advisory committee plus an external examiner, and any other members of the faculty that are considered necessary. A thesis defence follows the following general format, but may deviate at the discretion of the chair of the examining committee.


You will begin the thesis defence with a short, 10-20 minute presentation that summarizes the major contributions of the thesis.


Beginning with the external examiner, each of your examiners will be given the opportunity to ask you questions. These questions may be very general in nature, testing the breadth of your knowledge, or may be very specific in nature, testing the depth of your knowledge. After each examiner has had their turn, additional rounds of questions may be conducted as needed, as determined by the examining committee chair.  


At the conclusion of the examination, you will be asked to leave the room while the examining committee discusses your oral examination and your written thesis, and decides upon an outcome. Upon conclusion of these deliberations, you will be called back into the room and informed of the results.  


If your thesis is accepted, you will need to make any corrections/revisions that your examining committee deems necessary. You will be required to submit an electronic copy of the final, corrected, and revised copy of your thesis to ETD site of the University of Saskatchewan.  You are also asked to submit a bound copy to be kept in the Department of Computer Science. In addition, it is customary to offer bound copies to each member of your examining committee.

Finally, you will need to complete an online application to graduate. This is the student's responsibility.