The objective of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Graduate Fellowships (CSGrad4US) is to increase the number of diverse, domestic graduate students pursuing research and innovation careers in the CISE fields: computer science, computer engineering, or information science.
The goals of the CSGrad4US Mentoring Program are:
To guide returning students through the application process towards a successful CS PhD admission and school selection
To mentor them through the transition to PhD graduate study in the first year towards high retention.
Specific topics include the admissions process, preparation of all components of a strong graduate application, differences between graduate programs at different institutions, how to compare programs with respect to the Fellow’s goals and background, and general guidelines on making a selection among admission acceptances.
The CSGrad4US Mentoring Program will provide not only general graduate application advice and guidance, but also provide a missing larger context and network to students returning from the workforce. These goals are achieved through group mentoring sessions followed by individual coaching during the application and decision-making process and the first year in graduate school.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number (2123180). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
For Prospective Fellows
Described in detail below are the eligibility requirements for the CSGrad4US Fellowship: (1) citizenship, (2) degree requirements, and (3) field of study / degree programs for proposed research. CSGrad4US Fellowship applicants are strongly advised to read the entire DCL carefully to ensure that they understand all the requirements. CSGrad4US Fellowship applicants must self-certify that they intend to pursue a research-based doctoral degree in an eligible field of study and that they meet all eligibility criteria.
CSGrad4US Fellowship applicants must be United States citizens, United States nationals, or permanent residents of the United States by the application deadline.The term “national” designates a native resident of a commonwealth or territory of the United States, such as American Samoa. It does not refer to a citizen of another country who has applied for United States citizenship and who has not received U.S. citizenship by the application deadline.
CSGrad4US Fellowship applicants are eligible to apply as bachelor’s degree holders who (i) graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a CISE discipline or otherwise demonstrated CISE core competency before June 30, 2021; (ii) have never enrolled in and have no pending application for a doctoral degree-granting program in a CISE discipline; (iii) are not currently enrolled in a degree-granting program; and (iv) will be prepared to attend graduate school by Fall 2024.
Field of study, degree programs that they plan to attend. The CISE disciplines are computer science, computer engineering, and information science. CSGrad4US Fellowship applicants must indicate which area(s) within these CISE disciplines they intend to study.
Individuals are not eligible to apply if they propose to enroll in a discipline outside of CISE.
Individuals who are enrolled, or will enroll, in a graduate degree program while on a leave of absence from a professional degree program or professional degree-graduate degree program are ineligible for a CSGrad4US Fellowship.
To receive the CSGrad4US Fellowship, individuals must participate in the CSGrad4US Mentoring Program in Fall 2022. For more information about the mentoring program and the preparation for CISE doctoral programs, please refer to the Mentoring Program webpage https://cra.org/cra-wp/cs-grad4us/#Guidance.
Guidance on CISE PhD Programs and Expected Background
This page provides guidance on what PhD programs are generally recognized to be CISE PhD programs and it provides insight into the background CISE PhD programs expect from their incoming PhD students. We align our descriptions with CISE’s mission which states “The NSF CISE Directorate supports research and education projects that develop new knowledge in all aspects of computing, communications, and information science.”
What qualifies as a CISE Ph.D. Program?
CISE Ph.D. programs include programs offered by a Computer Science (CS) Department, Computer and Information Sciences (CIS) Department, Computer Engineering (CE) Department, School or College of Computing, and most Information Science (IS) Departments. For the purposes of the NSF CSGrad4US Fellowship program, all qualifying institutions and programs must be within the United States, its territories or possessions, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Interdisciplinary programs that are considered CISE Ph.D. programs include programs where the student applies to a CISE department as their home department. It also includes programs where the student applies to the interdisciplinary program and the program’s curriculum includes required graduate level CS/CE/IS courses.
PhD programs in I-schools can be considered CISE Ph.D. programs if they are focused on areas widely represented in CS/CE and CIS departments (e.g., Human-Computer Interaction, Natural Language Processing, Software Engineering, Robotics) or when the program’s curriculum includes graduate level CS/CS/IS courses.
PhD programs that may not be considered CISE PhD programs include programs that have no to almost no CS course requirements, expect little to no CS background knowledge, and the programs course requirements are focused on a non-CISE field. Examples include
bioinformatics in a biology department or a medical school
data science programs in Arts/Humanities/Social Science departments
library science programs
learning science programs not joint with a CISE department
quantum science programs in physics or chemistry
programs in Informatics/I-schools that have no CS graduate level course in the curriculum requirements
What is the background expected for admission to a CISE Ph.D. program?
Expected background varies somewhat from program to program and the summary given below addresses the most common admission expectations. They include,
A CS/CIS/CE BS, BA, or MS is a standard expectation for Ph.D. admission in a CISE program.
