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Ph.D. in Design and the Built Environment

Learn more about the DBE program

The Ph.D. in Design and the Built Environment is designed as an interdisciplinary, three‐year post‐masters degree program. In most cases students will enter the program with a master’s degree in one of the design disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, planning,construction science or real estate development. Students with advanced preparation may take slightly less than three years. Students from other disciplines including engineering, business or the social sciences may be required to take prerequisite coursework as the core courses require some previous coursework experience.

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PDBE on campus

Program Information

  • Areas of Research

    Areas of research in the doctoral program draw upon faculty expertise within the college and across the Clemson campus. These areas include:

    Built Environment + Health
    • Intelligent healthcare environments (e.g., those embedded with information
    • History and theory of the built environment
    • Health communities
    • Health and architecture

    Regional/Community Design + Development
    • History and theory of urbanization, architecture and the built environment
    • Transportation, land use and development
    • Housing and community development
    • Urban design

    Restoration, Sustainability + Land Ecology
    • Sustainable building materials, systems and processes
    • Design and planning of sustainable communities
    • Historic buildings and landscapes (e.g., preservation, restoration, reconstruction,
    rehabilitation, cultural landscapes)
    • Landscape ecology and environmental design

    Architectural Design, Technology + Construction Processes
    • Advanced building materials, systems and processes (including those
    sustainable, “intelligent” and/or biologically inspired)
    • Intelligent environment (at all scales)
    • History and theory of technology and building science

  • Curriculum

    Core Curriculum

    pdbe core curriculum image


    PDBE 8010—Advanced Theory in Environmental Design and Planning—3 (3, 0)
    Critical assessment of history and theory in the fields of design, planning, and construction. Topics include scientific knowledge, interpretive and critical inquiry, theories of urban form and human settlement.
    Preq: Master’s-level course in theory related to design, planning, and construction.

    PDBE 8040—Readings in Real Estate 3 (3, 0)
    Historical and contemporary readings in real estate development designed to provide exposure and depth of coverage for important works in the field.
    Preq: PDBE 8010 and consent of instructor.

    PDBE 8050—Readings in Architecture—3 (3, 0)
    Historical and contemporary readings in architecture designed to provide exposure and depth of coverage for important works in the field. May be repeated for a maximum of six credits.
    Preq: PDBE 8010 and consent of instructor.

    PDBE 8060—Readings in Landscape Architecture—3 (3, 0)
    Historical and contemporary readings in landscape architecture designed to provide exposure and depth of coverage for important works in the field. May be repeated for a maximum of six credits.
    Preq: PDBE 8010 and consent of instructor.

    PDBE 8070—Readings in City and Regional Planning—3 (3, 0)
    Historical and contemporary readings in city and regional planning designed to provide exposure and depth of coverage for important works in the field. May be repeated for a maximum of six credits.
    Preq: PDBE 8010 and consent of instructor.

    PDBE 8080—Readings in Construction Science and Management 3 (3, 0)
    Historical and contemporary readings in construction science and management designed to provide exposure and depth of coverage for important works in the field.
    Preq: PDBE 8010 and consent of instructor.

    PDBE 8120—Seminar in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment 1 (1, 0)
    Weekly colloquium to provide a forum for faculty, students, and invited speakers to address important issues of the day. May be repeated for a maximum of four credits.

    PDBE 8150—Research Design in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment—3 (3, 0)
    Philosophy and method of scientific research. Within that context, students prepare a
    preliminary proposal for their dissertation research.
    Preq: PDBE 8010, STAT 8010 or equivalent.

    PDBE 8160—Research Design Practicum—3 (3, 0)
    Provides an opportunity to improve and test the ability to employ the craft of research by carrying through a semester-length research project that will be the preliminary research for the student’s dissertation project.
    Preq: PDBE 8150 and consent of instructor.

    PDBE 8200—Instructional Design Delivery—3 (3, 0)
    Presents information on teaching technique including discussions of cognitive learning,
    motivation, course organization, interactive lecturing, and experiential learning.

    PDBE 9900—Directed Study—3 (3,0)
    Can be taken up to four times for a total of twelve credits.

    PDBE 9910—Doctoral Dissertation Research—21
    Can only be taken after a student has successfully passed their comprehensive exam and defended their dissertation proposal (or during the semester in which they are scheduled).

