Sep 21, 2021  
2020-2021 Graduate Catalog 
    
2020-2021 Graduate Catalog [Not Current Academic Year. Consult with Your Academic Advisor for Your Catalog Year]

Environmental Engineering, PhD


Cullen College of Engineering  > Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering  > Environmental Engineering, PhD


The Environmental Engineering Program of the University of Houston is an interdisciplinary graduate engineering program within the Cullen College of Engineering, administratively housed in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Program and its faculty are internationally known for their research and teaching in water, wastewater, microbiology, nano- and biotechnologies, bioremediation, soil and hazardous waste treatment and modeling, and airborne particulates. The emphasis of study and research is placed on municipal and industrial water and wastewater treatment, water reuse, hazardous-waste management, and groundwater restoration with elective courses in the fields of air pollution modeling, measurement and control, engineering management, business and public policy, environmental law, water resources engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, biochemistry and geosciences.

In addition to continued study of a broad range of environmental engineering fundamentals, candidates for the doctoral degree enjoy intensive exposure to a specific field of environmental engineering research.  Individual research is the major focal point for doctoral students, who are expected to expand the frontiers of knowledge in their area of endeavor.  Moreover, candidates learn and experience the general philosophy, methods, and concepts of research and scholarly inquiry.  Acceptance into the full-time Ph.D. program is generally accompanied by financial support.

A fast-track Ph.D. program (B.S. to Ph.D.), available to undergraduate students upon completion of a bachelor’s degree within that program, is also available in Environmental Engineering.

Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly selective.  Satisfying the minimum admission requirements does not guarantee admission.  All applicants must be approved by the Environmental Engineering Admissions Committee and the Associate Dean of Engineering for Graduate Programs.  Since a research dissertation is required of all Ph.D. candidates, it is highly recommended that a prospective Ph.D. student contact individual faculty members whose research programs are of interest and a match to the student’s skill sets to discuss the possibility of performing research under their guidance.

Admission Requirements (B.S. to Ph.D.)


  • A BS degree in engineering or in a science related to engineering from an accredited college or university or the foreign equivalent of an accredited American BS or MS degree in engineering. Non-engineers with degrees in related fields may be considered for admission after certain prerequisite courses are completed. A list of pre-requisites and leveling courses can be found on the Information for Non-Engineers page. Applicants with non-science bachelor’s degrees in fields such as technology, management, business, and the arts must obtain an accredited engineering degree before applying.
  • A minimum grade point average (GPA) of “B”, i.e., 3.0 on a 4.0 scale on the last 60 hours of course work attempted.
  • Satisfactory scores on the General Aptitude test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The Quantitative + Verbal scores combined should be at least 1100 using the prior GRE scale (Verbal minimum is 450 and Quantitative minimum is 650) or 301 using the current GRE scale (Verbal minimum is 150 and Quantitative minimum is 151); however, this does not guarantee admission.
  • The applicant must meet English language proficiency requirements, either via degree completion in the US or another certified English-speaking nation, or via submission of TOEFL/IELTS scores. Full details are found on the International Graduate Students page.
  • Complete application & payment of application fee ($25 domestic/$75 international) must be completed via the online application found on the How to Apply to UH Graduate School page.

Admission Requirements (MS to PhD)


  • Met the requirements listed above for BS to PhD
  • Completed an MS degree with thesis in Chemical, Environmental, or Civil Engineering with an Environmental emphasis with a GPA of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale from an ABET- accredited engineering program or a foreign equivalent thereof.  A copy of the title page, signature page, and thesis abstract as well as excellent letters of reference from faculty familiar with the research must be submitted with the application.

Degree Requirements


Credit hours required for this degree: 52.0

The Ph.D. degree requires 52 credit hours of approved study beyond the M.S. degree. These requirements translate to a minimum of 24 credit hours of organized course work (eight 3-credit non-research courses) beyond the Master’s Degree plus 28 hours of Ph.D. research and dissertation. It is also possible to obtain the Ph.D. degree without obtaining the M.S. degree (a total of 14 3-credit non-research courses are required for this option). A maximum of 100 credit hours as a Ph.D. student also applies. After 100 hours, the student is no longer eligible for the lower, Texas-Resident Tuition.

A Post-M.S. student becomes a Ph.D. student after passing the qualifying examination, which is usually taken after two semesters in residence (three semesters for B. S. to Ph. D. option). The qualifying exam consists of a critical review of a manuscript published in the peer-reviewed literature, and related to the student’s research area chosen by the chairman of the student’s dissertation committee. The student has 10 calendar days to write a comprehensive critique of the article and then, approximately two weeks after submitting the written critique to the examination committee (consisting of the core faculty members) the student presents and defends the critique in front of the committee. The result is pass (excellent, good or fair) or fail (poor). The examination may be retaken once.

After the student has completed 1-2 years of course work and preliminary research, they prepare a formal research proposal as their Candidacy Exam and select a dissertation committee consisting of a chair, two program faculty members and two faculty members from outside the CEE Department. Members are chosen by agreement between the student, the chair, and the potential member. All committee appointments must be approved by the Program Director and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. A candidacy examination consists of a formal proposal presentation and defense in front of the dissertation committee. The result is pass or fail. If the result is pass, the Ph.D. student becomes a Ph.D. Candidate. Even with a pass, the committee may point out deficiencies in the proposed research and recommend additional course work or require that specific experiments be completed. The exam may be retaken once.