Having a degree in a STEM field and a minor in CS/CE/CIS or equivalent experience in industry. More specifically, CISE Ph.D. programs expect a formal education or experience equivalent to a solid programming background obtained in 1-2 programming courses, as well as knowledge typically acquired in data structures, algorithms, discrete mathematics, and systems programming courses.
Having a degree in a non-STEM and a minor in CS/CE/CIS or equivalent experience in industry generally meets expectations of a CISE Ph.D. program if the applicant has a solid programming background obtained in 1-2 programming courses, as well as knowledge typically acquired in data structures, algorithms, discrete mathematics, and systems programming courses, and has the expected math background. The math background in most CISE Ph.D. programs includes Calculus 1, 2, and 3, linear algebra, statistics and probability.
Having completed a CS+X undergraduate program is generally considered as having the knowledge of a minor in a CISE field.
Pursuing a Ph.D. in a CISE program
What is research?
Research is the process of extending human knowledge beyond what is currently known. When we conduct research, we explore open problems, create a hypothesis for what we expect to observe, and then use techniques and tools developed for rigorous scientific study to test and evaluate our hypothesis for its validity. We write technical papers describing our research and then share our findings with experts in the field for critical assessment and feedback to further advance the research. This peer-review process is a key component of research as it can improve individual research and encourages continued exploration. Because not every hypothesis turns out to be correct, all research includes what appears to be failures or setbacks. While not being successful is generally frustrating, it often provides valuable information and insight that leads to ultimate success.
A Ph.D. is an in-depth research exploration of one topic that typically spans 5 to 6 years and produces new knowledge advancing the field. Pursuing a Ph.D. is a full-time endeavor with an emphasis on research, not on classes. At the time of graduation, the student will be an expert in the chosen field. Parallel to pursuing research, a student will take classes, either required or elective courses to gain the foundational knowledge needed in their research. Ph.D. students in CISE fields typically pay no tuition and receive a stipend, typically in the form of a fellowship, research assistantship, or teaching assistantship. Having a fellowship or research assistantship allows a student to dedicate fully to their research. Teaching assistants devote 20 hours per week to course-related activities like running lab sessions, holding office hours, and grading.
The expectation is that during the academic year, a student’s primary focus will be working full-time on research. This includes developing and refining research skills, discovering and learning new tools and techniques used in research, developing excellent communication skills, reviewing research done by others, conducting research experiments, preparing manuscripts for publication, and meeting all program requirements. As students start new research projects and their research skills grow, they work on more challenging problems and create more innovative solutions. Additionally, Ph.D. students pursue a range of professional development opportunities, including paid internships, participating in workshops, and attending conferences. They also become active members of the larger research community, learning how to communicate their ideas and critically assess and provide feedback on other researchers’ work. All these learning experiences expand their future career choices and prepare them for successful research careers.
Common Timeline and Milestones
Ph.D. program requirements vary across schools and departments. Specialized programs, such as interdisciplinary programs, may be distinctive in their requirements. Despite this variation, many CS/CE/IS programs have similar milestones and timelines.
During the first year, most Ph.D. programs require students to complete a core set of courses that provide them with foundational knowledge as well as knowledge in their chosen research area. Students are also expected to start working with a faculty advisor on an initial research project and become an engaged member of that faculty member’s research group.
During the second year, students will have completed the majority of their required coursework. Many Ph.D. programs require students to have completed qualifying requirements that demonstrate in-depth and breadth of knowledge. Qualifying requirements can take on different forms. In some programs, completing a set of courses is required. Alternatively, students may be required to complete oral or written examinations in multiple areas. Other programs assign students several research papers and require students to write and present a paper that summarizes, compares, and contrasts the results in those papers. Another approach is for students to present and defend the results of an initial research project. In addition to meeting these programmatic requirements, Ph.D. candidates are expected to have identified what research area they want to pursue, although they often will not have decided on the exact question(s) their doctoral thesis will explore and answer.
By the third and fourth years, students are expected to be actively conducting research in their research area. This includes publishing or preparing to publish preliminary results in peer-reviewed venues (i.e., conferences and journals). Based on the knowledge gained, Ph.D. candidates are expected to formulate a research plan for completing their thesis, including what research questions they expect to study and to begin writing their thesis proposals. Students are expected to continue doing research and publishing research results. Students should also start exploring future research career goals and make, jointly with the adviser, strategic decisions on how to best prepare. This can include internships with a particular focus, independently teaching a course, being a visiting student at another institution, and attending career mentoring workshops.
