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Ph.D. Requirements & General Exam Procedures

This document is to set forth the requirements for a Ph.D. degree in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Qualifying Requirements

As described in the Graduate School Catalog, the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy include the passing of a general examination, presentation of an acceptable thesis and passing of the final public oral examination (thesis defense).  In addition, there is a residency requirement that states, that Ph.D. candidates must be in residence for at least one academic year before standing for the general examination.

The general examination ascertains the student's knowledge and preparation for advanced research and scholarly work, aptitude for research and independent work, and ability to organize and present research results.

Both the EEWR and MMS programs have two qualifying requirements that must be satisfied prior to sitting for the general examination.

1. Successful Completion of CEE 509 and CEE 510

The CEE 509/510 requirement is meant to demonstrate the requisite abilities to carry out advanced independent research.  This requirement must be completed by the end of the semester preceding the general examination.

2. Successful completion of two courses in applied mathematics or computational methods

This requirement must be completed by the end of the semester in which the student sits for the general examination.  The mathematics/computational methods requirement is meant to provide a strong foundational education.  The requirement may be fulfilled by courses in calculus, probability, statistics and numerical methods.  The courses are normally at the 500-level, but upon approval, an upper class  undergraduate course may be used.  Examples of acceptable courses include the following:

APC501/MAE501 Mathematical Methods of Engineering Analysis I
APC503 Analytical Techniques/Differ’l Equations
APC506/MAE502 Mathematical Methods II
APC524 Software Engineering for Scientific Comp
APC523 Numerical Algorithms for Scientific Comp
CEE505 Statistical Methods for Data Analysis, Modeling and Experimental Design
CEE525 Applied Numerical Methods
CEE532 Advanced Finite-element Methods
ORF526 Stochastic Modeling

Mathematical/Computational methods requirement courses are subject to the approval of the student's program.  Students should consult with the departmental Director of Graduate Studies or their program director if they have questions regarding the appropriateness of a particular course. 


Students, in consultation with their advisor, need to develop a program of study to prepare them for the general examination and must submit the General Exam Request Form to the Graduate Coordinator on or before the first business day in December for the May general exam period.  If taking the exam during the October exam period, the form is due on the first business day in April and for the January exam period it is due on or before the first business day in September.

Research Proposal

A dissertation research proposal is due to your advisor with a copy to the Graduate Coordinator on or before April 1 for the May general exam period, September 1 for the October general exam period and December 1 for the January general exam period.  The proposal is to be 10 to 15 pages in length including figures and tables but excluding references (single spaced, 12pt font), consisting of, but not limited to , the following information:  a clear research objective statement; the underlying engineering and/or scientific questions to be addressed; the methods and techniques to be used; the background work completed in preparation for the research effort; current results of the research done to date and a tentative  timeline of tasks with dates of completion.  This document will form the basis of the student's general oral presentation and examination.  It should demonstrate adequate background knowledge, clear and concise communication skills, and the ability to plan and formulate a research project.

Students are expected to sustain the general examination within the first two years of their PhD studies.  Students are not normally readmitted to a third year (fifth term) of graduate study unless they have sustained the general examination.  In any case, students will not be readmitted to a fourth year (seventh term) of graduate study, unless they have passed the general examination.

The MMS and EEWR programs each have additional, specific preparation criteria and exam formats.  Program specific information can be found at the following links:

Additional EEWR General Exam Info                          Additional MMS General Exam Info

Additional EEWR General Exam Info

The general examination committee will be selected by the EEWR faculty in consultation with the student’s advisor.  This selection will take place at the time the EEWR faculty reviews the student’s General Exam Request Form.  The examination committee will consist of four to six examiners, with at least three of the examiners being EEWR faculty members.  The committee is normally chaired by the student’s advisor.

Courses selected to satisfy the program requirements are usually classified in one of these broad areas:

  1. Terrestrial physics
  2. Terrestrial biology
  3. Terrestrial chemistry
  4. Atmospheric physics
  5. Atmospheric chemistry
  6. Aquatic physics
  7. Aquatic biology
  8. Aquatic chemistry
  9. Environmental policy
  10. Mathematics, computational methods, probability or statistics in addition to the above requirements.

Specialized Knowledge

Each student must complete at least three courses that focus on the student's area of research. They serve to ensure that the students have a firm grasp of the fundamentals that underlie their thesis research. Courses may be selected from one or more of the 10 areas listed above.

Breadth of Knowledge

In addition to taking courses in their specialized field(s), a key component of a student’s Ph.D education is to broaden their knowledge beyond the intellectual confinement of their own research. This is critical for success in future academic or non-academic careers, given the complexity of the modern environmental challenges and the need for interdisciplinary teams to solve them. To be active members or future leaders of such teams, students must be able to converse and understand a range of issues, concepts and approaches that is far wider than what specialized courses can provide.

To achieve this breadth of knowledge goal, students must complete at least one course from four of the ten broad areas. One of the breadth courses may also be used to satisfy the Specialized Knowledge requirements, but the remaining 3 courses should not be essential to the student’s thesis research. A selection that does not convincingly broaden the student’s knowledge beyond their own research area, in accordance with the intents of this requirement, will not be approved.

One of the breadth courses may be taken after the General Examination. Student should submit this post-general course selection to the EEWR program director for approval 3 weeks before the start of the semester during which it will be taken.

EEWR General Exam Format

The General Examination is conducted as an Oral Examination.

The entire oral examination will be scheduled for a three-hour time period.  The general examination will consist of a presentation, the basis of which is the dissertation Research Proposal, to the examining committee and lasting approximately one hour.  Following the presentation, the committee will further examine the student to assess the student's specialized knowledge and academic preparation to undertake the proposed research as presented in the Research Proposal.  The faculty examining committee will provide the Program and DGS with a written evaluation of the sufficiency of the student's preparation and knowledge to undertake the proposed dissertation research.  This evaluation will be made available to the student.

