Expectations, Policies, and Procedures

This page is intended to help current graduate students better understand the expectations of the faculty, and to locate the policies and procedures they need to get through the M.S. and/or Ph.D programs here in Computer Science at Dartmouth. The Graduate Studies Office also has a searchable repository of all policies pertaining to graduate students. Additional useful information on research standards can be found in the Computer Science Research Guide, maintained by the Dartmouth Library.

Graduate Program Directors

If you have questions, please reach out to the appropriate program directors:

Resources and Documents


Dartmouth's policies are listed in the ORC (Organizations, Regulations and Courses) and in the Dartmouth School of Graduate and Advanced Studies. You can find the specific requirements for the PhD and MS graduate degrees in the ORC. We add to and clarify the policies and procedures below. Wherever those, or other, college publications are in conflict with any of the items below, the official publication should be considered correct.

Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome! Please send them either to the current departmental Ph.D. Program Director or the current departmental M.S. Program Director.

Quick links to forms, documents, and additional resources

Expectations of the Faculty

Ph.D and M.S. graduate students are expected to

The department reviews the progress of all Ph.D. students annually, based on a report provided by them and augmented by their advisor. The department provides feedback to every student. Students making inadequate progress are warned by the department and will be re-evaluated six months later. Students continuing to make inadequate progress will be dismissed from the program. You can see the Progress Evaluation Document (pdf) that details how the faculty evaluate Ph.D. student progress.

Degree & Course requirements summary

For a full list of degree requirements, please see the ORC.

The DAG below shows the structure of the courses in our department:


curriculum DAG Fall 2020

In a nutshell:

  • PhD students must take 1 red course from each of the three subject areas, and 5 more red or blue ones.
  • Coursework-track MSCS students must take 13 red, green, or blue courses.
  • Thesis-track MSCS students must take 9, plus five research credits and a thesis.
  • MSDA students must do 9 credits of research/thesis (including the MSDA reading course 294) and a total of 9 courses from the following menu (of which three can be undergraduate):
    • Core CS (ML, Theory): at least 2 courses
    • Digital Arts and Arts: 3 courses (one from outside CS)
    • Applied CS (Visual Computing, Robotics, MobileX, HCI): at least 2 courses

(Note that there are some restrictions on using the "Culminating/Misc" courses.)

Policies Explained

Research Presentation Exam

Before you may propose your thesis, you must pass the Research Presentation Exam, or RPE.  You are expected to pass the RPE by the middle of your third year, and you have at most two chances to pass it.  Please see the Research Presentation Exam document for more detailed information (under the RESOURCES AND DOCUMENTS section above).

Thesis committee

  1. The primary advisor to any Ph.D. student in Computer Science must be a Dartmouth tenure-track Computer Science faculty member.  By "tenure-track Computer Science faculty member," we mean a faculty member whose appointment is Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Associate Professor of Computer Science, or Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth.
  2. The primary advisor to any M.S. student in Computer Science must be a tenure-track Computer Science faculty member or a research-track Computer Science faculty member at Dartmouth.  By "research-track Computer Science faculty member," we mean a faculty member whose rank is Research Assistant Professor, Research Associate Professor, or Research Professor and whose appointment is in the Department of Computer Science at Dartmouth.
  3. In addition to the primary advisor, any Ph.D. thesis committee must include either at least two tenure-track faculty members whose tenure-track appointments are in Computer Science at Dartmouth or at least one tenure-track faculty member whose tenure-track appointment is in Computer Science at Dartmouth and one research-track faculty member whose research-track appointment is in Computer Science at Dartmouth, and it must also include at least one person from outside Dartmouth.  Although not required, a Ph.D. thesis committee may contain additional members who have tenure-track or research-track appointments in any department at Dartmouth, including Computer Science, or at another university.  Adjunct faculty members with appointments in Computer Science at Dartmouth may also serve as additional members.
  4. We recognize that on occasion, a Ph.D. student's de facto advisor could be someone other than a tenure-track Computer Science faculty member. In such cases, the student must also have an official primary advisor who is a tenure-track Computer Science faculty member at Dartmouth, and we expect the de facto advisor to provide the student's funding.
  5. In addition to the primary advisor, any M.S. thesis committee must include at least one other tenure-track or research-track Computer Science faculty member at Dartmouth.

Thesis proposal

  • See below the procedure for announcing your public thesis proposal.

Thesis defense

  • For June graduation, theses are due at the Graduate Office by May 15.  You must have completed all requirements, and a lot of paperwork, by that date (check with them).  (For November graduation, theses are due at the Graduate Office by September 1.)
  • Work backward from the dissertation deadline to choose a date for your defense, in consultation with your advisor and your committee. A good rule of thumb is to provide the complete dissertation to your committee 2-4 weeks prior to the defense, and allow yourself at least 2 weeks after the defense to handle any necessary revisions.
  • See below the procedure for announcing your public thesis defense.


We grade all courses, including research (CS 297-299) and teaching assistance (CS 296) on the HP/P/LP/NC scale mentioned in the ORC and the Handbook. Note in particular that the Handbook lists some serious consequences of getting a single NC or two LPs. 

For CS graduate students who take undergraduate courses with undergraduate grades, we follow the Guarini policy, and consider a grade of C+, C, C-, or D to be equivalent to LP, and a grade of E to be equivalent to NC.

