Graduate Program Resources

Water and the Environment Curriculum

PhD (72 SH)

    14 classes = 4 Core + 1 communication + 9 electives = 42 SH
    Research = 30 SH
MS Thesis (30 SH)
    8 classes = 4 Core + 1 communication + 2 electives = 24 SH
    Research = 6 SH

 MS Non-Thesis (30 SH)
    10 classes = 5 Core + 1 communication + 4 electives = 30 SH

Required courses & seminars

  1. Technical Communication Course (CEE:6225 or approved 3 SH course)[1]
  2. Engineering Ethics Seminar (ENGR:7270 – 1 SH)[2] , [3]                                           
  3. Coaching Seminar on Communicating Water Science (CEE:5097 – 0 SH)[4]
  4. Water, Energy, Food Nexus Seminar (CEE:5096 – 0 SH)

Core Classes
Pick 4 (offer every year, note NRT-SWD students required to do all 5)

  1. Politics and Economics of FEWS (CEE:5410 / Fall)                                               
  2. Fluid Flows in Environmental Systems (CEE:5380 / Fall)                                    
  3. Foundations of Env. Chem and Microbiology (CEE:4210 / Fall)                       
  4. Informatics for Sustainable Systems (CEE:5310 / Spring)                                
  5. Watershed Hydrology and Ecosystem Process (CEE:5350 /Spring)               

Water Electives
Three offered each year; students choose how many and which ones to take in consultation with their advisors

  1. Flow in Open Channels (CEE:4270)                                                          
  2. Advanced Hydrology                                                                                      
  3. Risk Quantification in Hydroscience                                                          
  4. Physical & Chemical Processes (CEE:5156)                                                                            
  5. Biological Treatment Processes (CEE:5155)
  6. Water Quality & Flow (CEE:5460)                                             

[1]Approved courses include Public Speaking for Academics (RHET 7940), Science Communication in the Digital Age (RHET:7500); Writing in the Disciplines (RHET 7930). Others will be considered and should be submitted to the CEE Director of Graduate Studies for approval.

[2] First semester only

[3] Engineering Ethics seminar not required for MS Non-thesis

[4] Students are excused from the communication coaching seminar in their first and final semester.

PhD Qualifying Exam

The objective of the PhD Qualifying Exam is to evaluate students’ ability to conduct PhD research and communicate research goals and outcomes. All PhD students must pass the PhD qualifying exam within their first year of study.1 Typically exams are scheduled for one hour in late May, early June. The PhD qualifying exam requires successful demonstration of academic ability, written technical communication, and oral technical communication. The examination will be conducted by a Qualifying Examination Committee, which includes your advisor and two CEE faculty members. Other committee members can be considered with approval of your advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). The examination is conducted in two steps: (1) a review of examination materials submitted by the student, and (2) an examination meeting with the student.


To initiate the examination process, students will identify their committee members in consultation with their advisor and schedule a one hour exam time (Kim Lebeck can help with this). One week before the scheduled exam, students should provide their committee members with electronic copies of the following materials (as a single pdf):


  1. A current resume or CV including a list of oral presentations the student has made (if any) including seminars, workshops, and technical conferences.
  2. An unofficial copy of your University of Iowa transcript.
  3. A Plan of Study outlining courses taken and expected future courses.
  4. An example of written technical communication, such as a literature review on a subject chosen by the student and his/her advisor. There are no strict rules on format, but the review should be about 5 (single-spaced) or 10 (double-spaced) pages, not including references and figures. Alternatively, if the student has recently completed a manuscript of a journal article or conference proceedings on which they are lead author, the student may submit this as their writing sample (with advisor’s approval).

After review of this material, the student will meet with their PhD Qualifying Exam committee. The examination meeting will involve a discussion of the student’s research plans and qualifications with the committee. The meeting should include a short (15-minute) presentation related to the writing assignment in item (4) above, as well as a brief summary of the student’s research progress to date. The final slide(s) of the presentation should include an outline of the research proposal plan that will be defended in the subsequent PhD Comprehensive Examination. This outline should include a tentative title for your thesis, as well as the overall objective, overriding hypothesis, general approach, and key outcomes and benefits of the work to be formally proposed. At the conclusion of the presentation, the committee will lead a discussion of topics related to your writing assignment and research plans, and the student will be expected to answer oral questions on their academic preparation.


If the examination was unsatisfactory, the student, in consultation with the DGS and their advisor will develop a plan to address deficiencies and retake the exam within three months. Failure to pass the exam the second time will result in dismissal from the program. If the exam was satisfactory, the advisor will inform the Director of Graduate Studies that the examination has been successfully completely.


[1] An extension may be given with a signed waiver your advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). Failure to take the qualifying exam in the first year without a waiver is sufficient cause for dismissal from the PhD program.


If you are taking your comprehensive exam or are expecting to graduate you must ALWAYS be registered for something graduate-level in that session.  Even if it is the summer you must be registered.

If you are working towards a PhD and have completed your comprehensive exam you are required to be registered every spring and fall until you complete your degree.  In addition, the examination must be satisfactorily completed no later than the session prior to the session of graduation.

Any time you have questions, feel free to email or call  Kim Lebeck, 335-5647 or stop by the CEE department office in 4105 Seamans Center.

Committee Selection

When selecting your MS or PhD committee there are some requirements of the Graduate College that need to be fulfilled.  For the MS committee a total of three members are required.   Of the three members, at least two tenure-track faculty must be from the University of Iowa and both of these must be current, active faculty members of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

For the PhD committee a total of five members are required.  Of the five members, at least four tenure-track faculty must be from the University of Iowa and at least two must be current, active faculty member of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

If any members do not have a faculty appointment (i.e. have a title of Research Scientist) or are from other academic institutions then permission must be requested from the Graduate College.  Kim Lebeck can help with processing the request.

PhD Comprehensive Exam

The PhD comprehensive examination requires a research proposal plan and oral presentation. The research proposal plan is prepared in writing and distributed to the committee members at least two weeks prior to the exam, or by arrangement with each committee member. The written proposal is limited to 15 pages and should include a short literature review providing the motivation and rationale for the work, a testable hypothesis (or hypotheses), objectives, an experimental plan with an appropriate description of methods, timeline for research progress, and preliminary results. Required components of the proposal not included in the 15 page limit are a one page abstract summarizing the key aspects of the proposed plan of research, the list of references cited, and a two page CV of the candidate. During proposal preparation, students are encouraged to follow the guidelines for proposal structure and content put forth by the National Science Foundation. This information can be found at


The structure of the oral exam includes a 30 minute presentation of the research plan followed by questions from each of the committee members. The oral exam is also an opportunity to discuss collaborations (including potential authorship on publications resulting from the research), additional coursework, or skills that the committee recommends for successful completion of the research.

Civil & Environmental Engineering Graduate Program Subtracks

Environmental Engineering and Science
Hydraulics and Water Resources
Structures, Mechanics and Materials
Sustainable Water Development
Transportation Infrastructure Systems