Colorado School of Mines Graduate School Insights

Students and faculty share how to prepare for an underground construction and tunneling grad program

Advanced degree programs in underground construction and tunnel engineering and similar fields will require a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering as well as related coursework and acceptable GRE scores.

At Mines, required prerequisite courses are strength of materials or mechanics of materials and fluid mechanics, which can be completed during the first semester of graduate study with faculty approval. Beyond that, it may be helpful to complete undergraduate-level coursework in areas such as soil mechanics, rock mechanics, structural analysis or groundwater engineering, even though they don’t count toward MS or PhD degree requirements.

“I wish I had a more solid theoretical background in structural and geotechnical engineering before starting the program,” said Haotian Zheng, a PhD candidate in UCTE. “If you think you have a weak background or do not fully understand many fundamental theories, go back to your textbooks—do not expect to learn those basic theories in UCTE courses.”

Zheng also recommends brushing up on programming skills and staying up to date on tunneling research and news. “There are some valuable tunnel media around, like Tunnel Talk, The Tunneling Journal, etc. It’s always good to follow scientific journals, checking out research related to your topics of interest.”

Zheng highly recommends journals such as Tunneling and Underground Space Technology, Geotechnique, Computers and Geotechnics and Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering.

Master’s student Ryan O’Connell echoes that advice to read, and read some more. “Be curious and learn as much as you can about the UCTE field,” he says. “Read stories in the news or articles from the latest conferences.”

O’Connell also recommends taking advantage of a relatively small community. “I think the most important piece of advice I have received regarding my career is to not be afraid to ask questions,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to email professionals in the industry or ask a professor about a topic you are interested in.”

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Mike Mooney, who leads the UCTE graduate program at Mines, suggests following professional organizations such as Think Deep UK and the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association for insights into the industry.

What to look for in any underground construction and tunneling program »

Another option to consider is a graduate certificate, which is a way to test the waters of an advanced degree with less of a time commitment. In many cases, credits earned can count toward master’s and doctoral degrees. Mines even offers a program that’s 100% online:

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Contact us to receive more information about graduate programs at Colorado School of Mines.


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