Information for new graduate students

For those of you who are new to IIT and/or the Built Environment Research Group (BERG), welcome!

Here we have compiled information designed to help ease your transition into graduate school at IIT and in Chicago, and, if you are working with BERG, to help speed up your transition into research. Below you will find information about IIT and Chicago generally; the graduate college’s requirements for course registration and other official business; expectations for graduate students in the research group; and tips for increasing your research efficiency and productivity. Not all information is of interest to all graduate students.

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Graduate school: Degree options, expectations, requirements, and course registration

Degrees. There are three types of graduate degrees awarded at IIT: (1) Professional Master’s (MAS, non-thesis, coursework-only master’s program); (2) Master of Science (MS, thesis, research-based master’s program); and (3) Doctoral (PhD, dissertation, research-based doctoral program). Within Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (CAEE), IIT offers MAS degrees in Civil Engineering, Architectural Engineering, and Environmental Engineering; MS degrees in Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering (with Architectural Engineering tentatively scheduled to begin in 2014 or 2015); and PhD degrees in Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering. BERG includes students from each of these disciplines and others outside CAEE, including Architecture, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Expectations. In general, MAS students do not conduct research and they only attend courses, although advanced MAS students may register for one independent research study course (CAE or ENVE 597 Special Problems) if they have independent research they want to work on under the guidance of a faculty member (and they propose a project to the adviser ahead of time). MS and PhD students are expected to conduct research and must develop strong analytical and writing skills.

MS students are expected to conduct supervised research over a period of 1 to 2 years, and for BERG members, produce at least 1 peer-reviewed publication by the time they graduate, which makes up the majority of their MS thesis document. MS students must form a thesis committee made up of at least 2 tenured or tenure-track faculty (i.e., assistant, associate, or full professors) in CAEE, and can also have outside members with fewer constraints. MS students present an oral thesis defense to the committee at the end of their MS studies in the form of a presentation. Some MS students may present their work at relevant academic conferences.

PhD students are expected to conduct a supervised, albeit increasingly independent, research over a period of approximately 3 years beyond their MS degree, and produce a minimum of 3 peer-reviewed publications (although most should target 5 publications during their tenure here in order to increase their output and marketability upon graduation; the more and higher quality the better). PhD students are also expected to present their work at relevant academic conferences. PhD students must pass three primary examinations: (1) a qualifying exam, given once per semester by the appropriate committee of 4 faculty members associated with the degree program (i.e., Civil, Architectural, or Environmental); (2) a comprehensive exam, which serves as a dissertation proposal and oral defense given to your dissertation committee (this defines your research topics and goals with a combined literature review and proposal document); and (3) a dissertation defense consisting of your full dissertation and an oral presentation to your dissertation committee.

Official forms and scheduling. All official forms can be downloaded on the website of the Graduate College. All students should complete a Program of Study (G401, online submission) when they begin their graduate studies at IIT. This sets forth your plan for coursework throughout your academic career, regardless of MAS, MS, or PhD. You will revise it periodically (i.e., annually or bi-annually) using a Change in Program of Study form (G406, online submission).

For MS students, you must fill out a Masters Thesis Scheduling form (G300) in order to schedule your thesis defense (follow instructions on the form closely). For PhD students, you must complete the Ph.D. Committee and Comprehensive Exam Scheduling form (G301A)­ and Ph.D. Final Oral Exam Scheduling (G301B) at the appropriate times.

After your thesis (MS) or dissertation (PhD) has been written, you will need to complete the Preliminary Thesis Approval form (G501A) and Final Thesis Approval form (G501B), again at the appropriate times. Pay close attention to deadlines and requirements for each of these forms, as it can take time to get appropriate signatures.

In general, we recommend that MS students deliver their completed thesis documents in PDF to your thesis committee 1 week prior to your scheduled defense date so they can review. Requirements for PhD students are typically more strict, with a final version of your completed dissertation due to your committee 2 week prior to your scheduled defense date. You should be very familiar with the thesis/dissertation formatting requirements and examiner procedures, and follow examples of other students’ theses and dissertations closely.

