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What is the job of a Civil Engineer?

I am interested in designing cities. The way their roads flow, the way the buildings are arranged, etc... and when conducting research in the field found Civil Engineering. However, not much information was provided about the field, and Id like to get to know more from those who do the job! #civil-engineering #engineering #civil

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Sheila’s Answer

Hi Brittain:

Civil Engineers conceive, design, build, supervise, operate, construct and maintain infrastructure projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. Many civil engineers work in planning, design, construction, research, and education.

Civil Engineers work on complex projects, and they can achieve job satisfaction in seeing the project reach completion. They usually specialize in one of several areas.

• CONSTRUCTION ENGINEERS - manage construction projects, ensuring that they are scheduled and built in accordance with plans and specifications. These engineers typically are responsible for the design and safety of temporary structures used during construction. They may also oversee budgetary, time-management, and communications aspects of a project.

• GEO-TECHNICAL ENGINEERS - work to make sure that foundations for built objects ranging from streets and buildings to runways and dams, are solid. They focus on how structures built by civil engineers, such as buildings and tunnels, interact with the earth (including soil and rock). In addition, they design and plan for slopes, retaining walls, and tunnels.

• STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS - design and assess major projects, such as buildings, bridges, or dams, to ensure their strength and durability.

• TRANSPORTATION ENGINEERS - plan, design, operate, and maintain everyday systems, such as streets and highways, but they also plan larger projects, such as airports, ship ports, mass transit systems, and harbors.

■ ■ EDUCATION ■ ■

Civil Engineers need a bachelor’s degree. They typically need a graduate degree and a license for promotion to senior positions. Although licensure requirements vary from state to state, civil engineers usually must be licensed if they provide services directly to the public.

Civil Engineers typically need a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, civil engineering technologies, or a related field, such as construction. Programs in civil engineering and civil engineering technology include coursework in math, statistics, engineering mechanics and systems, and fluid dynamics, depending on the specialty. Courses include a mix of traditional classroom learning, work in laboratories, and fieldwork. Programs may include cooperative programs, also known as co-ops, in which students gain work experience while pursuing a degree.

A degree from a program accredited by ABET is needed to earn the professional engineer (PE) license. In many states, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology also meets the academic requirement for obtaining a license.

■ ■ PAY ■ ■

The median annual wage for civil engineers was $88,570 in May 2020. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $56,160, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $144,810.

I hope this was helpful as you continue to do your research. Best of luck to you!

Sheila recommends the following next steps:

Civil Engineers • https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/civil-engineers.htm#tab-2
How to Become a Civil Engineer • https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/what-is-civil-engineering#
ABET • https://www.abet.org/about-abet/
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Sarah’s Answer

Sheila has provided you some great background on what civil engineers do! Although I am not a civil engineer, my husband is. Since you mentioned being interested in cities, I would recommend looking into structural engineering (focuses on designing buildings to achieve functional and safety needs) and transportation engineering (focuses on constructing roads and ensuring appropriate capacity for growing populations). These are sub-sets of civil engineering that you might find interesting.

Usually, you will get a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering having taken classes in a variety of fields and subjects. You can then pursue career opportunities that interest you or new ones you discover! My college friends who were studying civil engineering had very interesting internship experiences because they could be very different: maybe one summer they would be doing transportation studies understanding how much certain roads were used, then the next summer they would be studying the soil at a future construction site to help inform the foundation design. Civil engineers have the benefit of knowing their work directly contributes to the wellbeing of the community. My husband also enjoys looking up his former projects on Google Earth - it's pretty nice to see his designs come alive!
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Vern’s Answer

Civil Engineering covers a wide range of work areas including Geotechnical (foundations, soil mechanics, rock mechanics); Structural (buildings, bridges, towers, retaining walls, and industrial structures); civil works (levees, dams, channels, ports/harbors, railroads, roads airports); Environmental (wastewater collection and treatments, water distrubution and treatment, wastemanagement/landfills); Traffic (traffic flow, road capacity planning, signals, safety/guardrails).

Also, civil engineers can be involved in different phases of work such as planning, design, construction, operations, and special studies. Note civil engineering as a profession that tends to answer the question "how to" more than "what to." For example, an architect might want a building that has a particular shape (what to) and the structural engineer would be asked to design the structure(how to) that allows the desired shape to exist.

You interest in, "the way their roads flow, the way the buildings are arranged" sounds more like an urban planning job than pure civil engineering. Although some civil engineers eventually become urban planning it is a distinct profession. Also, architects are often involved in how building are arranged and the way road flow in a community.

After high school I got a job on a road construction project. I started college in the civil engineering department but decidied I wanted to be a geological engineer. I used that degree to get a job as a geotechnical engineer which eventually led to environmental engineering. Along the way I was licenced as a Civil Engineer. Most careers consist of a series of unexpected opportunities that take you down a winding road never being really sure what will look interesting next.

Whatever part of civil engineering you eventually take-on, remember you will impact the lives of everyone in your community and you will be expected to live to the highest professional and ethical standards.

Vern recommends the following next steps:

Suggest you visit a school of engineering open house to get a feel for the entire engineering profession.
Try avoid getting committed to a single option until you have a better unterstanding of what is possible.
Consider calling your the public works director in your city to ask if you can shadow one of their engineers for a day. Most engineers would love to show you what they do.
Don't commit to a single plan. Let your interests guide your career.
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Ray’s Answer

What you sound interested in, Brittain, is city planning. There are engineers in city planning, but planners usually have master's degrees in urban or regional planning, environmental planning, urban design, or geography. City planners are recommending changes to city general plans, zoning to decide what type of development will go in an area of a city and the impacts of that development on the environment and the businesses and residences in that area. Since these topics are often generated by city councils or county boards of supervisors, the job of planning can be highly political.

Civil engineers work closely with city planners. Traffic engineers advise on road changes and traffic patterns, Water and wastewater engineers would be involved in changes that would provide more utilities to an area along with electrical engineers for changes in the power grid. Landscape architects might be involved if planners are interested in a new park. And so it goes.

Planning is a fascinating career. I enjoyed working with planners. We argued and laughed. We had lunch together. (City planners never paid the bill.) We learned from each other. Good luck in whatever career you choose.
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