Doctoral Program in Civil Engineering
The Department of Civil and Urban Engineering currently offers two doctoral degree programs: PhD in Civil Engineering and PhD in Transportation Planning and Engineering. Requirements for the Civil Engineering degree are detailed here. For information on the Transportation Planning and Engineering program, see the “Transportation ” section of this catalog.
Goals and Objectives
The PhD in Civil Engineering is research-oriented and intended for those whose goal is a career in civil engineering research and/or teaching at the university level or in private research organizations. Specific doctoral program objectives are to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to:
- Specialize within one of the subdisciplines of civil engineering;
- Perform independent fundamental research in one of the subdisciplines of civil engineering;
- Produce a piece of fundamental research that advances meaningfully the state of the art of one of the subdisciplines of civil engineering and is publishable in a first-tier refereed civil engineering related journal.
A PhD is granted for the invention or creation of new knowledge in civil engineering. This knowledge may result from analytical, numerical or experimental research. The knowledge may be practical or fundamental in nature.
Areas of Concentration
Students pursuing the PhD in Civil Engineering must choose to specialize in one of the following subdisciplines of civil engineering:
- Structural Materials and Engineering
- Geotechnical and Geo-environmental Engineering
- Environmental and Water Resources Engineering
- Construction Management and Engineering
- Highway and Traffic Engineering
- Urban Infrastructure Systems
Other focus areas are possible and can be developed with the assistance of faculty advisers. All subject areas must be relevant to the degree sought, and a faculty member must be willing and able to guide the student’s research.
The Department of Civil and Urban Engineering has five graduate program coordinators:
- Graduate Program Coordinator for Civil Engineering (MS and PhD)
- Graduate Program Coordinator for Environmental Engineering/ Environmental Science (MS)
- Graduate Program Coordinator for Urban Infrastructure Systems (MS)
- Graduate Program Coordinator for Transportation (MS and PhD)
- Graduate Program Coordinator for Construction Management and Engineering (MS)
The graduate coordinators form the departmental Graduate Committee. The Committee reviews all PhD applications and makes admissions decisions, which are implemented by a graduate coordinator. For each registration, the student’s program must be approved by the academic adviser and signed by the graduate coordinator.
- Admission to the PhD in Civil Engineering requires an MS in Civil Engineering or equivalent with a GPA of 3.5 or better (on a 0-4 scale).
- All applicants are required to submit GRE scores for consideration.
- International applicants must take the TOEFL examination and submit the results for consideration.
In criterion 1 above, the “equivalent” can be achieved in several ways. The candidate may have a MS degree with a different title that covers substantially the same material. In more general terms, the applicant must demonstrate that he or she has the equivalent of all undergraduate and master’s-level course work to be able to pursue doctoral-level work in the chosen major area, as well as in a minor area within the umbrella of civil engineering. Further, “equivalence” is evaluated based on the totality of the student’s undergraduate and graduate record, not course by course. Thus, an applicant who wishes to pursue doctoral work in Environmental Engineering, for example, must have the entire undergraduate and master’s-level course background expected in Environmental Engineering, but need not demonstrate such a background in structures. Because admission to a PhD program requires a relevant MS (or equivalent), an applicant who has not yet earned a master’s degree will be admitted as MS student and is expected to earn an MS degree while completing the major and minor course requirements. In rare cases, an applicant with only a BS degree may be directly admitted into the PhD program with the written approval of the department head.
Doctoral Program of Study
Every PhD student upon admission is assigned an academic adviser, who is designated by the department head. Any member of the civil engineering faculty may be an academic adviser to a PhD student. The first meeting should take place shortly after receiving an acceptance letter from the Admissions Office. During this first meeting the student’s Program of Study should be established. The Program of Study should include a list of the fundamental and advanced topics that will comprise the specific courses, the subject matter for the qualifying exam and possible research areas.
In cases where a student is supported on a research contract, the principal investigator of the contract will normally be the student’s academic adviser. Where a student has a particular research interest and is working with a particular faculty member, the student may request that faculty member for his or her academic adviser. In rare cases, when a PhD student enters the program without a prior selection of a major area of study, the initial academic adviser will be the graduate coordinator of the program area. Each PhD candidate reports to two advisory committees: an Academic Advisory Committee and a Dissertation Committee.
