PhD Comprehensive Examination

For the PhD comprehensive examination, students should follow these steps:

Form a comprehensive examination committee consisting of at least three faculty members, two of whom must be ISP faculty. The student's PhD adviser chairs the committee and must be an ISP faculty member. The faculty on a given student’s comprehensive examination committee are often the same as the faculty on that student’s preliminary evaluation committee, but they need not be.

Choose three major subareas of AI.  One of these areas is flexible; the other two should be chosen from the ISP list of sub-areas below.  The flexible area must be unanimously approved by the students' committee (but does not need to be approved by the director).  Biomedical Informatics students should choose "Biomedical Informatics" as one of the subareas.

  • AI and Business/Accounting
  • AI and Law
  • AI and Medicine
  • AI and MIS
  • Bioinformatics
  • Case-based Reasoning
  • Cognitive Architectures (or Subsymbolic Approaches)
  • Connectionist Approaches
  • Statistics and Evaluation Methods
  • Expert Systems
  • Intelligent Interfaces
  • Intelligent Tutoring Systems
  • Knowledge Representation
  • Machine Learning
  • Biomedical Informatics
  • Natural-language Processing
  • Planning
  • Reasoning About Uncertainty
  • Robotics
  • Vision

Work with the committee to finalize the reading for the three chosen subareas. Have the committee approve the list.

Work with your committee members (or their designated administrative assistants) to set the following dates for the examination:

  • The date and time the written examination is distributed to you.

  • The date and time you return the examination, which by default is nine days after receiving it. Your committee can designate an examination period of fewer or more than nine days, and through your adviser you may request that they do so.
  • The date and time you orally defend your examination answers before your committee. You should schedule two hours for your oral exam defense, although typically less time will be needed.

Your committee will provide a list of written questions. Unless an exception is made by your committee, you will have nine days to provide the written answers to these questions. At the end of those nine days, you should distribute your answers to each of your committee members. Be sure to check that each has received your answers.

An oral examination will take place after the comprehensive committee has read your answers; the committee should be given a minimum of three days to read your answers before the oral examination. The ISP faculty (only) will be invited. You will be asked questions by your committee about your answers on the written examination, and more broadly, about your knowledge of the material in the three areas of concentration you have chosen.

At the end of your oral examination, your committee will evaluate your performance as one of the following:

  • Pass
  • Provisional pass: Must complete additional requirements specified by the committee in order to obtain a pass.
  • Fail

An evaluation by the comprehensive examination committee of "fail" will be considered by the ISP faculty at large, who will make a determination about the status of the student in the ISP, including whether the student is allowed to re-take the examination or whether he or she is terminated from the program.

Students who pass the comprehensive examination will need a card signed by their committee to obtain credit for passing. Contact the ISP program secretary at least two weeks before the oral portion of the comprehensive examination, so the card can be available at the meeting to be signed.

A selection of successful comprehensive examinations with reading lists, questions, and answers can be found here.

Note: According to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences graduate school guidelines, the comprehensive examination should be passed and admission to candidacy for the PhD degree granted at least eight months before scheduling the final oral dissertation defense. Please review the University of Pittsburgh Graduate and Professional Catalog in the areas covering Comprehensive Examination, Doctoral Committee, and Admission to Candidacy for the PhD Degree. In addition, please review the guidelines regarding Statute of Limitations and Leaves of Absence. PhD degree must be completed within a period of 10 years from initial registration, or eight years if the student received a master's degree.