Faculty Recruiting Support CICS


Technically, the portfolio is called "The Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam." 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 Doctoral Program Director 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 if you are also earning a MS degree, though if your portfolio is ready earlier, you are strongly encouraged to submit it then. If you are in the PhD-only track your portfolio is due in your fourth semester. To submit a portfolio, the following must be true:

  • You must be in the PhD or MS/PhD track
  • Your synthesis project must be completed and approved by all readers
  • You must have a faculty advisor who has committed to advising you through the awarding of your doctor of philosophy degree. (They will formally indicate this on a portfolio evaluation form that they will fill out.)
  • You must have four of the six core requirements completed, including at least one from each area
    • You must be enrolled in your fifth core requirement at the time the portfolio is submitted.
  • 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 outlined below

If you have not satisfied all of the requirements for submitting a portfolio, your advisor may petition the Doctoral Program Director to defer your portfolio for one semester. Unless your reasons are frivolous, a one-semester deferral is likely to be accepted. A second deferral (pushing your portfolio to your seventh semester) requires an in-person meeting between you, your advisor, and the Doctoral 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:

1. Portfolio Report. The portfolio report form can be found here

  • Statement of purpose. 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.
  • Core requirements.  If you have only satisfied four of them, you must describe how you intend to complete the remainder within the following year.

2. Synthesis project. A copy of your completed and approved synthesis project write-up.

3. Recommendations. You must have three recommendations from computer science faculty members. Two of these recommendations must be from readers of your synthesis project. At most, one of the three recommendations may be from an adjunct member of the college. Beyond the three recommendations already mentioned, you may solicit recommendations from members of the computer science faculty, from other departments, or industrial collaborators if you believe they will help your portfolio. The graduate programs office will send all recommenders an evaluation form.

4. Waiver of access to letters. You are expected to sign a waiver of access to the faculty recommendations 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 submit a recommendation. Further, we require that each of those recommendations explicitly state that the recommendation 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 recommendation without the waiver; nonetheless, the requirements regarding the number and type of recommendations will not change.

5. Evidence of research ability. 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.

6. Spoken English.

  • If you are a US citizen and attended a US undergraduate institution, you are automatically assumed to have passed the requirement.
  • If you attended a US undergraduate institution (i.e., where all of your instruction was in English), the College of Information and Computer Sciences will assume you will pass the test and waive the requirement on request of your advisor to the Graduate Program Manager.
  • If your entire education has been in the United Kingdom, Ireland, English-speaking Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Commonwealth Caribbean, or the United States, the college will assume you will pass the test and waive the requirement on request of your advisor to the Doctoral Program Director. Your advisor will ask that you take the test if there is any doubt about your ability to understand or be understood in a TA or research setting.
  • You have citizenship of Australia, Botswana, Canada, Caribbean English speaking countries, Dominica, Gambia, Ghana, Great Britain, Guyana, Hong Kong, Ireland, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Scotland, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, West Indies, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
  • You have earned a bachelor's or master's degree in the United States or in one of the countries listed above.
  • You have earned a degree from the American University in Beirut, American University in Bulgaria, American University in Cairo, American College of Greece, Bogazici University in Turkey, Kean University in Wenzhou China, RIT in Dubai, NYU Abu Dhabi, or NYU Shanghai.
  • If you scored a 26 or above on the Speaking section of the TOEFL test (8.0 on IELTS).
  • 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.

7. Other material. It may be helpful to include other items that support you as a candidate for a Ph.D.. Here is a list of examples that you might find useful (you might have included some of these already)

