2 answers

How can I get into an operations research career in the construction industry?

Asked New York, New York

I am a college sophomore now majoring in civil engineering, and by the end of this summer I would have completed 4 summer internships: 2 in construction project engineering/general contracting, and 2 in civil engineering research (specifically in environmental engineering/water resources and structural engineering). While making plans and ideas for my academic and professional goals for next year and in the future, I reflected on my interests and passion for this field and how they changed over time. I find myself deeply committed to the construction industry in general, and definitely want to pursue my career in it after graduating college. At the same time, I have a variety of interests that overlap each other, and I am wondering how I should go about integrating them in my long-term professional life. So that got me to thinking about operations research as an option; I would like to immerse myself in both STEM and management of construction, in a data-driven environment that benefits and merges academia and industry, as previous research studies have done before. However, I don't know how I should proceed about this seemingly abstract goal, and my online research so far points to no summer opportunities, whether in academic research or industrial research, for a civil engineering undergraduate to apply their education and/or expand on it, within an operations research context. What should be my next step then? I am also aware, that currently operations research is much more oftenly associated with applied mathematics, computer science, physics, and business/economics than construction, per say.

Overall, with my hopes in operations research, I don't think I've strayed away from my passion in civil engineering and construction, but rather that I use them in an innovative position that reflects society's needs, similar to the concept of supply and demand in terms of employment opportunities.

#civil-engineering #stem #datascience #management #operations-research #construction #construction-management #construction-engineering #research #engineering #internships

2 answers

Lindsay’s Answer


This is a great way to ask this question. Operations research is another term for supply chain management. Michigan State and Penn State universities are the top SCM schools in the U.S. and can be reasonably manageable to get into, especially for an engineer like you! I am a fan of both schools for various reasons, and I am an alumna of PSU's program. If I were looking to focus in construction, I would target MSU. I do not know of universities that focus directly in construction science, but Google does. I don't see a problem to solve, in your question. I see you already well prepared and doing all the things that one can do in these situations. Internships are the easiest ways to pipeline oneself into one's career of choice as a young person who has access to formal education. We integrate our interests with our disciplines by wanting to, not by there being a path. Just because we old people haven't started something already that combines the exact ways you will combine disciplines, has nothing to do with you not being able to do so. Most of my awards are in areas that I was not even hired to serve in - but my project won them because I will ALWAYS create one solution correctly the first time, no matter how siloed anyone else's thinking is.

Lindsay recommends the following next steps:

  • As you apply for jobs, notice whether you feel more comfortable in construction cultures or engineering cultures and follow your nose in that direction.
  • As you interview, sharing your dual passion for both spaces is helpful if you are interviewing with someone who knows your business. If you are interviewing with a fresh-out-of-college, sheltered HR generalist who doesn't know your area, keep the intersection to yourself. It will be confusing to that person because s/he does not know enough about what you are talking about.
  • Keep in mind that everyone has focused on something and it probably isn't the same thing you have focused on. So, you are coming into conversations with weeks or years of having thought about these intersections, while the person interviewing you may not have ever thought about it once. So, you can keep it simple by just mentioning "I have been very interested in how my interest in construction has been informed so well by my engineering education". And if they lean in and want to hear more, have 3 examples ready that you can deliver one at a time in 20 second format and 2 minute format. They will probably only want one, but if you find someone who wants all of them, then you may have found a good mentor.
  • You are doing all the things. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.
Thank you! I really enjoyed reading your response, and appreciate how much thought you put into it. I'll definitely consider all these things in the future, as I move along in my decisions. In particular, you opened my mind to the idea of pursuing something simply out of wanting to, and not just because there's already a path for it out there. As a student, and as someone who has thought about career stability for the longest time, I am really thankful that you reminded me of something so important that I forgot. :) Good luck with your own career Lindsay!!

G. Mark’s Answer


Something I've often harped on in giving advice is that all fields of knowledge overlap in some way. And I've also frequently mentioned that the way to get into some field is to simply do it. That is, get in touch with companies and organizations in the construction industry and offer to help them with whatever they need. Get into an internship or co-op program. You may not start out with exactly what you're interested in, but in general, if you want to get "into" something, you go to where that "something" is happening. And if you contribute to a project somehow, you'll gain leverage and connections. As time goes on, you'll be able to tailor your assignments to exactly what you want to do.

Your statements about STEM are right on. In general, anything you choose to do will benefit from that sort of training. Many corporations have connections with universities both to access talent in their needed positions as well as to cultivate prospective employees for the future. You can take advantage of this and actively contact counselors and teachers who can help you along the way. The basic idea is just like going where the "something" you want to get into is, if you want to do anything, find people who do it. They can point you to opportunities. A side benefit is that once involved with people who are active in what you want to do is that you can refine your goals to see if it's real match. Or to get into more details on what to expect and what to plan for success.

The key here is perseverance. You may find dozens of people who simply don't need your help. But it only takes one who does. And that person might have friends and other contacts. The cool part is that you'll be making progress finding out exactly what you want to do and having fun along the way.