Ph.D. Portfolio

Portfolio, also called "Comprehensive Exam/ PhD Candidacy Exam" was instituted in 1993, it is intended to certify depth and breadth in computer science, and to promote scholarship, research, and professional skills. The portfolio requires supporting letters, coursework, a "synthesis" project, and evidence of research productivity.

The committee evaluates your portfolio in its entirety when it is due and will make recommendations to the faculty regarding admission to candidacy. The entire faculty will discuss and vote on the committee's recommendations. These decisions are final, so it is very important to begin the preparation of the portfolio early and to solicit the help of faculty advisors. Although the Graduate Program Manager will try to ensure you have satisfied the requirements, you are ultimately the only person responsible for making sure that your portfolio is complete before submission.

Prerequisites for Submitting a Portfolio

Portfolios should be submitted in your fifth semester, though if your portfolio is ready earlier, you are strongly encouraged to submit it then. If you are in the PhD-only track, the hope is that you will submit your portfolio earlier in your graduate career. To submit a portfolio, the following must be true:

  • You must be in the Ph.D. or MS/Ph.D. track
  • Your synthesis project must be completed and approved by all readers
  • You must have four of the six core requirements completed, including at least one from each area
  • You must have completed all past incompletes (INC), even if they are not in core courses
  • Non-native speakers of English must have completed the Spoken English requirement 
    • If you are a US citizen and attended a US undergraduate institution, you are automatically assumed to have passed the requirement.
    • If you were TOEFL exempt at the time of admission, you are automatically assumed to have passed the requirement.
    • If you scored a 26 or above on the Speaking section of the TOEFL test (8.0 on IELTS), you are automatically assumed to have passed the requirement.
    • In all other cases, you are required to take the University's test of spoken English. Your score on the test determines what happens:
      • If you get a score of or higher, than a 50 or 9 on BEST Plus test, you have passed the test for all Department purposes. in particular, you will have satisfied the English portfolio requirement, and you will be eligible to TA any class for which you have suitable background. 
      • If you get a score of or higher, than a 45 or 8 on the BEST Plus, you will have satisfied the portfolio requirement. However, the TA assignment options available to you may be reduced: classes that require heavy interaction with students require stronger English skills. The Department encourages you to continue working on your English speaking skills based on the feedback you receive from the examiners.
      • A score of or lower, than a 40 or 7 on the BEST Plus is not sufficient to pass the portfolio requirement. In addition, by University policy you will be considered ineligible to TA classes involving contact time with students.

In addition, the faculty strongly recommend that you have a fifth core requirement in progress at the time the portfolio is submitted.

If you have not satisfied all of the requirements for submitting a portfolio, your advisor may petition the Graduate Program Director to defer your portfolio for one semester. Unless your reasons are frivolous, a one-semester extension is likely to be accepted. A second extension (pushing your portfolio to your seventh semester) requires an in-person meeting between you, your advisor, and the Graduate Program Director. Extensions beyond the seventh semester will almost never be granted.

If your portfolio is deferred, your case will be stronger if you have completed more than four core requirements.

Components of a Portfolio

You should be aware that every member of the Computer Science faculty will have access to the entire contents of your portfolio. Your portfolio will include the following:

Student Submitted 

1. Portfolio Report. The portfolio report form can be found here. This is an expanded version of the progress report that students submit yearly. 

2. Statement of purpose (section of the portfolio report). The statement is your opportunity to summarize past accomplishments and future goals. This is a chance to speak directly to the Graduate Program Committee and the faculty regarding any issue relevant to your possible candidacy. Please limit yourself to a page, maybe two, focusing on the key issues and letting other aspects of your portfolio speak for themselves.

3. Core requirements (section of the portfolio report). You must satisfy six core requirements. Most core requirements are satisfied by getting a grade of B+ or better in a core course. You must satisfy your cores by using option a) 3 from one area, 2 from another, 1 from the third area model or b) 2 from each area. Your portfolio report should indicate how you satisfied/plan on satisfying the six core requirements. If you have only satisfied four of them, you must describe how you intend to complete the remainder within the following year. If you plan on petitioning for a waiver of a/some core requirement(s), we recommending starting this process pre-portfolio.

4. Evidence of research ability (included in portfolio report). A key component of the portfolio is how it demonstrates your ability to conduct research. The faculty will be looking for evidence of specific research skills--e.g., the ability to identify a problem, to work independently, to carry out critical analysis of your and others' work, as well as evidence of scholarship and communication skills (writing and/or speaking). Your synthesis project provides some evidence of research ability and your letters will provide additional support. You are encouraged to provide added information to support your research ability. 

5. Other material (may be included in the portfolio report/may be additional materials). It may be helpful to include other items that support you as a candidate for a PhD. Here is a list of examples that you might find useful (you might have included some of these already)

  • Accomplishments, Honors and awards, Refereed publications, Unrefereed publications, Unpublished documents, Presentations, Proposals, Professional reviewing, Teaching, University and department service, Lab service, Professional society memberships, Volunteer activities, Plans, Needs, Self-assessment.

6. Synthesis project. You are required to complete a scholarly research "synthesis" project that combines at least two research areas that are not typically brought together. You must submit an on-line Synthesis Project Proposal that will be approved by the GPD. (The Synthesis project does not earn any course credits.) Forms are available here. A copy of your completed and approved synthesis project write-up will need to be included in your portfolio submission. The formal approval form will be submitted by your readers directly to the GPM. 

7. Waiver of access to letters. You are expected to sign a waiver of access to the recommendation letters in order to ensure that we receive an honest assessment of your potential. If you do not wish to sign that waiver of access, you must indicate your decision when you request that someone write a letter of support. Further, we require that each of those letters explicitly state that the letter is written with the understanding that you have not waived your right of access. You should be aware that many faculty members will not write a letter without the waiver; nonetheless, the requirements regarding the number and type of letters will not change.

Faculty Submitted

8. Letters of recommendation. You must solicit three letters of recommendation from Computer Science faculty members. Two of these letters must be from readers of your synthesis project. If one of your synthesis readers is not a COMPSCI faculty member, you will still need to meet the three COMPSCI faculty requirement. At most one of the three letters may be from an adjunct member of the Department. Beyond the three letters already mentioned, you may solicit references from additional members of the Computer Science faculty, from other departments, industrial collaborators, or from students you TA'd, if you believe they will help your portfolio. All letters should be sent directly to the Graduate Program Manager. The letters are strictly confidential.

Evaluation of Your Portfolio

Your portfolio will be evaluated in its entirety with the goal of deciding whether you are likely to be a successful PhD candidate. In particular, there is no set list of requirements that, if satisfied, will result in your portfolio being accepted. 

Once the portfolios are received, the Graduate Program Committee carefully evaluates them and makes its recommendations to the faculty. These recommendations are then deliberated at a general faculty meeting. The possible outcomes are:

  1. Admit to candidacy with distinction.
  2. Admit to candidacy.
  3. Defer portfolio. In this unusual situation, the faculty indicates that the case is borderline but hopeful and asks that the portfolio be resubmitted in one semester.
  4. Decline admission to candidacy. The faculty has determined that the student is unlikely to be a successful PhD student.

The vote of the faculty is final, with no procedure for appeal permitted.

If you are admitted to candidacy and have not yet completed your core requirements, your admission will be conditional. Once you have satisfied the pending core requirements, your admission to candidacy will be complete and will have occurred on the date that the faculty voted, even if it takes you a full year to complete the cores.

The portfolio is a very important step and is taken very seriously by the faculty. However, to reduce your anxiety, you may like to know that almost every student who submits a portfolio with his or her advisor's blessing passes.