The Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy, primarily a research degree, is offered in the fields of civil engineering and environmental engineering in civil engineering.

Residence and Credit Requirements. The doctoral program consists of three stages: see Fig. 1.

Fig. 1. The doctoral program consists of three stages.
Fig. 1. The doctoral program consists of 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: see Table 1(page 18) for a description of area qualification procedures. A minimum of 96 hours of credit are required, 64 of which must be in residence.

Stages II & III must be completed in residence:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

During all three stages the student is expected to register for a full program, or if employed, for the normal credit allowed under the terms of the appointment. It is possible to complete these stages in three years if the student devotes full time to his or her academic program. A candidate for the Ph.D. degree must complete all requirements for this degree within seven calendar years after initial registration in the Graduate College, except as noted in the following. A candidate for the doctorate who has received a master’s degree elsewhere must complete all requirements for the degree within six years after initial registration in the Graduate College. A student whose program of study is significantly interrupted after receiving a master’s degree from the University of Illinois and who later returns to work for the doctorate will have six years from the date of return to complete degree requirements.  Please see the Graduate College Handbook, Chapter 6.2, page 37, Time Limits,  .

Milestones and Schedule for Making Progress in the Ph.D. Program. The following table lists the significant steps that a student must complete during their Ph.D. program. A time schedule is also included so that students can assess their rate of progress in the program. The maximum time limits are to ensure that students do not take an excessively long time to complete their degree. It is recognized that there are special circumstances, particularly with inter-disciplinary research, which may cause students to need some additional time.  “Normal Progress” would apply to a student with a fellowship or 50% research assistantship.


Normal Progress


Select Research Advisor

End of 1st Semester

End of 2nd Semester

Qualifying Exam

2nd Semester

4th Semester1

Complete Key Coursework Required for Research

3rd  – 4th  Semester

4th – 5th Semester

Preliminary Exam

4th - 5th Semester

5th Semester2

Final Examination

8th Semester

6 Years3

Thesis Deposit

8th Semester

7 Years3

¹All students must pass the Qualifying Examination within four semesters (2 years) of enrolling in the Ph.D. program.

²This 2.5 year limit is strictly enforced by the Department. In exceptional cases, a 6-month extension can be granted with approval from the student’s advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

³See the Graduate College Handbook Chapter 6.2, page 37, Time Limits, Students earning the M.S. at Illinois have a limit of 7 years, and students earning the M.S. at another institution have a limit of 6 years to complete the PhD. Students who are making adequate progress can petition for a time extension.

Statement of Interest in Pursuing the Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

On campus M.S. students who are interested in pursuing the Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and who have not yet identified a research advisor, should submit a new graduate student application by the regular deadlines (e.g. by January 1 for fall applicants) for applicants wanting to be considered for Ph.D. program. If students have a PhD research advisor identified and are within two semesters of being awarded their MS degree, they may fill out a Graduate Student Request Form on the Graduate College Student Portal and change curriculum to the PhD.  Students that have previously been in the Illinois MS program must reapply for the PhD if it has been longer than a year since they finished the MS and if they do not have a PhD advisor.


Application for Admission to Candidacy for the Ph.D. and Area Qualification Procedures. A student who has identified a faculty member that agrees to supervise and financially support their doctoral program studies must do two things to work toward the CEE 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. The application for admission entails finding a faculty member who will agree to supervise the student’s doctoral program. Table 1 on page 19 summarizes the doctoral candidate qualification procedures of each departmental area. Although each area has slightly different procedures and schedules, the Department requires that the qualifying procedures must be completed/passed within two years of enrolling in the Ph.D. program.

In addition to the area qualifying procedures, there is an interdisciplinary qualifying procedure available. Students must declare their intent to pursue the interdisciplinary qualifying procedure within the first year of the Ph. D. program. Students should consult with their advisor for further information.

A student is not permitted to attempt the qualifying procedure in more than one area.

If a student’s major research advisor is in another department or leaves the campus, a regular tenured or tenure-track CEE faculty co-advisor is required. If a student’s major research advisor is in another department or is a non-tenure track CEE faculty, a regular tenured or tenure-track CEE faculty must serve as the chair of the preliminary and final examination committees.

