Master of Science Coursework Option

The Master of Science degree provides a solid foundation in computer science while still offering flexibility to meet the needs and interests of individual students. The Master of Science coursework option requires 33 credits derived from courses. Students in good standing typically complete the MS coursework option in two years.

The department typically does not admit students into the MS coursework option; it is typically used for PhD students to get the MS “along the way” to the PhD. Students desiring a coursework-only Master's level degree should enter the CS MENG program instead.

To complete the MS coursework option, students must satisfy a breadth requirement, adhere to an appropriate credit distribution, enroll in the graduate seminar, comply with the ethics requirement, and complete a final exam requirement either by doing an independent study and report or passing the qualifying exam at the Master's level.

 

Breadth Requirements

To encourage Master's-level graduates to exhibit sufficient breadth of computer science areas, MS students must take CS courses spanning several different areas in CS. Coursework option students must take CS courses at the 5000 and 6000 levels that span five (5) different areas. The available courses and areas are listed here.

 

Graduate Seminar Requirement; Graduate School Ethics, Inclusion, and Diversity Requirements

The Graduate School requires that all graduate students satisfy two sets of requirements: one addressing training in Scholarly Ethics and Integrity, and one addressing Inclusion and Diversity. The CS Department also requires students to take a minimum number of instances of CS5944 Graduate Seminar.

Students entering the program in Summer 2019 or after must do the following.

  1. Take some course that makes an explicit part of its syllabus satisfaction of all aspects of both sets of Graduate School requirements (ethics training, and inclusion and diversity training). Within CS, starting with Fall 2019, both CS5014 Research Methods and CS5024 Ethics and Professionalism in Computer Science will include material to satisfy both requirements. CS students may seek approval to satisfy the requirement with another course whose syllabus explicitly addresses both Graduate School requirements.
  2. Take CS5944 Graduate Seminar twice.

 

Students entering the program prior to Summer 2019 may satisfy the requirements by using the rules listed above, or they may use the following rules. (Please note that if you want to use the rules above, you must have taken the appropriate course in Fall 2019 or after. Earlier instances of the courses do not cover the required training, and so cannot be used.)

  1. Participate in the orientation session offered by the GD. This orientation is done the week before classes start in the Fall and Spring semesters.
  2. Complete the following two courses offered by the Research Division:
  3. Take CS 5944 Graduate Seminar three times.
  4. Students will be required to submit evidence of completion of these milestones in their annual student activity report (see section Annual Evaluation).

 

Credit Distribution Requirements

Category of courses Credits Min Credits Max Notes
CS courses at 4000 level and above 33   Cannot include CS5014 Research Methods in Computer Science, CS5894 Final Examination, CS5904 Project and Report, CS5944 Seminar, CS5994 Research and Thesis, or CS7994.
CS courses at 4000 level   3 Most CS 4000 courses can be used for graduate credit, except CS4974, CS4984, and CS4994. CS Capstone courses could be used with prior permisison of the instructor.
CS 5974 Independent Study   3  
CS courses at 6000 level 3    
Minimum required credits 33    

 

Note: Each of the lines above must be interpreted as an individual, distinct, constraint so that all constraints have to be simultaneously satisfied. The columns are not meant to "add up", i.e., 33+3 is obviously not equal to 33.

Additional credit hours may be taken in any category, but do not count toward degree requirements. Substitutions for degree requirements are allowed only under rare or exceptional circumstances. Requests for substitutions must be made to the GD.

All courses must be at the 5000 level or above with possibly at most one 4000-level courseincluded. If a 4000-level course is included, it must be from the list of CS 4000-level courses approved for graduate credit. Credits from CS5014 Research Methods in Computer Science, CS5894 Final Examination, CS5904 Project and Report, CS5944 Graduate Seminar, CS5994 Research and Thesis, and CS7994 Research and Dissertation cannot be used to satisfy any M.S. coursework credit requirements. At least one 6000 level course is required.

Although the credit distribution table indicates that CS5974 is optional, the final report from CS5974 effectively serves to fulfill the final exam requirement and hence registering for CS5974 is the most common way to obtain a coursework Master's degree.

 

Advisor and Committee

All graduate students have access to a faculty advisor who can help with both academic advising (i.e., issues related to getting a degree) and career advising. PhD students, and MS students under the thesis option, should select a faculty member to act as their research and course advisor as early as possible in their academic career and definitely by the time their plan of study is due (see Plan of Study). The advisor must be a full-time Virginia Tech faculty position with either a regular, emeritus, or courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Science, and hold a Ph.D. or equivalent terminal degree.

The composition for an M.S. coursework advisory committee typically consists of three members as follows:

  • The chair of the committee (advisor) is the instructor for the CS5974 Independent Study course that was used to satisfy the M.S. coursework requirements. If the final exam requirement is met through the use of the qualifying exam, the chair of this exam serves as the advisor. This person must be a full-time Virginia Tech faculty position with either a regular, emeritus, or courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Science, and hold a Ph.D. or equivalent terminal degree.
  • The two Associate Department Heads (ADH-GS and ADH-US) typically serve as the second and third members.
  • No outside members are allowed in the committee of MS Coursework students.

 

Typical Schedule

The table below shows a typical distribution of courses and other responsibilities over the 2 years that is typical for a student to complete an MS Thesis. Note that this assumes the student starts in the Fall. Also of note is that some of the order of courses shown is a recommendation, not a requirement. For example, whether you take the courses for breadth early in a program of study or later is not of significance.

 

Year Fall Spring
1
  • CS 5xxx (3cr) (Breadth area 1)
  • CS 5xxx (3cr) (Breadth area 2)
  • CS xxxx (3cr)
  • CS5944 Graduate Seminar (1cr)

Note: Student can take upto 1 CS 4xxx. Doing it early in the program is a great way to remove a deficiency.

Note: Visit several research groups and lab meetings to become acquainted with areas and faculty in department.

  • CS 5xxx (3cr) (Breadth area 3)
  • CS 5xxx (3cr) (Breadth area 4)
  • CS xxxx (3cr)
  • CS5944 Graduate Seminar (1cr)

Note: Identify area of research interest and initiate conversations with possible Academic and Research Advisor for the CS5974 Independent Study.

Note: Submit Student Activity Reports in late Spring.

Note: Department evaluates all graduate students on Green Thursday.

Note: If a student is going on internship, there might be other requirements to be met in this semester. For example, international students must have a Plan of Study on file before going on internship. Check with GC for details.

2
  • CS5944 Graduate Seminar (1cr)
  • CS 5xxx (3cr) (Breadth 5)
  • CS xxxx (3cr)
  • CS xxxx (3cr)
  • CS5974 Independent Study (3cr)

Note: Submit report for Independent Study to AGS with approval from advisor.

Note: File a Plan of Study

  • CS xxxx (3cr)
  • CS xxxx (3cr)

Note: Apply for Graduation

Note: Schedule Final Exam

Note: Graduate!

Note: Could take a CS 6xxx.