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Primer for New UTCS Graduate Students

This document has been put together by GRACS (the Graduate Representative Association for Computer Sciences) as an introduction to the University of Texas Department of Computer Science for CS graduate students. Further information is available on the GRACS wiki .

GRACS represents the interests of CS graduate students within the University of Texas at Austin CS department, provides services and information to graduate students, and works to foster a sense of community among graduate students in the department. To contact GRACS, send mail to or visit the GRACS Web page at

If you have comments about or suggestions on how to improve the documentation, please e-mail gracs@cs.

:!: Caution: This is unofficial advice from fellow grad students, and not official department policy. See the UTCS Graduate Program web site for the final word on policy topics.


On arrival, you should visit the CS Graduate Office to meet Katie Dahm and to fill out various forms. The CS Graduate Office is located in GDC 2.724.

Incoming Ph.D. students need to send Prof. Greg Plaxton (and cc gradoffice@cs) their proposed course schedule via e-mail prior to registration. The advising bar will not be removed - and you will not be able to register - until Prof. Plaxton notifies the CS Graduate Office of his approval. Note that all Ph.D. students must register for CS 398T their first fall semester.

Incoming master's program students have no formal advising. The “advising bar” (restriction registration) will automatically be cleared prior to registration dates.

Fellowship students and those students who have been awarded RA-ships should receive e-mail messages instructing them whom to contact. New TAs should receive e-mail messages informing them about orientation meetings they need to attend. If you don't have the appropriate e-mail message(s), ask Katie Dahm what you should do.

The University requires some new international TAs to pass an English certification examination. New international TAs who need the exam will be sent information by email from the CS Graduate Office. All TAs and RAs are required to show proof of eligibility to work in the United States. Proof must be in the form of a picture ID (such as a driver's license or passport) and at least one of the following: Social Security card, passport, or a certified copy of your birth certificate.


Start with the course schedule and your degree requirements. Course schedules for each semester can be found by visiting the UT registrar's Web site. Degree requirements can be found on the UTCS Graduate Program Web pages. You can also determine your registration time slot by visiting and clicking on 'Check your Registration Information Sheet'. Other useful registration information can be found on this page.

:!: Important: You must carry a full-time course load, or many complications may occur, including loss of funding and visa violations. Talk to the grad office before registering for less than full time. (If you are a self-funding student and do not need a visa to be in the US, this warning does not apply.)

Full-time graduate students are required to take 9 hours of courses during the spring and fall semesters. Typical classes count as 3 hours because they meet for three hours each week. Thus, you must register for at least three classes during the spring and fall. Registering for 12 or more credits requires the permission of the student's advisor and the graduate advisor. All TA, RA, and fellowship appointments require full-time status.

Research is highly emphasized within this program and as such incoming students are required to start doing research their very first semester. To this end, incoming Ph.D. students are required to register for CS 398T during their first Fall semester. CS 398T provides a forum for faculty to present their interests and for students to learn more about ongoing research. Additionally, full-time Ph.D. students are required to register for 3 research credits (CS 395) every semester from their second semester onward until they reach candidacy. This means that Ph.D. students will take two courses plus CS 398T their first semester.

Requirements are subject to change. Check with Katie Dahm in the CS Grad Office if you have any questions.

Most administrative tasks can be accomplished via UT Direct. This includes registering for classes, viewing and paying your tuition and fees, updating your address information, and many others. Access to these services is secure, and requires an electronic identifier (UT EID) and password (both of which you should have created when applying to UT).

You'll need to consult the course schedule for courses offered and the steps for registration. Keep in mind that there are invariably additions and/or changes to the courses offered; the schedule on the Web is always up-to-date.

Resources about deciding what courses to take include:

Additionally, you should talk to other graduate students. If you would like to talk to individual professors about their classes, check in the Graduate Office for information on office hours and office locations.

Note that, some of the course work can be demanding. If you have any weak points in your background, it can be a very good idea to start slowly.

To save money when buying textbooks, you can buy them through GRACS. The GRACS wiki also has a few hints on Buying Books.

Ph.D. Comprehensive and Qualifying Examinations

UTCS does not have Ph.D. comprehensive examinations (“comps”). Instead, the program requires certain background and diversity (breadth) and depth courses.

