Research course

Civil Engineering

University of Birmingham · Department of Civil Engineering
PhDMPhilMSc by research

Entry requirements

The normal entrance qualification for PhD study is either at least an upper second-class Honours degree, or a first degree of a lower classification, along with an MSc or evidence of substantial relevant industrial experience

Months of entry

January, December, November, October, September, June, May, April, March, February

Course content

Research within the School is clustered into two themes – Railways; and Resilience and Sustainability. Our research benefits from being funded by industry, charities and research councils, which encourages innovative thinking and creates internationally recognised work. We are always keen to discuss research opportunities with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Our research tackles the problems faced by society today and develops the knowledge and tools to build the communities of the future. Many of our projects have already had a significant impact on society; the impact of others will be felt by generations to come.

Research within the School is clustered into two themes – Railways; and Resilience and Sustainability. It benefits from being funded by industry, charities and research councils, which encourages innovative thinking and creates internationally recognised research. We pride ourselves in offering a stimulating research environment and are always keen to discuss research opportunities with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds.


A healthy public transport system is fundamental to the prosperity of any nation. Within the UK, the rail network is at the heart of this and raises scientific questions, on its reliability, its future and the effects of climate change on railway systems – its use and its development.

Recent projects have included: decision support tools for railway maintenance; asset management; measurement of track stiffness and quality; improvement of track stiffness in situ; railway systems engineering; train aerodynamics; effect of severe weather on railway operations.

Resilience and Sustainability

Our ability to respond in a sustainable way to the challenges that we and future generations will face is at the core of this theme. The challenges posed by climate change, regulation and natural disasters, and how we adapt our existing cities to ensure that they are future-proof, gives a flavour of the type of research questions we are concerned with. However, unlike traditional approaches, we do not restrict ourselves to considering only the structural engineering options; instead we endeavour to ensure that non-structural measures are at the heart of our thinking. Two distinct research areas emerge:

  • Long-term resilience of the built environment and built infrastructure, ie, the sustainability of the physical infrastructure into the far future, notably in delivering utility service provision, and
  • Short-term resilience of the built environment and built infrastructure to natural hazards, the severity and frequency of which is often increasing due to climate change

Examples of some of our recent projects are:

Long-term resilience and Geotechnical Engineering: trenchless pipelaying and long-distance cable laying (for example, to offshore wind farms); the iteration between new and existing tunnels; ‘smart monitoring’ of tunnel linings and buried pipes: buried cast iron pipe–soil interactions; chemical soil stabilisation using electro-kinetics; buried utility service location and mapping; sustainable urban utility provision; collapsible and residual soils; fibre-reinforced soil; the treatment of contaminated soils; liquid waste and quarry fines; application of accelerated carbonation technology to contaminated soils; leakage from water pipelines; ground improvement techniques.

Long-term resilience and Environmental Engineering: water quality in treatment works and distribution systems (for example, disinfection by-product formation and chlorine decay); the use of fluorescence spectroscopy to assess water and wastewater of activated sludge plants; paper mill wastewater treatment; thermophilic aerobic and mesophilic anaerobic digestion of sewage sludges; biofilms in submerged aerobic filters, CFD modelling of unit processes; asset deterioration modelling and management; improved hydraulic prediction of in-stream habitats; methods of improving water quality and the environment for urban river regeneration.

Long-term resilience and Highway Engineering: the highway development and management model for road asset management; road economics; road development and strategic planning; road maintenance and operations; data integrity and information quality; low cost roads; a performance-base specification for road foundations

Long-term resilience and risk and reliability management: development and application of more rational and sustainable risk, safety, reliability and decision-making techniques; advanced procedures for minimising risks by improved design, construction and maintenance strategies; target risk and reliability; safety-cost analysis -based decision making; maintenance analysis; life-cycle analysis; uncertainty analysis.

Long-term resilience and Structural Engineering: the assessment, monitoring and deterioration of concrete structures; management of the construction process for safety and effectiveness; ductility and robustness of reinforced concrete structures – physical and theoretical modelling; effects of defects on behaviour of reinforced concrete structures; rotation capacity of reinforced concrete with a mix of fully and inadequately anchored bars at hinge positions; FRP strengthening of reinforced concrete.

Short-term resilience and Wind Engineering: the measurement of slipstreams and wakes associated with road and rail vehicles; pedestrian level winds and corresponding comfort criteria; the effect of weather conditions on atmospheric pollution levels; evaluating the structure of the wind during wind events; modelling the wind field associated with thunderstorm downburst; small scale building integrated wind power systems.

Short-term resilience and Flooding: the hydraulics of flows in natural and compound channels; the development of mathematical models for reducing the uncertainty in conveyance estimation; systems modelling of urban water sustainability; the development of sustainable urban management water systems.

Short-term resilience and Computational Engineering: finite element modelling - wave-induced liquefaction of the seabed; seismic response of reinforced concrete structures; structural behaviour of bamboo. Discrete element modelling – granular particle assemblies; shear plane development in shear box tests. Information technologies – virtual reality for structural design; grid computing for large scale computational systems; optimisation of railway maintenance; computational hardware-coding of simplified DEM code onto a computer chip using field-programmable gate arrays or active memory.

Explore postgraduate study at Birmingham at one of our on-campus open days (Friday 13 November 2015 and Friday 4 March 2016). Register to attend at:

If you can’t make it to one of our on-campus open days, our virtual open days run regularly throughout the year. For more information, please visit:

Fees and funding

UK students
PhD/MSc by Research/MPhil: £4,121 FT - PhD/MSc by Research £2,061 PT
International students
PhD/MSc by Research/MPhil: £17,910 FT

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Qualification and course duration


part time
72 months
full time
36 months


part time
48 months
full time
24 months

MSc by research

part time
24 months
full time
12 months

Course contact details

Postgraduate enquiry service
0121 414 5005