PhD Program-Civil and Environmental Engineering - Carnegie Mellon University

Ph.D. Program

Degree Requirements

After completion of the M.S. degree at Carnegie Mellon or elsewhere, students are eligible for admission as candidates for the Ph.D. degree. Typically, at least four years of graduate study beyond the B.S. degree or three years of graduate study beyond the M.S. degree are required.

Examinations

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree will be required to take a Qualifying Examination which consists of two parts:

  1. a comprehensive Candidacy Examination
  2. a Thesis Proposal Examination

A candidate will be considered as having passed the Qualifying Examination when he or she has satisfied the requirements for both parts. Any departure from the stated requirements requires the special approval of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty. It is the responsibility of the Chair of the candidate's Doctoral Committee to organize the committee, to make necessary requests for departure from the established requirements, and to make recommendations on the results of the examinations to the faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree will also be examined in a public defense of the Ph.D. thesis. The decision on the acceptability of a Ph.D. defense will rest with the Doctoral Committee and the faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Qualifying Examination Details

Candidacy Examination

This examination is designed to evaluate the student's general knowledge and preparation for undertaking a doctoral program in his or her chosen area of study. The Candidacy Examination will be in two parts:

  • A written examination appropriate to the areas represented by the Candidacy Committee. The committee will be responsible for preparing the examination questions and evaluating the results.
  • An oral examination administered by the Candidacy Committee.

The Candidacy Exam Committee

The Candidacy Examination Committee consists of four members, with a minimum of two full-time faculty from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, one of which must be a tenured faculty. A third faculty must be from either the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or another department at Carnegie Mellon University, and a fourth member should be from either another department at Carnegie Mellon University, another university, or from a governmental or industrial research group as appropriate. The composition of the committee should be mutually agreed upon by the student and his/her advisor. It’s important to note that the Candidacy Examination committee members are not necessarily the same as members of the student’s doctoral committee.

The grading and evaluation of the Candidacy Examination will not be announced until a review has been conducted by the entire faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The exam outcomes are as follows:

  • Unconditional pass: when a student performs satisfactorily in both written and oral portions of the qualifier exam.
  • Conditional pass: when a student needs to perform a set of conditions before s/he can be considered as being deemed to pass the qualifier exam. The committee should be specific on the timeframe for completion of the conditions. A conditional pass should not be awarded when a portion of the exam is to be retaken. A conditional pass does not require another review by the committee.
  • No decision: when the committee cannot agree/decide on whether a student has demonstrated to be qualified to be a PhD student. In these cases, the student can re-take a portion of, or the entire exam at a time specified by the committee and agreed upon by the examinee. It is recommended that retakes are scheduled the following May, but no later than the traditional scheduled exam period, the following January. New questions must be written for partial or full retakes.
  • Fail: when a student did not perform satisfactorily in the exam. When a student fails, there is no option for that student to retake the exam.

Qualifier outcomes, whether official or unofficial, will not be communicated to the examinee until after the faculty as a whole have discussed the outcome and agreed on the decision. It is only then that the outcome is communicated to the examinee.

There should be NO discussion of the exam amongst examinees until after the final oral exam is held and the outcome communicated.

Candidacy Examinations will be scheduled immediately following the end of the fall semester. The written examinations will be open book and will involve four days of work. The Oral Examination will take place following review of the written parts of the Candidacy Examination.

A student should plan to take the Candidacy Examination no later than the first scheduled examination following one semester of full-time residence in a Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon.

The grade card for 12-795, Comprehensive Exam for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, will be filled out by the Candidacy Exam Committee at the completion of the Candidacy Exam. Students receiving financial support may receive an increase to their stipend upon successful passage of the Candidacy Exam with the approval of the faculty. This policy is reviewed annually, and not guaranteed.

Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination (12-795 and 12-796) the student is entered into All But Dissertation (ABD) in residence status. Students in ABD must complete all requirements for the PhD degree within a maximum of six years from passage of the qualifying examination. Please review the complete policy at Doctoral Student Status Policy for additional information.

Thesis Proposal Examination

This examination is designed to evaluate the candidate's competence to undertake work in the area of his or her proposed dissertation. It is an oral exam that is normally taken approximately one year after the passage of the candidacy examination. Students should discuss the schedule with their advisor in the event that the advisor recommends a slightly different schedule that is appropriate for the student's dissertation topic. The advisor should communicate their approved modified schedule to the Graduate Program Administrator. Prior to the examination, the candidate must submit a written thesis proposal to the Doctoral Committee.

