Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy Degree Requirements – Effective April 25, 2021

The doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree program has two components: (1) the course work component, and (2) the research component. The course work component requires a qualifying examination early in the Ph.D. program and not less than 48 credits of course work (beyond the bachelor’s degree) approved by the student’s committee. After successfully completing the qualifying exam, the student may concentrate on the remaining course work and the research planning leading to the preliminary examination, the doctoral research, dissertation preparation, and the final defense. Specific requirements are as follows:

  • A minimum of 72 credits of approved course work and research beyond the B.S. degree is required, of which at least 18 credits must be in regular graduate-level civil engineering courses. Regular graduate-level civil engineering courses are those with a CIVE prefix which are numbered 500 and above with the last two digits from 00 through 82 (i.e., CIVE 500 through CIVE 582).
  • A master’s degree from an approved university may be accepted for 30 credits, in which case a minimum of 42 credits of approved course work and research beyond the master’s degree would be required.
  • A minimum of 32 credits must be earned at Colorado State University after admission to the doctoral program.
  • A minimum of 21 credits beyond the M.S. degree or 37 credits beyond the B.S. degree must be earned in graduate level courses (courses numbered 500 and above).
  • For students without a master’s degree, up to 9 independent study (CIVE695) credits are permitted toward the required Ph.D. coursework credits (i.e., out of the minimum 72 credits beyond the  bachelor’s degree).  For students with a master’s degree,up to 6 independent study (CIVE 695) credits are permitted toward the required Ph.D. coursework credits (i.e., out of the minimum 42 credits beyond the master’s degree).
  • Up to 2 seminar credits are permitted toward the required Ph.D. course credit hours.
  • A qualifying examination must be passed (department requirement).
  • A preliminary examination must be passed.
  • A written dissertation is required to complete the Ph.D. degree program.   Ph.D. students who already have a master’s degree may apply 12-18 credits to dissertation research (CIVE799), leaving a minimum of 24 credits of coursework.  Ph.D. students who do not have a master’s degree may apply 18-24 credits to dissertation research (CIVE 799), leaving a minimum of 48 credits of coursework.
  • A final defense must be passed.
  • The CEE Department’s Ph.D. degree publication requirement must be met.

Qualifying Examination


The purpose of the Department-required Qualifying Examination (QE) is to determine a student’s preparation and qualifications to continue in the graduate program towards the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) in the Department of Civil Engineering (CEE).

QE Committee:

The QE Committee shall consist of a minimum of three tenured/tenure track faculty members from the CEE Department, typically in the student’s graduate program of study. For the CIVE-CM QE, the Committee will consist of at least four (4) faculty members; and at least two should be full-time CIVE faculty members (not joint appointments).  As the QE is a Department (not a Graduate School) requirement, there is no need for a committee member from another department. At the discretion of the student’s advisor, and depending on the program of study, an additional member of the QE Committee may be from another department.

The student’s advisor shall not serve as the Chair of the QE Committee. The QE Committee shall be selected by the student’s advisor. The QE Committee need not be the same as the student’s Preliminary Exam and Final Exam (Dissertation) committee, although members of the QE Committee may serve on those committees.


A Ph.D. candidate must successfully pass the examination before the end of the qualifying exam period of their third academic semester. The examination shall be administered twice per year during the period ranging from one week prior to the beginning of a semester until two weeks after the beginning of the same semester. Each student shall have two opportunities to take and pass the examination so long as the student’s second opportunity occurs before the beginning of the 3rd week of the third academic semester of their Ph.D. program.

For Ph.D. students who do not have an engineering degree, the Department qualifying exam policy will be extended by two semesters to allow the student sufficient time to take the required engineering background courses prior to taking the qualifying exam.

For Ph.D. students completing 72 credits, the Department qualifying exam policy will be extended by two semesters to allow students to take additional coursework prior to the exam.

 42 credits
(have prior master’s degree)
72 credits
(no prior master’s degree)
Student requiring background coursework
Ph.D. Start TermExam must be completed by two weeks after the start of:
Spring 2022Spring 2023Spring 2024Spring 2024
Fall 2022Fall 2023Fall 2024Fall 2024
Spring 2023Spring 2024Spring 2025Spring 2025
Fall 2023Fall 2024Fall 2025Fall 2025
Spring 2024Spring 2025Spring 2026Spring 2026


The QE shall consist of a written part, lasting four to eight hours, and an oral part lasting two to four hours. Both the written and the oral exams must be completed within the QE period.

The QE shall cover material in a minimum of four subject areas within the program of each student’s major.The subject areas must be chosen by the student’s advisor and the QE Committee. The student’s advisor shall request written exam questions from the other QE Committee members in the four subject areas. Prior to the oral exam, the student’s advisor shall compile the written exam questions, give the student the written exam, and distribute the completed written exam to the QE Committee.