  • Comprehensive Exams
    The purpose of the comprehensive exam is to provide a constructive experience that encourages students to solidify and synthesize their understanding of the program’s core courses and their individual program of study. The exam covers the core courses in the PDBE program, the area of concentration chosen by the student, and the dissertation proposal itself. The exam has a written section and an oral section. The comprehensive exam is taken when the majority of coursework has been completed and the dissertation proposal developed. Most important, it should be taken when the student is ready, having gained mastery of the required bodies of knowledge. Examination content is developed by the student’s chair and committee in consultation with the student and approved by the PDBE Director. Prior to taking the comprehensive exam, students should consult with their advisor and the PDBE Director concerning the potential committee members and their plan of study, submit online the determined committee members (which must contain members from different disciplines within the PDBE program and a majority of PDBE Affiliate Faculty members) and the GS2 (form for plan of study), have their committee approve their draft dissertation proposal, and prepare a document—the “Comprehensive Exam Proposal”—including the following:
    • A description of the major area of concentration (2-3 pages) and a bibliography
    • covering that field of knowledge. The major field is a body of knowledge that lies at the core of the student’s research interests.
    • A description of the minor field, if applicable (2-3 pages) and a bibliography covering that field of knowledge. Students are not required to have a minor field; it is optional. The minor field is a body of knowledge that supports or complements the student’s core research interest.
    • A synopsis of the dissertation proposal, describing the dissertation topic, research questions, significance, research design, methods, expected outcomes, and any additional literature related to the dissertation topic.
    This document will help the dissertation committee to formulate exam questions that are focused on the student’s specific areas of expertise. Students should develop this document with their advisor and submit a draft to the PDBE program director for thier review prior to receiving approval of their committee members.

    Written Section:
    The content of the written section of the exam is developed by the student’s chair and committee. The number of questions is up to the committee, but most exams involve 3-4 well-developed questions (Individual questions may be divided into component parts in order to provide more guidance for the student.). The written exam questions should cover the following:
    • Major field of concentration and program core (history and precedent, theory and its evolution, and current issues and debates)
    • Minor field, if applicable (history and precedent, theory and its evolution, and current issues and debates)
    • Research design, methods, theoretical foundations for the research methods (Questions can involve both methods in general and the specific application of the methods to the dissertation research. Knowledge of the materials covered in core courses such as Advanced Theory and Research Methods is expected.)
    Within these areas, the committee may construct questions so that the student can choose from several options (e.g., choose one question on research methods out of two provided). However, the exam cannot be constructed in a manner that lets the student opt out of any required areas. The exam must cover the core curriculum, major area of concentration, and research methods—and the minor field if applicable. The Program Director reviews the exam for compliance prior to its administration.

    It is recommended that students have four days to complete the exam and one day to
    review and edit their answers. Answers to each question should be 10-15 pages (double-spaced with a 12-point font), with no answers longer than 15 pages. The majority of the committee must agree to pass the student on each question. If the answer to a question is unacceptable, the committee can require a rewrite or some other form of remediation. Alternatively, the committee can ask for an oral follow-up exam on a particular question, allowing a student to explain an answer in greater detail. If a student fails the exam, one retest is allowed.

    Oral Section:
    The second part of the comprehensive exam is the oral defense of the dissertation
    proposal and oral follow-up to the written exam. It can be taken only after the written
    section of the exam is determined to be defendable by the committee. Normally, the oral defense will be conducted within a month of completing the written section. Concerning format, the student will prepare a presentation lasting approximately 30-40 minutes. Attendance at the presentation is open to all interested parties. After the presentation, the audience will be allowed to ask questions for about 20 minutes. Then, the dissertation committee and student will continue the examination in private. Finally, the committee will arrive at a decision concerning the outcome of the exam (without the student present) and then explain their decision and concerns with the student afterwards. Committee members will evaluate the written examination and the oral examination of the dissertation proposal the written examination with the Rubric for Evaluating Doctoral Comprehensive Examination. The forms will be collated and submitted by the committee chair to PDBE Director and Ms. Connie Robinson for the files.

    Upon successful completion of both sections of the comprehensive examination, combined with completion of the required core, concentration and elective courses (as described earlier in the PDBE Ph.D. Handbook), the student can file the GS5D Results
    of the Doctoral Comprehensive Exam and Candidacy Form (discussed further below).
    When all of the requirements are met, to the satisfaction of the Graduate School and the PDBE Ph.D. Program, the student is advanced to candidacy.

