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PhD | University Oral Examination

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Stanford University requires an oral examination for the PhD program. The Department chooses the format of the University oral. In the Computer Science Department, it is a defense of the dissertation. The format of the oral is a public presentation lasting approximately one hour, followed by questions from the examining committee in a private session (maximum total of 3 hours time).

The orals committee must have at least five members that include one chair and four voting members. Four of the five must be academic council members. The orals committee will consist of the following:

  • Chair. The chair of the oral committee is selected by the student, usually at the suggestion of reading committee members. The chair must be an academic council member and may be a professor emeritus. The chair may not have a full or joint appointment in the advisor's or student's Department but may have a courtesy appointment in the Department. The chair can be from the same Department as any other member(s) of the examination committee and can be from the student's minor Department; provided that the student's advisor does not have a full or joint appointment in the minor Department. To maintain impartiality, the orals chair may not simultaneously serve on the student's dissertation reading committee. 
  • Reading committee. These members and/or the student's proposed oral committee members offer help and suggestions for a possible chair. After passing the qualifying examination, a student must secure the agreement of a member of the Department faculty to act as the dissertation advisor. Typically, this is the program advisor, however, the dissertation advisor may be in another Department. In addition, the student must form a dissertation reading committee composed of the principal dissertation advisor and at least two additional readers. The Reading Committee Form should be turned in no later than one year after passing a qualifying exam.
    • Composition of reading committee regulations:​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
      • The principal advisor and at least one of the other committee members must be Academic Council members. This is a University regulation.
      • At least two committee members must be CS professors or joint CS professors (academic council members, such as, Stanford faculty). Courtesy and adjunct CS professors do not count. This is a Departmental requirement.
      • The reading committee supervises the dissertation research, advises the student, evaluates the student's progress, and signs the final draft of the dissertation.
      • These committee members must serve on the student's orals committee because they are knowledgeable about the student's research.
  • Advisor. The student's advisor is a member of the committee.
  • Readers. The members of the student's reading committee must serve on the orals committee. Readers who are not academic council members (limit 1) need prior approval from the Graduate Division to sit on the Orals Committee by filing a petition form and submitting a copy of the non-academic council member's CV with the Orals form. 

Orals may be scheduled any time after a substantial portion of the dissertation is complete. Students are encouraged to schedule the exam during the quarter preceding the one in which they intend to submit the final draft. This allows time for post-oral revision of the document and will prevent added stress or disappointment in not being conferred as planned.

A student must submit a University oral exam schedule form and a copy of their abstract at least two weeks before the proposed orals date. The PhD student services office will ensure the committee is properly composed. Along with the form, the student should have a draft of the dissertation available in case the University chair desires more detailed information. The student must submit an abstract of the dissertation to the

The University prefers that orals are not scheduled during the first two weeks of the quarter, finals week, or during breaks. Students should plan the schedule of their orals in advance.