Curriculum: Ph.D. Dissertation

The primary requirement of the Ph.D. student is to do original and substantial research. This research is reported for review in the Ph.D. dissertation.

There are three milestones for a dissertation: 1) passing the qualifying exam; 2) writing and successfully defending a thesis proposal; 3) writing and successfully defending a thesis.  These are detailed below.

Thesis advisors for the ML Ph.D. can be any of the participating faculty, regardless of whether they are in the same unit as the student. Students will be eligible for Graduate Research Assistantships and Graduate Teaching Assistantships in accordance with the policies of their home units.

Qualifying Exam

The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to judge the candidate’s potential as an independent researcher.

The Ph.D. qualifying exam consists of a focused literature review that will take place over the course of one semester. At the beginning of the second semester of their second year, a qualifying committee consisting of three members of the ML faculty will assign, in consultation with the student and the student’s advisor, a course of study consisting of influential papers, books, or other intellectual artifacts relevant to the student’s research interests. The student’s focus area and current research efforts (and related portfolio) will be considered in defining the course of study.

At the end of the semester, the student will submit a written report the demonstrates their understanding of both the technical content and the context of each artifact.  Subsequently, the student will have a closed oral exam with the three members of the committee.The exam will be interactive, with the student and the committee discussing and criticizing each work and posing questions related to the student's current research to determine the breadth of student’s knowledge in that specific area. 

The success of the examination will be determined by the committee’s qualitative assessment of the student’s understanding of the theory, methods, and ultimate impact of the assigned syllabus.

The student will be given a passing grade for meeting the requirements of the committee in both the written and the oral part. Unsatisfactory performance on either part will require the student to redo the entire qualifying exam in the following semester. Each student will be allowed only two attempts at the exam.

Students are expected to perform the review by the end of their second year in the program. Students taking the qualifying exam should register for CS 7999. To receive a permit, please contact Rebecca Wilson at After a successful exam, the committee fills out and signs the Qualifying Exam Report form. The student submits this form to the ML Academic Professional.  For more information, please see the ML Ph.D. Handbook.

Research Proposal

As the first step towards completing a dissertation, the student must prepare and defend a Research Proposal.  The purpose of the proposal is to give the faculty an opportunity to give feedback on the student’s research direction, and to make sure they are developing into able communicators.

The proposal is a document of no more than 20 pages in length that carefully describes the topic of the dissertation, including references to prior work, and any preliminary results to date.  The written proposal is submitted to a committee of three faculty members from the ML Ph.D. program and is presented in a public seminar shortly thereafter.

The committee members provide feedback on the proposed research directions, comments on the strength of writing and oral presentation skills, and might suggest further courses to solidify the student’s background. Approval of the Research Proposal by the committee is required at least six months prior to the scheduling of the Ph.D. defense.

It is expected that the student completes this proposal requirement no later than their fourth year in the program. When the document is prepared, the student forms a proposal committee consisting of three faculty associated with the ML program, one of which is the thesis advisor.  Once the committee approves the written document, the student submits the proposal, the Ph.D. proposal committee memo (signed by the advisor), and the coursework form to the Academic Professional.  

After a successful proposal, the evaluation forms are submitted to the ML Academic Professional, who will sign Request for Admission to Ph.D. Candidacy form, and communicate it to the Georgia Tech Graduate Studies office.  For more information, please see the ML Ph.D. Handbook.

Ph.D. Thesis

The Ph.D. thesis committee consists of five faculty members: the student’s advisor, three additional members from the ML PhD program, and one faculty member external to the ML program.  The committee is charged with approving the written dissertation and administering the final defense.  The defense consists of a public seminar followed by oral examination from the thesis committee.

The thesis defense cannot be scheduled until the committee approves the written dissertation.  The student should allow four weeks for the committee review. After a successful defense, the student submits the Dissertation Evaluation Forms to the ML FAC and the Certificate of Thesis Approval to the academic office of their home school.  For more information, please see the ML Ph.D. Handbook.