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Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Pavements researchers

The Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering is given for distinguished academic accomplishment in which a student displays original scholarship and achievement. To earn the Ph.D., you must exhibit broad mastery of the field by passing a comprehensive examination.  You must also prove your ability to design and complete a program of original research by preparing a dissertation that adds to existing knowledge in your field.

Areas of specialization

Our department offers five areas of specialization for civil and environmental engineering students:

  1. Earthquake and structural engineering
  2. Geotechnical engineering
  3. Pavements and materials engineering
  4. Transportation engineering
  5. Environmental engineering

Faculty specialize in a number of research topics within those fields. Please visit our faculty listings for more information on research specialties.

Degree Requirements

There are four main requirements for the Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering.

  1. Coursework requirements: You must complete core and elective coursework. Specific courses will be determined with the help of your advisory committee.
  2. Qualifying exams: Within the first year of your program, you must pass a qualifying exam covering core areas within your field of specialty.
  3. Comprehensive exams: Ideally, your comprehensive exam is taken as soon as possible after completing course requirements. This exam, which has both an oral and written component, is designed to test your mastery of a broad field of knowledge within civil and environmental engineering and isn't restricted to coursework that you've completed. The written exam is designed by faculty within your area of specialization, and the oral exam is given by your advisory committee. Passing this exam allows you to advance to Ph.D. candidacy.
  4. Dissertation: Your dissertation represents an original and independent research project that makes a contribution to scientific knowledge in your field. It should reflect both the ability to select an important problem for investigation and mastery of research techniques. Your dissertation must be successfully defended in front of your advisory committee.

Advisory Committee

Your advisory committee plays a key role in guiding you along the path toward your Ph.D. 

Your advisory committee will help you develop your program of study, which is the specific list of courses and credits taken to meet degree requirements. Your committee will also supervise your dissertation research, review your research proposal and administer your comprehensive exams.

Your committee must consist of at least five faculty members, three of which must be from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, one from a related department and one from the University at large as a Graduate School Representative.

Ph.D. Program Progression

  1. Complete qualifying exams.
    Deadline: Within first year.
  2. Establish advisory/examining committee.
    Deadline: After qualifying exams and 12 credits.
  3. Prepare research proposal for examining committee.
    Deadline: Within two-three years.
  4. Submit program of study form.
  5. Complete comprehensive exams.
    Deadline: After completing 75 percent of coursework.
  6. Complete coursework and research.
  7. Apply for graduation.
    Deadline: During final semester.
  8. Defend dissertation.
    Deadline: During final semester.


Admission to the Ph.D. program requires a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field such as biology, chemistry, math or physics. Other disciplines will be considered provided prerequisite courses in math, science and basic engineering are completed. Additionally, applicants should meet the following minimum standards:

  • GPA of 3.25
  • Combined verbal and quantitative GRE scores of 302
  • For international students only: 550 TOEFL (Pbt) score or 79 TOEFL (IBT) score or 6.5 IELTS score

Applicants should also submit three letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose with their application.

How to Apply


Contact Dr. David Sanders, Graduate Director, at

Deadline for applications and fellowship consideration is January 15 for Fall Semester enrollment and September 1 for enrollment during Spring Semester.

Applicants must apply through the University's Graduate School. For more information on graduate school requirements and the admissions process, please visit their website.

Graduate recruitment weekend

For spring applicants wishing to enroll during fall semesters, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department holds a recruitment weekend for invited domestic applicants, typically in late March or early April. Students participating in the weekend will have an opportunity to:

  • Meet one-on-one with program faculty and researchers
  • Meet our students and attend a poster session on current research
  • Tour the laboratories and campus
  • Learn about program curricula and graduate assistantships

All costs, including travel and lodging, will be paid by the Department.

The recruitment weekend is an excellent chance to meet your graduate advisors and see what the graduate experience at Nevada is like. We can't wait to meet you there. 

Financial support

Almost all of our Ph.D. students receive some form of funding. Funding packages available to graduate students include teaching or research assistantships. Awards are made on the basis of scholarship and promise for outstanding achievement. The applicant's grade point average, GRE scores, statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation are the primary means used to allocate financial aid for graduate students.

Housing Options

The University offers on-campus housing for graduate students. Visit the graduate housing website to learn more about living at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Related Degrees and Programs

Contact Civil and Environmental Engineering

Phone (775) 784-6937
Fax (775) 784-1390
Location Scrugham Engineering and Mines
Address University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557

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