Student Milestones

CDES student progress is tracked through milestones that are to be completed during certain semesters of the program.

CDES student progress is tracked through milestones that are to be completed during certain semesters of the program. These milestones require appropriate forms to be completed and signed by the advisor, dissertation committee, and Director of Graduate Studies. Paperwork should be completed and filed with the Graduate Coordinator via email at

Committee Approval

The PhD student is to form their PhD committee no later than the end of the first semester in the program. The PhD committee consists of the PhD advisor and two faculty members. The PhD advisor and committee members must be affiliated faculty with the Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science (IAD). The affiliated IAD faculty are identified on the IAD program website. The PhD committee may include additional members, in addition to the three faculty specified above. All faculty on the Student's PhD committee must also be on the Graduate Faculty Roster. Only one faculty member on the PhD committee may have the same primary academic affiliation as the PhD advisor.

A Committee Approval Form must be signed by every faculty member that has agreed to serve on the committee, and then be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Once all signatures are received from the PhD Committee, the student should bring the form to the Graduate Coordinator, who will review and obtain the final signature from the Director of Graduate Studies. 

Prospectus and Project Plan Approval

Once the PhD committee is formed, the student next focuses on narrowing down the research topic and course plan. Specifically, this includes (a) deciding on the research topic, (b) formulating a course plan to support the research, (c) writing a short prospectus outlining the proposed research, and (d) presenting a-c to their PhD committee. Steps a-c are worked on iteratively between the graduate student, PhD advisor, and PhD committee before the presentation.

The prospectus document is approximately 1 page long and describes the research questions and general directions of the planned research. The PhD committee will use this information to help the candidate select appropriate coursework throughout their program. The presentation to the PhD committee is generally a 10–15-minute presentation on the Prospectus, followed by the course plan. Slides and the prospectus document for the presentation should be shared with the committee at least three days in advance.

A Project Plan Approval Form is to be filled out by the student, in collaboration with the PhD committee, that outlines the courses in each core area the student plans on taking and in what semester they intend to enroll in the courses.

By signing the form, the Student's PhD committee indicates the following:

  1. Their approval that the courses indicated satisfy the CDES PhD Focus Area course requirements.
  2. They have reviewed the dissertation prospectus and discussed it with the student and assessed its alignment with the courses listed in the course plan and CDES PhD program.

The Project Plan Approval form is completed after the presentation of the Prospectus. The Project Approval form, the dissertation Prospectus, and the student's current unofficial transcript should be submitted to the CDES Director of Graduate Studies during the first week of the second semester in the PhD program. 

PhD Oral Examination

Upon completion of the core coursework, typically by the end of the third semester in the CDES PhD program, the student must complete an oral examination administered by the student's PhD committee. The exam should cover topics from the CDES core courses and background material relevant to the student’s research plan. In terms of format, the oral exam typically begins with a 30–40-minute presentation by the PhD student to the committee on the background and scope of the research that they plan to propose. The committee then asks questions based on the CDES PhD student's coursework, core domain science/discipline area, and how these relate to the PhD research. The exam questioning committee comprises the graduate student's CDES PhD committee. The PhD advisor may attend but may not participate in the examination process or questioning.

If the graduate student fails the exam, they may retake the oral exam within one year. Failure to pass the second exam may result in the student's dismissal from the CDES PhD program. The completed form should be returned to the Graduate Coordinator in 415 Bonner Hall.

Once the oral examination has been completed, students should submit the oral examination form and the Application to Candidacy (ATC) form to the Graduate Coordinator, who will then send it to the CDES Director of Graduate Studies for signature and to the Graduate School.

Application to Candidacy

Once the student has successfully passed their oral examination, the student should submit their application to candidacy to the graduate school. Students should complete the paperwork then submit to the Graduate Coordinator for review before getting signatures from their advisor and committee members. Once approved and all program-related signatures are on the form, the student must forward to the graduate coordinator along with a copy of their unofficial transcript and proof of RCR training certificate. The Graduate Coordinator will then submit for final review and approval to the graduate school.

The ATC should ideally be submitted within 2 weeks of passing the oral examination. 

PhD Proposal Form

No later than the end of the fifth semester in the CDES PhD program, the student must complete a PhD proposal. The proposal should include a substantial written document by the graduate student formally proposing the dissertation work and a presentation by the student to their PhD committee on the proposal. The PhD proposal length should be approximately 10-15 pages, not counting references, following an NSF-style proposal. Note, however, that given the interdisciplinary nature of the CDES PhD program, the proposal format may vary by discipline. The PhD proposal must be submitted to the committee one week prior to the presentation. It is expected that a large portion of the PhD research has been completed prior to the proposal submission and that a detailed completion plan has been made and included in the proposal.

After reviewing the proposal document and proposal presentation, the student's PhD committee must sign the form, indicating that they approve the student's proposal. If the committee feels any adjustments need to be made, they may record their feedback on the back of the form under Committee Comments/Requirements.

The committee members must sign the form before being submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Coordinator. 

Dissertation Approval Form(s)

Upon completing the written dissertation, the student must defend their dissertation to their PhD committee in an oral defense presentation. The dissertation should be submitted to the PhD committee at least one week prior to the defense.

The student must email the Graduate Coordinator at with the dissertation abstract and the date/time of the oral defense location. The Graduate Coordinator will formally announce an open invitation to the defense to the IAD community. 

The Graduate Coordinator will prepare these forms before the defense.

Once the student has completed their oral dissertation defense, the advisor and PhD committee must meet to decide whether the student has successfully defended their dissertation. The advisor and committee must complete the CDES Dissertation Approval form with their feedback. This form needs to be approved by all members before the Director of Graduate Studies will sign off on both this form and the M-Form that the Graduate School requires for degree conferral.

Each committee member will indicate their approval of the dissertation in one of three ways:

  1. No changes are required.
  2. Changes are requested, but the committee member acknowledges that the advisor will ensure the changes are made and do not require seeing the final dissertation.
  3. Changes are requested, and the committee member will review the final dissertation.

In the third case, that committee member must directly contact the Director of Graduate Studies to approve the changes.

The Director of Graduate Studies will not sign the M-Form until this step is complete.