May 16, 2022  
2020-2021 General Catalog 
2020-2021 General Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Civil Engineering, PhD

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The CEE department has two tracks for the Ph.D. program.  The typical track is the M.S. - Ph.D. track for applicants who already have an M.S. degree. An alternative is the B.S. - Ph.D. track where exceptionally-qualified applicants who are well prepared may enter the Ph.D. program with only a B.S. degree.  Admissions requirements for the Ph.D. program are as follows:

  • M.S. - Ph.D. Track: Have a master's degree in civil engineering, environmental engineering, or a closely related engineering or science discipline from an accredited college or university. 
  • B.S. - Ph.D. Track: Have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, environmental engineering, or a closely related engineering or science discipline from an accredited college or university. 
  • Good academic standing at the academic institution last attended.
  • A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale on all coursework attempted as an upper division student (beyond 60 semester credit hours).
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) recommended minimum percentile ranks of 35% on the verbal reasoning section and 70% on the quantitative section. For tests taken after 2015, the corresponding scaled scores are 148 (verbal) and 159 (quantitative).  However, the decision to admit will be based on a prospective student's entire application package.
  • Three signed letters of recommendation on official letterheads, from academics or professionals attesting to the Ph.D. study potential of the applicant.
  • Statement of purpose describing reasons for pursuing the Ph.D. degree and career goals.
  • International students whose native language is not English will be required to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and demonstrate proficiency in English prior to admission per university guidelines.  The minimum TOEFL score is 550 (paper-based), 213 (computer-based), or 80 (internet-based). International English Language Testing System (Academic IELTS) score of 6.5 is also accepted. This requirement may be waived for students who have obtained a prior degree from a U.S. institution

PhD Degree Requirements

The PhD degree in Civil Engineering is a research degree designed to produce a scholar and is granted only to students who have demonstrated mastery in a specialty in civil engineering and capacity to conduct original and independent scholarly work.


The Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering is a research degree designed to produce a scholar; it is granted only to students who have demonstrated mastery in a specialty of civil engineering and the capacity to conduct original and independent scholarly work.  

The curriculum for the M.S. to Ph.D. track includes a total of 51 semester hours, consisting of coursework and dissertation research. The department also offers B.S. to Ph.D. track, which is intended for exceptionally qualified applicants who are well prepared for the coursework and research demands of the B.S.-Ph.D. program. The curriculum for the B.S. to Ph.D. track includes a total of 69 semester hours, consisting of coursework and dissertation research. For all courses in the curriculum, students must satisfy prerequisites to enroll in a course. Students entering the major without a civil or environmental engineering degree also must satisfy a set of articulation courses. Students are expected to enroll in Graduate Seminar (CGN 5935) each semester they have full-time status.

The specialty (depth) area courses provide students advanced training in a specific civil engineering sub-discipline and support the student in attaining mastery in a specialty area. Courses in the specialty area may include related courses from other departments.

The supplementary electives are intended to assist the student with developing complementary multidisciplinary skills and knowledge. Supplementary electives may include courses from other civil and environmental engineering areas outside of the chosen specialty, other engineering disciplines, the sciences, advanced mathematics and statistics, computer/ computational science, urban and regional planning, and geography.

Major Professor and supervisory committee

The PhD student selects a major professor and a Supervisory Committee by the beginning of the second semester. The major professor must agree to serve as the student's academic advisor and thesis supervisor and must be a full-time CEE faculty with Graduate Faculty/Directive status.

The PhD student will identify the Supervisory Committee in consultation with the Major Professor. The Supervisory Committee consists of four (4) full-time faculty members, one of whom must be from outside of the CEE department and serves as the University Representative. All committee members must have Graduate Faculty/Directive status. Additional members may be appointed to the Committee, if deemed appropriate by the major professor. The Supervisory Committee, chaired by the major professor, oversees and supervises the student's dissertation research effort, administers the PhD Preliminary Examination, recommends doctoral candidacy, attends the oral defense of the dissertation, approves the written dissertation, and recommends granting of the degree.

Plan of Study

The PhD student, in consultation with his/her major professor, is required to submit an approved Plan of Study to the departmental Graduate Committee by the end of the first semester. The Plan of Study includes a list of proposed courses, a time schedule for completion of these courses, and a summary of the proposed dissertation topic. Upon recommendation of the Graduate Committee, the Department Chair will approve the proposed Plan of Study. The Plan of Study is used by the student and major professor as a guideline throughout the student's PhD study and must be updated and approved if changes occur.

Requirements for Candidacy

Students are admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree only after passing the Preliminary Examination and certified to the University Registrar. A student becomes eligible to register for dissertation credits only after the student becomes a candidate for the doctoral degree.

