Doctor of Philosophy


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: 

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 Civil Engineering Graduate Support.

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 completion of the PhD degree.
  • Specialization Requirements: Coursework requirements specific to each area of specialization must be satisfied and may be found under Research Areas.

Students are required to obtain approval of their course selection from their Research Supervisor.

Coursework Regulations

CourseworkPlan. All PhD students are required to secure the approval of a Coursework Plan from their Research Supervisor or Specialty Advisor. Students should initially develop a draft plan that lists the proposed courses and schedule, taking into account course availability (not all courses are offered every year) and term in which they are offered (see Course Schedule), as well as the below considerations. The aim of the coursework plan is to help students ensure adherence to course credit requirements, coursework regulations, an appropriate course load, and avoidance of scheduling conflicts.

Minimum Course Marks. A minimum grade of 68% is required in each course used for credit. However, a maximum of 6 credits with grades between 60 and 67% may be accepted for credit, if the candidate has an average greater than or equal to 68% in all coursework. 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. A student who obtains a grade of less than 68% in more than 6 credits 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 Research Supervisor, 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 Dissertation

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
  • Advancement to Candidacy
  • Dissertation Defence

These are outlined in turn: 

Comprehensive Examination.Each Ph.D. Candidate in Civil Engineering is required to present in writing, and to defend orally, a research proposal. The purpose of the research proposal and its subsequent oral examination is to demonstrate to the Candidate’s supervisory committee that the Candidate has the knowledge and ability to pursue a Ph.D. in their chosen field. The Comprehensive Examination will include questions of a fundamental nature that are relevant to the proposed research topic. All candidates shall complete the research proposal and schedule the oral examination within 24 months of starting their Ph.D. program. The Comprehensive Exam cannot be held until a student has successfully completed their coursework. Written letters need to be submitted to the graduate advisor from the student and their supervisor if an extension for the comprehensive exam is required for special cases, with a maximum of one-year extension.

A Comprehensive Examination Committee conducts the examination in accordance with Department Guidelines. The Committee is comprised of a chair appointed by the Graduate Advisor, the Research Supervisor and at least two other members as determined by the Research Supervisor in consultation with the Graduate Advisor. The Chair conveys the Committee’s recommendations in writing to the Associate Head for transmittal to G+PS. 

Advancement to Candidacy. Upon successful completion of all required coursework, the comprehensive examination and the proposal defense, 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. 

Dissertation Defense.  For detailed information on the final doctoral examination, including appointment of the External Examiner, the constitution of the Examination Committee, and the oral defense, 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.