After completing the research and writing the dissertation, the candidate defends the dissertation in a public meeting of the committee, interested faculty, staff, and students. The result is pass or fail with a pass usually being accompanied by recommended changes to the final draft.

Although all graduate students must maintain a “B” average (GPA 3.0), a Doctoral student should aim for a GPA of 3.5.

Academic Policies


Regulations for Comprehensive Screening Examination

  • The qualifying exam may be taken any time after core coursework or equivalent has been completed. Student’s graduate GPA at UH should be 3.50 or greater. Exceptions may be made in the case of students required to take particularly difficult courses outside the EnvE Program.
  • Student’s major advisor (Chair of Dissertation Committee) will select one or more related technical publications for the student to review and critique.
  • Advisor will circulate publication(s) to other EnvE faculty members for advice and counsel. Faculty with comments should respond within one week.
  • Students will have ten calendar days to analyze the publication, read related material, and prepare a written review in the format requested. One copy of the written review will be delivered to each EnvE faculty (mailbox or personal delivery) by the due date.
  • Candidate will present and defend the written review before the EnvE faculty. The oral exam will be held 7-14 days after the written exam is submitted. Effort must be made to schedule the exam when all EnvE faculty can attend. If this is not possible, the exam may be held with no more than one missing EnvE faculty.
  • Written and oral presentations will be judged by all core EnvE faculty. Grading will be “Excellent”, “Good”, “Fair”, or “Poor” with “Fair” or better required for passing. Separate written and oral grades will be assigned based on the student’s demonstrated analytical and writing abilities, presentation skill, and ability to answer faculty questions. If failed, the test may be retaken only once.

Format for Written Critical Review

Abstract: A 300-word abstract of what the candidate thinks the authors are saying.

Overall Evaluation: Student’s general impression of the paper- what is the contribution? Approximately 150 words in length supported by the following Detailed Evaluation.

Detailed Evaluation of Strengths and Weaknesses: The following factors should be considered and reported upon in some logical fashion in the written critique. This list is not an outline to be rigorously followed for the written critique.

  • Is the presentation clear?
  • Is the literature search adequate?
  • What is the quality of the experimental data?
  • Do the models make sense; are they built on sound assumptions with correct equations?
  • Is approach innovative, creative, unique?
  • Are results and conclusions believable?
  • Are results useful?
  • Is the work significant?
  • Is work state-of-the-art?
  • What additional experimental work or modeling might have been performed?
  • How does this work extend, contradict, or confirm the literature?
  • Are the findings in this paper related to your doctoral research? If so, how?

NOTE: Total length of critique is not to exceed 10 double-spaced typed pages exclusive of references and additional figures.

Candidacy Examination:

The student must prepare and defend a research proposal for their dissertation research as the candidacy exam. The objectives of the examination are to ensure that the research topic is appropriate and manageable, the student is capable and prepared to undertake the proposed research, they have investigated the research point thoroughly and that they are proposing a reasonable approach. The candidacy examination should be taken after the student passes the comprehensive examination.

The student will prepare a written dissertation proposal and submit it to the dissertation committee (see below) in advance of the oral examination. During the examination, the student should present his/her proposal to the committee orally, and answer their questions. The proposal should include:

  1. tentative title, objectives and scope of the proposed research;
  2. the results of a literature search on the subject (with a selected bibliography) indicating the present status of related work;
  3. a discussion of the proposed problem;
  4. preliminary data collected to date;
  5. plans for completing the research; and
  6. requirements of any computer work that is included.

As soon as the student passes the examination (which implies the committee’s approval of their proposal), the student can formally proceed with the research plan and enroll in the dissertation (CIVE 8399, 8699, or 8999). Upon successful completion of the Candidacy Examination, the student is formally considered a Ph.D. candidate.

The candidacy examination is administered by the student’s dissertation committee. This committee consists of at least three environmental engineering faculty members from the student’s major and supporting (if needed) areas, including the major advisor as committee chair, and two faculty members from outside the CEE department. The advisor will ask the program director to appoint the dissertation committee. The advisor’s request should propose the committee’s membership, which should include those faculty members with the most expertise in the proposed research topic (that enables them to contribute effectively and to judge adequately). This request should be submitted as early as possible after the student passes their comprehensive examination and selects their research topic (form). The program director, after consulting faculty members in the major area, will appoint the committee (with any appropriate changes in the proposed membership judged necessary).

The major advisor is responsible for arranging the candidacy examination and transmitting its results (i.e., the committee’s decisions) in writing, to the student, to the members of the committee, and to the program director. The candidacy exam result is pass (excellent, good, fair) or fail (poor).

The dissertation committee has the responsibility of passing final judgment on the student’s degree plan (and imposing additional courses, if necessary), administering and grading the candidacy examination, supervising the dissertation research, passing judgment on the student’s defense of their dissertation, and approving and signing the completed final copy of the dissertation document.

Department Academic Policies

Graduate Academic Policies: Cullen College of Engineering  

University of Houston Academic Policies