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Ph.D. Program

The Department offers a graduate program leading to the Ph.D. degree in civil engineering with areas of concentration in construction management, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, and transportation. Here are the Admission Instructions. Administration of the Ph.D. program is by the Department Graduate Program Chair.

The student learning outcomes (SLOs) for the PhD program describe a skill set that students are expected to have at the time of graduation. Specifically, our PhD graduates will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate foundational knowledge in civil engineering and comprehensive technical expertise in a subdiscipline of specialization.
  2. Evaluate critically and synthesize literature to inform engineering solutions.
  3. Present proficiently research plans and results orally in a formal setting.
  4. Perform original engineering research; and,
  5. Produce publishable manuscripts.

Each subdiscipline establishes a sequence of courses to achieve SLOs 1 and 2. To achieve SLO 3, every student is required to take a seminar course, where they make an oral presentation, and every student must write a dissertation, which they defend orally during the final examination. To achieve SLO 4 and 5, each student must complete successfully a research-oriented dissertation. The graduate student writing guidance is provided to help students to achieve SLO 4 and 5.



Students must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 50 credit hours in course work beyond the B.S. and a minimum of 1 credit graduate seminar as a PhD student. Based on a written recommendation of the student’s advisor, and with the approval of the Graduate Program Chair, students entering the PhD program may be granted an equivalence of up to 30 credit hours earned as part of the student’s M.S. program.  The 30 credit hour equivalents may include up to 9 credits of M.S. thesis research work but excludes graduate seminar credit hours taken as part of the M.S. program.

The courses that a student undertakes to fulfill the PhD credit hour requirements must be approved by the student’s dissertation committee.  The courses may include 600-level and 400-level courses offered by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or other appropriate departments of the University.

Only courses which receive a C grade or better will count towards the PhD, starting from Fall 2019. Thus, a course where the student received a grade of C- or less would have to be repeated or the student will need to take another course if needed to meet the minimum credit requirements.

Qualifying Exam (and Pre-Candidacy Progress Form I)

All PhD students are required to take a qualifying examination (QE), which is administered at a time and date that is convenient and appropriate for the students and their advisors, in coordination with the Graduate Program Chair.  The QE is to be taken no later than the third semester following admission to the program.  The QE exam may be taken at any time during the Fall or Spring semesters, but the student should give one month’s notice to the Graduate Chair for this exam.  Students are required to coordinate the date and time of the QE exam with their advisor, who will chair the QE exam.

The QE consists of a 2.5-hour, closed-book, written examination, followed within one week by an oral exam.   The written exam is targeted at the student’s particular area of study.  Questions involve material that would be familiar to students who have completed an M.S. program in their area of specialty. 

The oral exam is meant to complement the written part.  Its purpose is to discuss the results of the written part with the student, clarify errors through further questioning, and, if necessary, more clearly identify weaknesses so that a plan of remedial study can be designed.  Only the examination committee and the student are involved in the oral exam.

Administration of the QE

The QE is administered by a committee of at least three graduate faculty in the Department.  The committee members are appointed by the Graduate Program Chair and serve for the purpose of this exam only.   There will be a separate committee appointed for each student. The examination committee develops the written exam. Problems will be corrected by faculty members who submitted them. Corrected problems may be returned to the student. In addition, students are not allowed to ask committee members questions regarding the examination, either before the written or oral parts.  This policy is designed to provide the greatest fairness in the administration of the examination from year to year.

Only committee members may vote on passing or failing a student.  A simple majority of the committee is required for deciding the outcome of the examination.  Students failing the QE may repeat it once. A student failing the QE a second time will not be allowed to continue in the PhD program.

Once the QE is passed, as certified by the chair of the QE committee, the student’s Form I will be completed by the Graduate Chair and submitted to the Graduate Division.

Comprehensive Exam (and Advance to Candidacy, Form II)

Every PhD student must pass a comprehensive examination.  The purpose of this examination is to ascertain the student’s depth of knowledge in his/her chosen specialty and proposed dissertation topic.  Examinations are given when, in the judgment of the dissertation committee, the student has had sufficient preparation, but not sooner than six calendar months after the student has passed the qualifying examination.

The exam may be taken any time in either the Fall or Spring semesters. The student is required to assemble a dissertation committee and present their proposed dissertation topic and results of their literature review to the committee at least one month prior to the exam. The dissertation committee can provide direction and feedback to the student until the committee is prepared to unanimously approve the proposal.

Exam Committee

The examination committee consists of all members of the dissertation committee.  The examination committee will select its own chair; however, the chair of the dissertation committee may not serve as chair of the examination committee.  The role of the chair is to schedule the exam, coordinate the written questions from the members, administer the exam to the student, and chair the oral exam.

Written and Oral Exam

The comprehensive examination consists of a written part and an oral part.  The written part is a take-home, open-book, 5-day exam prepared by the examination committee.  It is to be handed to the student on a Monday morning, no later than 9:00 AM, and it is to be returned by the student no later than 5:00 PM of the following Friday. A copy of the corrected exam will be returned to the student no later than the following Wednesday.

The oral part will then take place no earlier than the Friday following the return of the corrected written exam to the student, but within a week of returning the corrected exams.  The oral exam shall be attended by all members of the committee, either in person or virtually, as per Grad Div rules, and may last a maximum of three hours. The oral examination provides an opportunity to discuss the written exam and to pose new questions to the student.

Criteria for Passing

A student passes the comprehensive examination if no more than one committee member opposes such an action.  A student who fails the comprehensive examination may, at the discretion of the examination committee, repeat it once no earlier than four calendar months after the first exam.  A student who fails the examination a second time will not be allowed to continue in the PhD program.

Doctoral Candidate

Students attain the status of doctoral candidate after forming their committee, getting their dissertation topic approved by their committee, passing the comprehensive exam, and completing Form II.


At least once a semester during their candidacy, the PhD candidate must make a presentation to their dissertation committee describing their research progress. All dissertation committee members must confirm their participation in these presentations by signing an internal Form IIa after each presentation.


A comprehensive dissertation is required of all students. It is to present results from innovative research that makes a significant contribution to the student’s selected field of specialization. The findings should be of a quality that is publishable in refereed journals and other scientific and engineering forums.

Final Dissertation Exam and Approval and Form III

PhD candidates are required to take a final examination in defense of their dissertation.  The candidate’s dissertation committee conducts the examination. Students pass upon the favorable recommendation of the majority of the committee. Any suggested changes proposed by committee members and others in attendance at the dissertation exam must be addressed by the candidate, and a final dissertation made available for review by the dissertation committee. All committee members must confirm their approval of the final dissertation after which the Graduate chair will process Form III for the candidate


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