Civil engineers can trace their occupation back to the designers of Ancient Roman aqueducts (some of which are standing to this day) and the Great Pyramid at Giza. In modern times, civil engineers are responsible for the systems that make life in modern towns and cities civilized and bearable for the rest of us. The road or bridges that your car or bus travels along, the building you work in, and the water you drink and even flush away are all the products of civil engineering. Specialties in civil engineering include: geotechnical engineering, transportation, water resources, structural, environmental and construction
For the most part, civil engineers work either inside an office or in the field, depending on whether they choose to concentrate on design or construction. Engineers who focus on design work for up to eight hours a day at a computer, designing on CAD (computer-aided design) applications. Those in the field supervise construction.
Over 40 percent of the civil engineers in the U.S. are government employees, working largely as municipal employees for state and local governments. The other 60 percent work in construction, public utilities, transportation and manufacturing. Civil engineers generally work near major industrial and commercial centers. Some projects, however, take civil engineers, especially those who work in architectural and engineering firms, to remote areas or foreign countries.
Civil engineers work an average of eight hours a day but are often called in when disasters strike; emergency flood relief projects keep civil engineers working seven days a weeks. Starting out, civil engineers can earn up to $40,000 or $50,000 a year if they do not mind relocating frequently. (Engineers in the water or sewer treatment field who are adept at designing treatment systems command the highest salaries in the field.) There are more lucrative segments in engineering, but civil engineers choose the field because of the vast challenges it affords; following projects from "cradle to grave" provides satisfyingly tangible results of their work.
At the very least, civil engineers starting out need a bachelor's of science in civil engineering. More and more, employers are expecting their engineers to have obtained a master's degree.
Civil engineers must obtain professional engineer licenses. In their first year on the job, civil engineers complete their licensing exams and work for senior engineers. For example, a field position as a staffer for a resident engineer at a highway company can provide valuable experience in civil engineering, especially for those who are interested in becoming designers. Work availability varies by region and fluctuates with the economy--good times see more projects. After about five years, many civil engineers design or direct projects of their own. After 10 to 15 years, many civil engineers go into private consulting.
To see a project they have designed being built is a source of "immense pride" to civil engineers. In addition, civil engineering is a field that continues to develop and change, with "interesting technical challenges that require ability to be innovative." However, most civil engineers will tell you that working for non-engineering management can be frustrating. One Canadian civil engineer says that some of his/her management "does not understand technology," describing them as "glad-hands," "all hat no cattle" and "highly directive."
Although compensation is "variable" and can include benefits, such as stock options, bonuses and savings plans, most civil engineers "have never heard of a civil engineer striking it rich," unless he or she owns his or her own company. The work is "not necessarily physically demanding, but it can be stressful, with a great deal of responsibility." A recent graduate reports that he "is dying to get some hands-on field work," which is what keeps many civil engineers in the business despite initially long hours and lower pay than their friends in other engineering fields.
Possibility for travel; Wide variety of career options
Potentially long hours; Uninteresting work
Conceptual; Logical; Deductive; Detail-oriented
Undisciplined; Indiscriminate; Scattered
Average about 45 per week
Median salary: $68,600; Average starting salary, bachelor's: $43,679; Master's: $48,050; PhD: $59,625
Bachelor's, master's and PhD degree in civil engineering