The grade card for 12-796, Qualifying Examination for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, will be filled out by the Doctoral committee at the completion of the proposal examinaton.

All But Dissertation (ABD) Status

Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination (12-795 and 12-796) the student is entered into All But Dissertation (ABD) in residence status. Students in ABD must complete all requirements for the PhD degree within a maximum of six years from passage of the qualifying examination. Please review the complete policy at Doctoral Student Status Policy for additional information.


The Doctoral Committee

The advising and direction for each Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will be through an individual Doctoral Committee. The Committee will be responsible for advising the student on appropriate course work, assisting with thesis development and evaluating the final thesis product. One member of the Doctoral Committee serves as Chair and typically this individual will serve as the principal thesis advisor.

The Doctoral Committee consists of at least four members, with a minimum of two full-time faculty from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, one of which must be a tenured faculty. A third faculty must be from either the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or another department at Carnegie Mellon, and a fourth member should be from either another department at Carnegie Mellon, another university, or from a governmental or industrial research group, as appropriate. It is the responsibility of the Chair of the candidate's Doctoral Committee to organize the committee, to make necessary requests for departure from the established requirements, and to make recommendations on the results of the examinations to the faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The committee will make a pass/fail recommendation to the faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who will then inform the student. If a student fails the examination, he or she may be granted an option to be re-examined on all or part of the examination material. The scheduling of this re-examination will be set by the Doctoral Committee. The faculty's decision will be communicated to the candidate following the Departmental review.

Research and Dissertation Defense

After passing the qualifying examination, the student enters into full-time research and preparation of the dissertation in All But Dissertation status. The thesis may have, to varying degrees, an engineering science orientation toward the extension of fundamental knowledge or an engineering practice orientation toward the improvement of application of knowledge. The thesis is reviewed by a faculty examining committee and defended in a public oral examination to complete final requirements for the Ph.D. degree. A defense announcement must be posted publically a minimum of two weeks prior to the scheduled defense date.

The grade card for 12-797, PhD Defense for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, will be filled out by the Doctoral Committee at the completion of the PhD Defense.

Degree Title Options

The standard title of the Ph.D. degree awarded to candidates in Civil and Environmental Engineering is the Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering. The student entering with an M.S. degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering normally requires at least three additional years of study. Students must petition the Department Head to use any degree title other than Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

In recognition of the variety of interests and educational backgrounds of students wishing to enroll in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the following optional degree titles are offered:

Ph.D. in Advanced Infrastructure Systems

This optional degree title is intended for those students who have satisfied the degree requirements for the M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering and who have participated in the Advanced Infrastructure Systems program specialization.  The program in AIS provides students with a diverse background in the concepts, tools and techniques required to design, build, and operate infrastructure systems that are able to continuously determine their conditions, perform self-assessment and support proactive decision making that improves their performance, increases their life spans and reduces life-cycle costs and impacts.  Students must formally petition the department head to use this title for their M.S. degree. (AIS course offerings)

Ph.D. in Civil Engineering

This optional degree title is intended for students intending professional practice in civil engineering, particularly those planning on obtaining a Professional Engineering license in Civil Engineering. It may be of particular interest to students without an undergraduate engineering degree from an accredited undergraduate program, since the department undergraduate program is accredited in civil engineering. A candidate for this degree must be a graduate of an accredited undergraduate engineering curriculum or equivalent. Recipients of a B.S. degree in a non-engineering field will also be considered, but will be required to take basic undergraduate engineering makeup courses as specified by the department.

Ph.D. in Computational Mechanics

This optional degree title is intended for students desiring advanced studies in mechanics, materials and computing but who do not have an undergraduate engineering degree. The candidate may be a graduate in engineering or other disciplines. Students must formally petition the department head to use this title for their Ph.D. degree.

Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering

This optional degree title is intended for students whose curriculum focuses strongly on environmental engineering. A candidate for this degree must be a graduate of an accredited undergraduate engineering curriculum or equivalent. Recipients of a B.S. degree in a non-engineering field will also be considered, but will be required to take basic undergraduate engineering makeup courses as specified by the department. Students must formally petition the department head to use this title for their Ph.D. degree.

Ph.D. in Environmental Management and Science

This optional degree title is intended for students interested in specializing in this area but who do not have an undergraduate engineering major. Students must formally petition the department head to use this title for their Ph.D. degree.

The following joint/dual Ph.D. degree is also available to Civil and Environmental Engineering students:

Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering/Engineering and Public Policy

This is a Ph.D. program administered jointly with the Department of Engineering and Public Policy. The candidate must pass the qualifying examination approved by both departments.