Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering (PhD) program is an advanced research-based graduate program for students who wish to pursue a program of independent research in Civil Engineering. The Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering is available in the following areas of specialization:

• Civil Engineering Materials
• Environmental Fluid Mechanics
• Environmental Systems Engineering
• Geo-Environmental Engineering
• Geotechnical Engineering
• Hydrotechnical Engineering
• Project & Construction Management
• Structural & Earthquake Engineering
• Transportation Engineering

Note that the specialization does not appear on the degree parchment or on the transcript. Successful completion of the PhD degree requires the completion of 30 credits of coursework beyond the Bachelor's degree, subject to various constraints and requirements as provided below, as well as a PhD thesis. For further information, please contact the Civil Engineering Graduate Support Office.

University Policies and Regulations

All students should be aware of the relevant campus-wide Policies and Regulations within the University Calendar, including the Statement on Academic Freedom.  They should also be aware of the relevant University Policies, giving particular attention to: Policy 85 - Scholarly Integrity; Policy 87 - Research; Policy 88 - Patents and Licensing; and Policy 97 - Conflict of Interest.

Faculty Policies and Regulations

The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) is responsible for the PhD program, and its policies and regulations apply to the program.  Students should review and be aware of these as may be relevant.  A summary is given in the University Calendar (see Academic Regulations).  Additional information is available through the G+PS website.

Research Supervisor

All PhD students must arrange for a faculty member to serve as the Research Supervisor within six months of initial registration in the PhD program. The principal roles of the Research Supervisor are to provide guidance on the selection of coursework, to collaborate on and supervise the research effort, and to provide guidance on preparation of the PhD thesis.  On occasion, a student may be co-supervised by two faculty members.

Prior to the first six months of initial registration in the PhD program, the student may be assigned an interim supervisor, usually the Specialty Advisor.  If the Research Supervisor is on study leave or other leave exceeding two months, it is recommended that an interim co-supervisor be appointed.

Supervisory Committee

Each student's program is overseen by a Supervisory Committee comprised at least three members, including the Research Supervisor who normally chairs the committee.  Preferably, the committee should include one member from outside the Department, who need not be a member of G+PS. The Committee is established by the Research Supervisor in consultation with the Graduate Advisor, within 6 months of the student’s registration in the PhD program, and its membership requires the approval of G+PS.

Coursework Requirements

The PhD program requires completion of at least 30 credits of coursework beyond the Bachelor’s degree level, and successful completion of a PhD thesis (CIVL 699) (which itself carries no academic credit).  Most students would typically count 18 credits from the preceding Master’s degree coursework, leaving only 12 credits of coursework to be taken within the PhD program itself.

The 30 credits of coursework are subject to the following requirements:

  • 500 level courses.  A minimum of 24 credits of graduate level course (numbered 5XX) courses must be completed, of which at least 12 credits must be in Civil Engineering (labeled CIVL 5XX).
  • CIVL 597.  All students are required to register once in the appropriate section of CIVL 597 Graduate Seminar (1 credit, Pass/Fail mark); however, they are encouraged to attend the seminar series (without subsequent registration) throughout their time in the program.
  • CIVL 592.  A maximum of 6 credits may be taken through CIVL 592 Directed Studies.
  • CIVL 598.  A maximum of 6 credits may be taken through CIVL 598 Topics in Civil Engineering.  (These are courses that have not yet been approved by the University Senate.)
  • 300/ 400 Level Courses.  A maximum of 6 credits of 300 or 400 level courses may be taken.
  • 100/200 Level Courses.  100/200 level courses may not be used for credit towards the program.
  • Specialization Requirements.  Coursework requirements specific to each area of specialization may be found under Areas of Specialization.

Students are required to obtain approval of their course selection from their Specialty Advisor or the Research Supervisor.

Coursework Regulations

Coursework Plan.  Prior to registering in any courses, all PhD students are required to consult with the Research Supervisor or Specialty Advisor regarding a Coursework Plan, and thereby secure approval of the Plan.   The student should initially develop a draft plan that lists the proposed courses and schedule, taking account of course availability (not all courses are offered every year) and term in which they are given (see Course Schedule), and may take account of core course substitutions and course exemptions in the manner indicated below.  This will assure adherence to course credit requirements, coursework regulations, an appropriate course load and selection, and no scheduling conflicts.

Minimum Course Marks.  A minimum of 68% is required in each course used for credit. Supplemental examinations are not granted to graduate students: a course in which a grade of less than 60% is obtained may be repeated for a higher standing, subject to approval of the Department and G+PS. A student who obtains a grade of less than 68% in more than 3 credits, or who achieves an overall average of less than 80% in coursework taken in the PhD program, will normally be required to withdraw for inadequate academic progress.

Course Exemptions.  Transfer credits are not granted to PhD students.  Instead, they may be granted exemptions towards the 30-credit requirement based on previous courses taken.  A student who has completed graduate courses while enrolled in another UBC department or another university, will have course requirements assessed on an individual basis by the Research Supervisor: exemptions may be granted for a maximum of 18 credits of coursework, for courses with a standing of at least 74%, subject to approval of the Department and G+PS.

