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Career in Civil Engineering

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Hello all. I'm going off to college this summer (yah!), and I'm planning on majoring in civil. I'm interested in the environment (I was considering environmental engineering for a while), but I also love physics and I thought civil would be a good combination. However, it seems like a career in civil would be less focused on the sciences than other fields (like mechanical), and more focused on the corporate world -- I really don't want something like this:
Ideally, I want to get into research, like say analyzing fluid flow around the shore and figuring out what kinds of structures would mitigate the effect of floods (just an example). I want to learn new concepts in science into my career. How possible would it be to do stuff like that going into civil?

(I'm going to Stony Brook, by the way, and since it is big on research, that might make a difference).
 

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  • #2
Choppy
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I really don't want something like this:
Unfortunately I don't think there's much running away from situations like that, regardless of your field. And sometimes it gets even worse the more "experts" you have in the room.
 
  • #3
analogdesign
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My father (now retired) was a Civil Engineer who designed wastewater treatment plants and did flood mitigation and simulation. He used to joke around that most of the technology he used was invented during the Roman Empire (he was exaggerating, of course) and he would tell me to be a Civil Engineer you only need to know two things: 1. Water flows downhill (except uphill towards money), and 2. You can't push a rope.

He's a funny guy.

A lot of Civil Engineer is focused on practice, large public work projects and a lot of project management type stuff. There are some very interesting developments in Civil Engineering research (e.g. "green" concrete, using wetlands for wasterwater treatment, etc.) but unless you get a PhD and go into research you'll probably end up doing project management and filling out Gantt Charts (like my Dad did). In all honest me hearing about his work over the years pushed me to Electrical Engineering.
 
  • #4
PhanthomJay
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The Civil field is quite varied...environmental, structural, transportation, geology, green design, etc......not much for research unless you go for a PhD...mechanical engineering might be a better choice for fluid flow courses...I am a civil structural and enjoy it..i'm not a research guy.. I focus on the basics and apply it in all sorts of ways...maybe not for you, though. Civil is probably the easiest of the major engineering disciplines, and pay scales are a bit below the others.
 
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Thanks for the advice.

Do you know if in general research is only really available for engineers after getting a PhD, or is this something particularly true for civil engineers?

It is quite a long way in the future, so I think I'm going to make my decision for major mainly based on what's offered at my college, in which case I'm pretty set on civil (the courses seem more interesting). Later in life, research would be nice, but I guess what I really want is something which challenges me and isn't too monotonous (the gantt charts do seem kind of dull). I really don't care about pay.
 
  • #6
analogdesign
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Do you know if in general research is only really available for engineers after getting a PhD, or is this something particularly true for civil engineers?
For the most part, yeah, research is *mostly* limited to PhD engineers. This is for the practical reason is that you spend years getting trained to perform research during your PhD studies so the company can just take advantage of this without paying to train someone.

I do research for a bit more that 50% of my time and I can tell you in my organization most of the other researchers have PhDs (not all, but most). There are plenty of BS and MS engineers here but they mostly support the research staff. For example, they would design boards and test stands, supervise students to carry out testing and so on. Still very interesting work but to move the state of the art in research you need to have a deep command of a narrow field, and you learn how to acquire that while you earn you PhD.

You'll be far happier doing something you find interesting, so studying Civil sounds like a great plan. There are some interesting design jobs out there, but beware of working for a county or city government (or utility) because you often become a project manager for the consultants hired to do the actual work. The trade off there is you have a secure job and the consultants are always scrambling for their next project.
 

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