Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Qualification Procedure in CEE

A CEE student must pass a Qualification Procedure (QP) to advance to Ph.D. candidacy (i.e. to move from Stage I to Stage II as described in the CEE Graduate Handbook.  The QP serves as part of the evaluation of the student’s potential to conduct independent, creative research and the ability to complete a dissertation. Although the QP differs widely among areas, the student is evaluated on a variety of accomplishments including graduate course work and in some areas a formal oral/written qualification examination. 

Increasingly, civil and environmental engineering research encompasses more complex issues that require interdisciplinary knowledge. Consequently, some graduate students will have unique, interdisciplinary interests and may not be well-served by the existing, area-specific QPs.  Some students may desire to conduct research that combines several sub-disciplines within CEE (e.g., hydrosystems and environmental, transportation and construction, or structures and geotechnical) or in cross-disciplinary programs such as the Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems Program. Other students may conduct research that reaches outside of CEE (e.g., hydrosystems and atmospheric science; construction materials and materials science; structures and bioengineering; transportation and industrial engineering, CEE and information technology; etc.)  The increasing role of novel sensing technologies could readily lead to cross-disciplinary studies with electrical & computer engineering and/or computer science. 

Even with this growing interest in interdisciplinary research studies for the Ph.D., we nevertheless expect the vast majority of our students will continue to pass through the existing, area-specific QPs.

Students with interdisciplinary research interests can take an interdisciplinary QP, having as its objective the evaluation of the student’s: (i) fundamental knowledge in their area of specialization, including any related topics that are needed to provide a broad base of knowledge necessary for future success, and (ii) ability to creatively synthesize fundamental knowledge across individual topics as needed for their area of specialization. The interdisciplinary QP must be fair and rigorous, and it must not be viewed simply as a means to circumvent the existing, area-specific QPs. The procedure is as follows:

  1. The student, in consultation with his/her advisor, declares in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) the intent to pursue the interdisciplinary QP. The student’s advisor must be a CEE faculty member.  This declaration must be made before the end of the second semester of graduate studies following award of the M.S. degree, or the end of the second semester of studies in the department for students who enter CEE with an M.S. degree. The student may later elect to instead complete the area-specific QP if so desired rather than attempting the interdisciplinary QP.  This option is not available to students who failed to qualify through an area-specific QP.
  2. The DGS, in consultation with the student and advisor, appoints a committee of faculty in CEE, and possibly from outside CEE as appropriate. The committee consists of a minimum of three faculty, including at least two from CEE. The student’s advisor serves as the Committee Chair.  This committee reviews the student’s request, examines the proposed course-work and research direction, and reports to the DGS on the appropriateness of the interdisciplinary QP.  The DGS makes the final determination on whether or not the student is approved for the interdisciplinary QP.  Note that this DGS review is waived for students who are enrolled in a departmental interdisciplinary program that requires students to take the interdisciplinary QP (e.g., Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems).
  3. Following DGS approval, the committee chair will work with the committee to define the specifics of the exam format and timing and communicate this information to the student and the DGS at least 30 days prior to the exam. Example formats for the exam are given below.
    Format 1:
    Step 1: The student participates in a portion of an area-specific QP (e.g., certain parts of a written qualification exam).
    Step 2: An oral or written examination follows Step 1 to assess the student’s knowledge in topics relevant to the interdisciplinary area of research.
    Format 2:
    Step 1: The committee provides the student with written questions in advance of an oral exam (e.g., 5 days prior to the exam).
    Step 2: The student prepares and submits a response to the questions (either a document or presentation slides, at committee discretion) and discusses the response with the committee during the oral exam. Other topics related to the student’s coursework or research may also be discussed during the oral exam at the committee’s discretion.
  4. The committee makes a determination on the successful completion of the interdisciplinary QP through consensus. The possible outcomes are:  Pass, Fail, and Conditional Pass. The chair of the committee reports the results of the interdisciplinary QP to the DGS within two weeks after the completion of the QP. If the result is ‘Fail,’ the committee can recommend whether to allow a second attempt.