EDP Research Requirements

The Ph.D. in Environmental Design & Planning (EDP) requires an original contribution to basic knowledge in the domain of construction. It provides students with an opportunity to carry out in-depth research under the supervision of their Advisory Committee. The scope of work and emphasis is on exploring and investigating new ideas, topics and concepts and answering a basic research question of significance to the field. The resulting dissertation must follow graduate school requirements and will be archived as an electronic document in the University Library. The following subsections describe the specific requirements associated with research at the doctoral level.

Statement of Intent

The first step in establishing an area of research is the Statement of Intent. This document should describe the basic research question or problem the student wishes to investigate for his or her doctoral research. It should establish the perspective the student wishes to take in answering that question through their inquiry, and identify key literature that will serve as a point of departure for their work. The Statement of Intent should be no longer than 3-5 pages plus supporting references, and will be used as an introduction of the student to prospective committee members for the advisory committee to support the pursuit of the doctoral degree. Students may begin work on the statement of intent at any time, but it should be completed during the first semester of residency in order to recruit the committee and meet deadlines for submitting a Plan of Study to the Graduate School. The specific format of the Statement of Intent should be discussed and finalized in conjunction with the advisor to be appropriate to the student’s specific situation.

Qualifying Examination

During the second semester of normal residency, all new Ph.D. students are required to take a qualifying examination to demonstrate their fitness for doctoral-level inquiry. This examination has written and oral components and is held each year during spring break week. Students should plan to remain on campus during spring break week of their first year to take the exam. Questions are developed each year by an independent examining committee, and are designed to test the student’s skills in communication, critical thinking, curiosity, ability to defend ideas, and ability to perform under constraints.


The examination consists of a time-limited written exam followed by an oral examination. The written exam consists of two questions, each of which has the following three components:





Define the given topic in an informative way. Your description does not have to be comprehensive, but should present the general context of the topic and identify influential references.


This part of the question requires you to illustrate skills in researching, defining, and discussing a specific detailed issue in the field.


In this component, you will articulate and apply the detailed knowledge that has been developed in the depth component to a problem in a given context, and propose possible approaches to address the problem


Exam submittals are uploaded electronically to the Canvas course management system and reviewed by the examining committee and additional faculty based on the questions assigned to each student. The examining committee will schedule an oral examination within two weeks of the conclusion of the written exam. The oral examination consists of a series of questions posed by the examining committee with regard to each student’s written answers. The committee will meet following the examination to determine a ruling in each case.  The examining committee is comprised of three faculty from the Department of Building Construction and/or the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, who will serve on a rotating basis.


To pass the qualifying exam, a graduate student is allowed at most one unsatisfactory vote. Students can receive an unconditional pass in which no further requirements are identified, or may instead receive a conditional pass. In a conditional pass, the student is deemed capable of meeting the minimum requirements to complete doctoral study, but specific remedial actions need to be taken to meet those requirements. The committee will specify what must be done in its recommendations. The committee may elect to schedule a follow-up meeting with the student after a designated period of time to re-examine the student and assure that minimum requirements are met. Students receiving more than one unsatisfactory vote are determined not to meet the minimum requirements for doctoral study and will be placed on a path to complete a terminal MS-BCSM degree.


The pre-proposal builds upon and expands the initial Statement of Intent. This document should:


  • Describe the key construction-related problem the research will address

  • Provide a review/synthesis/critical analysis of prior art related to the problem

  • Clearly state the research question(s) and objectives and delimit the scope of work

  • Describe the approach to be undertaken to answer the research question(s) and validate/test the findings

  • Identify the expected impact of the work

  • Provide a research execution plan identifying tasks, timeline, milestones, and required resources, and

  • Provide a complete list of references cited and a separate Annotated Bibliography of the most important literature supporting the research.


The pre-proposal provides a formal introduction of the plan for the research to the advisory committee, and generally serves as a basis for the committee to identify relevant questions the student must answer for the Preliminary Exam. Students should plan to schedule a meeting with their advisory committee to present the pre-proposal whenever it is complete, but no later than the third semester of residency in the Ph.D. program. Students should provide a hard copy of the pre-proposal to all committee members for review no later than two weeks prior to the committee meeting.

Preliminary Examination and Proposal Defense

The Preliminary Examination is a requirement for all doctoral students. This examination must be taken at least six (6) months before the Final Examination. After the pre-proposal presentation, the committee will identify a series of questions related to the proposed research to serve as the preliminary examination. Typically, these questions will be formulated to address gaps identified in the pre-proposal by the committee that must be resolved before the final proposal can be prepared and defended. While the specific format and timeline of the preliminary examination may vary based on the recommendations of the committee for each student, all preliminary exams include a formal oral presentation that addresses the questions posed by the committee to constitute the preliminary exam. Other aspects of the timeline and format for the preliminary exam are at the discretion of the advisory committee.


