The Ph.D. program with an emphasis in Structural Engineering is highly flexible to accommodate a wide range of student educational objectives and research interests. Overall, however, the Ph.D. program demands very high standards of scholarship from students. Students are expected to develop both great depth and breadth in their knowledge and to conduct research that is a significant and original contribution at the frontiers of knowledge. The program is intended to prepare students for careers in teaching and research in academia or careers in research and advanced engineering applications in industry.

In addition to the guidelines and requirements described below, Ph.D. students in Structural Engineering must also follow all rules and requirements of the Graduate School and the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering.

The Ph.D. degree in Structural Engineering requires the completion of significant coursework beyond the M.S., conducting independent research leading to the preparation of a dissertation, and completion of major examinations and other milestones, as described below.


There is no specific minimum number of courses required for the Ph.D. degree. Nonetheless, Ph.D. students are expected to take a significant number of courses to develop breadth and depth in their knowledge and to prepare them to conduct independent research. Courses should be selected by the student in consultation with their Research Supervisor and their Dissertation Committee. As a guideline, Ph.D. students in Structural Engineering typically take 7 to 10 courses beyond the M.S.


The Doctor of Philosophy is a research degree, and conducting high quality original research represents the most fundamental requirement of the degree. Research for the Ph.D. is expected to be significant in scope and to be an original contribution at the frontiers of knowledge in the field. Further, while research is conducted under the guidance of the Research Supervisor and the Dissertation Committee, Ph.D. students are expected to work independently in the conduct of their research.

To develop a suitable topic and scope for their research, Ph.D. students are encouraged to discuss their ideas and interests with the faculty in SEMM. Ph.D. students are also encouraged to identify a faculty member to serve as their Research Supervisor and to identify a topic for their Ph.D. research as early as possible.

While the student will work closely with their Research Supervisor, the student will also form a Dissertation Committee to help guide and review the research. The Dissertation Committee normally consists of a minimum of five faculty members, with at least one member outside of the CAEE Department.

Research for the Ph.D. culminates in the preparation of a Dissertation. The Dissertation must be approved by the Dissertation Committee.

Milestones Toward The Ph.D. Degree

This section outlines major steps and milestones towards achievement of the Ph.D. degree.

Qualifying Exam

All Ph.D. students in Structural Engineering must pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. The Qualifying Exam is made up, administered, and scored by the Structural Engineering faculty during each long semester. The purpose of this exam is to assess the student’s understanding and competence in basic concepts in structural engineering. Examination questions are generally at an advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate level. Questions may cover a variety of fundamental topics. Generally included are questions on structural analysis, behavior and design; strength of materials and structural mechanics; and structural materials. Structural behavior and design problems are written in manner that does not require specific knowledge of U.S. building codes.

Ph.D. students are expected to take the Qualifying Exam during their first or second semester after attaining an M.S. or equivalent degree.

The Qualifying Exam is given in two parts: a three to four hour closed book written examination and an oral examination. Those who pass the written exam will be notified that they should take the oral exam, and the faculty will schedule this exam before the end of each long semester. A candidate must score a passing grade on the written portion before attempting the oral examination.

Based on the student’s performance on the written examination, one of the following evaluations will be made:

  • Pass (the student is eligible to take the oral exam)
  • No Pass- Reexamination
  • No Pass- No Reexamination

The No Pass- Reexamination decision indicates a marginal performance on the written portion of the examination, but the candidate will be given another chance to take the exam. The reexam will be scheduled during the next long semester. If the student does not achieve a passing grade on the second written exam, admission to Ph.D. Candidacy will be denied. A No Pass- No Reexamination report on the first written exam indicates that the student lacks sufficient depth to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Structural Engineering and admission to Ph.D. Candidacy is denied.

The oral examination will be scheduled and administered by the Structural Engineering faculty. Typically, the committee will consist of three Structural Engineering faculty members. Based on the performance of the student in the oral examination, one of the following evaluations will be made:

  • Pass
  • Pass with Qualifications for the Planned Program of Work
  • No Pass- Reexamination Permitted
  • No Pass- No Reexamination

A student who passes the oral examination should submit candidacy forms for the Ph.D. degree to the Graduate School as soon as possible. The program of work submitted with the candidacy forms should include qualifications stipulated by the committee administering the Qualifying Examination. If a No Pass- No Reexamination evaluation is rendered, admission to Ph.D. Candidacy in Structural Engineering is denied. If a No Pass- Reexamination Permitted evaluation is indicated, registration of one additional semester will be permitted, but the student must retake and pass both the written and oral examinations during the following semester.

Demonstration of English Proficiency

Before a student can apply for Ph.D. Candidacy, they must satisfy the CAEE Department English proficiency requirements for Ph.D. students. This generally requires achieving a minimum score of 4.0 on the GRE Analytical Writing Exam or by passing an approved technical writing course. Students should consult with the CAEE Graduate Coordinator for the specific requirements.

Admission to Ph.D. Candidacy

After passing the Qualifying Exam and satisfying English proficiency requirements, Ph.D. students should apply to the Graduate School for admission to Ph.D. Candidacy. The application for admission to Ph.D. Candidacy is made on-line at the Graduate School website. Specific requirements of the application for admission to Ph.D. Candidacy are available from the Graduate School and also from the CAEE Graduate Coordinator. In general, however, the application includes a list of members of the Dissertation Committee, a preliminary title of the Dissertation, and a brief description of the proposed dissertation research.

Comprehensive Exam

The Comprehensive Exam, also known as the Mastery of the Major Exam, must be taken and passed by all Ph.D. students in Structural Engineering. The Comprehensive Exam is administered by the Dissertation Committee, and is normally taken after the student has completed a majority of their coursework and has started on their dissertation research. Students should discuss the appropriate timing of the Comprehensive Exam with their Research Supervisor. The content and format of the Comprehensive Exam is at the discretion of the Dissertation Committee. In general, however, the Comprehensive Exam includes a presentation by the student on the proposed dissertation topic, including the proposed research objectives, scope and methods. To determine if the student passes the exam, the Dissertation Committee must assess if the proposed research is suitable for a Ph.D. dissertation and whether the student is adequately prepared to undertake the research. The Dissertation Committee may suggest or require changes to the research plan and may suggest or require the student to take additional coursework.

Defense of Dissertation (Final Oral Examination)

The Defense of Dissertation is the final exam for the Ph.D. degree. In this exam, the student presents the results of their dissertation research to the Dissertation Committee. At least four weeks prior to the exam, the student must deliver a final draft of their dissertation, reviewed for technical and grammatical correctness by the Research Supervisor, to members of the Dissertation Committee. The student must also submit a written request to hold the Final Oral Examination to the Graduate School at least two weeks before the examination. Note that the Dissertation Committee may request changes to the dissertation as a result of the exam. Consequently, students are encouraged to schedule the exam well ahead of the dissertation filing deadline for the desired semester of graduation.