Ph.D. in Civil Engineering

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is an advanced research degree for students wishing to become an expert on a specific area of Civil and Environmental Engineering and train for a career involving independent and cutting-edge research.

The Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering is a mentored opportunity to become an expert on a specific research topic. This degree is recommended for those who expect to engage in a professional career in research, teaching, or technical work of an advanced nature in civil or environmental engineering.

The Ph.D. degree program in CEE is offered in five areas of specialization:

  • Construction Engineering and Management (CEM)
  • Environmental and Water Resources Engineering (EWRE)
  • Infrastructure Systems Engineering (ISE)
  • Structural Engineering (STR)
  • Transportation Engineering (TRN)

A Ph.D. degree at UVA requires successful completion of required coursework plus the three following major milestones: Ph.D. Qualifying Exam, Ph.D. Proposal Defense, Ph.D. Dissertation Defense. Additionally, Ph.D. student in CEE must serve as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) for at least one semester. 

See below for information on the Civil Engineering Ph.D. program, or download the CEE GRADUATE HANDBOOK.

Admissions Criteria

We accept applications from candidates with degrees from all engineering and some affiliated backgrounds. In some cases, candidates who do not have engineering or similar credentials will be offered conditional admission, which will require them to take selected undergraduate coursework in addition to the coursework required for their Ph.D.

All candidates are evaluated by one or more of the CEE research subgroups. Some students are admitted directly into a specific research group with a specific advisor. Other candidates are admitted into a subgroup and are then connected with an advisor during the first year.

Most accepted Ph.D. students receive financial aid. Funding offers take the form of GRAs, GTAs and/or various fellowships. Some Ph.D. students are funded by third-party entities (e.g., their employer or government or military agencies). Funded offers include monthly stipends, tuition waiver, and health insurance.

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Engineering School Requirements

The School of Engineering academic requirements for the Ph.D. degree and steps to graduation can be found on the Office of Graduate Programs webpage. The School of Engineering Office of Graduate Programs also contains helpful resources about academic planning, student life, professional development for current graduate students. More information about the School of Engineering academic rules can be found on the University Registrar's website.

Time limit: All requirements for the Ph.D. degree must be completed within seven years after matriculation to the graduate program.

Program Requirements

The Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering at UVA requires successful completion of required coursework plus the three major milestones: Ph.D. Qualifying Exam, Ph.D. Propoal Defense, and Ph.D. Dissertation Defense. These are briefly described below and more information can be found in the CEE Graduate Handbook.

The Ph.D. program in Civil Engineering requires relevant coursework to help students access foundational knowledge in their discipline while striking a balance between depth and breadth. A minimum of 24 credits of graduate engineering coursework beyond the bachelor’s degree is required for all the Ph.D. students in Engineering School at UVA. Students with graduate study at other institutions may apply engineering credits from that study towards their 24 hours, but all CEE Ph.D. students must complete at least six credits of coursework from CEE at UVA. Students who earn an ME or MS degree at UVA enroute to a PhD in CEE may use CEE credits from their master’s degree to meet this requirement.

Students must complete the PhD Plan of Study Form and submit it to the CEE Student Services Coordinator before the student takes their Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. The Plan of Study is for departmental use only. Students should maintain a copy for themselves to access it whenever they convene their committee and/or complete a requirement. Official tracking for Engineering School and CEE requirements is done using the academic requirements report.

A Ph.D. degree at CEE at UVA has three key milestones:

  • Ph.D. Qualifying Exam: The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to assess the student’s research aptitude and confirm that they have the skills and knowledge base necessary to conduct original research and to make a substantive contribution in their field.
  • Ph.D. Proposal Defense: This milestone allows the student’s committee to make three important determinations:
    • To assess whether the student’s knowledge of their chosen area and their understanding of relevant literature is adequate to complete a Ph.D.
    • To recommend coursework, approaches/techniques and other resources that would facilitate or enhance the proposed work.
    • To evaluate whether or not the proposed work, if completed, would constitute an acceptable basis for a doctoral dissertation.
  • Ph.D. Dissertation Defense: The Ph.D. dissertation defense is the culminating step of the Ph.D. process. The purpose of the dissertation defense is to confirm that the completed research constitutes a meaningful contribution to the body of knowledge in the field of Civil and Environmental Engineering and to demonstrate competence in the field of the dissertation research and to ensure that the written quality of the final document is adequate to highlight the value of the work. After successful completion of the dissertation defense, the candidate must submit the dissertation via Libra. For more information on LIBRA and instruction of how to upload, please visit the Dissertation Submission Checklist.

Please review the CEE Graduate Handbook for more information about the timing, format, and committee composition requirements for each exam. 

CEE Ph.D. students must serve as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) for at least one semester. GTAs will enroll for three credits (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, or S/U, basis) of CE 8001 in a section corresponding to their supervising instructor. A GTA assignment will not count toward the teaching requirement if the student does not receive an S grade.

All GTAs whose first language is one other than English are required to take the oral section of the UVELPE Test. A score of at least 55 is required for permission to begin teaching without completion of appropriate oral language training. Please refer to CAELC website for more information about the UVELPE test as well as the testing times and registration.

As an essential component of the graduate program in CEE, Ph.D. students are required to enroll in CE 7001 (with zero credit hours) and attend the CEE seminars during the 2023–2024 academic year.

CEE Seminar Series is a weekly event during the academic year that brings together CEE faculty and students to learn about new research and practices in different areas of civil and environmental engineering. Research presentations are given by Distinguished Speakers from within the university community as well as nationally and internationally recognized researchers and engineers in academia and industry. The weekly seminars also include talks and presentations from CEE graduate students as well as presentations geared towards professional development.

  • Publication: Ph.D. students are expected to generate peer-reviewed publications from each technical chapter of their dissertation. Publications must be peer-reviewed, co-authored with advisor and with the student as first author. Typically, one or more first-authored peer-reviewed publications will have already been accepted by the time of the Ph.D. defense. Sufficiency of the publication record is determined by the student's Ph.D. Committee.
  • Conference/Seminar Presentation: Ph.D. students are required to present their research at least once at a conference, CEE Seminar Series or other public venue approved by the student's Ph.D. Committee.

Overall Timeline

In our Ph.D. Program, the student has tremendous ownership over their own destiny and responsibility for progressing toward their graduation. Hence, the Ph.D.student has the responsibility to manage the timing of their progression. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Ph.D.student to regularly communicate with their advisor to make sure that their progression through the program is following a timeline that is suitable to and in accordance with the expectations of the Ph.D.advisor and the program.

Typically, it takes between 4 to 5 years to successfully complete all the requirements and the milestones of the Ph.D. program in CEE. Students who enter the program with a MS degree are typically able to complete required coursework and take the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam in year 1. It may take those students who enter the program with a bachelor's degree longer to complete the required coursework. The Ph.D.Qualifying Exam must be taken by the end of the second year. All students are required to successfully complete the Proposal Defense at least one year prior to the Final Dissertation Defense. However, students are highly encouraged to complete this milestone by the end of year 3 of their program.

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found here.