The qualifying exam is your Ph.D. dissertation proposal presentation.

See the doctoral degree program requirements for details.

Financial Assistance

Funding can come from a combination of three sources:

  1. Research assistantships
  2. Teaching assistantships
  3. Fellowships & scholarships (both external and UTCS-internal)

Most master's students are self-funding or using student loans, but there are a few with funding from the above sources. Doctoral students have funding terms specified in their letters of admission from the department.

After you have started working for a particular faculty member, that professor may pay you as a graduate research assistant (GRA) using money from a grant. Every semester, the department selects students to act as teaching assistants for the next semester. Doctoral students without other funding are chosen first. Both TA and GRA positions are forms of UT employment, and so have the accompanying benefits: health insurance, automatic tax withholding, and paycheck direct deposit.

The department keeps a list of fellowships and scholarships you should review. Most fellowships, because of their generous terms, are competitive and often require an application and recommendations. However, since fellowships are not a form of UT employment, they often have added complications. Typically, you need to pay monthly for the UT employee benefits (or find your own health insurance). Taxes are not automatically withheld, so it's important to set aside money for that. Always make sure you understand the terms of the fellowship before it starts. Another subtle difference between employment and fellowships is that employment pays you for the previous month's work, while a fellowship often pays for the upcoming month. Thus, at the end of a fellowship, you may have a month without a paycheck.

Also, watch your e-mail for occasional announcements of funding opportunities.

Obtaining In-State Tuition

Students being supported by teaching and research assistantships are eligible for in-state tuition, but there is a bureaucratic dance that must be performed to get it. Students must fill out a form to change their tuition to in-state rates via the Web. It can all be done via the Web listed here: Log-in, click on the 'Request Wavier' link on the left hand side of the page, and follow the instructions. Katie Dahm and the graduate office will send out e-mails reminding you to do this at the beginning of each semester.

Important Points to Remember

  • Students must have an EID in order to access this site.
  • Students may begin this process as soon as registration for the semester begins even if their appointment has not been confirmed.
  • By a designated time, if the student is found not to be eligible for instate rates their application will be revoked and they will be billed for the non-resident portion of their tuition.
  • Students must do this every semester in which they expect to be appointed for a 20/hr per week assignment as a TA/AI/GRA.
  • Students who are employed outside of their department will need approval from their graduate adviser. If you will be employed by another department, you can see Katie Dahm for this approval.
  • Pay the new bill before the applicable deadline.

Important Restrictions

The University has a few important rules regarding graduate student funding. They are typically not a problem, but you should be aware of them nonetheless. You can find more detailed information at the Office of Graduate Studies. Also note that some of the rules are slightly different for international students.

UTCS Computer Account

Katie Dahm in the CS Graduate Office will give you information on creating your UTCS account when you first check-in.

Note that there are university-wide computing resources, and UTCS department resources. These are almost completely unrelated :-) – separate log in IDs, administrators, documentation, etc., so be aware of this partition.


You have two important official e-mail addresses:

  1. The address you listed in your student records
  2. Your UTCS department e-mail address

E-mail is an essential channel of communication in the department and the university. You will miss out on important information if you don't create your accounts and read your e-mail regularly. In fact, it is university policy that you must check e-mail sent to the address in your student records “ideally daily, but at least twice a week”.

University E-mail

The university will send its official notices to the e-mail address listed in your student records. Keep this up-to-date!

The university provides you a UTmail account free, which you can keep forever. UTmail is Gmail, but with the university's domain. This seems like a good address to use in your student records (but you can use any address).

UTCS Department Mail

When you create your UTCS account, you get a UTCS address. The department sends its messages there.

You can access your UTCS e-mail by POP/IMAP, or you can forward your UTCS e-mail to another account.

E-Mail Signature

Of course, you can set your e-mail signature to whatever you want, but if you are looking for something to start with, here is the HTML for UT's official e-mail signature template:

<span style="font-family: Arial, 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, sans-serif; color:rgb(90,109,118);"><b>FIRST NAME LAST NAME</b>, Graduate Student<br/>
<span style="color:rgb(191,87,0);">The University of Texas at Austin</span> | Computer Science | 512-nnn-nnnn |</span>

The entire thing is Arial, color rgb(90,109,118). You name is boldface uppercase. “The University of Texas at Austin” is color rgb(191,87,0).