Additional MMS General Exam Info

Additional Coursework Requirements

Any combination of six (or more) courses from the following areas can be selected, after consultation with and approval by the student's advisor and the Program. At least three of the courses should constitute a coherent concentration in some topic. The courses should be completed before the general exam, and an average grade no lower than "B" should be obtained.


CEE507 Special Topics in Structures I
CEE508 Special Topics in Structures II
CEE511 Design of Large Scale Structures:  Buildings
CEE512 Design of Large Scale Structures:  Bridges
CEE513 Intro to Finite Element Methods
CEE514 Structural Dynamics & Earthquake Engineering
CEE522 Random Vibrations
CEE523 Mechanics of Dissipative Media
CEE532 Advanced Finite Element Methods
CEE548 Risk Assessment & Management
CEE567 Adv Design & Behavior of Steel Structures
MAE542 Advanced Dynamics
MAE551 or CHE501 Fluid Mechanics

Computational & Continuum Mechanics

CEE514 Structural Dynamics & Earthquake Engineering
CEE521 Introduction to Continuum Mechanics
CEE522 Random Vibration Theory and Applications to Earthquake & Wind Engineering
CEE523 Mechanics of Dissipative Media
CEE525 Applied Numerical Methods
CEE532 Advanced Finite Element Methods
CEE548 Risk Assessment and Management
CEE558 Random Fields and Random Media
CHE501 Fluid Mechanics
CHE560 Hydrodynamics of Multi-phase Systems: Flow of Granular Materials & Fluidized Suspensions
MAE551 Fluid Mechanics
MAE553 Turbulent Flow
MAE557 Simulation and Modeling of Fluid Flows
MAE558 Simulation and Modeling of Turbulent Fluid Flows


CHE503 Advanced Thermodynamics
CHE522 Colloidal Dispersions I
CHE523 Colloidal Dispersions II
CHE524 Introduction to Statistical Mechanics
CHE531 Synthesis and Processing of Ceramic Matrix Composites
CHE532 Interfacial Science and Engineering
CHE536 Glasses and Supercooled Liquids
CHE544 Solid-state properties of polymers
GEO501 Physics and Chemistry of Minerals and Materials
MAE562 Fracture Mechanics
MAE564 Structural Materials
MSE501 Introduction to Materials Science
MSE502 Thermodynamics and Kinetics in Materials Science
MSE503 Structure of Materials
MSE504 Modeling and Simulation in Materials Science
MSE505 Microscopy Methods in Materials Science
MSE515 Random Heterogeneous Materials

MMS General Examination Format

The General Examination faculty committee will be selected by the student's advisor in consultation with and approval of the Program Director and the Director of Graduate Studies. The committee will consist of at least three and no more than six faculty members and is normally chaired by the student's advisor. At least two of the faculty must be from the MMS program. The entire oral examination will last a maximum of three hours.

The general examination will consist of a research seminar, the basis of which is the Dissertation Proposal, presented to three faculty members (chosen by the thesis advisor with the approval of the Program). Immediately after the seminar (lasting no more than one hour), the candidate will be interviewed by the same faculty to explore the student's knowledge of engineering mathematics and the specialty areas. The faculty committee will provide the Program and DGS a written evaluation of the seminar and interview. This evaluation will be made available to the student.

Dissertation and Post General Exam Coursework

After successful completion of the General Examination, each student must form a PhD Thesis Research Committee, which serves to oversee the student's research progress.

The PhD Research Committee shall be formed and meet no later than the end of the first semester following passing the General Examination (by April 15 for those passing during the October or January exam period, and by January 15 for those passing during the May exam period.)   The committee must have at least three members, one of which is the student's thesis advisor, and another of which must be a faculty member from the student's CEE program (EEWR or MMS).   The third member of the committee must have a professional ranking equivalent to that of Assistant Professor.  This committee must meet at least once per academic year, in accordance with the rules of the CEE Department.

At the initial meeting of the committee, after the General Examination, the student must present a detailed proposal for research that will lead to the PhD dissertation. A detailed written proposal must be presented to all members of the committee at least one week prior to the committee meeting. The research proposal must then be presented at the committee meeting. Successful completion of this requirement is prerequisite for readmission to the PhD program. The student should provide the advisor with the Ph.D Research Advisory  Committee Meeting Report, which will be filled out and signed by the advisor after the committee meeting.

The student and his/her research committee are required to meet once per academic year (between September 15 and April 15th) to review progress and changes in scope and/or direction of the research. For those that passed the General Examination in May, January, or October, a report on the meeting must be filed with the Graduate Student administrator, no later than April 15, using the department's Ph.D Research Advisory  Committee Meeting Report A copy of all presentation material must be attached to the form. Successful completion of this requirement is prerequisite for readmission to the PhD program, including readmission in "Degree Completion Enrollment" (DCE) status.

Usually two to three years beyond the general examination is necessary for completion of a suitable dissertation. During those years the student is encouraged to select an area outside his/her specialty to broaden his/her base of knowledge by enrolling in courses in that area. It is also expected that some additional courses will be taken related to the student's specialty area. Upon completion and acceptance of the dissertation by the Department, the candidate will be admitted to the final public oral examination.

Please note the following FPO Scheduling Policy:

No PhD FPO's are to be scheduled during fall break, winter recess, spring recess, summer break or at any time the semester is not in session during the academic year.

Exceptions will be made only if the student obtains approval from the CEE faculty.  Requests must be submitted in writing to your advisor.  Submission of request must be 1 month prior to your planned presentation, and no later than May 1 for defenses planned between the end of the Spring and beginning of the Fall semester.