Students who are admitted to the Ph.D. program in CEE generally have an M.S. degree but a student may be directly admitted to the PhD program with a B.S degree. However, the student must complete courses to satisfy the Phase I course requirements. Please see page 22 for more info on the Direct PhD program.

A student who has been admitted to the Ph.D. program in our Department is automatically awarded Stage I credit for his or her M.S. degree. This determination is made by the area admissions committee at the time of application based on an evaluation of the courses taken for the M.S. degree . Except in very rare cases, the existing M.S. degree will be in the same area as the Ph.D. sought by the student because it is unlikely that a student would be admitted to the program without adequate training in that field. Hence, it is generally not possible to receive a M.S. degree from Illinois because the M.S. would duplicate the one for which Stage I credit was already awarded.

A student with an M.S. degree from another institution can apply to the M.S. program in our department. If that student is admitted, it is with the understanding that the existing M.S. is not suitable for Phase I Ph.D. credit. In essence, admission to the M.S. program automatically disqualifies prior course work at other institutions from serving as Phase I Ph.D. credit. Hence, a subsequent petition to have courses which were taken for the M.S. at Illinois to count as Phase II credit for the Ph.D. would be denied because the first M.S. is not adequate for Phase I credit.

Language Requirement. There is no department-wide foreign language requirement. However, the faculty of some areas of specialization may require foreign language proficiency, if essential to the conduct of research in that area.

Professional Development Opportunities

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Preliminary Examination. 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. Areas and programs are encouraged to recommend that students’ preliminary examination proposals not exceed 20 pages. The student must submit a Request for Appointment of Doctoral Committee form on to set up the Preliminary Examination Committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled exam date. Graduate College policy states, “The preliminary examination committee is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate College, upon recommendation of the unit executive office. It must include at least four voting members, three of whom must be members of the graduate faculty and two of whom must be tenured.” “Committee members should be chosen for their expertise in the student’s research area, but may also be chosen to give diversity in viewpoint, methodology, or academic discipline.”

In CEE, the preliminary examination committee is normally the same as the final examination committee. Preliminary exams may be open or closed at the discretion of the committee chair and may be in-person or remote.

Work in Absentia. A student who has passed the preliminary examination, has completed the credit requirements for the doctoral degree, is making no use of university facilities and has left the  campus, must still be registered as a full-time student with 9 hours of credit unless they qualify for one of the exceptions on pg. 8. However, the student must be registered during the term in which the final examination is taken including the summer session. If more than one year has elapsed since the last semester in which the student was registered, the student must petition for re-entry. A student not on campus can register in absentia during a term in which that student does not expect to receive a degree. In absentia registration is not permitted for students enrolled in courses meeting on campus. Petitions for in absentia registration will usually be approved if the student has completed 64 hours of residence credit, passed the preliminary examination, and not exceeded the time limit for the degree. If a student does not complete the degree requirements  within five years after passing the preliminary examination, a second preliminary examination is required. This does not alter the time limit for the advanced degree as previously described.

Thesis. The degree of Doctor of Philosophy is primarily a research degree and consequently the candidate must demonstrate a capacity for independent research by preparing an original thesis topic within the chosen field of study. The subject of the thesis must be reported to the doctoral committee and to the Graduate College at the time of the preliminary examination. The completed thesis format must be officially checked by the Department. Joan Christian in 1108 NCEL is authorized to perform the departmental format check. Directions regarding thesis form and style are available at 

Final Examination. After the credit requirements Stage III and the thesis have been completed, the candidate is admitted to the final examination upon recommendation of his or her advisor. Final examinations may be oral and public but also may be remote. 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. The student is required to submit a Request for Appointment of Doctoral Committee form on the Graduate College student portal at least two weeks in advance of the exam A copy of the abstract must be sent to Joan Christian two weeks prior to the exam to post on the Grad Blog.  

Graduation. Students are responsible for notifying the Graduate College of their intention to graduate in a given semester; that is, students are responsible for placing their names on the “degree list.” Students may use the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Enterprise Applications – Student Self-Service system ( to place their name on the graduation list by the stated deadline.