Queen's School of Computing


The minimum requirements for admittance to the M.Sc. program are an undergraduate degree with a concentration in Computing Science, and a high upper-second class standing. We normally expect that students have taken courses covering the following topics:

calculus ♦ linear algebra ♦ statistics ♦ logic and discrete mathematics ♦ advanced data structures ♦ computer systems ♦ automata theory ♦ algorithm design and analysis ♦ programming languages ♦ software engineering

Applicants should also have taken at least two advanced courses in applications areas such as artificial intelligence, database theory, or computer graphics. Candidates with high academic standing in an undergraduate degree other than computing science, who have some computing science background, either academic or professional, may be admitted as graduate preparatory students. Graduate preparatory students will be asked to complete up to one year of undergraduate courses to enhance their background. Partial support may be available to students with preparatory status. Students are normally only admitted starting in the Fall term, but occasional exceptions are made.

Regular M.Sc. Students

Applicants with a strong undergraduate background in computing science are accepted as full M.Sc. students. Three patterns of the Master's degree are offered, research, project and course work. The requirements for these are detailed below.

The requirements for the project pattern program can be fulfilled within three terms of full-time study.  The requirements for the course work pattern program can be fulfilled within two terms of intensive full-time study.

In addition to their normal course work, all regular Master's students are expected to attend the School Seminar Series, a forum for researchers from the School and from abroad.  

The Research MSc, if successfully completed, may qualify the student for subsequent PhD studies, whereas the Project MSc and Course Work MSc will not qualify the student for subsequent PhD studies.  (Please note that only the Research M.Sc. is funded)

Research M.Sc.

The research pattern normally requires the course CISC-897 and four one-term courses together with a thesis. Recently most students have tended to follow this pattern and it is a trend the School encourages. Students normally take three courses in the Fall term and one in the Winter term, plus CISC897. Courses are chosen by students in consultation with their supervisor and/or the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. Please note that all courses prescribed for a student's approved program of study are designated as primary. Courses additional to the student's approved program are designated as secondary. Failure to attain a minimum of second class standing (B-) in any of the primary courses may result in the student being required to withdraw.

The roles of the master’s thesis are to demonstrate that the student is able to perform closely supervised research and will be able to carry out independent scholarly research in subsequent PhD studies. The MSc thesis is typically constrained to a specific and well defined scientific and/or technical problem that can be solved within the limited timeframe of the MSc program, within 2 calendar years. The MSc thesis is not required to contain novel research or new scientific contribution. However, if the student wishes to proceed to PhD studies, then it is highly desirable that the master’s thesis contains significant elements of research and aspects of the research are published in a peer-reviewed journal or refereed conference. The subject matter of the master’s thesis is typically defined jointly by the student and supervisor, considering the field of interest, career goals, skills and abilities of the student and research needs and available funding of the supervisor. Details of the defense procedure can be found at http://www.cs.queensu.ca/students/graduate/GradHandbook/defense_procedures.php

Theses are expected to be completed by the end of the third or fourth term. Theses are defended before an examining committee consisting of three members of the School, an external (to the School) examiner and an internal Chair.

The Research MSc program is fully funded. The student will work as a Graduate Research Assistant, typically performing research activities that are closely related to the subject matter of the master's thesis. In addition, the student may also work as a Teaching Assistant in a course offered in the School of Computing. See more details at http://www.cs.queensu.ca/students/graduate/GradHandbook/finances.php

Project M.Sc.

The project pattern requires six half-courses, one of which may be CISC-897*, and the completion of a major (theoretical or programming) project. In this case, the Fall and Winter terms (September to April) are largely devoted to fulfilling course requirements, while the following Summer term is spent on the project. Courses are chosen by the student on condition that at least one course from each of our course categories is chosen. The courses, partitioned into their respective categories, are listed in Section 7.

A project is chosen after consulting with potential supervisors. The project should normally require between two and four months of full time work, and be comparable in work load to two CISC graduate level half courses. A written report of the project is submitted by the student and is then independently evaluated by each member of a committee of three. The committee consists of the supervisor, a School examiner, and the Director (or delegate, usually the Graduate Chair). The ultimate authority for appointing members of the committee lies with the Director. The chair of the committee, who is allowed to vote, is the Director (or delegate, usually the Graduate Chair) . All outcomes of the project examination require at least two votes. If the initial decisions are not all in agreement then the project should be discussed before an outcome is decided.