A Ph.D. qualifying examination that has been successfully passed at another academic institution before transfer to the CEE department at CSU must be reviewed and approved by the student’s QE Committee at CSU in order to meet the requirements of CEE’s QE.


Based on a majority vote, the QE Committee shall advance one of the following decisions:


______Passed subject to conditions indicated below


The result of the examination, including recommendations and/or requirements for the student’s Ph.D. program, will be recorded using the standard, CEE form (or equivalent) and submitted by the Chair of the QE to CEE’s Graduate Studies Coordinator. Subsequently, the result will be reported to the CEE Department Head and placed in the student’s Departmental file. A student is considered to be a Ph.D. candidate upon passing the QE.

Preliminary Examination


The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine the student’s ability to conduct original and independent research. The student presents a proposal for doctoral research to his or her graduate committee for their consideration and approval. If this examination is passed, the student is advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree and may continue the research component of the doctorate program.   Scheduling

The preliminary examination can be taken only by students who have successfully completed their qualifying exam. The student must schedule the exam no earlier than one term after the qualifying examination date and no later than two terms prior to the expected final examination date.


The student shall present a written research proposal to each committee member at least two weeks prior to the exam. This document shall be written in a scholarly manner and include a history of the problem, the proposed scope of the investigation, and a statement as to the original contributions to be made.

The exam consists of a formal presentation by the student followed by questions from the committee. The committee determines if the candidate (1) has sufficient ability and comprehensive knowledge to conduct the research, (2) has sufficiently reviewed the literature, (3) has proposed research which has a reasonable scope and which should produce an original and acceptable research contribution.

All members of the student’s graduate committee, or in the case of necessary absences, substitutes pre-approved by the Graduate School, shall participate in the preliminary examination.


The committee shall (1) unconditionally approve the proposed research, (2) approve the proposed research with revisions, (3) reject the proposed research with specific reasons given and recommendations made, or (4) terminate the student from the Ph.D. program. Results 1 and 2 constitute passage; results 3 and 4 constitute failure. The student shall obtain the Report of Preliminary Examination (GS Form 16) from the Student Information Office, the Graduate School Office, or from the Graduate School’s web page. Bring this form to the examination, and return the signed form, including departmental signatures, to Graduate School within two working days after the examination. Following outcome 3, a reexamination may be held in accordance with Graduate School provisions. Students holding a research or teaching assistantship advance to the Ph.D. II salary level upon result 1 or 2.

Final Defense of Dissertation


At the final dissertation defense, the candidate formally presents the research in a form open to all members of the University community and the public at large and defends the research and conclusions against any challenge.


After completing the research, the candidate must furnish each committee member with a copy of the complete dissertation draft at least four weeks prior to the date desired for the final defense. The committee will then meet formally with the candidate. Upon majority committee approval, the candidate, through the adviser, may schedule the dissertation defense. If the committee does not approve scheduling a defense, it must direct its desires to the candidate at this committee meeting. In any case, the members of the graduate committee may submit suggested or required editorial and technical changes to the dissertation draft for consideration of the candidate and adviser.

Dissertation defenses are open to all members of the CSU community and the public at large. In order to assure timely notification across the entire campus, advisors should announce this information to CSU community and public at large at least two weeks in advance. Advisors may publicize the defense through CSU’s electronic announcement and message delivery system. The chairperson of the committee shall have the prerogative to decide whether those in attendance (outside of the committee) should be allowed to ask questions of the candidate during an oral examination.

Some programs and graduate committees choose to modify the schedule presented here for the committee’s detailed critique of the research project results and dissertation draft, usually with some or all of this moved to the time of the final defense. The graduate committee adviser will inform the candidate on the specific procedures for the final defense and committee input well before the final defense date.


The defense will be conducted in a formal and professional manner. The chair of the student’s graduate committee shall introduce the candidate and outline the defense procedure. The candidate shall then present the doctoral research findings to the committee and public. After the presentation, questions will be invited from all present.

As with the preliminary examination, all graduate committee members, or in cases of necessary absences, pre-approved substitute members, shall participate in the final examination.


After the open question-and-answer period, unless a committee member has requested that the committee reconvene in a closed session, the chair declares that the candidate has successfully defended the doctoral research and declares the defense complete.

If any committee member requests a closed session prior to the end of the question and answer period, the chairman shall dismiss the public audience and immediately convene the committee to decide the next course of action. The committee may recommend further examination, acceptance of the research, rejection of the research, or any other course of action. In the event of failure, a second examination may be permitted. A second failure results in dismissal. The student is to bring GS Form 24 to the final defense for completion and signing by the committee.

Completion of the edited dissertation and its approval by the student’s graduate committee in accordance with Graduate School requirements and its submission to the department and to the Graduate School are the final major steps before graduation.

Research Publication Policy

Candidates for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Civil Engineering, before final submission of their dissertation, must have had the results of their research submitted for publication to refereed journal of international prominence. The paper(s) may be co-authored, but the candidate must be first (principal or senior) author of at least one paper.