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.

Program Requirements

Pre-Candidacy Progress (Form I)

All Ph.D. students are required to take a qualifying examination (QE), which is administered at a time and date that is convenient and appropriate for students taking the exam 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. However, students usually do not take the QE during their first semester in the program, unless they are continuing Department M.S. students. It is the student’s responsibility to register for the QE in the Department office no later than the second week of classes in the semester in which the QE is to be taken.

The purpose of the QE is to assess a student’s potential for doctoral studies, including the conduct of scholarly research.  In addition, the QE is used to identify possible deficiencies in the student’s background. If necessary, the results can be used to devise a program of remedial study to rectify any such weaknesses.

The QE consists of a five-hour, closed-book, written examination, followed within one week with an oral exam.  The first portion of the written section is 1.5 hours long and involves questions on engineering mathematics, probability and statistics.  These questions are restricted to material that would normally be expected to be part of a B.S. program in civil and environmental engineering.  The second written section is 2.5 hours long and is targeted at the student’s particular area of study. Questions involve material that would be familiar to students who have completed a M.S. program in their area of specialty.  The third written section is one hour long and involves preparing an essay on a generic engineering topic to assess the student’s composition skills and writing ability. All students will take the written examination at the same time.

The oral part is not conceived as an additional exam; rather, it 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.  Ordinarily, only the examination committee and the student are involved in the oral exam. However, if a student’s solution to a written question is considered insufficient, and the faculty member who submitted the question is not a committee member, that faculty member may also attend the oral exam.

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 academic year.   There will be a separate committee for each area of specialization. The examination committee develops the written exam, although questions may be submitted by faculty who are not members of the committee.  However, selection of questions for the QE is the sole responsibility of the committee. Problems will be corrected by faculty members who submitted them. Corrected problems are not 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 during the following offering. A student failing the QE a second time will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program.

Coursework and Dissertation Research

Students must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 50 credit hours in course work beyond the B.S. and a minimum of 1 credit hour in civil and environmental engineering graduate seminars as a Ph.D. student. Based on a written recommendation of the student’s dissertation committee, and with the approval of the Graduate Program Chair, students entering the Ph.D. 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 credit hours for the previous M.S. thesis work, but exclude graduate seminar credit hours taken as part of the M.S. program.

The courses that a student undertakes to fulfill the Ph.D. credit hour requirements must be approved by the student’s dissertation committee.  At least 27 credit hours must be from graduate-level civil and environmental engineering courses. The remaining courses may include graduate and 400-level courses offered by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or other appropriate departments of the University.

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 publishable in refereed journals and other scientific and engineering forums. A dissertation proposal needs to be prepared and presented to perspective committee members by the end of the second year of study. The Proposal must receive the unanimous approval of the dissertation committee. After the PhD committee is formed and the PhD proposal is approved, the student must update the committee members at least once a year to report on the progress of his/her research.

Advance to Candidacy (Form II)

Every Ph.D. student must pass a comprehensive examination.  The purpose of this examination is to ascertain the student’s comprehension of the advances in the chosen specialty.  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 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.

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 not earlier than noon, and no later than 5:00 PM, on 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.  It will be attended by all members of the committee, 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.

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 after a time period of six calendar months.  A student who fails the examination a second time will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D, program.

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

Dissertation Evaluation (Form III)

Ph.D. 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.