    Scheduling the comprehensive examination is complicated by committee members’
    existing schedules. Ideally, the student should take their doctoral comprehensive examination in the spring semester of, or summer after, their second year in the program. Note that faculty are often available early and mid-May or early and midAugust, and usually unavailable during June and July.

    Optimally, a student and advisor should begin the process of scheduling the
    examination in February, but no later than mid-March, of the student’s second year in the program. This requires a discussion among the student, advisor, and program director to determine the appropriate committee members (see Advisory Committee section). After the committee is constructed (members agree to serve), the student’s hair should confirm potential written and oral examination dates with the student and committee members at least 8 weeks in advance of the expected oral defense date. Scheduling the proposal defense and oral examination during the doctoral colloquium is recommended, but off-colloquium defenses can be arranged if necessary.

    The student must provide their chair with a draft dissertation proposal and written comprehensive examination proposal (see above) at least 8 weeks prior to their expected oral defense date. The chair should be given two weeks to review and comment on both the draft dissertation proposal and the comprehensive examination proposal. After chair and program director approval, or a revision process and subsequent approval, the chair will circulate the draft dissertation proposal and comprehensive examination proposal to the other committee members. Committee members should be given two weeks to review and comment on the appropriateness of the comprehensive examination proposal and the quality of the draft dissertation proposal. If the committee determines that they are appropriate and defendable, a date can be confirmed for the student to sit the written portion of the examination. Afterwards, the committee should be given two weeks to review and comment on the quality of the student’s written exam responses. If the committee agrees that the written responses are defendable in an oral examination, the student then can present and orally defend their dissertation proposal and written exam responses in the doctoral colloquium or off-schedule if necessary.

    Admission to Doctoral Candidacy
    Admission to the Graduate School does not qualify a student as a candidate for doctoral degree. Such candidacy depends on the acceptance by the dean of the Graduate School of a written request for admission to candidacy. You should file thisrequest, Form GS5D, once you have completed the prescribed graduate residence doctoral course work (dissertation research credits excepted) and have successfully undertaken the comprehensive examination(s). Your request for admission to candidacy must list each of the major and minor subjects to be offered for the degree and must contain the title of your proposed dissertation. The request must bear the signed approval of your Major Advisor and the Program Director.

    You must be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree at least six months prior to your dissertation defense.
  • Dissertation

    The purpose of a dissertation is to demonstrate your capability to:

    Formulate a research problem
    Demonstrate knowledge relevant to a meaningful resolution of a specific problem; Effectively plan the work leading to the completion of the problem;
    Report the results of your research in concise, precise professional style.

    General guidelines
    All dissertations shall be prepared in accordance with guidelines established by the Graduate School (see This guide provides advice on preparing an acceptable and effective dissertation. You should consult this guide before beginning the writing phase of your graduate research. Pay particular attention to formatting requirements.

    For further guidance on writing dissertations see copies of manuals available in the Gunnin or Cooper Library.

    Task planning is a very important part of any research program. The deadlines for the tasks depend on the date of anticipated graduation and are presented in the Graduate School Announcements. A list of the deadlines is also available from the Graduate School website, Failure to meet any of these deadlines will result in postponement of your graduation.

    You must allot sufficient time for writing dissertation. It is highly recommended that you fully complete your dissertation before leaving the University. Many former students who left without completing their manuscript still have not completed their degree requirements. Experience shows it is very difficult to complete a dissertation after leaving the University.

    Library/listing/archives of previous manuscripts
    Prior students’ manuscripts are available for your review at the Cooper and Gunnin libraries. Many faculty members also maintain copies of manuscripts of students for whom they served as Major Advisor. Your committee members may be able to direct you toward pertinent examples for your review.

    Proposal preparation, format, contents
    The proposal is a persuasive document intended to present a brief, concise argument about the worthiness of your research. You should complete a final draft of the proposal by the end of the spring semester of your second year as a doctoral student. The written document should reflect your effort and not that of your Major Advisor. Your Major Advisor may work with you on points of clarification to improve the structure of the document.

    Your Major Advisor will review your initial draft and offer suggestions for changes. Upon his/her approval, you or your Major Advisor will distribute copies to the other Advisory Committee members for their comments.

