Human-Centered Computing Comprehensive Review Policy

Comprehensive Exam

The Comprehensive Examination is an integral component of the PhD Program. Through this examination a doctoral student demonstrates the requisite breadth and depth of knowledge of the discipline as well as the competencies that are necessary to continue doctoral studies by conducting original research. The exam is offered once a year in January, and must be completed before the end of the 6th semester in the degree program.

The Human-Centered Computing (HCC) Comprehensive Exam consists of a timed written examination and a portfolio review.

Comprehensive Examination Committee

All faculty who teach courses in the HCC graduate program are invited to the Comprehensive Examination Committee. This committee writes unique questions for each year’s exam, and evaluates student answers and student portfolios. The HCC GPD typically coordinates the exam logistics for both students and the committee.

Comprehensive Examination Outcomes

The HCC GPD will notify the student about the outcome of their Comprehensive Review by the end of March, unless the decision was deferred because of a required revision to the dossier.

Students will receive an individual pass/fail evaluation on both the written exam and the portfolio review. On any given exam, a student can pass both sections, fail both sections, or only pass one. Students who do not pass a section will have the opportunity to retake that section the following year, (and may retake both sections if desired, or requested by the advisor). If a student has not passed both sections after two tries they will be dismissed from the HCC doctoral program.

Important Dates

When Do Students Take the Exam?

Doctoral students in the HCC program are required to complete three semesters of the HCC 810 seminar before they can participate in the Comprehensive Exam.

Students should complete the review between their fourth and sixth semesters, and must pass the exam by their 6th semester in the PhD program.


  1. July 1st: Updates to reading lists announced
  2. September 1st: Students must email the GPD about their intent to participate in exam and select two HCC Concentration Areas reading lists
  3. End of January: students take written exam (exact date negotiated with GPD)
  4. Mid-February: (Two weeks after the written exam) Students submit portfolio to GPD
  5. End of March: Students are notified of exam outcome by GPD

Written Exam and Portfolio Details

Content Areas and Reading Lists

The HCC Comprehensive Examination covers the HCC Comprehensive Review Reading List (updated June 1, 2023). This list is also used by students from the IS PhD program.

Updates to the reading lists are announced by July 1.

Students are responsible for notifying the Graduate Program Director about when they propose to take the exam. They should make contact by email by the Friday of the first week of the Fall semester. Students are expected to be knowledgeable regarding the articles on the Core HCC reading list. They are also expected to integrate material into their exam answers from the research methodology courses they have taken.

Written Exam

All students will take the written exam on the same day and at the same time. Students will have access to all articles (in print format) and personal notes. Students cannot access electronic files or the Internet during the exam. The students will receive one or more questions to reflect the reading list. They will type their answers on a computer provided by the Department.

Students are expected to adhere to the UMBC Policy on Academic Integrity. The answers to the questions must be original work and not contain material previously written by the students for assignments or other purposes. The student is free to cite material from the reading list.

When answering questions in the written exam, students are free to make any reasonable assumptions and should clearly state these assumptions as a prelude to the answer. While an examinee is free to ask the GPD for clarification of a question, it is important to realize that understanding the question and possible approaches to answering it are part of the examination.

The written exam will be evaluated by the faculty committee. Anonymity is not guaranteed during this process.

Portfolio Review

Exactly two weeks after the exam, each examinee must also submit a portfolio that includes:

  1. Name of advisor
  2. List of courses taken and grades achieved
  3. Self-assessment of progress so far including strengths and weaknesses
  4. Copies of all papers (published as well as unpublished course papers)
  5. Dissertation plans

In order to develop a successful portfolio, students are recommended to demonstrate how their learning has grown since starting the graduate program, offering evidence from their completed assignments, projects and publications. This should be done in a reflective fashion. Students are recommended to place emphasis on developing the self-assessment of progress and plans for the intended dissertation. Both should be explained in sufficient detail. Contributions to knowledge should also be described.

The portfolio will be evaluated by the Comprehensive Review Committee. The HCC GPD has the right to request revisions to the Portfolio and to defer decision if a revision was necessary.