Preliminary Exam

Following completion of all, or a major portion, of the course work defined in the Plan of Study, the supervisory committee must issue certification to the Graduate Committee that the student has maintained a minimum 3.0 GPA, demonstrated sufficient progress towards mastery of a sub-discipline, and developed a command of requisite research tools to begin independent research in the area of the proposed dissertation.  It is required that the student take the preliminary examination by the end of the fourth semester; however, the student may wish to take it earlier in order to register for dissertation hours after passing the preliminary exam.

The Preliminary Examination evaluates whether the student has demonstrated sufficient progress towards mastery of a sub-discipline and developed a command of requisite research tools to begin independent research in the area of the proposed dissertation. The examination is in both written and oral formats, and is prepared by the student's supervisory committee. The examination is administered by the committee and complies with the requirements of the college and the university in which the student is registered. 

The written portion of the Preliminary Examination consists of two parts: 

  1. A written examination based on the student's coursework. The written examination will be in "take home" format.  Each committee member will separately administer a 24-hour "take home" written examination, preferably on subsequent days. 
  2. A written proposal describing the proposed research work for the student's dissertation.  The proposal should be in a format suitable for research proposals submitted to funding agencies. At a minimum, the proposal should include the following components: abstract, problem statement, research objectives, critical literature review, research plan and tasks, intellectual merit and broader impact, expected outcomes, and timeline for completion.

The oral portion of the Preliminary Examination will involve a presentation by the student on the written proposal and dissertation research.

The supervisory committee shall report the outcome of the Preliminary Exam as a whole to the departmental Graduate Committee and designated college and university authorities as: "passed," "failed," "additional work to be completed," or "to be re-examined". The annual evaluation form (Section 4.5) is also used for the prelim, but two additional sections should be completed (dates of written exams and prelim outcome). Students are admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree only after passing the Preliminary Examination. If any student requires re-examination, the outcome can only be reported as "passed" or "failed."  Any student who fails re-examination will be dismissed from the program.


The most important element of the doctoral program is original and fundamental research resulting in a Doctoral Dissertation. Students will enroll in dissertation credits (CGN 6980) only after the successful completion of the Preliminary Examination and admittance to doctoral candidacy. The student selects the dissertation topic in consultation with the major professor and supervisory committee. The supervisory committee must approve the dissertation research topic by the student successfully writing the dissertation proposal and presenting it to the committee. To be acceptable, the dissertation must comprise original research constituting a significant contribution to knowledge to the discipline and represent a substantial scholarly effort on the part of the student.

It is the responsibility of the student to comply with the required dissertation format of his/her university and the deadlines and requirements for dissertation submission <see or>.

At the completion of the dissertation research and when the complete dissertation is ready for review by the Supervisory Committee, the Major Professor will authorize the distribution to committee members. The dissertation should be complete in every respect, including data analysis, figures and tables. The Supervisory Committee can recommend editorial and/or substantive changes after review and the oral dissertation defense. The dissertation should be provided to the major professor and the examining committee (supervisory committee) at least ten (10) days before the date of the dissertation defense examination.

The PhD student is required to present the dissertation at a department Graduate Seminar at a time scheduled by the faculty seminar coordinator.

Journal Manuscripts

In partial fulfillment of the PhD degree requirements, a PhD student must prepare at a minimum two (2) manuscripts for peer-reviewed journal publication, of which at least one (1) should have the status of "Accepted."

Dissertation Defense

An oral examination in the form of a dissertation defense is mandatory and is part of degree requirements. The student must satisfactorily pass this oral examination, as determined by the major professor and supervisory committee, before submission of the final dissertation to the university.

  • The dissertation defense will be scheduled only with approval of the major professor, supervisory committee, and the department. The approvals are documented in the Request for Dissertation Defense Examination form. The student will be permitted to schedule the thesis defense only if the student has: 1) completed the research work, 2) written a complete dissertation, and 3) completed the journal manuscripts requirement.
  • The defense should be scheduled before the final dissertation submission deadline with sufficient time to allow for revisions; see university deadlines.
  • The oral presentation of the dissertation is announced and open to the public.
  • The oral defense consists of two parts: 1) a defense presentation that include appropriate use of visual aids and duration of 45-55 minutes and 2) oral examination by the supervisory committee.
  • The outcome of dissertation defense determined by the Supervisory Committee and is reported by the major professor to the department in the Dissertation Defense Outcome Form.

Suggested Timeline and Checklist

A suggested timeline for completion of PhD degree requirements and milestones checklist is provided in the Department's Graduate handbook. For more detailed information, please see the CEE Graduate Handbook which is available on the department website at

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