Finally, there are a number of other forms to complete in order to officially graduate, including the Application for Graduation form (G527, online submission) and the RSVP for Commencement.

Funding. Research funding through BERG is generally not available to MAS students. Sometimes funding is available for MS students, depending on the activity of research projects and the competency and skill set of the student. We try very hard to fund all of our best, qualified PhD students, although it is entirely a function of available research funding and competency and skill set of the student.

Course registration. The graduate coursework registration process is relatively straightforward. First, pay close attention to registration dates in the Academic Calendar for each semester. Full-time registration is 9 credit hours per semester (typically 3 courses). You should be familiar with requirements for your degree program. These are listed online on the CAEE website and in the graduate bulletin (both general requirements and CAEE-specific requirements are important to know). You can view course offerings for any term for any department online. You should select your courses, then email your advisor requesting approval either via email or in an in-person meeting. Once approved, your advisor will provided you with a registration PIN for that semester, which will allow you to register for courses online in myIIT.

For Architectural Engineering students, and really any students interested in energy, environment, and building science, I have provided a list of courses below that may be of interest and I recommend taking (not all are in CAEE, and that is fine):

Typically Offered Fall Semesters Typically Offered Spring Semesters
ARCE Req’d for MAS? ARCE Req’d for MAS?
CAE 331/513 Building Science * CAE 334/502 Acoustics and Lighting *
ENVE 576 Indoor Air Pollution CAE 471 Construction Planning and Scheduling *
CAE 574 Economic Decision Analysis * CAE 463/524 Building Enclosure Design
CAE 510 Dynamics of Fire CAE 526 Energy Conservation in Buildings
CAE 515 Building Energy Modeling (BEM) ENVE 426 Statistical Tools for Engineers
CAE 579 Real Estate Fundamentals ENVE 485 Industrial Ecology
ARCH 551 Design of Energy Efficient Buildings I ARCH 552 Design of Energy Efficient Buildings II
ARCH 560 Integrated Building Delivery/BIM ARCH 560 Integrated Building Delivery/BIM
CHE 543 Energy, Environment, and Economics CHE 503 Thermodynamics
MMAE 510 Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics CHE 543 Energy, Environment, and Economics
MMAE 520 Advanced Thermodynamics MMAE 517 Computational Fluid Dynamics
MMAE 525 Fundamentals of Heat Transfer MMAE 525 Fundamentals of Heat Transfer
MATH 564 Applied Statistics


Others potentially of interest include MATH 567 Advanced Design of Experiments, MATH 571 Data Preparation and Analysis, and ENGR 497 Introduction to Research Methods. Note that classes in the 500 categories are graduate courses; classes in the 400 level are senior-level undergraduate courses. There are restrictions on how many UG courses one can take as a MAS/MS/PhD student; consult the CAEE graduate bulletin for this requirement.


Undergraduate students: Research opportunities

If you are an undergraduate student and want to work with BERG, pay close attention to deadlines for the Armour College of Engineering (ACE) Program for Undergraduate Research in Engineering (PURE). We have had a number of undergraduate students working as researchers and always welcome the best and brightest students from IIT to gain experience in our lab.


Tips and techniques for improving research efficiency and productivity

Journal articles. Your research starts with familiarity with the technical and peer-reviewed literature. Reading journal articles relevant to your work is the first way to begin your quest for knowledge in your field. You must also learn to read well before you can write well. I cannot stress this enough! For some tips on technical reading (and writing), take a look at this presentation from the summer of 2014. Be familiar with its content. For most of the research topics covered in BERG, you should be familiar with the following journals (non-exhaustive list and in no particular order): 

