Doctoral Studies

SE Ph.D. Degree Overview:

The Ph.D. program is intended to prepare students for a variety of careers in research, teaching and advanced professional practice in the broad sense of structural engineering, encompassing civil and aerospace structures, earthquake and geotechnical engineering, composites, and engineering mechanics. Depending on the student's background and ability, research is initiated as soon as possible.

All students, in consultation with their Faculty Advisors, develop course programs that will prepare them for the Departmental Qualifying Examination and for their dissertation research. However, these programs of study and research must be planned to meet the time limits established to advance to candidacy and to complete the requirements for the degree.

The department also offers a seminar course each quarter dealing with current research topics in Earthquake Engineering (SE 290). Students must take SE 290 every quarter in the first year of graduate study, and it is strongly recommended to take it for at least one quarter in every subsequent year.

Doctoral Examinations:

A Structural Engineering Ph.D. student is required to pass three examinations.

1. Departmental Qualifying Examination 

The Department Qualifying Examination (DQE) which should be taken within three to six quarters of full-time graduate study (1st year-2nd year) and requires a 3.5 GPA. This examination is intended to determine the student’s ability to successfully pursue a research project at a level appropriate for the doctoral degree.

It is administered by at least three faculty, three of whom must be in Structural Engineering.

The student is responsible for material pertaining to four focus areas. One focus area can be satisfied by course work, provided that all courses in that area have been taken at UCSD, the grade in each course is B or better, and the overall GPA in that area is at least 3.5. It consists of 12 courses (48 units). 

In order to insure appropriate breadth, the focus areas should consist of the following:

(a) two focus areas within Structural Engineering which are closely related to the student's research interests (3 courses for each focus area)

(b) one focus area within Structural Engineering that is not directly related to the student’s area of research (3 courses)

(c) one minor focus area outside the Department of Structural Engineering. Minor areas too closely related to the major areas will not be approved by the SE Graduate Affairs Committee (3 courses). The Solid Mechanics Focus Sequence, which is jointly taught by the Department of Structural Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, cannot be used to satisfy the outside Structural Engineering requirement.

12 courses: 

SE Focus Area 1: 3 courses

SE Focus Area 2: 3 courses 

Breadth Focus Area: 3 courses

Non-SE Focus Area: 3 courses

An update list of focus areas for Ph.D. students is available in the Structural Engineering Graduate Handbook. Students intending to specialize in the emerging areas of structural health monitoring, damage prognosis, and validated simulations are advised to take courses in the focus areas of Advanced Structural Behavior and elective courses MAE 283, MAE 261, ECE 251AN, ECE 251BN, ECE 254, and CSE 291 which can be used to satisfy the outside Structural Engineering requirement.

Since the examination areas must be approved by the Structural Engineering Graduate Affairs Committee, students are advised to seek such approval well before their expected examination date, preferably while planning their graduate studies. Although students are not required to take particular courses in preparation for the Departmental Qualifying Examination, the scope of the examination in each area is associated with a set of three graduate courses, generally in focus areas offered or approved by the department. A candidate can develop a sense of the level of knowledge expected to be demonstrated during the examination by studying the appropriate syllabi and/or discussing the course content with faculty experienced in teaching the courses involved. The Departmental Qualifying Examination may be a written or an oral examination, at the discretion of the committee.

Doctoral students who have passed the Departmental Qualifying Examination may take any course for an S/U grade, with the exception of any course that the student's Departmental Qualifying or Ph.D. Candidacy Examination Committee stipulates must be taken in order to remove a deficiency. It is strongly recommended that all Structural Engineering graduate students take a minimum of two courses (other than research) per academic year after passing the Departmental Qualifying Examination.

2. Ph.D. Advancement to Candidacy Senate Examination 

The Advancement to Candidacy Senate Examination is the second examination required of Structural Engineering doctoral students. In preparation for the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination, students must have completed the Departmental Qualifying Examination and the Departmental Teaching Experience requirement, obtained a faculty research advisor, have identified a topic for their dissertation research, and have made initial progress in that research.

Mentorship and Teaching Experience is required of all Structural Engineering Ph.D. students prior to the Dissertation Defense. The Mentorship and Teaching experience can be satisfied by lecturing one hour per week in either a problem-solving section or laboratory session, for one quarter in an undergraduate course, as designated by the Department. The requirement can be fulfilled by Teaching Assistant service or by undertaking a structured teaching training program for academic credit (through SE 501 and in consultation with the course instructor that quarter). This requirement can also be satisfied by serving as a research mentor to a team of undergraduate or graduate students in a structured, 10-week, environment. Students must contact the Graduate Student Affairs Office in the Department to plan and obtain approval for completion of this requirement.