  • Accomplishments. Give an informal statement of the two or three things that you are most proud of in this period. Examples are passing a difficult course, getting a paper into a conference, finishing your M.S., finishing your dissertation proposal, etc.
  • Honors and awards. Include student fellowships, induction into honor societies, etc.
  • Refereed publications. The typical subcategories are: Books or Monographs, Textbooks, Edited Books, Journal Articles, Refereed Conference Proceedings, Refereed Workshop Proceedings, Refereed Book Chapters.
  • Unrefereed publications. The typical subcategories are: Unrefereed Conference Proceedings, Unrefereed Workshop Proceedings, Invited Book Chapter, Communications. 
  • Publications in progress. All the categories above typically apply.
  • Unpublished documents. Typical subcategories are: documents that were submitted for review but rejected, various kinds of documentation (e.g., a user's manual), your thesis proposal(s). Include any significant piece of writing; for example, a write-up of a meeting with your advisor does not count, but write-ups of half a dozen such meetings, progressing toward a thesis proposal, do count. A long message about your suspicions about a research topic doesn't count; a five-page document with experimental results does count. Get used to the distinction between writing that develops ideas and writing that presents those ideas with some substantiation.
  • Presentations. Typical categories are seminars, professional presentations, and tutorials. Include lab meetings, workshop presentations, paper presentations in classes, paper presentations at conferences, etc. Do not include presentations to lab visitors unless a lot of time went into them (e.g., posters or demos for a major site visit).
  • Proposals (in preparation, submitted, under review, and accepted). Include fellowship applications, grant applications (or sections thereof), applications to industrial affiliates, requests for travel money from conference organizers, etc. Note the status of the proposal (in preparation, under review, accepted, rejected, under revision, etc.)
  • Professional reviewing. Include reviewing for journals, book proposals, conferences, workshops, etc. Include other significant internal reviewing; for example, if you spent more than a few hours reviewing drafts of papers or proposals for people in your lab or other Computer Science members, include that.
  • Teaching.  List your responsibilities, including giving lectures, and writing and grading exams and homework, if applicable. Note whether you worked in computer science courses or other courses at UMass or in the Five College Area. Note any teaching experience you gained at other universities.
  • University and department service (not research or teaching). Include standing and ad hoc department committees, grad student representative, significant GEO activities, etc.
  • Lab service (not research). Include programming tasks that do not lead directly to publications, tutorials, and other things that do not fit well into the categories above. For example, newer students should emphasize how they have contributed to ongoing research; older students should emphasize their contributions to the development, supervision and direction of newer students.Include participation in the activities of professional societies, volunteer activities at local schools, etc. 
  • Plans. Say what you intend to accomplish before you write your next progress report. Keep in mind that in the next report you will have to say whether you accomplished these goals, so resist hubris and try to be realistic.
  • Needs. Say what would make you more productive. Include help with learning the systems, help with course work, assistance from other students on your project, assistance from professional staff. Include anything that can help your advisor or the doctoral program director, or others in the department, allocate resources well.
  • Self assessment. Say what aspects of your work please you. It is often difficult to write things that sound self-congratulatory, but you must do it, not only here, but for the rest of your professional career. Say also what is unsatisfactory-what you think you need to work on.

Evaluation of your portfolio

Your portfolio wil be evaluated in its entirety with the goal of deciding whether you are likely to be a successful Ph.D. 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 held near the end of the semester. The possible outcomes are:

  1. Pass with distinction: The faculty voted that the portfolio met a high standard of completion and awarded distinction.
  2. Pass: The faculty voted to pass the portfolio and once the student completes all 6 cores they will achieve candidacy.
  3. Pass with distinction and achieve candidacy: The faculty voted to pass the portfolio and award distinction. And the student has also completed 6 cores.
  4. Pass and achieve candidacy: The faculty voted to pass the portfolio and the student has completed all 6 cores.
  5. Pass conditional: The faculty voted to pass the portfolio but with conditions. The portfolio will be reviewed again at the next faculty portfolio meeting. The student will not achieve candidacy until a clear pass is made.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 pass portfolio and you have not yet completed your core requirements, you will have passed your comprehensive examination and your candidacy 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. Both milestones will be documented by the graduate school in SPIRE. The portfolio is a very important step and is taken very seriously by the faculty.  

Submitting your Portfolio

Some of you are simultaneously earning a masters degree which has an impact on what is needed in your portfolio. 

  1. MS/PhD students use their synthesis project as a master's project, therefore, the graduate programs office will register you for COMPSCI 701 (6 credits) once your synthesis proposal has been approved.
  2. The deadlines for all components of the portfolio and the form to submit your information will be emailed to you at the start of the semester your portfolio is due. As a general rule the final deadline of all components of the portfolio is the midsemester date.
  3. The recommendation form for your synthesis and recommendation to achieve candidacy will be sent directly to your two synthesis readers and third reference by the graduate program staff. 
  4. You are welcome to set up a meeting with Eileen Hamel to discuss the deadlines, components or other questions you may have about the process!