What we look for in applicants at CEE/Princeton

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton fosters an exciting and curious intellectual environment across a range of critical societal issues in the natural and built environment. We highly value the diversity of cultures, peoples, and individual expression across its faculty, students and staff because positive changes and solutions for our world will impact everyone. Graduate students in our program are well-versed to tackle the global challenges through disciplinary subject rigor and multi- and interdisciplinary environments of educational opportunities.

All admitted PhD and MSE students to CEE are assigned to faculty adviser(s), allowing students to begin their research right away when they start in the fall. We do not have rotations across groups/labs like some programs, and we do not employ the uncertainties of faculty adviser-student match-making after a semester, either. Instead, you will begin working with your adviser(s) immediately in the fall and in a larger context of other faculty/student research through weekly CEE seminars, graduate student events, and other activities with our partners on campus (e.g. ACEE, HMEI, PMI, SPIA, SoA, PIIRS, etc.). It is critical that students identify specific faculty members in their statement and why they are interested in these research areas. If you are interested in the Ph.D. program, you should apply for that program. One can always get an incidental Masters degree en route to your PhD. Generally, CEE admits many more PhD students than MSE students.

While intellectual growth and curiosity are evaluated holistically for each applicant, every faculty member evaluates applications with a slightly different viewpoint. To demystify the process, below are some suggestions of what specific faculty look for when reviewing applications. We look forward to reading your application, and thank you for your interest in CEE at Princeton University!


What faculty look for:

Prof. Mark Zondlo - Atmospheric Chemistry and Composition Group

My group conducts field measurements related to atmospheric emissions of the carbon and nitrogen cycle, air quality, and atmospheric chemistry with teams of researchers across numerous disciplines and organizations. Because we are in a deadline-driven environment with intensive field campaigns across the world, I particularly look for Ph.D. students who have strong communication, organizational, and teamwork building skills. Measurements don’t happen in a vacuum, and it takes a teamwork approach within the group to make new discoveries in unique, and often challenging, field environments. One also needs the context of other measurements, modeling products, remote sensing measurements, and meteorological data to truly make discoveries in the analyses phases. Students in my group get to collaborate with other leading researchers in the world to maximize their individual impacts of their research. While my group also develops novel optical sensors and approaches to make such measurements, very few of my graduate students have had any expertise with instrumentation or lasers/optics prior to joining my group. Instead, I look for excellence in quantitative skills, intellectual curiosity, and motivation to learn about new areas. Students in my group have educational backgrounds across the natural sciences and engineering. Due to the timescales involved in field planning, measurements, and associated analyses, I generally accept Ph.D. students in my group as opposed to students in the 2-year MSE program.