The committee members should be selected by the student and their faculty advisor.

The committee must consist of 5 members composed of the following: 

SE Faculty Advisor (Chair)
SE Faculty
SE Faculty 
Outside of SE faculty (still within UCSD and tenured or emeritus)
Outside of SE faculty (still within UCSD)                                                                                         



SE Faculty Advisor (Chair)
SE Faculty
SE Faculty 
SE Faculty

Outside SE Faculty within UCSD (has to be Tenured)

If the committee does not issue a unanimous report on the examination, the Dean of Graduate Division shall be called upon to review and present the case for resolution to the Graduate Council, which shall determine appropriate action.

The committee must include at least one tenured or emeritus member from outside the student's major department. For questions concerning the committee email the PhD Academic Advisor or see the Graduate Division website for Appointment of the Doctoral Committee

The committee conducts the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination is an oral examination, during which students must demonstrate the ability to engage in dissertation research. This involves the presentation of a plan for the dissertation research project. A short written document, such as an abstract, describing the research plan must be submitted to each member of the committee at least two weeks before the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination. This requirement can also be met by meeting with the doctoral committee members to discuss the nature of the student’s dissertation research. The committee may ask questions directly or indirectly related to the research project and general questions that it determines to be relevant. Upon successful completion of this examination, students are advanced to candidacy and are awarded the Candidate in the Doctor of Philosophy designation.  

The preferred means to conduct the qualifying exam is when all committee members are physically present. Graduate Council, however, has determined that a doctoral committee member can participate in one of three ways: 1) physically present (meaning they are in the room), 2) telepresent (meaning they participate by live video teleconference), or 3) in advance (if they must be absent on the exam date, it is permissible to examine the candidate in advance of the exam date).

More than half of the doctoral committee must be physically present. No more than two members may be telepresent.  The committee chair, or one co-chair, must be physically present.  The outside tenured member must be physically present or telepresent.  If an emergency situation arises that affects the number of committee members present, the committee chair (or co-chairs) may decide how to proceed. There must be sufficient expertise among present members (either physically or telepresent) to examine the student. 
3. Dissertation Final Defense 

The Dissertation Final Defense is the final Ph.D. examination. Upon completion of the dissertation research project, the student writes a dissertation that must then be successfully defended in an oral examination and public presentation conducted by the doctoral committee. A complete copy of the student's dissertation must be submitted to each member of the doctoral committee at least three weeks before the defense. While the copy of the dissertation handed to the committee is expected to be complete and in final form, it should be noted that students are expected to make changes in the text per direction of the committee as a result of the defense. The form of the final draft must conform to procedures outlined in the publication: Instructions for the Preparation and Submission of the Doctoral Dissertation are located at the provided link. 

Note: There should be 3 quarters between the Advancement to Senate Exam and the Final Defense. 

3 quarters total, which includes the quarter the student officially advances and the quarter they file for graduation. Summer is not included, just the regular academic year. Just for clarification, if you defend in Winter 2021 then the soonest you would be able to defend in Fall 2022. Again, the earliest would be Fall 2022, as long as you are registered in all three quarters.

The final defense/degree paperwork must be signed by ALL Committee members with a "wet signature." It cannot be scanned. 

The student must make two separate appointments with the Graduate Division Office.

The first appointment will be scheduled prior to defending and will cover, in person, formatting of the dissertation, and forms required to graduate. The second appointment is when the candidate submits the dissertation and all final paperwork to the Graduate Division Office.

More information about the Exam Policies can be found on the Graduate Division Website

Upon approval by the Dean of Graduate Division, files the dissertation with the university archivist, who accepts it on behalf of the Graduate Council. Acceptance of the dissertation by the archivist, with a subsequent second approval by the Dean of Graduate Division, represents the final step in the completion by the candidate of all requirements for the doctor of philosophy degree. 

Ph.D. Time Limit Policy:

Time limits are set at the end of a Ph.D. student's first year. 

Pre-Candidacy Time Limit: Pre-candidacy status is limited to four years.

Support Time Limit: Doctoral students are eligible for university support for six years.

Total Registered Time Limit: The defense and submission of the doctoral dissertation must be within seven years.

Spring Evaluations:

In the Spring quarter of each year, department faculty members are required to evaluate their doctoral student's overall performance in coursework, research, and prospects for financial support for future years. A written assessment is given to the student after the evaluation. If a student's work is found to be inadequate, the Faculty Advisor may determine that the student cannot continue in the graduate program.

Faculty Advisor:

Ph.D students are placed with a Faculty Advisor (also known as research advisor/faculty advisor/PI) during the admissions process.