Some M.S. students find that they need to take CS 10.  Any M.S. student, including those in the M.S./Digital Arts program, who takes CS 10 and gets a grade below B (that is, B-, C+, C, C-, D, or E) will be asked to leave the program immediately.


During any year in which they receive compensation from Dartmouth, regardless of the source of those funds, graduate students are committed to be in residence for a period of twelve months commencing one week before fall-term registration. Vacation time, including official holidays, should not exceed a total of one month per year and the time(s) should be mutually agreeable to the student and the research advisor. During the summer(s) students are expected to perform their thesis research, unless they are off Dartmouth funding (e.g., for internship in industry). Students should obtain written permission from their advisor, in advance, for any expected absences of greater than one month per year.

Nonresident terms for master's students

We expect master's students to make good progress toward the M.S. degree.  We also recognize that there are times that it makes sense for you to be away from campus for internships/CPT or just vacation.  We also understand that most master's students will be away during the summer term, because we do not offer courses for graduate credit over the summer.  With these considerations in mind, the faculty has decided upon the following policy:

  1. All master's students are expected to complete the M.S. degree in at most seven non-summer terms.  For example, if you enter the program in Fall 2013, then you should complete the M.S. degree by the end of Fall 2015, with the seven non-summer terms being Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Winter 2015, Spring 2015, and Fall 2015.
  2. For every three graduate credits you have accrued that count toward the M.S. degree, you may take one term not in residence (an internship/CPT term or a vacation term).  You must accrue the graduate credits in advance.  This rule applies even to the summer term, subject to item 3, below.  Because the graduate credits must count toward the M.S. degree, you are limited to at most two courses in which you get a grade of LP.  Note that only graduate credits count; if you take an undergraduate course that does not give graduate credit (such as COSC 50), then that course does not count.  You can see which undergraduate courses count for graduate credit on our graduate courses page.
  3. We recognize that in some cases, a student might not have accrued enough graduate credits before a summer term in order to take that summer term not in residence.  In such a case, we allow the student to be away during the summer term, but the graduate credits accrued after that summer term will count toward that summer term, until all three graduate credits needed to account for that summer term have been accrued.
  4. For foreign students, the federal requirement that you may take at most one year of CPT during your time as a U.S. student applies.  This requirement should not come into play, since if you take five terms of CPT, that leaves only two terms of courses/research for your seven terms to the M.S. degree.  Furthermore, federal requirements limit foreign students to at most one vacation term per academic year.
  5. This policy takes effect immediately and applies to all current and future M.S. students.  Exceptions may be granted by the Graduate Committee upon request; all requests should go through Holly, who will send them to the Graduate Committee.  There is no guarantee that the Graduate Committee will grant any particular exception.  The Graduate Committee is not bound to honor precedent, and so you should not assume that because another student was given an exception you will be granted one, too.  Please note that the Graduate Committee meets infrequently, and so you should always plan in advance.
  6. If you want to register for COSC 295, Practical Training, please bear in mind that this course is for curricular practical training.  We will sign off on it only if you can demonstrate how what you will be doing enhances your educational experience.

Procedures Explained


  • Full-time students should register for three credits each term. If you plan to register for fewer than three actual courses, fill out the three credits with the appropriate choice of CS 296, 297, 298, or 299, with the consent of your research advisor.
  • During the fall, winter, and spring terms, M.S. coursework-track students are expected to complete at least six degree-credit courses. For M.S. thesis-track students, these six courses may include thesis-research credits. M.S./Digital Arts students must complete at least two courses per term, approved by the M.S./Digital Arts Program Director; at least one course needs to be at the graduate level, and all courses need to count toward the M.S./Digital Arts degree.
  • If you want to transfer course credit from elsewhere into the CS graduate programs at Dartmouth, see the course transfer policy page, and use this transfer credit application form.
  • Graduate students who want to enroll in an undergraduate course need to seek the approval of the instructor and their program advisor and then submit the course change form to Amy Gallagher in Guarini.

Thesis proposal and defense

  • The oral proposal and defense are public events and should be announced to the public, using our normal colloquium-announcement procedures, at least one week prior to the event. It is the responsibility of the student, in consultation with the student's committee, to arrange the date, time, and place, and to inform the department staff so that an announcement can be made.

Summer funding

  • Ph.D students on Dartmouth Fellowship (DF) for a given year are normally on the fellowship for Fall, Winter, and Spring terms. We strongly encourage students to work with a professor on research during the summer term, and are happy to provide DF students with funding for that purpose, assuming sufficient funding is available.
  • Summer DF funding is usually available to those who want it. In any case, if you would like summer funding, please contact the Ph.D. Program Director. The director will send out a reminder to all Ph.D students in early spring term, asking students who want summer funding to explicitly request it, to identify the professor with whom they plan to work, and to briefly describe their project (a paragraph will do). We ask for explicit requests so that we can budget appropriately for the summer, and identify early whether all students wanting funding, can receive funding.
  • Note that you may be asked to T.A. a course in the summer, as with any other DF term.
  • Often students find research internships in industry to be a valuable experience, whether in summer or in any other term. We encourage you to talk with your advisor, or the Ph.D. Program Director, about this possibility. Please read our departmental CPT policies/procedures document for details (under the RESOURCES AND DOCUMENTS section above, you must first be logged in with your Dartmouth Google account to access this document).