Typically, students will be given a series of questions, either all at once or sequentially, that must be answered within a specified period of time determined by the committee. The questions are typically related to gaps or unclear areas identified in the pre-proposal. Accordingly, answers to the questions may be either prepared individually in response to each question, incorporated directly as part of the revised proposal presented to the committee for the formal proposal defense, or both. In any case, the written outcome(s) of the preliminary exam, including the revised final proposal, should be prepared and provided to the committee for review no later than one week before the formal oral preliminary exam is scheduled.


The content of the oral preliminary exam is at the discretion of the committee but typically includes an overview of the student’s responses to each preliminary exam question along with an overview of clarifications and changes to the pre-proposal. The successful outcome of this meeting is a clear understanding by both the committee and the student of the scope and approach to be taken for the student’s doctoral research.


Students should schedule the exam by submitting a Request to Admit Candidate to Preliminary Exam through the Graduate School’s Electronic Signature System at least two weeks in advance of the proposed date. Requests to schedule examinations must include the time, date, building and room number, and title of dissertation or thesis. The student’s Advisory Committee is required to approve the examination before it is offically scheduled. The examination should not be conducted if the Advisor has not received notification via email that the examination has been scheduled and the examination request has been received. Required examinations are administered during regular academic semesters or sessions, i.e., between the first day of classes for a given semester or session and ending with the last official day for examinations. Permission to schedule an examination in the time between sessions may be granted if an explanation of special circumstances requiring that scheduling is made to the Graduate School by the student’s Advisor.


At least four Advisory Committee members are required to participate in the Preliminary Exam. Students must schedule a mutually agreeable date for the formal oral Preliminary Examination with all members of the advisory committee. If one or more members of the advisory committee cannot participate in person or virtually in the meeting, those members must recommend to the chair a faculty member with suitable qualifications to serve as a proxy for the meeting. The Chair of the Advisory Committee should then request, in a brief letter accompanying the exam request, that another faculty member serve on the Examining Committee. The proxy will have full voting rights in determining the outcome of the examination. Those conducting the examination must all indicate whether they consider the student's performance to be Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory via the Graduate School Electronic Signature System.


To pass the preliminary exam, a graduate student is allowed at most one Unsatisfactory vote. If a student fails an examination, one full semester (a minimum of 15 weeks) must elapse before the second examination is scheduled. Not more than two opportunities to pass any one examination are allowed. A student failing any of the examinations required by Graduate Policies two times will be dismissed from graduate studies by the Graduate School.

Meetings of the Advisory Committee

It is important that the Advisory Committee be made aware of, and provide input to, the research or project work undertaken by the student in completing the Ph.D. in Environmental Design & Planning (EDP). At a minimum, advisory committee meetings are required for the Pre-proposal Presentation, the Preliminary Examination/Proposal Defense, and the Final Examination/Dissertation Defense. Formal committee meetings are also recommended at the Statement of Intent/Plan of Study phase and the Pre-defense phase, and may be scheduled at other points during the process upon recommendation of the major advisor.


The purpose of these meetings is to inform the advisory committee of the completion plan and goals of the student and to provide updates on progress to date. The advisory committee can then provide input and suggestions to the student on how to overcome problems and approach specific research tasks in a methodologically rigorous way appropriate for the research problem domain.


Following each meeting, the student should summarize his or her understanding of the outcomes of the meeting in writing and distribute that summary via email to all members of the committee. Any misunderstandings on the part of the student or clarifications should be documented by committee members via email to the committee as a whole and to the student. The Committee Chair should place copies of these emails in the student's file to document the outcomes of each progress or milestone meeting.


The Graduate School requires that the progress of each graduate student be evaluated by the Advisory Committee at least once a year, and that a report be placed in the student's file. If the student's performance is deemed unsatisfactory, the reasons should be described in a memorandum that is appended to the report. This memo should describe the specific performance concerns and provide a required course for remedial actions by the student, a timeline for the next review of performance, and a description of repercussions should expectations still not be met at the next performance review. A copy should be given to the student, who should be allowed to respond to the committee.

Meetings with Individual Advisory Committee Members

Students may also meet periodically with individual advisory committee members to receive assistance or address questions appropriate to the expertise of that specific committee member. Such meetings should be scheduled directly with individual members as needed, according to the meeting preferences of the committee member. Students should respect the time and attention of the committee member and schedule meetings only when specific questions have arisen that require resolution. Appropriate courtesy should be extended in providing read-ahead material to allow the committee member to properly prepare for the meeting. Students should follow up all meetings with committee members via an email summary of their understanding of the meeting outcomes, with a copy of the email to the committee chair as a record of the meeting.

Ph.D. Dissertation Draft

The dissertation is a complete, stand-alone document that describes the student's work on a research topic. The exact format of the document is determined by the Advisory Committee in consultation with the student, but all dissertations must meet the minimum requirements set forth by the Graduate School. Information on format and ETD requirements for this document are available at http://etd.vt.edu/. Matters of style in the dissertation are usually handled by reference to the style sheets of a major journal in the particular field of study. Chapters generally consist of an introduction, literature review, research methods and materials, results, discussion, conclusions, and recommendations. The dissertation requires a comprehensive review of prior art to determine what has already been tried by others to answer the research question. It often will include development of data collection instruments or experimental protocols and designs, collection of data through field work or experiments, and detailed analysis of that data to draw conclusions regarding the research question. Work must lead to findings of journal paper quality, and new discoveries are expected.


