Ph. D. Degree

The requirements of the Graduate School for the Ph.D. degree may be found under the Graduate School website

If a student is admitted to the Ph.D. program with only a B.S. degree, at least 30 credits of coursework are required. If the student has a M.S. degree, the minimum requirement is 15 credits. However, if the M.S. degree is in a field other than Environmental Engineering, the ENVE Graduate Admissions committee will determine the minimum number of credits required for coursework. All Ph.D. students are required to take or demonstrate proficiency in the following courses prior to taking the General Exam:

  • ENVE 5310 Environmental Transport Phenomena
  • ENVE 5320 Quantitative Methods for Engineers
  • ENVE 5210 Environmental Engineering Chemistry
  • ENVE 5810 Hydrometeorology
  • ENVE 5821 Vadose Zone Hydrology OR ENVE 5540 Design of Groundwater Systems

The advisory committee may substitute the above with equivalent courses. The remaining credits may be taken in one of the three areas of concentration described previously. No more than 6 credits of 3000 or 4000 level courses may be used towards the degree. When the student has completed 18 credits of course work a Plan of Study has to be filed with the Graduate School (download from and choose Plan of Study for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy).

General Examination

The Qualifying Examination is taken after the student has completed at least 12 credits of coursework (with a M.S.) or 18 credits of coursework (with a B.S.) and is considered the first part of the General Examination. The program administers the examination twice a year, in January and in May. An approved Plan of Study must be filed with the Graduate School before the Qualifying Examination can be taken. The Environmental Engineering Program administers the Qualifying Examination as both a written and an oral examination to test student mastery of core environmental engineering concepts and student ability to integrate concepts across disciplinary areas.

Part two of the General Examination is taken at most one year after the Qualifying examination. The student will prepare a dissertation proposal that outlines the proposed research for the dissertation. The student will defend their proposal in an oral examination to a minimum of five faculty, including all members of their advisory committee.

The purpose of the oral examination is to test student mastery of core environmental engineering concepts and student ability to integrate concepts across disciplinary areas.

Qualifying Examination (Part 1 of the General Exam)

We expect PhD candidates to critically review the literature and then develop their own research plan to address a novel question and move that area of work forward. In order to do that, you should be able to:

  1. Understand the literature that places the work in context and identify gaps in knowledge.
  2. Clearly state research objectives and hypotheses.
  3. Develop an experimental plan to test those hypotheses on the basis of your theoretical understanding.
  4. Consider multiple lines of evidence and approaches to interpret the results of your experimental plan.
  5. Place the work in a broader context.

The qualifying examination is meant to test whether you are prepared to address the critical review of the literature on the basis of your understanding of environmental engineering fundamentals related to your lines of research.

Students will be provided a research article relevant to their research specialization area, selected by the faculty in conjunction with the student’s main advisor. They will have one week to prepare a presentation to explain the context, purpose, approach, and results of the research, showcasing their understanding of environmental engineering fundamentals as well as research skills. Students will present this research to an examining committee consisting of three voting faculty members, as well as their primary advisor. The primary advisor will not vote on the outcome of the exam and will leave the room prior to the vote. Students should be prepared to:

  1. Clearly present the technical work to a broad audience of faculty.
  2. Answer questions related to the fundamental environmental engineering concepts that frame the context and approach to the research.
  3. Justify that the experimental design is appropriate to meet the stated objectives and discuss any trade-offs.
  4. Answer questions about interpretation of the results, whether empirical or modeled, based on fundamental environmental engineering concepts.
  5. Critique the research and consider alternative approaches or areas to improve.

Students should prepare their presentation in powerpoint and may use the white board or electronic device during the examination to answer questions. Students are allowed to bring up to 5 pages of notes with them to the examination.

Students will be assessed on the clarity of their presentation, their understanding of relevant environmental engineering fundamentals, and their understanding of the research approach and results. The committee will decide whether the student (1) has passed the examination, (2) should re-take the examination, or (3) failed without the possibility to re-take. Outcome (3) requires a unanimous vote.

A student can take the qualifying exam twice, if the examination committee allows for a re-take. In the re-take, the committee will decide whether the student has passed or failed the examination by majority vote. If a student fails the qualifying exam both times, they are deemed unqualified to pursue a Ph.D. and are dismissed from the program. Students dismissed may acquire an M.S. degree upon fulfillment of the appropriate requirements.

Preparation for the Qualifying Examination:

In preparation for this examination and your future dissertation proposal, you should be reading the literature with a critical eye. You should be aware of the tradeoffs and uncertainty with the research approaches used. You should be able to interpret the results in a paper even without the author’s written results and discussion sections. You should be able to critique the methodology and interpretation of the data.

To prepare for this exam, it is a good idea to read critically a variety of research papers to ensure you can understand, interpret and critique the work using your knowledge of fundamental environmental engineering concepts as well as research skills. You can consider the following in your assessments:

Do you understand how the literature adequately places the work in context, identifies a knowledge gap, and leads to the stated objectives and hypothesis? You may need to review fundamental course content or read a few key cited papers to aid in your understanding.

Is the experimental approach appropriate to meet the stated objectives and/or hypothesis? Are the methods chosen appropriate? Do you understand the theoretical underpinnings based on fundamental environmental engineering concepts? What are the tradeoffs? How is uncertainty handled?

Can you interpret the figures and tables on your own, without the author’s interpretation? Are there other lines of evidence that would be useful? Can you explain in your own words the evidence the authors use from their own work and other cited work, to support the stated conclusions?

What questions are addressed and/or emerge from this research?