Obviously, replace “FIRST NAME LAST NAME” with your name in all capital letters. You may want to change “Graduate Student” to “Graduate Teaching Assistant”, “Graduate Research Assistant”, or “Assistant Instructor” if you have been hired by UT in one of these titles. Replace “512-nnn-nnnn” with your phone number, or delete it.

Securing E-Mail Messages

Since there is much more awareness nowadays of Internet security threats, you may be interested in how to secure your UT or UTCS e-mail messages.

UT offers e-mail certificates for use with S/MIME-capable e-mail clients. You can have certificates issued for any of your addresses, including UTCS department e-mail and the university’s UTmail.

Instructions are here:

Mailboxes, "The Grad Lounge"

Graduate student mailboxes are located in the graduate students' lounge, located in GDC 4.202. (Obtaining a graduate student lounge was one of GRACS's first major accomplishments, way back in 1988.) Announcements, information concerning your university employment or fellowship, and mail you receive through the department will be placed in your mailbox. Please do not have personal mail sent to the department. Your mailbox is also a place for people to leave papers, books, tech reports, etc. for you. The graduate student lounge has a cipher lock because of the mailboxes (get the code from the CS Graduate Office). Keep the lounge locked. Please do not prop open the door, and please clean up after yourself.

Graduate Student Location

Graduate student offices are located in “Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex and Dell Computer Science Hall” (GDC) or the “Peter O'Donnell, Jr. Building for Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences” (POB) [formerly ACES]. To find out where a graduate student's office is, use finger on a department Linux host, or check the grad office assignments list.

Patti Spencer assigns offices for the graduate students. To get an office, either you or your sponsoring faculty member must request a space each year (in late April/early May). (All doctoral students are automatically sponsored.) To request an office, use the officereq utility on a department Linux host. Offices are assigned once a year, effective at the start of the Fall semester, and are allocated according to your research area and advising professor.

If you don't have an office, there is work space in the graduate reading room, GDC 5.202, and in the atrium bridge lounges.

You may give out the following address for CS-related mail (not personal mail):

[your name here]
Department of Computer Science
The University of Texas at Austin
2317 Speedway, Stop D9500
Austin, TX 78712-1757
United States of America

Note that this is only for university business (i.e., research & teaching related mail).

You can also receive occasional faxes in GDC 5.202 at (512) 471-9536.


The Graduate Representative Association of Computer Sciences ( represents the interests of CS graduate students within the department and the university, provides services and information to graduate students, and works to foster a sense of community among graduate students in the department.

GRACS consists of a five member executive committee. GRACS sponsors the weekly Tea-Time and occasional events (both social and academic) throughout the semester.

To help make this very large department a little less impersonal, GRACS established a buddy system. Each new Ph.D. student is given the opportunity to be matched with a fellow graduate student “buddy” who has volunteered to answer his or her questions. This allows new students to feel at home faster than they might otherwise. Buddies are chosen from graduate student volunteers who have been at UT at least a year, with consideration given to matching countries of origin and research interests whenever possible.

We would like to encourage your participation in GRACS. GRACS is your organization. Its effectiveness depends on your participation. Please attend GRACS events, assist with GradFest and the buddy program, or run for election to the executive committee. Elections are held twice a year, with the five members holding staggered terms of office to ensure continuity. To get more information about GRACS, visit the home page or send us mail at gracs@cs.

Network Connection

As mentioned earlier, a major means of communication within the Computer Sciences Department is the network of computer systems. In order to get started using the departmental systems, you must have a computer account.

In addition to computers found in your assigned office space, there are public labs in GDC; a list of them can be found here ( There are also a number of labs you can use with permission from the professors/committees that own them, including the LESS and LECS labs. There are laser printers located throughout GDC, including in the grad reading room, GDC 5.202.

The department maintains a number of useful documents for new users at Also worth reading are the FAQs at

Seminars, Talks, and Reading Groups

Learning about others' activities in computing research and practice is one of the most important things you can do while you're here. Since UTCS is such a large and well-regarded program, there are a large number of opportunities to do so.