There are three possible outcomes of the project examination, PASSED, REFERRED, and FAILED. These are patterned on the decisions of an MSc thesis exam, and are detailed in the Calendar of the School of Graduate Studies and Research section 8.6 paragraph b. A project is PASSED if it is acceptable in its present form or requires minor revisions. In the case of minor revisions, the supervisor is responsible for informing the student of the required changes and for verifying that the changes have been made. A project is REFERRED if it is not acceptable in its present form, but could be acceptable pending major revisions. The chair, in consultation with the committee, communicates a list of revisions to the student in writing. A copy of this letter will be sent the Graduate Coordinator. The revised project is then re-examined by the entire committee and can either be PASSED or FAILED. The third outcome of a project examination is FAILED. In the case that a project is failed, the student must withdraw from the program. In all cases the outcome of the project should be decided and communicated to the student, as well as the graduate coordinator, at most two weeks (ten working days) after every member of the committee has received it.

(The Project M.Sc. is unfunded.)

Course work M.Sc.

The course work pattern requires eight half-courses which cannot include CISC897*.  At least one course must be from each of the three course categories:  Computer Systems, Theory of Computation, Applications. The selection of courses is subject to School approval.  At the beginning of the program the student is required to submit a plan of study to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies.  By taking four courses per term, it is possible to complete the course requirements within two terms.  Admission to a course work M.Sc is only available for September.

(The Course work M.Sc. is unfunded.)

M.Sc. Supervision Policy

Once an application is submitted to the School students are encouraged to contact potential supervisors as soon as possible.

Thesis and project topics are chosen after discussion with supervisors. The amount of flexibility allowed in pursuing a particular topic will vary according to the supervisor's needs and interests. Projects are expected to be completed over one term. Where progress has not been satisfactory at the end of two terms, supervision may be withdrawn. Theses are encouraged to be completed at the end of twelve months of graduate study, but students often choose to do more than the minimal work required for a satisfactory thesis, and consequently may take longer to finish. 

Graduate Preparatory Students

Candidates with an exceptionally good academic record in a field outside of computer science may be considered for admission into our graduate program as graduate preparatory students.

A graduate preparatory student is accepted to the graduate program (usually the M.Sc. program) with a supervisor, but is required to pass some of the courses listed below. The set of required courses is determined in consultation with the Graduate Admissions Chair. In the first year, a graduate preparatory student takes some of the undergraduate courses listed below, as determined, and some graduate courses. Depending on how many undergraduate courses are required, funding may not start until the second or third term.

  • CISC 203*: Discrete Mathematics and Logic I (formerly CISC201)
  • CISC 221*: Computer Architecture
  • CISC 223*: Software Specifications (formerly CISC366)
  • CISC 322*: Software Engineering
  • CISC 324*: Operating Systems
  • CISC 204*: Discrete Mathematics and Logic II (formerly CISC202)
  • CISC 235*: Information Structures
  • CISC 360*: Programming Paradigms
  • CISC 365*: Algorithms

Qualifying Students

Candidates may apply to be qualifying students. A qualifying student takes the same required courses as a graduate preparatory student (above) but is not admitted as a graduate student, does not have a supervisor, and does not receive funding. A qualifying student may apply to the graduate program after completing the required courses, but acceptance is not guaranteed.

Course Regulations

Students are required to obtain a  B- (effective May 2011) in all of their primary courses, i.e., in courses which are required for their program. Failure to obtain a B- (effective May 2011) in more than one course normally results in the student being required to withdraw. If a student fails in only one course, the course may be repeated or another course may be substituted if the student's progress is otherwise satisfactory. This will normally mean that the student should have obtained more than a minimal pass in the other primary courses.

Students are required to complete their course work before the end of the term in which the course was taken. Allowances are made for exceptional circumstances only.

Graduate students should familiarize themselves with the contents of the Calendar published by the School of Graduate Studies. Some of the information given in this handbook is adapted from the current Calendar but is not intended as a replacement for it. Calendars are only available to incoming students and are not normally distributed to applicants. Most university libraries should contain a current version.