Environmental Science and Technology • Indoor Air • Atmospheric Environment • Aerosol and Air Quality Research • Journal of Aerosol Science • Aerosol Science and Technology • Building and Environment • Energy and Buildings • Environmental Pollution • Chemosphere • Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association • HVAC&R Research • ASHRAE Transactions • ASCE Journal of Architectural Engineering • Construction and Building Materials • Solar Energy • Renewable Energy • Energy Policy • Energy • Applied Energy • Energy Conversion and Management • Environmental Health • Environmental Health Perspectives • Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental • Sensors • PLoS ONE • ISME Journal • Risk Analysis • Inhalation Toxicology • Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene • Annals of Occupational Hygiene • Clinical Infectious Diseases • Journal of Infectious Diseases • Epidemiology • American Journal of Epidemiology

Library. You can access many of these journals online through the IIT library system. Visit to get started. You can also search on Google Scholar or visit journal websites directly (for example, the Indoor Air journal main page, specific Issues, and specific Articles are all accessible online). If you are on campus and if our library pays the journal access fees, you can open the articles directly. If our library pays fees but you are not on campus, you can visit the journal page through a proxy server that allows you to enter your IIT credentials. For example, the article listed above is normally accessible via I know that IIT has a subscription to Indoor Air. If you were off campus and wanted access, you would simply modify the link in your browser to in order to access the proxy login page. That will allow you to work off campus without losing access! Just add “” at the end of the domain and you should be ready to go.

Interlibrary loan. In the event that IIT does not maintain subscriptions to a particular journal (which happens rather often), you can request items through a large network of other libraries called Interlibrary Loan. Simply sign up for an account at MyILL and you can submit article requests knowing only the Title, Journal, Author (first author is fine), Year, and Page numbers. Someone in the library will hunt a version of the article down for you and email you a link to a PDF when it arrives (usually within 1 week).

Software. There are a number of pieces of software that are crucial to success as a graduate researcher. We typically use Microsoft Office, Excel, and PowerPoint for writing, basic spreadsheets, and presentations, respectively. Every once in a while we use Google Docs to collaborate, but not often as it doesn’t have many of the word processing features that we utilize. Every good researcher should also learn some additional analytical/statistical/mathematical software package/language while they are in school. This may include Stata (BERG has a copy for use), R (free), Matlab (lower cost student versions available), Python (free), Mathematica (free for IIT students; available in myIIT), SPSS (not free), or any number of other languages. You should pick at least one that works for you and learn it inside and out (I suggest R, Matlab, Python, and/or Stata, in no particular order). Writing code in one of these packages is crucial to greater efficiency and data analysis capabilities down the road (once you’ve learned the software). It can also be crucial for creating intricate, publication quality figures. Quality graphical representation of your work is a VERY important skill set to learn, by the way. You should start here.

Citation/reference management is also a VERY important skill set to learn (and one of the easier ones). We typically use Zotero (free), but there are others such as Mendeley (also free) and EndNote (not free). They allow you to house your article citations in one central repository, share it among computers, and cite in text using any style of your choice (which is governed by the specific journal that you are targeting). You should start learning a reference managing software immediately!

Also, some kind of file storage and syncing software solution is becoming necessary as well. I use a combination of Dropbox and Google Drive (one public to the research group; one private). There are others, but I suggest you use one sooner than later if you aren’t already.


Living in Chicago

Last, we can’t forget about living in Chicago. It’s a great city and you should be sure to take advantage of all that it has to offer while you are here! IIT is located only about 1 mile west of the Lakefront Trail and the coast of Lake Michigan, which is an absolutely beautiful place to be when the weather is nice. You should make time to catch a Chicago White Sox baseball game just across the highway from IIT (or a Cubs game farther north if you must), see concerts in Millennium Park, visit the Art Institute, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and so much more.

IIT is accessible via a number of ways, including the CTA green line and red line, a number of CTA buses, the Metra, biking, driving, and the shuttle bus from the Chicago-Kent Law School downtown. Many students live in nearby Bridgeport, which houses favorites of ours like Bridgeport Coffee, Nana, and Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar. Others live in places like the South Loop, West Loop, and other areas throughout Chicago and Chicagoland. Feel free to get in touch with individual BERG members before you arrive to help find a place to live that works well for you.