During any given week a number of technical talks will take place. Attending some of these colloquia, proposal presentations, oral defenses and such provides not only interesting technical stimulation, but gives you the chance to get to know the department a little better. Most notices are sent out via e-mail, and are visible here:

Reading groups are a great way to “check out” an area, to broaden your knowledge outside your specialty, or to keep up to date. Most reading groups are happy to have anyone join.


While this document deals primarily with the CS department, it's worth mentioning that one of the best things about the University of Texas at Austin is Austin. It is a wonderful place to live with a tremendous number of things going on. Austin is perhaps best known for having great music and being home to UT and the state capital. Austinites enjoy a town that is big enough to offer a wide variety of things to do, but not so large as to suffer the problems of many big cities. You will have to explore Austin yourself, but no doubt you will be riding or jogging on the Town Lake hike and bike path, eating Amy's ice cream, drinking Shiner Bock beer and listening to music on Sixth Street before long. To get more information on what's happening in Austin, pick up one of the free weeklies, “The Austin Chronicle” ( or “XL,” available in most restaurants and coffee houses.

Also, UT has excellent fitness facilities and intramural sports offerings. Check out the RecSports page at Austin has some great camping, hiking, and biking areas. For information on this, check out Austin is also an excellent place for going fishing. There are many lakes around.

Faculty Research Interests

The best ways to become acquainted with faculty members and to learn about their research interests is to take classes from them, attend talks by them, and read papers or tech reports written by them. You can also make an appointment to talk with them personally. The faculty profiles section of the department Web site has a list of faculty and their areas of research.

Computer Facilities

“The Department of Computer Science manages its own network and systems, which number over 1600 hosts. UTCS operates a general-purpose High Throughput Computing (HTC) cluster, Mastodon, which is managed using the Condor job scheduling software. In addition to the Mastodon cluster, UTCS operates the CIAS Emulab, which provides a shared infrastructure for experimental computer science.”

For help, see UTCS facilites help.

Type cshosts pubprinters to get the names of the various printers.

Use the LaTeX preview facility or ghostview to save paper! Other tree-saving tips: use enscript -2r to print two pages of a text file on one page, or psnup -2 to do the same for any PostScript file. Alias lpr to lpr -h to avoid printing the cover sheet.

For info about available machines, use the cshosts help command.

To find memory leaks or pointer errors in C/C++ code, use purify (just prepend purify to your link command, i.e., purify cc -o foo foo.c). For really precise performance analysis, use quantify.

To see if someone is logged in, use rwho | grep (username). For information about someone (like their office number), use finger username@cs.

Libraries and Technical Reports

UT has 17 libraries on campus, and has purchased a large number of Web library subscriptions.

See the Libraries article for details.


  • If you are an RA or a TA, you can get a copy code for the department's copy machine. There is one machine in the grad reading room, GDC 5.202, for all RAs and TAs to use, and there are some in the department mail room GDC 2.304. Both TAs and RAs fill out an online form to get a copy code.
  • If you want to make a lot of copies, the Union's Copy Center offers copy services for a reasonable price. They also frequently carry course notes and other class readings. Ditto for commercial operations along the Drag and around campus.
  • All the libraries have copiers — you can buy copy cards at any of them. If you need to photocopy reference material that can't be checked out, this is your only option.


Austin is a “Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community”. In a climate like that in central Texas, riding a bicycle is a real pleasure most of the year. (July, August, and September can be a bit warm, however!) Since parking a bike is free and relatively easy, and there are no schedules which dictate your time as with a bus, there are definite advantages to two-wheeling. Note that the city of Austin has a high number of bike thefts – be sure to lock your bike with something that's not easily picked or cut through.

UT requires that all bicycles on campus be registered. Their bicycle registration program is intended to help police in recovering stolen bicycles and as a deterrent to would-be thieves. Registration is free and on-line. Just go to the My Parking Profile, log in, and click “Register Bicycle” at the bottom of the page, fill in the info, and a sticker will be mailed to you.

The UT Police Department routinely posts bicycle-mounted cops at on-campus corners. Their job is to catch bicyclists who do not obey traffic laws, such as:

  • The campus speed limit of 15 mph applies to bicyclists, too.
  • Bicyclists may not ride on sidewalks.
  • Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians.
  • All bicycles on campus must be registered.
  • Bicycles secured to anything other than a bicycle rack or locker are considered improperly parked and can be cut free, impounded, and sold at auction.
  • Bicycles are not allowed in any building unless stored in an area (office, storage room) approved by the appropriate building supervisor or department chair.

