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Computer Science and Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science and Information Systems

 PhD in Computer Science and Information Systems

The PhD in computer science and information systems (CSIS) offers research training in both computer science and information systems. Relevant industry interaction within your Master’s level education will prepare you for academic positions and industry research opportunities.

The CSIS PhD is an interdisciplinary program between the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the CU Denver Business School. It was developed to meet the demand for advanced training in computer science and information systems. The program aims to enhance technology transfer between the university and Front Range technology businesses through joint research, student internships, faculty externships, and committee participation.

NEW! The department is pleased to announce the new BDSE program. The BDSE Program is a U.S. Department of Education (DoEd) sponsored GAANN (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) PhD fellowship program, focusing on interdisciplinary training of fellows in the area of “Big Data Science and Engineering”. The fellowship program will provide financial support for fellows in the form of tuition & fees, in addition to up to $34,000 annual stipend for each fellow (depending on the level of fellow’s financial need). We are currently recruiting fellows for the class of fall 2016 and admission to the fellowship program in on first-come-first-served basis. For additional information visit:​​

To get a PhD in CSIS from the University of Colorado Denver, you will complete these requirements in addition to your existing master’s degree in either computer science or information systems. If your master's degree is in another area, you will need to complete additional MS-level course work during your PhD program. Please see your advisor for more information.   Exceptionally motivated students with B.S. degrees in computer science, information systems, or closely related fields may apply to the CSIS PhD program directly. Students without a master's degree must complete at least 30 hours of CSIS PhD required course work in addition to the 30 hours of dissertation.

You will complete 30 hours of CSIS courses beyond the master's degree level.

The coursework provides exposure to advanced CSIS areas, as well as a solid research methodology background and breadth in other areas of CSIS. Students may transfer up to 21 hours to satisfy course requirements  based on the recommendation of their PhD advisor and with the consent of the program director.

You will also need to take at least 30 hours of dissertation research, in accordance with the rules of the Graduate School.

You will take a minimum 9 hours of PhD courses in the school or college to which you were admitted and a minimum of 3 hours in the other school or college. Each area—computer science or information systems—may impose additional requirements, either for the area as a whole or as an advisor's requirements.

CSIS PhD (CS track) program requirements summary

Course work: 
A total of 30 credit hours of course work is required while satisfying the following minimum requirements: 
  • A minimum of three 7000-level CS courses 
  • One 7000-level IS course 
  • Up to two (6 credits) of 7000-level Independent Studies are allowed.
Your program plan must be made in consultation and approval of your research advisor. 

Preliminary Exam: 
Students are required to select three out of four core knowledge areas listed below and pass a written exam. 
  • Algorithms 
  • Computer Architecture 
  • Operating Systems 
  • Theory 
The exam is offered once per year on the last Friday prior to the beginning of spring semester classes. Students must sign up for the exam by December 5th of the year prior to when they plan to take the exam. (For example, to take the exam prior to the spring 2017 semester, students must register by December 5, 2016.)

The exam must be taken within the first year of program. Students may take one, two, or all three exams within the first year of their admission. Students may repeat an exam area once. A guide for the exam is available on the department website

Comprehensive Exam: 
Upon successful completion of the Preliminary exam and coursework, students can enroll for their dissertation. The Comprehensive Exam (Thesis Proposal) should be held within the completion of 10 credits of dissertation. The PhD Comprehensive Exam is intended to test student’s ability to perform, present and discuss his/her research. This exam has both a written and an oral component. Students are expected to describe an area of research including literature review, problem definition, and possible methodologies/models to study a significant and novel problem in computer science or information systems toward fulfilling the doctoral dissertation. An overall guide to preparing for the exam is available on the department website​. 

PhD Defense: 
At the completion of graduate studies, students must prepare and submit a written thesis describing the results of an original investigation contributing to the state-of-the-art in the field.

Committee Requirements: 
  • Research Advisor: CS Full time Graduate faculty 
  • Comprehensive Committee: Minimum of three CS Full time Graduate faculty (chair of the committee may not be advisor) 
  • Defense Committee: minimum of five: minimum of two CS full time Graduate faculty (chair of the committee may not be advisor); minimum of one IS faculty. 

Up to 21 relevant Graduate coursework may be transferred with recommendation of advisor and approval of the program director.
​Concurrent MS Degree:
PhD students in the CSE Department may apply to receive their MS degree while pursuing their PhD by completing all MS Course-Only requirements that are in place at the time of their matriculation and meet the Graduate School requirements. These students may satisfy the final MS program assessment requirement by having passed their CS PhD Preliminary exam, a publication produced during their PhD studies, or a written report due to completion of a PhD-level Independent Study with recommendation from their faculty advisor. Alternatively, students may take the final MS assessment if none of the above applies.

