PhD Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. degree program is a 48-unit program requiring a qualifying examination and dissertation defense. Prior to the qualifying examination, students must have completed a minimum of 36 units of coursework, a replication project or a publishable research paper as first author, and a dissertation proposal.


Courses are selected from one of the four areas listed below.
Substitutions and exceptions must be approved by the student’s advisor and the Director of the Transportation Science program.
The normative time for completion of the Ph.D. is five years and the maximum time permitted is seven years. Core courses must be chosen from lists in each of the four program areas. Each student must choose (1) at least two graduate courses from Area 1 (Transportation Systems Engineering), and (2) at least one graduate course from each of Area 2 (Urban and Transportation Economics) and Area 3 (Transportation Planning), and at least four additional graduate courses from any of those areas or the Area 4 (Computer Science). At least five of the eight core courses must be transportation courses which are indicated by an asterisk.
Please be aware that some of these classes have pre-requisites, so not all classes are suitable for all students. For example, Econ281A-B and Econ282A-B require Econ210A or consent of the instructor and students without prior training in economics may find that Econ210A is beyond their ability.
Pre-requisite classes need not be taken at UCI, but students must demonstrate that courses taken at other institutions are comparable to the stated pre-requisite classes.
Specific courses in each of these areas are shown below:

  • Area 1 (Transportation Systems Engineering): CEE220A* (Travel Demand Analysis I), CEE 220B* (Travel Demand Analysis II), CEE221A* (Transportation Systems Analysis I), CEE222* (Transit Systems Planning), CEE 223* (Planning and Forecasting), CEE224A* (Transportation Data Analysis I), CEE226A* (Traffic Flow Theory I), CEE228A* (Urban Transportation Networks I), CEE229A* (Traffic Systems Operations and Control I).
  • Area 2 (Urban and Transportation Economics): Economics Econ210A: (Microeconomic Theory I), Econ281A* (Urban Economics I), Econ281B* (Urban Economics II) Econ282A*(Transportation Economics I), Econ282B* (Transportation Economics II), Econ289A-Z (Special Topics in Urban and Transportation Economics). Students can only count one Econ289 course toward the required number of units.
  • Area 3 (Transportation Planning): PPD202 (History of Urban Planning), PPD207 (Development Control Law and Policy), PPD212* (Transportation Planning), PPD231* (Transportation and the Environment), PPD233* (Transportation, Transit, and Land-Use Policy and Planning), PPD235 (Geographic Information Systems Problem Solving in Planning), PPD237 (Introduction to Geographic Information Systems), PPD238 (Advanced Geographic Information Systems),
  • Area 4 (Computer Science): CS206 (Principles of Scientific Computing), CS248A (Introduction to Ubiquitous Computing) CS260* (Fundamentals of the Design and Analysis of Algorithms) CS268 (Introduction to Optimization) CS271 (Introduction to Artificial Intelligence) CS271A (Machine learning), CS274A (Probabilistic Learning: Theory and Algorithms).

Pre-approved upper-division undergraduate courses, independent study units, or seminars:

  1. Pre-approved upper-division undergraduate courses: CEE121 (Transportation Systems I: Analysis and Design), CEE122 (Transportation Systems II: Operations and Control), CEE123 (Transportation Systems III: Planning and Forecasting), CEE124 (Transportation Systems IV: Freeway Operations and Control), CEE125 (Transportation and the Environment), Economics Econ105A-B (Intermediate Quantitative Microeconomics and Macroeconomics I-II), Econ123A-B (Econometrics I-II), Econ149 (Special Topics in Economics of Public and Private Organizations),ICS45C (Programming in C/C++ as a second language), ICS46 (Data Structure Implementation and Analysis), CS115 (Computer Simulation), CS 121 (Information Retrieval), CS122A (Introduction to Data Management).
  2. Independent study units: CEE296, CEE298, CEE299, Econ299, PPD298, PPD299, CS 298, CS 299
  3. Thesis (dissertation) units of CEE296, PPD298, and CS298.

Independent study and thesis units are counted in the minimum 48 required units but not in the 36 units of required coursework. After approval from their advisor, students may petition the Director of the Transportation Science Program with requests for substitution of the required courses. For details about these courses, please consult the UCI general catalog.

Replication Project or Publishable Paper as First Author

Students entering the program with an MS degree are encouraged to transform a course project or thesis from this program or an earlier one into a publishable paper. That paper could be sole authored or authored with a student’s former or current faculty mentors. The dissertation supervisor and the Director of the Transportation Science Program must approve the replication project or paper prior to the date of the qualifying exam.
Prior to preparing a dissertation proposal, each student who has not completed a master’s thesis (or otherwise independently published) must replicate the empirical work of a published paper from a major transportation journal, chosen by the student and approved by the advisor. This replication may involve the collection of new data, the use of better statistical techniques, additional simulations, or the identification and correction of theoretical errors. Through the replication project, students gain direct experience in reducing a general problem to a manageable research project, in using data, and in carrying out a research project.
A replication project involves choosing an empirical paper, obtaining the data necessary to replicate the project and then replicating the project and describing the replication and any related extensions in a research paper. Such projects are most common in economics but could also be done based on any of the four transportation science research areas.

Dissertation Proposal

Dissertation proposals differ across areas but a typical proposal would be 15-30 pages long and would include an introduction, a review of related literature, a plan for the dissertation research and an indication of the sorts of products that will emerge from the project (publishable papers, case studies, software, technologies etc.). The proposal is not a binding contract, because research evolves, but it should provide the committee with sufficient information to judge the likelihood that the project will be sufficient to meet the requirements for a Ph.D. degree.


The qualifying exam must include five faculty members of which at least three members must be selected from the Transportation Science Core Faculty and at least must be an outside of that group. The qualifying exam is primarily an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal but might also include a discussion of other major research efforts conducted by the candidate and can involve questions from courses taken at UCI or general transportation related questions.
Upon completion of the coursework and the publication or replication paper requirement, each student must develop a dissertation proposal defining the research problem, related literature, research methods, and data resources. The Ph.D. qualifying examination consists of an oral defense of that proposal before a candidacy committee chosen according to normal campus regulations, upon the recommendation of the Graduate Director. Typically, this is a committee of at least three members of the Transportation Science faculty and at least one faculty member who is not associated with Transportation Science.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense is a public presentation of the key findings of the dissertation research.