In lieu of a conventional dissertation, the student may opt to complete the written deliverable for the Ph.D. using a manuscript format (i.e., submittal of three or more related refereed journal papers supplemented by an introduction and reflection on process/findings, plus supporting data in Appendices). In this case, the journal papers must have been submitted to specific refereed journals and have been granted a tentative or final approval for publication. If a standard dissertation format is chosen (using conventional chapters in addition to an introduction and a conclusion), the student is required to include a 10-12 page extended abstract in journal paper format summarizing the work in addition to meeting all requirements of the Graduate School for Electronic Theses & Dissertations (ETD) submittals (see http://etd.vt.edu).


A draft of the dissertation should be submitted to the Advisory Committee at least two weeks prior to the pre-defense if one is required by the committee, or two weeks prior to the final examination and dissertation defense otherwise. The draft should be reviewed and approved by the Committee Chair prior to distribution to the Advisory Committee. Any required revisions identified by committee members during review of the draft or as part of the final dissertation defense must be made and confirmed by the committee chair before final acceptance and submittal of the dissertation. Individual committee members will receive a final opportunity to review and comment on the final submittal before electronically approving the document.


Pre-defense and Draft Dissertation

In most cases, students will undergo a closed pre-defense presentation with members of their committee, followed by a revision period during which they will address any concerns raised by their committee about the scope or quality of their work. Students should plan to provide their committees with a complete draft of their written work no later than two weeks prior to the scheduled pre-defense to allow time for review. Following the pre-defense, the committee will make recommendations regarding how much time should be allowed before scheduling the final defense. The final defense occurs no sooner than two weeks following the pre-defense and only when all committee members agree that the student is ready to proceed.


Final Examination/Dissertation Defense

All doctoral candidates must take a final oral and/or written examination. This examination must be scheduled no earlier than six months after successful completion of the preliminary examination. The format of the final examination is set by the advisory committee and typically consists of a defense of the dissertation and doctoral research. In addition, the student may be asked questions on subjects covered in coursework or other questions that are designed to determine the student's depth and breadth of knowledge in the subject area.


A student must be appropriately registered during the semester of the final examination/defense (see Enrollment Requirements). Final examinations/defenses are usually scheduled within periods beginning with the first day of classes for a given semester or session and ending with the last official day of examinations. Examinations are not usually administered between semesters or sessions.

At least two weeks prior to the date of the final examination, a Request to Admit Candidate to Final Examination must be submitted to the Graduate School via the Electronic Signature System recommending the time, date, room number, building, title of thesis or dissertation, and names of the committee members. The defending student should submit this request, obtaining appropriate room reservations and verifying that all committee members can attend before submitting the form.


All final examinations are open to the public and faculty members are encouraged to attend and participate in such meetings. Defenses typically begin with a short committee-only meeting, followed by an open presentation and Q/A session, followed by a closed committee meeting and outbriefing of the student. Students should bring at least one copy of the final dissertation draft and supporting materials to the defense for review by non-committee members. Students are responsible for reserving a space for the final defense and arranging for and setting up any equipment required for the final presentation.


The Graduate School will notify the student’s Advisory Committee of the examination via email. Final results should be registered by the student’s advisor in the Graduate School Electronic Signature System, and must be confirmed by the Advisory Committee within 24 hours or as soon as possible after the examination. Students should verify several days before the exam that the advisor has received notification and take appropriate measures to verify the exam schedule with the Graduate School if notification has not been received.


To pass the final examination/defense, a candidate is allowed at most one negative vote. If a student fails the examination/defense, one full semester (a minimum of 15 weeks) must elapse before the second examination is scheduled. Not more than two opportunities to pass any one examination are allowed. Students failing any of the mandatory examinations two times will be dropped from the university.


Final Ph.D. Dissertation

The final revised dissertation must be evaluated by all members of a student’s Advisory Committee. Committee members signify approval or disapproval of the final document in the Graduate School Electronic Signature System. This signifies that the thesis or dissertation is in final form and ready for ETD submission and archiving by the Graduate School. If a committee member does not approve the dissertation, that non-approval will be designated on the ETD. A successful candidate is allowed, at most, one negative vote.


Electronic dissertation submission should be completed within two weeks following a successful final defense. A request for an extension may be submitted by the Committee Chair and to the Dean of the Graduate School. A delay in the submission of the dissertation may cause a delay in awarding of the degree, and the student may incur fees for late submission.


The Graduate School does not require students to register their copyright. ProQuest (previously University Microfilms), digitizes abstracts in their book Dissertation Abstracts and also digitizes the dissertations (https://www.proquest.com/). If a student wishes to register the copyright, they must apply directly through the Library of Congress Copyright Registration Office. More information concerning the requirements and cost of copyright registration can be found at http://www.copyright.gov.