Academic Advisory Committee
The student’s academic adviser plans a program to fulfill major and minor requirements for the PhD degree. The Academic Advisory Committee generally consists of the academic adviser and one faculty member for each minor area of study. The Academic Advisory Committee guides the PhD student’s work through the successful completion of a qualifying examination. A letter signed by the academic adviser and approved by the department head is placed in the student’s file indicating the composition of the Academic Advisory Committee.
Doctoral Degree Requirements
To earn a doctoral degree in Civil Engineering, the following requirements must be met:
- 54 credits of graduate course work (not including the PhD dissertation) in relevant major and minor areas of study beyond the bachelor’s degree, with an average grade of B or better (cumulative average of 3.0 or better on a 0-4 scale). Up to 6 credits of the 54 credits may be satisfied by individual guided studies, readings, projects and theses.
- Completion and successful defense of a 21-credit dissertation related to the major area of study. Dissertations must consist of original research that meaningfully advances the state of the art in the research subject area and should result in the publication of at least one paper in a strictly peer-reviewed technical journal related to the subject. A grade of B or better must be achieved for the dissertation. There are two types of dissertation credits:
- CE 9998 : Independent original investigation demonstrating creativity and scholarship worthy of publication in a recognized engineering journal. Registration for a minimum of 6 credits is required before registering for .
- : Independent original investigation demonstrating creativity and scholarship worthy of publication in a recognized engineering journal. Candidates must successfully defend dissertations orally. Registration for 3 to 6 credits per semester is permitted after successfully completing the doctoral qualifying examination, but a minimum of 12 credits must be completed before the defense. Registration must be continuous (excluding summer semesters), unless a formal leave of absence is requested and approved. Registration for 3 to 12 credits per semester is permitted. In the final semester of work, registration for credit is permitted with the approval of the department head. Prerequisites: CE 9998 (6 credits), degree status, successful completion of doctoral qualifying examinations and approval of the dissertation adviser.
- Completion of two minor areas of study, as follows:
- Out of Department Minor: Completion of 9 credits of graduate or undergraduate course work in one or two technical areas of study.
- In-Department Minor: Completion of 6 credits of graduate course work in a minor area outside the major subdiscipline in civil engineering.
- Residency requirements for the PhD in Civil Engineering include the 21-credit dissertation plus a minimum of 15 credits of applicable graduate course work taken at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering.
- In satisfying the 54-credit course requirement (requirement 1), the student must satisfy all requirements for the major and minor areas selected, or their equivalents.
- In satisfying these basic PhD requirements, students also must satisfy one of the two following conditions:
- 48 credits of relevant graduate course work, not including individual guided studies (readings, projects, theses, etc.) beyond the bachelor’s degree, with an average grade of B or better (cumulative average of 3.0 or better on a 0-4 scale).
- 24 credits of approved graduate course work, not including individual guided studies (readings, projects and theses) beyond the master’s degree, with an average grade of B or better (cumulative average of 3.0 or better on a 0-4 scale). Satisfying condition 6b requires that the department accept the student’s MS degree in toto without regard to its specific content. This acceptance requires a recommendation from the department’s Graduate Committee and department head approval.
- Although publication is not required as a condition for graduation at this time, journal publication is strongly encouraged. Every PhD candidate is expected to generate knowledge worthy of publication in two or more reputable journals.
A maximum of 39 credits of approved graduate work may be transferred. Transfer credits for PhD students may be awarded on a course-by-course basis or by the transfer of a MS degree from another institution in satisfaction of 30 graduate credits. The latter requires a recommendation from the department’s Graduate Committee and the approval of the department head. Transfer credits are generally awarded at the time of admission and must be approved by the academic adviser, the graduate coordinator and the department head.
A student must register for RE-GY 9990 PhD Qualifying Exam in the semester in which the qualifying exam will be taken. This course carries no credit, and the student incurs no fees. It provides a place in the student’s official transcript to record when the qualifying exam was taken and the result.
Every student pursuing a PhD must pass a qualifying examination before becoming a candidate for the PhD. The qualifying examination consists of a six-hour written portion (generally given in two three-hour blocks on the same day), and an oral portion which may be given before or after the written portion. Both written and oral portions focus on fundamental and advanced civil engineering topics relevant to the student’s specific program of study.