Core Course Substitutions.  A Core Course may be substituted by an elective course if the equivalent course has already been taken.

Selection of Elective Courses.  Elective Courses may be selected from the list of Approved Elective Courses for the relevant specialization, CIVL 592 (which needs to be arranged with a particular instructor), a relevant CIVL 598 section (if available) and/or other courses including 300/400 level undergraduate courses and courses outside Civil Engineering.  However, beyond the Approved Elective Courses, the final selection of elective courses requires the approval of the Specialty Advisor, typically at the time of Coursework Plan approval.  At all times, Department-wide course credit requirements and constraints need to be strictly adhered to.

PhD Thesis

All PhD students should register and maintain registration in CIVL 699 Doctoral Dissertation in order to complete the PhD thesis.  The thesis is prepared under the guidance of the Research Supervisor.  In order to complete the thesis, PhD students are required to successfully complete the following four milestones:

  • Comprehensive Exam
  • Proposal Defence
  • Advancement to Candidacy
  • Thesis Defence

These are outlined in turn:

Comprehensive Examination.  A student needs to complete successfully the Comprehensive Examination in order to commence with preparation of a Thesis Proposal.  The purpose of the examination is to evaluate the student’s comprehension of scientific and engineering principles in the chosen field of study, as well as the potential for independent and original research.  The examination can only be taken after completing the 30-credit coursework requirement, and must be taken within 24 months of initial registration in the program.  The examination comprises a take-home written examination, followed by an in-camera oral examination that may extend up to three hours.  A Comprehensive Examination Committee conducts the examination in accordance with Department Guidelines.   The Committee is comprised of a chair appointed by the Associate Head, the Research Supervisor and at least two other members as determined by the Research Supervisor in consultation with the Associate Head. The Chair conveys the Committee's recommendations in writing to the Associate Head for transmittal to G+PS.

Proposal Defence.  Upon successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination, the student prepares a Research Proposal for the thesis that must be approved by the Supervisory Committee.  The format of the proposal defense and its evaluation vary between each area of specialization. Accordingly, the student is required to consult with the Research Supervisor on the development of the proposal.

Advancement to Candidacy.  Upon successful completion of all required coursework, the comprehensive examination and the proposal defence, the student may be admitted to candidacy through the submission and approval of the relevant G+PS form.  All doctoral students must be admitted to candidacy within 36 months of initial registration in the PhD program. 

Thesis Defence.  For detailed information on the final doctoral examination, including appointment of the External Examiner, the constitution of the Examination Committee, and the oral defence, refer to Final Doctoral Examination.

Part-Time Status, Leaves of Absence and Program Duration

PhD students are considered full-time, and may not apply for part-time status.  They may apply for leaves of absence during the program, and any such leave, if granted, does not count towards the total duration limitations of the program.  PhD students will be expected to spend the equivalent of at least two consecutive years of fulltime study at the University, although completion of the program typically takes a minimum of three years.  The PhD program must be completed within 6 years of initial registration.

Financial Support

Information on University awards and scholarships can be found at Award Opportunities for Current Students.  Information on financial support made available through the Department of Civil Engineering can be found at Graduate Funding Opportunities.  Most commonly, a PhD student's financial support arises through a Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) administered by the Department of Civil Engineering.

Thesis Completion and Degree Application

Thesis Completion.  For detailed information on thesis preparation, refer to: Dissertation & Thesis Preparation.  Normally, early drafts of the PhD thesis are prepared with guidance from the Research Supervisor, who must agree to its technical content and findings.  In preparing the final draft, the thesis should be circulated to all other members of the Supervisory Committee for comments and suggestions.  Upon receiving a recommendation from the Supervisory Committee, the Department Head gives approval that the thesis is ready to be submitted for examination.

Final Doctoral Examination.  For detailed information on the final doctoral examination, including the appointment of the External Examiner, the constitution of the Examination Committee, and the oral defence, refer to Final Doctoral Examination.

Thesis Submission.  Upon a successful defence of the thesis and approval by the Examination Committee, the student should arrange for the submission of completed and signed G+PS Dissertation Approval Form, and the thesis should then be submitted electronically following the relevant G+PS Instructions.   The thesis needs to be approved by G+PS before a student is eligible to graduate.  When the thesis meets all G+PS requirements, it will be added to the UBC Library's cIRcle Institutional Repository.  The submitted thesis must be complete and accurate – it cannot be subsequently changed and re-submitted. IMPORTANT: If a student wishes that the thesis to be delayed from publication, G+PS approval must be obtained before thesis submission.

Degree Application

Upon the completion of program requirements, a PhD candidate must apply for graduation by submitting an Application for Graduation form, and immediately thereafter inform the Civil Engineering Graduate Support Office.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Students are responsible for ensuring that their program registration is complete, that all fees have been paid and that they meet all course requirements for the program. If you have any questions of clarification please contact the Civil Engineering Graduate Support Office.