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PhD Program Requirements in Transportation Engineering Revised November, 2007

The University of Maryland offers outstanding opportunities and resources for graduate study in Transportation Systems Engineering. The main program for doctoral study in Transportation Systems Engineering is administered through the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. This document describes the requirements for the PhD degree, and the process that doctoral students are
expected to follow to complete these requirements.

Four major requirements are described in this document. These requirements do not substitute for the general requirements of the Graduate School and of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department for obtaining a PhD at the University of Maryland. They clarify or specify those general requirements, or constitute additional requirements for the PhD degree for students specializing in Transportation Systems Engineering.

1. Completion of a minimum of four courses beyond the student’s MS program requirements. These courses must be determined by the student in consultation with and subject to the approval of the student’s advisor. The advisor may recommend more than four courses.

2. Successful completion of a PhD Qualifying Examination. The objective of this exam is to determine the student's suitability to advance to candidacy for PhD study in Transportation. This exam is administered in three parts: (1) a one-day written examination covering transportation systems engineering fundamentals and methodological basics; (2) a two-day written examination covering the
student’s areas of specialization in Transportation; and (3) an oral examination.

2.1 The fundamentals examination is a one day written examination that is usually administered in a classroom, on a closed-book basis, unless otherwise specified in advance of the exam. The specific format may change from year to year, though the content includes the following subjects:

  • Fundamentals of transportation systems engineering, including basic concepts of transportation demand, system performance and supply, and demand-performance interaction in transportation markets; activity systems analysis for passenger and freight transportation; and elements of transportation economics, evaluation and decision-making.
  • Methodological foundations, including applied engineering mathematics (advanced calculus and linear algebra), mathematical programming formulation and basic solution principles of transportation optimization problems; elementary network analysis and algorithms; probability models and application; applied statistical analysis techniques (hypothesis testing, estimation, linear regression).
2.2. The second part is a two-day written exam in the student’s area of specialization. This exam is intended to provide an opportunity for more meaningful problems, some of which may be open-ended, requiring more thinking and knowledge of the field. The student selects two topics from the following on which to be examined:
  • Transportation Planning and Policy
  • Traffic Operations and Control
  • Travel Demand Analysis
  • Transportation Operations Research
  • Public Transportation Systems
  • Air Transportation Systems
  • Freight Transportation and Logis
The student needs to declare the two areas prior to taking the examination. In some cases, areas not included in the above list may also be selected, subject to approval by the Transportation Faculty. The students will receive open ended research questions related to the two topics they select.

The written exam is administered only twice a year: in January and in late May. The dates will be announced by the Transportation Faculty at least two months prior to the exam. The exam is normally taken after the student’s third semester in the PhD program, or two semesters after completion of the MS degree for continuing MS students. Exceptions to these rules may be granted only in the following cases:

a) Students whose MS degree is in a field other than Transportation Engineering.

b) Students whose native language is not English and who are in a US University for the first time.

c) Students who for extenuating personal circumstances believe they are not sufficiently well prepared to pass the exam, and formally request permission to wait an additional semester. Such requests must be approved by
both the student's advisor and the Transportation graduate advisor, and will be granted only in exceptional circumstances.

This determination is made by the Transportation Faculty as a group.

The following decisions can be reached as a result of this meeting:

Possible outcomes of written exam

  1. The student passes the written exam and proceeds to the oral exam.
  2. The student is allowed to take the oral, with specific recommendations.
  3. The student fails the written but is allowed to take the oral, after which a more complete recommendation can be made.
  4. The student fails the written and is not allowed to proceed to the oral; the student is allowed to retake the written at the next opportunity.
  5. The student fails the written exam and is not allowed to proceed to the oral; the student shall not be allowed to continue in the program.

The Transportation Faculty reserves the right to waive the oral exam in exceptional cases.

In addition, the Transportation Faculty will determine the composition of the oral examination committees for the candidates.

2.3. The third portion of the exam is an oral examination, which will be administered by a committee of a minimum of three Transportation faculty members (but may include at most one faculty member from related areas, subject to approval by the Transportation Faculty). The oral examination should take place within about 60 days after the written exam has been taken. The oral exam should be moderated by a faculty member other than the student's supervisor.

The results and recommendations of the oral examination committee should be made as soon as possible to the Transportation Faculty, who will meet after all oral examinations have been administered to consider the recommendations of the committees and take final action in this regard.

The following actions are possible:

Final Outcome of Overall Exam

  1. Pass; advance to candidacy and proceed with doctoral program.
  2. Pass with qualifications to the student's program of work; advance to candidacy and proceed with program.
  3. No pass, but only partial re-examination (oral only, written only, portion of written only) required.
  4. No pass, but complete re-examination permitted.
  5. No pass, no re-examination; the student is not allowed to continue in the doctoral program.

3. Successful defense of a research proposal. After the qualifying exam is passed, the student will form a PhD dissertation committee in consultation with his/her research supervisor. This committee must consist of a minimum of 5 graduate faculty members, including at least one “external” member who will serve as the Dean’s Representative. The “external” member must be from the University of Maryland at College Park but not from the same department of the Chair of the dissertation committee. A dissertation research proposal must be prepared, presented to, and approved by this committee.

4. Successful defense of the PhD dissertation.

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