During the remaining years of a Ph.D. program, a student will continue to work on research problems, publish new research results, prepare conference presentations, revise submitted papers, and may start serving as a mentor for more junior students. They will participate in the larger research community, learning how to communicate their ideas and critically assess and provide feedback on other researchers’ work. This community engagement takes many exciting forms, including peer-reviewing papers on cutting-edge research and traveling to international conferences to present research and vigorously debate and be motivated by the work presented by others. Throughout this process, students are constantly learning from and collaborating with experts, honing their skills and knowledge until they become independently-capable experts in their own rights.
In parallel, they will write up their overall research contributions in the form of their dissertation, receiving and updating it with critical feedback from their dissertation committee members, and defend that research at a public presentation of their work. Their Ph.D. is complete once their dissertation committee is satisfied with the written work and oral presentation. The Ph.D. candidate will also be pursuing chosen job opportunities, preparing application materials, and finally interviewing for jobs. At this point, a student is fully prepared to embark on their independent research career.
Our intention is to recruit a representative set of coaches that reflects the diversity of institutions, demographics, and scholarship among the computing research community.
The CSGrad4US group mentoring focuses on the admissions process, preparation of all components of a strong graduate application, differences between graduate programs at different institutions and how to compare them with respect to the Fellow’s goals and background, and general guidelines on making a selection among admission acceptances.
Summer Materials Development: The CSGrad4US Mentoring Program Leadership will finalize the topics and develop the material for group mentoring sessions and panels. They will organize topics into 5-6 group mentoring sessions, with some adjustments made once the background of the Fellows is known.
Fall Application-Process Semester: The group mentoring sessions will start in August 2022 and be delivered virtually in the evening. Due to time zone differences, we expect each session will be offered twice. Each session will include time for Q&A, and all sessions will be recorded. We expect that group mentoring on graduate school applications will conclude by mid-October.
Spring Decision-Making Semester: Once students have received admission decisions in the spring, we will run a group mentoring session focused on the Graduate School selection process that includes how to prepare for campus visits, questions to ask potential advisors, and other topics that assist the decision-making process. We expect that some of the panel content will be driven by the fellows.
First Year Graduate School: Group mentoring will continue with a small set of sessions to build the cohort and help students succeed in the transition during the first year. In the fall 2023, there will be a set of monthly sessions about transition to graduate school, good skills to develop for success, life-balance, and networking activities to strengthen the Fellow cohort. In the spring, the Fellows will be given the opportunity to attend the CRA-WP Graduate Cohort Workshop, which contains a track for first-year graduate students and opportunities for individual advising for personal conversations.
Coaches will provide individual advice and mentoring for fellows.
The CSGrad4US group mentoring sessions will be coupled with regular individual coaching sessions taking place from mid-September through mid-December and additional sessions in the spring. Serving as coaches, experienced CS faculty will provide individual help with graduate application development and identification of PhD programs matching the student’s interest and background. Individual coaching builds on the material covered in the group mentoring sessions.
Fall Application-Process Semester: To encourage consistency across coaches and guide coaches in this process, each coach will follow the same framework, which includes a 12-week timeline and coaching prompts for discussion/guidance and mentee actions.
The sequencing of the objectives is based on using earlier prepared materials to help with later prepared materials. Thus, we start with the resume to help with learning about the mentee’s experiences, strengths, and weaknesses and we discuss the strengths and weaknesses an admission committee will see on the transcript. We then discuss and determine whom to request letters of reference from so that the requests can be made early. We spend time researching and choosing targeted schools. If any schools require GRE general and/or subject test scores, we determine how to prepare for those tests and when to take them. We then focus on the content outlining and writing of the statement of purpose essay. The resume and statement of purpose are both needed to provide to reference letter writers. We discuss and draft requests for references. We determine if additional essays are needed and work toward completing those essays.
The coaches will mimic the quick assessment of the week’s materials and provide feedback from the perspective of the admissions review committee, then discuss how to modify the materials to improve the admission committee review outcome.
Spring Decision-Making Semester: Individual coaching will also take place after fellows have received admissions decisions in early spring. The goal is to help fellows understand the differences between departments and institutions and answer questions they have during the decision making process. The time a coach spends with a fellow in the spring is expected to vary considerably.
Coaches will be paid a stipend for their service in two equal installments. The first payment will be processed in week 7, and the second will be processed after week 12.
The training will start with the co-PIs providing relevant publications and studies to the coaches, and organizing online discussion sessions based on the material shared. We plan on having two 90-minute sessions with the coaches. A repository of the material provided in advance plus notes from the training sessions will be created and shared with the coaches. Training will draw from existing material providing insights and recommendations on successfully mentoring graduate students from populations underrepresented in computing research and education.
The topics to be addressed in the training sessions will be presented as situational case studies. Coaches will be given a short description of a potential fellow’s situation, with an example of a CV and a transcript. This will help ground the discussion on a specific, even if fictional, case.