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.

Note that the specialization does not appear on the degree parchment or on the transcript.

University Policies and Regulations

All students should also 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 LR2 – Research; Policy LR11 – Inventions; Policy SC6 – Scholarly Integrity; and Policy SC3 – Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment.

Faculty Policies and Regulations

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

Research Supervisor

All PhD students will need to arrange for a Research Supervisor who will guide them through the program within the first six months of the initial registration. The principal roles of the Research Supervisor are to provide direction on the selection of coursework, to collaborate on and supervise the research effort, and to provide guidance on preparation of the thesis. On occasion, a student may be co-supervised by two faculty members. Any students who have been enrolled in our program for two terms and still do not have a research supervisor need to contact the Graduate Advisor immediately.

Prior to identifying a Research Supervisor, 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

PhD students require a formal Supervisory Committee comprised of at least three members, including the Research Supervisor who normally chairs the committee. The Supervisory Committee is established by the Research Supervisor in consultation with the Graduate Advisor, preferably within 6 months of initial registration and no later than the date of the comprehensive examination member of G+PS. Regular annual progress reports are to be prepared by the student and submitted to the supervisory committee for approval.

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:

  • Graduate level courses. A minimum of 24 credits of graduate level courses must be completed in Civil Engineering or relevant fields as approved by the research supervisor.
  • 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
  • Advancement to Candidacy
  • Thesis Defence

These are outlined in turn:

Comprehensive Exam. 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. The guidelines and forms required are available here.

Advancement to Candidacy. Once the comprehensive exam is successfully completed, the student is admitted to candidacy through the submission and approval of the relevant G+PS form. All doctoral students must be admitted to candidacy within 24 months of initial registration in the PhD program.

Thesis Defence. 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.

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 full time 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.

Students may apply for a leave of absence to have time away from their academic responsibilities. Leave is granted for personal, health, professional, or other reasons. Leave, not including parental leave or leave to pursue concurrent programs, is limited to two years for PhD students. A leave will normally begin on the September 1, January 1 or May 1, and will extend for a period of four, eight, or twelve months.

Leaves of Absence. Both the Department and G+PS must approve all leaves of absence, and requests for leaves for medical reasons must be accompanied by a doctor’s note recommending the leave. It is understood that students with on-leave status will not undertake any academic or research work, or use any University facilities during the period of leave. Students must inform the University immediately upon return. Building access requests during leaves will be denied. The time spent on leave is not counted as part of the allowed time for completion of the degree.

Students granted a leave-of-absence or parental leave retain the full value of any fellowship or award whose terms and conditions are established by G+PS. However, award payments will be suspended at the onset of the leave and reinstated at the termination of the leave period, provided the student then returns to full-time study. Other awards will be paid in accordance to the conditions established by the donor or granting agency.

Parental Leave. Any graduate student who is welcoming a child into their family is eligible for parental leave. Students are permitted a leave of between 4 and 12 months.


Extenuating circumstances may justify additional time to complete the degree program. A request for a one-year extension must be justified and supported by the student’s Research Supervisor, but this requires a compelling rationale. A second year’s extension requires a compelling rationale from the Research Supervisor and an explanation of the special circumstances that would justify the exception. All extension requests must be made through the Department by emailing and must include a schedule showing how the thesis will be completed in the period requested. Extensions will not be granted beyond two years.

Transfer between Programs

PhD to MEng/MASc. Students may apply to transfer from doctoral to master’s programs. For more information, please see Transfer Degree or Program.

Program transfers involving other Departments. Such program transfers are possible if the original and intended disciplines are closely related. Otherwise, if the intended transfer is to a distinct discipline, then it is treated as a new admission.

Transfer of Specializations. It is also possible to transfer between specializations within the same program. Transfer requests will be considered after completion of Term 1 courses.

The following requirements relate to the various transfers:

  • All transfers must be supported by a strong rationale relating to the student’s personal or professional goals and a review of the student’s academic qualifications.
  • All transfers need be approved by the current and intended Research Supervisors / Specialty Advisors and the Graduate Advisor.
  • The effective date of transfer must correspond with the beginning of a term, and must not be earlier than the beginning of the term in which the transfer is recommended.
  • A program transfer does not change the maximum time allowed for completion of degree program, so that the start date of the intended program is taken as the start date of the original program.
  • Transfers between programs involving a change of discipline are treated as new admissions.
  • Bear in mind that transfers between programs may have implications for student funding.

Additional information is available on the G+PS website. The relevant forms, which indicating the supporting materials and approvals required, are available here.

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.