Our new building has a secured bicycle storage room and showers on 1 south, for CS grad students, faculty and staff only. To request access, write to helpreq@cs.

Read the Bicycling article for details.

Public Transportation

The best way to determine routes/what bus to take is just to enter your starting and ending destination in Google Maps and then choose public transportation (icon looks like a bus) to give the possible times and routes for buses to take.

There are seven bus services administered by Capital Metro, and the first two of them shown below are widely used by UT students.

  1. UT Shuttle. Generally speaking, all shuttles run every 8–15 minutes and go between campus and areas where students reside on weekdays. There is no shuttle service on Saturday, and only partial service on Sunday for the afternoon and evening in intervals about 40 mins. For special events like semester registration, exam or holidays, the usual schedule will be adjusted accordingly. For more detailed information, please get shuttle maps at the information booth in the Tower or at Note: many students choose their lodgings based on proximity to the shuttle routes (rent is much more expensive in the campus area).
  2. Metro Routes. A current UT ID allows you to ride any Capital Metro bus for free. Just scan your ID when you get on board. Otherwise, you need to pay $1.00 for Single-Ride, $2.00 for Multi-Ride Day Pass, $28.00 for Multi-Ride 31-Day Pass, and so on. The metro routes include: local service to downtown Austin and the UT campus (route 1-99), Flyer (routes to and from airport) and Limited service from neighborhoods to UT campus and downtown (100-199), feeder routes that connect neighborhoods with transit centers (200-299), crosstown routes that bypass the downtown area (300-399) and circulator routes and specials (400-499). Maps and schedules are available at the Texas Union information desk or in the PCL. You can call Capital Metro at 474-1200 for answers to specific questions (including “when does the next bus 5 come by 43rd and Speedway?”); their Web page is
  3. Express Park & Ride Routes. Express service from free Park & Ride lots to the UT campus and downtown Austin (900-999).
  4. Northwest Dial-A-Ride. Advance registration door-to-door service available in Lago Vista, Jonestown and Leander every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for direct service to stops along U.S.183 between 620 and Mopac and in the medical center area at 38th and Lamar. Call 478-RIDE for information and reservations.
  5. RideShare. A program where Capital Metro provides a van for groups of 5 to 12 employees who live and work near each other (with similar work schedules). The RideShare program also offers computer services to help commuters to find a carpool buddy. For more information, call 477-RIDE.
  6. car2go and Zipcar. Austin has two car sharing services. These are cars that you rent for a few minutes of hours. They are found in parking spaces all around campus and Austin. and
  7. Capital MetroAccess. The Capital MetroAccess program serves citizens with ADA eligible disabilities. The program has been developed to meet the growing transportation needs of passengers with ADA eligible disabilities who cannot always use the accessible fixed route buses due to barriers. MetroAccess is a demand-response, shared-ride, door-to-door public transportation service.

To get to the airport when metro bus service is not available, you can also turn for help to SuperShuttle service or taxi service.

  1. SuperShuttle Austin (AUS) Airport Shuttle Service, Austin. It can pick you up from your home, office, or hotel and take you to and from Austin Airport (Bergstrom). The passengers share the ride with others going in their direction in a blue van. Advanced reservation and pre-payment for your Austin airport ride take the time and hassle out of getting to and from the airport. For more information, please visit
  2. Taxi service. You can order taxi service in advance by making a phone call or filling out a form on the Web site. The three taxi cab companies in Austin are: Yellow Cab, Austin Cab, and Lone Star Cab. Their rates are regulated by the city, so they all cost the same.

The MetroRail train system is now up and running which UT students can ride for free.

Parking Location and Authorization

Parking is based on a system of parking permits corresponding to different categories of students and employees. Parking on the streets, parking lots and garages on campus is marked according to the permits that are required to park there. Note that all permits are mutually exclusive: you can't use a “better” permit in a lesser parking area, unless the signs explicitly allow it. In addition, the parking rules change depending on the time of day. For example, in the evening some areas are open to anyone. The following is a brief summary of the relevant types of permits. For more complete information, see the university parking information Web page ( To purchase any of the following permits, go to 'My Parking Profile' at and log-in.

