PhD Degree and Curriculum

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy, primarily a research degree, requires from three to four years of graduate study beyond the master's degree.  The major area of specialization encompasses courses and research that are closely related, but the courses need not be offered by a single major department.  Candidates must demonstrate a capacity for independent research by preparing an original thesis on a topic within the major field of study, must meet the qualifying requirements or examination in the area of specialization, and must pass both preliminary and final examinations.

Credit Requirements
CEE 599 Thesis Research (min-max applied toward degree) 32
Elective courses (subject to Other Requirements and Conditions below) 32
Total Hours 64
Other Requirements
Other Requirements and Conditions may overlap  
A maximum of 8 hours of CEE 597 (or other independent study) may be applied toward the elective course work requirement; approval required.  
There is no department-wide foreign language requirement. However, the faculties of some areas of specialization may require foreign language proficiency if essential to the conduct of research in that area.  
64 graduate hours must be completed in residence.  
A Masters degree is required for admission to the Ph.D. program.  
Ph.D. exam and dissertation requirements:  
Qualifying exam2  
Preliminary exam  
Final exam or dissertation defense  
Dissertation deposit  
The minimum program GPA is 2.75.

Timeline of Requirements

A PhD degree at CEE at Illinois has numerous key milestones, which can generally be grouped into three stages.  After the receipt of an M.S. degree (Stage I), the student is considered to be an aspirant to the Ph.D. degree program (continuation of Stage I), but is not officially admitted to the program (Stage II) until the student has satisfied the area qualification procedures. A minimum of 96 hours of credit are required, 64 of which must be in residence.

Milestone Normal Progress Limit
Select Research Advisor End of 1st Semester End of 2nd Semester
Qualifying Exam 2nd Semester 4th Semester
Complete Key Coursework
Required for Research
3rd – 4th Semester 4th – 5th Semester
Preliminary Exam 4th - 5th Semester 5th Semester
Final Examination 8th Semester 6 Years
Thesis Deposit 8th Semester 6 Years


First Stage

The first stage is completed when the candidate has received a master’s degree or has earned the equivalent number of credits AND has satisfied the area’s qualification procedures.

Qualifying Procedures

A student who has identified a faculty member that agrees to supervise and financially support their doctoral program studies must do two things in order to work toward the civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. degree: (1) formally apply for admission to the doctoral program, and (2) pass the qualification procedures set by their area of specialization. The department encourages students to apply for admission to the doctoral program as soon as possible after completing their M.S., or if the student obtained his or her M.S. degree elsewhere, as soon as possible after arriving at Illinois. Qualification procedures for doctoral candidates vary between areas of specialization. Some areas review student’s academic records and make a decision. Other areas have a written component, an oral component or a combination of both.

Please review the CEE Graduate Handbook (2015) for more specific information regarding specific area qualification procedures.

Second Stage

The second stage consists of completion of a minimum of 32 additional hours of graded course
work, beyond the M.S. requirements, fulfillment of departmental requirements, including
language requirement, if any, and passing the preliminary examination. There may be no
transferring of credits from outside Illinois during this stage.

Preliminary Exam

A candidate for the Ph.D. degree must pass a preliminary examination to test his or her knowledge of the major and minor field of study. All students are required to complete the preliminary exam within 2.5 years of starting the Ph.D. program (post M.S.). Under special circumstances, a student who does not take the preliminary examination within 2.5 years can submit a petition with a plan to take the preliminary examination within 6 months. This petition will need to be approved by the student’s advisor and the director of graduate studies, or the student’s registration will be blocked. If a student does not meet the revised date of an approved extension, their progress will not be considered adequate, and dismissal from the Ph.D. program may be recommended.

Third Stage

The third stage is primarily devoted to research with a minimum of 32 hours of thesis credit by end of stage III, preparation of the dissertation, and the final examination. Courses may be taken during this period as well. There may be no transferring of credits from outside Illinois during this stage.

Final Exam

After the credit requirements for the third stage and the thesis have been completed, the candidate is admitted to the final examination upon recommendation of his or her advisor. Final examinations are oral and public. A student who has failed to maintain high standards of scholarship and research will be refused admission to the final examination. Although the examination is concerned primarily with the research accomplished by the student as described in his or her thesis, it may extend over the candidate’s whole field of study.