Azer Bestavros
Department of Computer Science
College of Arts & Sciences
Boston University

Office: 111 Cummington Street, MCS-276, Boston, MA 02215
Tel: 617.353.9726 / Fax: 617.353.6457 / Email: best


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Information for Prospective PhD Students

Thank you for your interest in our PhD program and/or for your interest in my research work. I have prepared this page to help you locate various basic information about our program, and to answer common questions regarding the competitive admission and financial aid process.


How to get in touch with me?

By doing your homework first!

The first thing you should note is that sending me an unsolicited email highlighting past achievements of yours and expressing interest in working with me on various projects is the wrong first step. I do not answer unsolicited emails of this type, which I equate to SPAM. So, how could you get me to answer your emails/inquiries? Well, I do pay attention to (and most likely will answer) emails that demonstrate that the applicant has done due diligence on the department or on my own research projects. Due diligence means that the applicant has at least read through appropriate web pages, and perhaps read a couple of my papers. Stating a wish to join my research group or to work on this project or on that project is not what I am looking for. What I am looking for is an indication that the applicant understands the fit between their research interests and mine, and that the applicant's interest in engaging me in an email conversation about his/her interest in my work is genuine.

How to ensure that I get to review your application?

Make sure to request that I review it! 

Applications for admission and financial aid are reviewed by a departmental committee consisting of a number of faculty members, representing the various areas of research in the department. Therefore, it is unlikely that I would be a member of that committee (and certainly not every year), and thus I am not likely to see your application, unless it is brought up to my attention by members of the admission and financial aid committee. This happens if the applicant is strong enough to warrant consideration and is interested in pursuing research that is in my general areas of interest. To ensure that your application will reach me (once it passes through the initial screening by the committee), make sure that you mention me by name in your statement of purpose and that you are clear as to why you think I am the right person to review your application.

How to apply for a scholarship or financial aid?

The Application for Admission also serves as the application for financial aid. Just check the "yes" box  on the application beside the question "Do you wish to be considered for Boston University financial aid?" Your completed application must be received no later than January 1 for fall admission, or October 1 for spring.   An application is complete only if all required materials are received.  For a list of required materials, please refer to the application instructions included with the Graduate Application for Admission.

How competitive is it to obtain financial aid in our department?

Very competitive.

Our department receives hundreds of applications for financial aid from top-notch students from all over the world and we are able to offer only a small number of fellowships (TA and RA positions) to the best student applicants, making the process of selecting recipients of these fellowships fiercely competitive. Successful candidates are typically those who manage to catch the attention of one of our faculty members, who would then act as an advocate of the candidate to our admission and financial aid committee. Notice that individual faculty members (including myself) have grants on which they may be able to support incoming students. However, even then, the decision to offer such financial aid must be approved by the departmental graduate admission committee based on the strength of the applicant (and somewhat independently of an individual faculty member recommendation).

Is there support available to incoming students for summer months?


Students on teaching or research fellowships are supported for the eight months of the academic year (September through April). Research fellowships are typically available for up to three of the four summer months to complement a teaching or research fellowship during the academic year. So, whether you are awarded a teaching or research fellowship during the academic year, you will be able to complement that with a fellowship for the summer months. You will need to approach a specific faculty member (once in the program) to secure this type of support. Some students find it beneficial to spend their summers as interns (e.g. in a research lab). This is usually a good idea, especially when one can find a good fit between one's own interests (and PhD research) and a company's research agenda.

What do we expect from an incoming PhD student?

A lot!

The department has a rigorous set of requirements that entering PhD students must satisfy. These have to do with establishing breadth of knowledge across various disciplines in Computer Science and building depth in a specific area. For example, in the networking research area,  we expect that within a couple of years at Boston University, a PhD student would be well versed in basic networking knowledge as well as the state-of-the-art in networking research. Check this page for more information. While establishing breadth and depth is important, it is no substitute for getting engaged early on in an on-going research project. This implies that an incoming student should be thinking "research" from day one!

 Is it possible to get a Masters degree while enrolled in the PhD program?

The short answer is no.

A student enrolled in the PhD program is expected to be working towards the PhD degree and not towards any other degree. Even if a PhD student satisfies all the "typical" requirements for a Masters degree (namely, coursework and a Masters project), that student will not be awarded the Masters degree. For a PhD student to obtain a Masters degree, he/she must write and defend a Masters thesis. This requires assembling a committee of three faculty members and working on a significant research project for a good period of time (at least one or two years). This option is typically given to students who are deemed unable to meet the PhD degree requirements, or for whom finishing a Masters thesis will prove beneficial as preparation for a PhD thesis.  If you really want a Masters degree (even if you think that you also may be interested in pursuing a PhD degree), then you should apply to the Masters program. Otherwise, as a PhD student, you will have a very hard time getting that Masters degree (and certainly, it will take you at least a couple of years longer than it should).

Where to find answers to other questions?

Answers to questions regarding where to apply, tests, deadlines, fees, and other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are available from this page.

Azer Bestavros