Theory, practice, experimental and analytical techniques, and cutting-edge ideas are integrated into our research and teaching.Theory, practice, experimental and analytical techniques, and cutting-edge ideas are integrated into our research and teaching.

Graduate Study
  /  
Geotechnics
Curriculum & Requirements

Jump to a Section

Eligibility and Admission (MS)

Students studying geotechnics earn a master of science in civil and environmental engineering through Northwestern University's Graduate School. To be admitted to the MS program in geotechnics, the student must meet one of the following requirements:

  1. A BS degree in an area of engineering, or
  2. A non-engineering degree, but with coursework covering mathematics through differential equations, fluid mechanics, first-year, college-level chemistry and physics, statics and dynamics, and mechanics of materials.

These course requirements for admission may be met at Northwestern, but credits from these courses cannot be applied to the graduate degree. In addition, each applicant must meet the usual requirements of The Graduate School and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Because surveys have shown that the greatest challenge often faced by new practicing engineers is in the area of written communication, we require that all graduate students prepare a written report during their graduate studies. The requirement is fulfilled through the preparation of an MS thesis or PhD dissertation. 

Preparation of the document involves extensive individual interaction with a supervising professor, which develops a student's communication skills, individual thought processes, and problem-solving capabilities.

Return to Top

Master of Science Requirements

The total course requirement for an MS degree is 12 course units (nine core courses and three electives), in addition to the geotechnics seminars for winter and spring quarters. It is strongly recommended that students in geotechnics write a research or design project paper on some aspect of geotechnical engineering that demonstrates the student’s knowledge, design, and/or analytical ability and writing skills. This requirement can be satisfied by doing an independent study (Civ-Env 499) with a faculty member in the spring quarter.

All geotechnics master students must complete the knowledge of nine core courses:

  • Civ_Env 450-1, 3 – Advanced Soil Mechanics I, III
  • Civ_Env 450-2 or Civ_Env 352 – Advanced Soil Mechanics II or Foundation Engineering
  • Civ_Env 453 – Rock Mechanics
  • Civ_Env 458 or Civ_Env 451 – Soil Dynamics or Experimental Soil Mechanics
  • Civ_Env 495-21 – Underground Construction or Case Studies in Geotechnical Engineering
  • Civ_Env 495-30 – Environmental Geomechanics or Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering
  • Civ_Env 495-32 – Ground Modification or Geomechanics
  • Civ_Env 495-22 – Geotechnical Aspects of Landfill Design or LRFD in Geotechnical Engineering

The electives can be selected to fulfill the requirements from one of the following tracks: design, earth science, and structures. Students may also choose to use a thesis or a combination of independent study (Civ-Env 499) project and courses from the above tracks to fulfill the electives requirement. See the curriculum plan for detail.

2016 MS Curriculum Plan

MS Handbook 2016

Return to Top

Eligibility and Admissions (PhD)

Students studying geotechnics earn a doctor of philosophy in civil and environmental engineering through Northwestern University's Graduate School. To be admitted to the PhD program in geotechnics, the student must either hold a master of science in engineering or a non-engineering degree with the coursework described in the MS section covering mathematics through differential equations, fluid mechanics, first-year, college-level chemistry, and statics and dynamics.

These course requirements for admission may be met at Northwestern, but credits from these courses cannot be applied to the graduate degree. In addition, each applicant must meet the usual requirements of The Graduate School and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Return to Top

PhD Requirements

PhD students are required to take 10 to 12 courses beyond their MS coursework. These courses should be taken to broaden the student's background in geotechnics and to complement and support the student's research.

All students in geotechnics must take the following courses:

These are the only required courses for PhD students who have not taken them or their equivalent.

A comprehensive oral preliminary exam and one qualifying exam are administered as part of the course of study. Preliminary exams are typically taken after one year of PhD study. The oral exam is administered by a committee of faculty members who are selected by the student in consultation with their research advisor. Once the student has decided upon a research topic, a formal proposal defense is required for the qualifying examination.

PhD Handbook 2016

Return to Top

Satisfactory academic progress

All students must maintain a minimum GPA in accordance with Graduate School rules (3.00). Any student supported by research assistantship funding must satisfy project needs. Students will attend weekly group meetings. The required thesis must satisfy the principal advisor and at least one additional geotechnical reviewer.

Return to Top

Candidacy

  1. A PhD student should be considered for Admission to PhD Candidacy no earlier than the end of the first academic year (3 quarters) and no later than the end of the second academic year. PhD students must have a research advisor who has agreed to supervise their PhD studies before consideration.
  2. For each PhD student, the Program Areas conduct a Qualifying Exam that the student must pass before consideration. The Program Areas are free to choose the form of the Qualifying Exam.
  3. Once a quarter, the Program Areas forward a list of the PhD students to be considered for Admission to PhD Candidacy by the CEE Graduate Committee. The Graduate Committee will review the records of all students, and discuss their research potential, and issue approvals. PhD students will be admitted to PhD Candidacy only upon this final approval by the Graduate Committee.

Prospectus

The prospectus process typically involves development of a written research proposal that will culminate in the dissertation. This research proposal is also typically delivered in oral form to the prospectus committee.

Return to Top

Dissertation defense

Students in the geotechnics program must perform innovative, high-quality research and write a dissertation. See research for descriptions of recent research projects. All students who are supported with research assistantship funding must satisfy continuing project needs. Meetings are required every week or every other week with a supervisor as a group or individually. In addition, students must make one or two presentations on thesis work at geotechnical seminars during the winter and spring quarters. Average completion time is four to five years after BS.