  • “C” permit. The “C” permit is the cheapest and most easily obtained permit (annual cost is currently $115). However, it also offers the least desirable and most competitive parking options. The “C” permit lets you park at C lots located east of IH35 or the Longhorn Lots located east of IH35 near UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
  • “A” permit. The “A” permit is for staff and is limited to those with 20 hour employment appointments (TA/RA) and certain fellowships. An “A” permit is more expensive than a “C” permit (annual cost is currently $138). However, an A permit allows you to park somewhat closer to the computer science buildings in A lots located east of IH35 or the Longhorn Lots located east of IH35 near UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Competition for these parking spaces is very tough though. (On week days during the semester, expect to get into campus by 7am if you want to get a spot on San Jacinto. One may often find a spot East of LBJ later in the morning.)
  • “M” permit. Parking marked “M” is for motorcycles only. Many of these spaces are very close in to the campus, but also fill up very quickly. Currently, an M permit is free if you have bought any type of permit already, and $69 otherwise.
  • “F” Garage Permit. The “F” garage permit is garage parking for faculty and staff and is limited to those with 20 hour employment appointments (TA/RA) and certain fellowships. You can purchase a garage permit for $408 a year. Although expensive, this option provides covered, reliable parking since the garages rarely fill up.
  • “S” Garage Permit. The “S” garage permit is available to all students who do not live on campus. You can purchase a garage permit for $602 a year. Although more expensive that the “F” garage permit, the “S” permit is often available in more desirable garages (like SJG). Like the “F” garage permit, this option also provides covered, reliable parking.

The parking rules are often significantly relaxed during breaks (such as winter break, spring break, and in between semesters). Always check the official parking Web-page during these periods. Finally, beware football game days. On such days most of the parking on campus is reserved and you will have significant trouble parking on campus. If you own a permit, you are allowed to park in the San Antonio Garage (the West-most garage) for free on game days.


There are vending machines located in most buildings on campus, with wares ranging from soda to sandwiches to chips and cookies. In GDC, they are in the northwest corner of the north basement (GDC 1.308); and in POB, the machines are located in a room near the 2.100 corridor entrance on the East side of the building.

There are a plethora of restaurants around campus. POB, the building that GDC connects to, has O's Campus Cafe. Another simple choice for lunch is the Student Activity Center (has Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Taco Cabana, and Zen); the Texas Union (has Wendy's, Chick-fil-a, Starbucks, Quizno's, and a BBQ and a salad place); or the Wendy's in Jester. The Drag also has many restaurants, including Kerby Lane, Mellow Mushroom, Einstein Brothers, Pita Pit, Austin Pizza, and Chipotle. JP's Java, Posse East, Subway, and Double Dave's Pizza are also close to the north edge of campus.

A fellow student put together a list of eating places on campus.


Various groups on campus and in the CS department recycle cans, paper, and newspapers. White laser printer and copier paper is collected in boxes or blue trash cans located beside each laser printer and copier. There are guidelines on the blue trash cans as to what can go in them.

Throwing unwanted, suitable paper in the trash rather than in the recycling box is frowned upon.

Laser printer toner cartridges are recycled after use. This is especially important since these cartridges are very expensive to the department. See the departmental “New User's Guide” for more information.

Hardware and Software Deals

Austin is home to Dell and is Apple's second largest location. More importantly for grad students, there are good deals for faculty, students, and staff. National chains are also here including CompUSA, Fry's Electronics, and Best Buy as well as many small computer stores.

UT students are entitled to a variety of substantial hardware and software discounts. Additionally, the university and the department have pre-paid for some software.

Mailing Lists

Join some useful mailing lists at this Website, particularly the csgrad mailing list used by GRACS.


We sincerely hope that you have found this document useful, informative, and even a bit fun. If you have any feedback or suggestions (or even find a mistake in this document), we would greatly appreciate hearing from you! You can send your comments to gracs@cs or drop them off in the Graduate Office.

“Goodbye, and good luck.” :=)

primer.txt · Last modified: 2017/08/28 14:25 by jthywiss