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Are you interested in the design of structures (from skyscrapers to sports stadiums, bridges), construction engineering, reliability and random processes, soil mechanics, fluid mechanics, hydrogeology, continuum mechanics, finite element methods, computational mechanics, experimental mechanics, acoustics, vibrations and dynamics, earthquake engineering or any combination thereof? Then this might be the field for you. At root, civil engineers are the folks who make the things around us work; for this reason, the discipline requires an unusual combination of imagination and practicality.

In today’s world, civil engineers have some wonderful opportunities to do highly exciting and important work. One area that is particularly essential right now is infrastructure. Many cities (and towns) have infrastructure that has hardly changed since its original design, sometimes many decades ago. Civil engineers are needed both to help revamp infrastructure, and even to protect existing infrastructure from terrorists.

Another interesting new issue in Civil Engineering concerns environmental conservation. Are we going to run out of water? How do we deal with structures and systems that were put in place before current awareness of ecological risk? How do we build structures and systems that will not drain resources? What sort of development is sustainable and what isn’t?

On a more microcosmic level, civil engineers are needed in the design of recording studios and concert halls, of earth-quake-proof homes and schools, of the way to build the best and most efficient sinks, toys, and tennis balls. Of course, there are designers and architects who do a lot of this work as well, and sometimes it is hard to tell where one job ends and an engineer’s work begins. The easiest way to think of it is this: the designers and architects come up with the ideas, and do as much as possible to ensure that these ideas will actually work. Then the civil engineer steps in to ensure that the design will, sometimes literally, hold water.

Degree Information

More than a third of the people who earn bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering go on to pursue a graduate degree in the field. The typical master’s degree in Civil Engineering will take a year to earn, while a doctorate can take much longer. As with other engineering fields, qualified female applicants are in high demand in the workforce.

Master of Science (M.S.) programs in the field of Civil Engineering include the following specialties: Construction Engineering, Hydrosystems Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Transportation Engineering.

Doctorate programs are mainly for those individuals who aspire to teach at the university level or to engage in some serious research and development work. The doctoral degree typically conferred is either a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering or a Doctor of Engineering Science (Eng.Sc.D.).

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Do I like the idea of being responsible for other people’s safety?
  • Am I a highly detail-oriented person?
  • Am I willing to work in a field where I will need to keep up with new developments, even after I am finished with school?
  • Does the program offer the specialization I am interested in?
  • Who are the faculty members? How accessible are they?

Career Overview

After completing your graduate study, you will be faced with the choice of going into the public or the private sector. Are you more interested in bridge-building or designing the perfect golf club? Do you want a government job (which may be more secure), or take the risk of a more volatile (and perhaps more free-wheeling) workplace? In either case, you will probably be hooked up with a more experienced engineer. He or she will help guide you through the basics of beginning to practice. As you gain experience, you will be able to figure out what you want to have as your focus. After that, there really is no limit to where you can go—it all depends on you. A doctorate will qualify you to pursue an academic career (though it won’t guarantee you one).

Career/Licensing Requirements

Licensing is not required to get a job, per se. However, it is desirable, and will make a job search that much easier. If you want to work for a governmental organization, or in education, it may be required that you get licensed. You will also need a license to file plans or designs with public or private clients. The licensing process varies from state to state, but the basics are pretty standard: you will need to take an exam, which you are qualified to sit for once you have four years experience in the field, in addition to having an undergraduate engineering degree.

Salary Information

Beginning civil engineers can expect to earn an annual salary between $40,000 and $47,000, though this amount can be higher or lower depending on the type of job taken and its geography area.

Related Links

National Society of Professional Engineers
The National Society of Professional Engineers had the scoop on all the latest technologies and licensing regulations.

American Engineering Association
The American Engineering Association provides a support system for all engineers. Included on the site are links to information for computer and electrical engineers.

American Society of Civil Engineers
The American Society of Civil Engineers is the best clearing house for the field. This is the place to look for news, jobs, and licensing information.


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