As you read the research literature in your coursework or with your advisor for ongoing research, these are areas that you will become proficient in over time.

Dissertation Proposal (Part 2 of the General Exam)

The dissertation proposal is a document that outlines the proposed research for the dissertation and has to be compiled and approved before the research is well underway. It is recommended that the dissertation proposal is submitted for approval within one year after a student passes the Qualifying Exam. The proposal consists of the submission of a written document to the advisory committee and an oral presentation to the committee. The written proposal and the appropriate form must be submitted to the Graduate School for approval. The Dissertation Proposal form is signed by the advisory committee and the ENVE Program Director. Instructions for the preparation of the proposal are provided in the form.

In general, the dissertation proposal addresses the following questions:

  • What is the hypothesis/scientific question that drives the proposed research?
  • Why is the problem significant?
  • How will the research address the research hypothesis?

A suggested outline for a Dissertation Proposal includes:

  1. Introduction (~1 page): general introduction of the problem statement and the proposed scope of the research
  2. Background (3-5 pages): literature review of specific scientific problem and potentially presentation of general scientific principles and tools required to address it (e.g. overview of statistical tools or analytical methods central to the research)
  3. Materials and Methods (3-5 pages): description of materials (if pertinent), data collection methods, and experimental, analytical or numerical methods that will be employed in the research. Addressing the rationale behind the methodology and addressing potential weaknesses and pitfalls is essential in this part.
  4. Expected Results (1-2 pages): the synthesis of individual methods and approaches towards addressing the central question or hypothesis should be addressed here.
  5. Work plan/Timetable
  6. References

Checklist for Dissertation Proposal

  • Prepare document
  • Schedule presentation
  • Obtain signatures from advisory committee and ENVE Program Director on Dissertation Proposal Form
  • Submit Form and Proposal document to the Graduate School

Dissertation Research and Thesis Requirements

A doctoral student, in conjunction with his/her major advisor, forms an advisory committee consisting of the major advisor and at least two (but in most cases four) associate advisors with suitable academic or scientific credentials. This committee oversees and mentors the student throughout the duration of the student’s degree track. Members of the committee must be active participants in each milestone event and their original signatures of approval are required on all Graduate School necessary documents.

The topic of the dissertation research is agreed upon by the major advisor and the Ph.D. student. If the student is funded by a Research Assistantship, the topic of the research project and the dissertation may, but not necessarily, overlap. The research should be original and eventually published in peer-review journals. As a requirement for graduation, a Ph.D. student must have three journal papers: one published or accepted for publication, one under review and one in the final stages of preparation. However, it is important that the three papers address a larger, coherent research question (as outlined in the Dissertation Proposal below) and they are not isolated bodies of work.

Additional information on the Dissertation Proposal content and formatting may be found in the Graduate Handbook.

Candidacy, Dissertation Preparation, and Final Oral Defense

There are three typical requirements for a student to become a formal candidate for the Ph.D. degree:

  • Approval of Plan of Study
  • Passing the General Exam
  • Approval of Dissertation Proposal by Graduate Faculty Council

Information on the dissertation preparation and scheduling of the oral defense is provided at

Dissertation Preparation

The dissertation may conform to one of two general formats:

  1. Traditional outline, with chapters that may include
  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Materials and Methods
  4. Results and Discussion
  5. Conclusions and Recommendations
  6. References
  1. Compilation of journal paper manuscripts

In this case, each journal paper is a separate chapter, with its contents presented as sub-chapters. An introductory chapter and a conclusions chapter should be prepared in addition to the manuscripts. These will explain the common thread between the papers, in terms of rationale and methodology (introductory chapter) and big-picture conclusions and recommendations (conclusion chapter).

The graduation requirement of the ENVE program to produce three journal papers (one accepted/published, one in review and one in final preparation) renders option B more attractive. However, the format of the dissertation results from the agreement between the major advisor and the Ph.D. candidate.

An electronic and one printed copy of the dissertation have to be submitted to the Graduate School. Information is supplied in the Dissertation Submission Checklist form and in the Digital Commons website

Formatting guidelines are provided in

Oral Defense

Before you can schedule the oral defense, you have to obtain tentative dissertation approval from all members of the advisory committee. It is advised that you circulate the working draft of the dissertation at least one month prior to the desired defense date, as at least two weeks are required to announce the defense and another to weeks should be extended to the committee for review.

The oral defense of the dissertation must be announced publically by means of the University’s online Events Calendar at least two (2) weeks prior to the date of the defense.  For announcements, contact Althea Lozefski. You should be book CAST 306 well in advance to insure availability. Provide Althea with the title, date and time, advisory committee member list and abstract for the defense. For the UConn Events Calendar, directions are provided in the Dissertation Information link provided above.

At this time, electronic tentative approval of the dissertation and an electronic working copy of the entire dissertation must be filed with The Graduate School.

Not fewer than five (5) members of the faculty, including all members of the candidate’s advisory committee, must participate in the final examination.

The oral defense entails three sections:

  • Oral presentation of the dissertation contents (~45 min)
  • Questions from the general public attending (~15 min)
  • Questions from the advisory committee in closed session (~30 min).

Following the last section, the candidate is excused and the committee convenes to decide on the outcome of the defense. The decision to pass the oral defense must be unanimous. The successful candidate should have ready the following documents to obtain signatures from all committee members:

  • Two copies of the cover page of the dissertation, printed on white 25% cotton 20 or 24 lb paper.
  • Two copies of the Report on the final Examination Report. One copy will be submitted to the Graduate School and one will be retained by your major advisor.