For admission to the PhD in computer science and information systems program, you may apply to either the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) or the Business School—students with a computer science background should apply through the CSE department and students with an information systems background should apply through the Business School.

If you are unsure about where to apply, you may contact the program co-directors, Professor Mannino, Business School, and Professor Alaghband, CSE department, to discuss your situation.

Note: The CSIS-PhD program at the University of Colorado Denver is a member of Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP). Qualified students admitted to this program who are residents of one of the 15 WICHI states [Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming] may be eligible for residential tuition, (see the list of member programs.)

Domestic and International Application Process for CSIS PhD

Application Materials

Please submit the following complete materials for application to the doctoral program in CSIS:

  • Non-Refundable Application Fee — $50.00 for domestic (inside the United States) or $75.00 for international students. 
  • Cover checklist
  • Completed application for admission
  • Essays—submit answers to all questions.  
  • Resume—outline of your education and work experience.

Grade Point Average

Applicants are expected to have a grade point average of at least 3.0.

Test Scores: GRE

Official GRE scores are required for all applicants.

Strong candidates will have verbal plus quantitative scores exceeding 310, a minimum GRE score of 290 verbal + math, and 3.0 written is required.

For international students, proof of English proficiency is required. 

If your native language is not English, you must take either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. You must score above 537 (paper), 197 (computer) or 75 (Internet-based) on the TOEFL or 6.5 on the IELTS. 

You are not required to take the TOEFL test if you have completed a baccalaureate or graduate-level degree program from a U.S./U.K. accredited school abroad with English as the medium of instruction.


Arrange to have one copy of official transcripts mailed directly to the address of the department from each college or university attended. We must receive transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, even if transfer credit was applied elsewhere with grades posted on another transcript. Applications missing transcripts will not be processed. Unofficial transcripts, photocopies or transcripts stamped “Issued To Student” are not acceptable. Please take into consideration that transcripts may take two to three weeks to reach our office, (transcripts from international institutions may take longer), so order these as early as possible. Any missing transcripts will delay application processing. E-transcripts should be sent to the Graduate School at​.​

Three Letters of Recommendation

Three letters of recommendation are required.

Application Deadlines

Applicants must make arrangements to ensure all their materials (including transcripts, references, and any required test scores) are received by the relevant deadlines below. If there are outstanding materials, the application is considered incomplete and will be deferred.

Domestic applicants:
Fall - May 1
Spring - October 1

International applicants:
Fall - April 15
Spring - September 15

No applications for summer admission will be accepted.

All application materials must be submitted to the Graduate School for processing. The mailing address for the Graduate School is:

Graduate School
University of Colorado Denver
Campus Box 163
1380 Lawrence St., Room 1251
P.O. Box 173364
Denver, CO 80217-3364


Graduate School
1380 Lawrence Street, Suite 1251
Denver, CO 80204

If you have any questions regarding receipt of application materials e-mail or call 303-315-2179.​


Existing graduate courses in the CSE department and the Business School support the breadth requirements of your PhD. You can select other courses to satisfy the breadth requirement with the consent of your advisor.

Research Methodology Requirement

You will fulfill the research methodology requirement to gain background and improve the rigor in your research. To fulfill the research methodology requirement, you may select from graduate courses in computer science, biometrics, math, economics, behavior sciences, engineering, education, business and computational biology.

You may select other courses to satisfy the research methodology requirement with the consent of your advisor and the CSIS program co-director.

Computer science students are encouraged to take computer science PhD-level courses; you can refer to the computer science list of courses.

Note: Business students must take ISMG 7220, Research Methods: Design and Analysis, as one of their research methodology courses unless an equivalent graduate statistics course has already been taken. A waiver for ISMG 7220 must be given by your advisor and program co-director.​

CSIS Program Co-Directors

Gita Alaghband, Professor and CSE Department Chair
Co-Director of CSIS PhD Program in Computer Science

Michael Mannino, Professor, Business School
Co-Director of CSIS PhD Program in the Business School

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering is located in the Lawrence Street Center (1380 Lawrence Street) in suite 800. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Telephone: 303-315-1408

Fax: 303-315-1410

Mailing Address:
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Campus Box 109
PO Box 173364
Denver, CO 80217-3364