Qualifying Exams

Quals results should be emailed by the student's advisor (and cc faculty who were on the Quals committee) to phdstudentservices@cs.stanford.edu.

Information about Quals:

Artificial Intelligence

1. The candidate student must form a committee of 3 AI faculty members.  Candidate needs to have (at least) 2 core AI and at most 1 AI-affiliated. Upon request, we could consider to have 1 (one) core and 2 (two) affiliated, but at least 1 core should be present.

2. The student is asked to prepare a 30-minute presentation on a research project the student is working on.

3. The student supplies to each committee member a short report summarizing the student’s research project and a list of references that is related to such a project. Report and list of references are due to the committee members 3 days before the exam.

4. The exam is one hour long and it is divided in two parts:

4.a) During the first half hour the student presents the research project.

4.b) The second half hour comprises a 30min of QA session related to the research project by the committee. During such session committee members can (but are not necessarily committed to) ask questions related to any of the papers in the list of references. This gives the opportunity to committee members to assess general mastery of the area the student is working on.

Computational Biology

1. The student must form a committee with 3 members.

  • The candidate’s advisor/s should be member/s.
  • At least one member must be a Stanford CS faculty.
  • Two members must be working in Computational Biology.
  • One member will be non-computational from an affected field of biomedicine.
  • At least two members must be doing work directly relevant to the candidate’s work.

2. The exam should take 60-90 minutes. The candidate should prepare:

  • 30 minutes presentation on their research.
  • 30 minutes presentation on 3 papers which are jointly picked by the quals committee and the student, relating to the student’s current and future research directions.

3. After the exam has been taken, the candidate will email the CS PhD Student Services Admin, cc’ing all members of their quals committee, with the exam’s outcome.


The Physiqual will now consist of exams with faculty in 5 areas: vision, geometry, math, graphics and robotics.

The second part of the Physiqual which consists of a talk on a few selected papers will no longer be part of the Physiqual, given that we now have a Thesis Proposal.

For students who have ALREADY taken the second oral portion of the Physiqual, I would suggest their advisors grandfather them through the Thesis Proposal requirement.

The current language of the Thesis Proposal requirement would seem to allow this.

Theory Qualifying Exam Overview

Form a panel of three professors, select 3-4 papers in an area related (but usually not identical) to your thesis work for you to read, review and synthesize over a period of a month (30 days). Write a report on your review/synthesis, give it to the committee, and also make an oral presentation to the committee, followed by questions.

Systems Quals

Form a panel of 3 professors (CS systems faculty). Select 3-4 papers, in consultation with the panel, in an area not identical to your thesis work for you to read, review and synthesize over a period of 3 weeks. Depending on the panel's advice, you may need to execute a small implementation project. For example, a project might answer a related research question, reproduce or compare results in a novel setting, or quantitatively investigate the implications of certain design decisions.

The exam has a written and an oral component. Three weeks after selecting the papers, turn in a 5-10 page report (not counting references) as well as pointers to any software or hardware artifacts created as part of the project (if any). Approximately one week after submitting the report, make an oral presentation to the panel, followed by questions.

Visual Computing

1. The candidate student must form a committee of 2-3 faculty members, where at least one is a Visual Computing faculty member.

2. The student and the committee agree on a list of at least 5 papers in the student’s research area of interest.

3. The exam is one hour long and it is divided into two parts:

3a.During the first half hour the student presents a lecture on the topics in the said papers and any relevant background.

3b. The second half hour comprises a 30min Q&A session where committee members can ask questions related to the lecture and any of the said papers. This gives the committee an opportunity to assess the general mastery of the research area the student is working on.