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Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering — Qualifying Examination

Procedures for Civil Engineering Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

  1. This exam is for students pursuing the Ph.D. Degree in Civil Engineering and is monitored and administered by the Director of the Civil Engineering Graduate Program.
  2. The primary intent of the Civil Engineering Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is to identify potential weaknesses in a Ph.D. candidate’s background.
  3. Students going directly from the B.S. degree to the Ph.D. degree are recommended to take the written qualifying exam after they have completed five courses in their graduate programs.
  4. Students going from the M.S. degree to the Ph.D. degree are recommended to take the qualifying exam before the beginning of their third semester in the UH graduate program.
  5. The written qualifying exam will be closed-book and offered twice a year, typically on the first Friday after the spring commencement ceremony and two Fridays before the beginning of the spring semester. Students are allowed a maximum of two attempts at the written exam.
  6. Each individual faculty member can submit no more than two questions for a student’s written exam.
  7. Passing criteria:
    • Score ≥ 90%: pass.
    • Score ≥ 50% but < 90%: oral exam required. After administration of the oral exam the student may receive a grade of pass (which may be accompanied by the requirement of additional coursework in specific areas) or a grade of unacceptable. If an unacceptable grade is assigned, the student will be allowed a second attempt at the written exam in the next regularly scheduled qualifying exam period.
    • Score < 50%: unacceptable. Student will be allowed a second attempt at the written exam in the next regularly scheduled qualifying exam period.
    • If an oral exam is required it will be administered by a committee of at least three civil engineering faculty members. The oral exam committee must be submitted to the Civil Graduate Program Director at least 24 hours before the oral exam. The Chair of the Oral Exam Committee will be selected by the Director of Civil Engineering Graduate Program.
    • After the exam(s), the Director of the Civil Engineering Graduate Program will notify students if they have passed, passed with additional requirements, or failed. The Director will also place a memo documenting the student’s performance in the student’s Departmental file.


Core Areas and Exam Format for Ph.D. Candidates in Civil Engineering, including Structural/Mechanics, Hydrosystems/Oceans and Geotechnical Engineering
Core Areas Topics
Engineering Mathematics Ordinary differential equations, partial differential equations, linear algebra, vector calculus
Mechanics of Materials
(Structural/Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering)
Stress-strain relationships (2D and 3D) and transformations, beam theory, shear and torsion, elasticity, plasticity
Fluid Mechanics
Basic governing equations, pipe flow, laminar flow solutions, turbulent channel flow, scalar transport
Specific to Focus Area Determined by each of the three groups (Structural/Mechanics, Hydrosystems/Oceans and Geotechnical Engineering). In Structural/Mechanics, there are two focus areas: Analysis/Dynamics, and Design.


  1. There are four (2 core and 2 focus) areas for Structural/Mechanics group, and three (2 core and 1 focus) areas for Hydrosystems/Oceans and Geotechnical Engineering groups.
  2. There will be two questions from each area.
  3. A student needs to answer four questions from at least three different areas. For instance, students from Structural/Mechanics group might answer four questions from four different areas.
  4. At least one question from each core area should be answered (i.e., at least one from Engineering Mathematics and one from Mechanics of Materials/Fluid Mechanics).
  5. The qualifying exam is a 4-hour exam.