The oral portion may also explore specific skill areas required to conduct successful independent research. Students are deemed to have passed the examination based upon an overall evaluation of both the written and oral portions of the examination.
The qualifying examination is a pass/fail milestone in the PhD process. A letter indicating the result of each examination is placed in the student’s graduate file. In rare cases, a student may be deemed to have conditionally passed the qualifying exam. This may occur when the student does extremely well in all but one area. Such a student must follow a prescribed plan to strengthen his or her knowledge and skills in the weak area and pass a special examination in the weak area within one calendar year. A student who conditionally passes the qualifying exam may register for dissertation credits and may form a Dissertation Committee.
While each student will take a different qualifying examination based upon an individual program of study, the exam is considered a departmental examination. All department faculty members in each civil engineering subdiscipline may participate in submitting written problems. Each student’s academic advisory committee will review the entire exam before it is administered, and may suggest changes if it deems the examination, as presented, to be an inequitable test of the student’s abilities. Recommendations on examination results are submitted by each student’s Academic Advisory Committee. The departmental faculty, acting as a whole, votes to accept or reject such recommendations at a meeting scheduled for this purpose. Additionally:
- According to NYU Tandon School of Engineering policy, students should take the qualifying exam within their first year of study at NYU Tandon School of Engineering.
- A student may take the qualifying exam twice. A third attempt is permitted only with written permission from the Academic Advisory Committee and the approval of the department head. Under no circumstances may a student take the examination more than three times.
- No student may register for CE 999X Dissertation credits until passing the qualifying exam.
- A Dissertation Committee cannot be formed until the student passes the qualifying exam.
- Any student who cannot pass the qualifying exam will be disqualified from the program.
A Dissertation Committee is formed immediately after a student passes the qualifying exam to guide the student’s course of study and research work. This committee will serve as a panel of experts to aid the candidate throughout his or her research.
The Dissertation Committee shall have no less than five members, including a chairperson, a major adviser, and an adviser for each minor the student is pursuing, one of whom must be on the faculty in another NYU Tandon School of Engineering department. One external member who is either a faculty member at another academic institution or a noted PhD-level practitioner is encouraged. Additional faculty members may also serve on the Dissertation Committee.
The members of the Academic Advisory Committee may also serve on the Dissertation Committee. The membership of the Dissertation Committee must be approved by the department head and recorded with the Office of Graduate Academics.
The major adviser, who may also serve as chairperson, must be a full-time faculty member of the Department of Civil and Urban Engineering.
Upon passing the qualifying exam and the appointment of a Dissertation Committee, the PhD candidate must submit a written Dissertation Proposal outlining the subject of the proposed research. This proposal should be 15 to 20 pages long and should address the following specific items:
- Description of the topic;
- Literature review sufficient to ensure original work;
- Method(s) for the research;
- Data and/or laboratory needs and their availability; and
- Anticipated outcomes.
The Dissertation Proposal must be submitted within one semester of full-time study after passing the qualifying exam, or before 9 credits of dissertation credit are completed.
The Dissertation Proposal is presented orally and defended before the Dissertation Committee and other interested departmental faculty. The date of the oral defense and copies of the draft Dissertation Proposal must be available to departmental faculty at least two weeks (14 calendar days) before the defense.
When the Dissertation Proposal is formally accepted and defended successfully, the chairperson of the Dissertation Committee shall enter a letter into the student’s graduate file, indicating this acceptance, together with a copy of the Dissertation Proposal. While the Dissertation Committee has reasonable flexibility to modify the Dissertation Proposal during the research, any significant change in focus area or methodology requires submission of an amended Dissertation Proposal and formal acceptance as described herein.
The culmination of the student’s PhD work is the oral presentation and defense of the final draft dissertation. A defense is generally scheduled after the Dissertation Committee reviews the draft dissertation and determines that it is complete and of sufficient quality to be presented and defended.
The defense is organized and scheduled by the Dissertation Committee. All Institute faculty members may observe and ask questions at all NYU Tandon School of Engineering dissertation defenses. Therefore, the date of the defense must be announced Institute-wide at least one month before the event, and copies of the draft dissertation must be available to any faculty member who requests one in a timely fashion and in no case less than two weeks before the defense.