    Writing the dissertation
    The writing process begins during the research period. The document must be written in a format that is acceptable to the Graduate School for theses and dissertations. You should follow the formatting rules provided by the Graduate School at The Graduate School’s manuscript website provides examples of properly formatted pages, tables and figures. You can format the document yourself, or hire someone to do this for you. It typically takes anywhere from 10-30 hours to format a manuscript at a cost of $10 to $20 an hour. Formatting can be difficult and it is often more efficient to leave this activity to a professional. The Graduate School’s website offers a list of typists available in the Clemson area.

    Review and approval
    You should normally complete a final draft of your manuscript for your Major Advisor’s approval at least four weeks before your oral examination/defense. Final copies of a version approved by your Major Advisor must be submitted to your Advisory Committee at least two weeks before your defense. It is within the rights of any committee member to refuse to meet for your defense if they have not been given the two-week review period. Your final examination must be administered at least three weeks prior to the date on which your degree is to be conferred.

    As you near completion of your dissertation, you must defend your work to your Advisory Committee in a formal setting open to the public. The actual structure and content of your defense is determined by your Major Advisor.

    As a result of their review of the written document and your oral examination/defense, your Advisory Committee may require that you do more work. After completion of that work and a successful final oral examination, your Advisory Committee will provide any comments or corrections that you must make to your manuscript. After you make the corrections, you must submit your manuscript electronically to the Graduate School for formatting review (see below).

    Formatting guidelines and electronic submission
    Once you have defended your dissertation, you must submit it electronically to the Manuscript Review Office of the Graduate School for formatting review. The Graduate School enforces specific formatting guidelines to ensure that your manuscript is considered credible and professional. Templates, examples and specific guidelines are provided on the Graduate School website ( to assist you in formatting. You will not be allowed to graduate until the Manuscript Review Office has approved your final manuscript.

    The Manuscript Review Office uses an electronic dissertation submission process (ETD). Hard-copy (i.e., paper) manuscripts will not be accepted. Not only does this process make your manuscript more accessible, but it also costs you much less due to the minimization of printing costs.

    For more information about ETD and the formatting process, see Your Major Advisor will be cognizant of program practices regarding the quality of the manuscript at the various review stages and of the wishes of the program director, as an ex-officio committee member, to exercise the option of approving the manuscript in its final form.

    Patent, copyright/publishing information
    Clemson University and the PDBE program retain full ownership rights to any inventions, discoveries, developments and/or improvements, whether or not patentable (inventions), which are conceived, developed or reduced to practice, or caused to be conceived, developed or reduced to practice by graduate students during the course of 23 their research activities conducted as part of any Graduate School curriculum. Any such invention will be handled by the University in the same manner as set forth in The Faculty Manual of Clemson University.

    You will retain copyright ownership of your dissertation. However, the right to publish research will be maintained by the PDBE program. Copyright ownership of any research publications will be determined by University policy and by the policies of organizations responsible for publishing or distributing copyrighted materials.

    All graduate students should keep a formal notebook for recording research procedures and results. Students are urged to study the recommendations for maintaining proper research records that are listed at the University's Patent Policy page (

    All data, research notebooks and related materials (slides, pictures, graphs, publication reprints, etc.) generated by any graduate student within the program are the property of the program and will remain in the program after your graduation/departure. You must collect these materials and submit them to your Major Advisor before you graduate/depart. The major advisor will have final authority on the disposition of any or all of these materials.

Upcoming Events

    Student Spotlight

    Cayla Anderson

    “Cayla Anderson, a doctoral student in the PDBE program, has received the Doctoral Scholars Fellowship from the Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB) and the Dupree Scholarship from American Council for Construction Education (ACCE). Cayla had an extensive career in construction management before starting the PDBE program. She has worked on projects in commercial interiors, global critical facilities, and multi-family unit housing through various engineering roles. Currently, Cayla works as a graduate assistant to Dr. Dhaval Gajjar while pursuing her graduate degree.”

    Cayla Anderson
    Clemson University

    Alumnus Spotlight

    Dr. Jeremy C. Wells

    “Dr. Jeremy C. Wells is an associate professor in the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. Jeremy graduated from the PDBE program in 2009, worked for a few years as the lead preservation planner for the City of Denver and then as an assistant professor at Roger Williams University. He has been at the University of Maryland since 2017. One of the reasons Jeremy chose to study in Clemson’s PDBE program is that it allowed him to combine his interests in the social sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, geography) with historic preservation.”

    Dr. Jeremy C. Wells
    University of Maryland
    Ph.D. in Planning, Design and the Built Environment
    Ph.D. in Planning, Design and the Built Environment | Lee 3-130, Clemson, SC 29634