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Civil Engineering - Structures

  1. Mar 10, 2007 #1
    I was curious if anyone has this as a job/major? I'm 100% sure I'm going into it.

    I haven't done any job shadowing =(. I really want to, but, I personally don't know anyone who does it. For those who do it: How are the working conditions? I heard you work with a lot of people also. I was reading one of the job descriptions and seems you need to be excellent with a few programs.

    AutoCAD & Revit & RISA was in one of the job descriptions.

    I'm a little afraid coming out with a BSCE because it seems a lot of firms want people with *4-5 years of experience* which scares me.

    Should I just get my BSCE or strive for a Masters; how long does it take to complete a masters after receiving your Bachelors? Also, I remember a guy coming from Alaska Fairbanks talking about getting a P.E. but was a little confused about it; do you need a PhD to get a P.E. ?
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2007
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  3. Mar 10, 2007 #2


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    My group has a structural engineering group. I think they enjoy what they do. Most of the work they do involves constructing complex models of steel and reinforced concrete structures and analyzing the response. Every company recognizes that someone graduating with a BS has little or no on-the-job experience - and everyone has been there.

    I would recommend getting a MS, or get a job which allows one to get a MS while working. An MS could take 2-3 years depending on one's research and dissertation.

    PE = professional engineering license which means one is a registered or licensed engineer, and one is licensed in the state in which one practices. Certain jobs required licensing, and even if one has an MS or PhD, one still needs a PE in most engineering jobs in which one signs the drawings, specifications or other legal documents.

    Anyone with a BS degree and some professional experience can obtain a PE. Check with the state in which one lives as to the requirements. Normally, one takes a http://www.ncees.org/exams/fundamentals/ [Broken] (FE) exam, which was called the EIT (Engineer in Training) when I took it. It is a general exam, something like the SAT or GRE, but in engineering.

    Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  4. Apr 11, 2007 #3
    You have to start somewhere. All you need is a BS degree to get a PE license. Depending on the company and the part of civil you go in, a Master's may be required (several structural engineering companies I have looked at lately require an MS degree). I don't think I have ever seen it required for civil engineering companies. Autocad and some kind of analysis program are pretty much necessary at first, Autocad and RISA are pretty easy to learn for 2-D. Especially Autocad at first, you will likely get in the door with many companies knowing how to do Autocad.
  5. Apr 14, 2007 #4
    Some insight...

    You should definitely do some shadowing or do an internship of some kind if possible. You most likely will be surprised and enjoy seeing the "real world" aspects of engineering and how it is practiced outside of an academic scenario. When I was in school, I got out a phone book and started calling random structural firm's numbers asking if they'd be interested in an intern. Chances are you'll have to be aggressive to land a structural internship.

    Your working conditions will depend a lot on the firm you work for. Most firms are independent structural consultants, meaning not owned by a corporate. Typically you will spend much of your time in an office setting in an office or cubicle working on your projects. Your product your company sells are the structural drawings that will be included in the record drawings. You will begin with a concept of a building or any structure and develop calculations, plans, and details. Many times you will juggle between many projects and work on designing new projects as well as doing construction administration on projects under construction. Occasionally you will be required to do field work involving visiting a construction site.

    The first firm I worked with consulted strictly with architects. An owner decides they want to build a building, so they hire an architect. The architect then hires consultants for the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, structural, landscaping, and civil work. They are the prime, and your client whom you serve. The building design is a combined effort of all these disciplines and you have to meet with these folks in coordination meetings, etc. as you all build what will be the final construction documents. In the old days these were called the blueprints. Because of the nature of buildings and project schedules many times held by private individual's finances rather than a city or government, being a structural engineer requires a lot of speed, precision, juggling, and performance under pressure. These days a project schedule is pushed faster and faster because an owner is allowed to borrow under very high interest rates a loan to begin design and development on a project. He can't refinance into a lower interest rate until the project is completed.

    The firm I work for currently does structural consulting to other engineering firms designing environmental treatment structures. When a water or wastewater treatment plant is built, there is a lot of structural engineering involved on top of the environmental systems design, so many times large firms pass this work off to a consultant. In this instance you as the structural designer are in the direct hire of the prime and deal more intimately with the owner than on architectural projects. Typically an architect is also consulted, but as your equal, not your superior. The owner is often times a city or government not dependent on financing. Further they typically expect a high design life and diligent attention to detail, so project schedules tend to be less tight and more lucrative.

    As far as AutoCAD and Revit goes, it also depends highly on your firm. Many small firms rely heavily on the engineering staff to do some drafting in addition to your other work. Most larger firms leave the drafting for the drafters and the engineering for the engineers, basically because an engineer's billable hourly rate is much higher and eats up more project budget than that of a drafter's. You should be familiar with the programs, but not fluent in most cases. Some companies start their young engineers as drafters, so you'll have to see where you end up.

    Most structural engineers do not have Master's degrees. Typically a BSCE or BSAE (architectural engineering) are the common degrees. A Master's degree generally will not benefit you in the field beyond personal interest and possibly obtaining your first job at a highly specialized firm. In general working experience trumps academics, and more analysis above what is learned in a BSCE is not needed for most scenarios. If your interest is in bridge design or a company specializing in high-rise construction you may find it more beneficial. Even then, a Master's is generally not required. A Master's degree generally takes 2 years to complete. Most firms do not have higher starting salaries for engineers with Master's degree, so you do not typically benefit financially from a Master's degree. Obtaining a PE license requires a BS in an engineering field, passing of the FE exam, and then after completing 4 years of work experience under a licensed engineer you are eligible to take the PE. When you pass, you're a registered Professional Engineer in your state of jurisdiction. Many states will allow you to gain reciprocity into other states, meaning you don't have to take an exam for every state you want to practice in (with a few exceptions). Obtaining a PE is VERY important for career advancement in structural engineering or any civil design field in general. If you come out with your BSCE and have passed the FE exam, that should be enough get you in the door of most firms, especially on the west coast where there is currently more growth and a stronger construction industry. If you're not afraid of a move or already live in one of these areas, try Las Vegas, Phoenix, or El Paso for a lot of opportunity.

    That's probably more than you bargained for, but I hope it was helpful. Good luck!
  6. Apr 20, 2007 #5
    I agree with everything that Structural Guy said except about the Master's degree. More companies are looking for structural engineers with Masters degrees, and ASCE is even trying to make it where you can't get a PE license without one (even though I doubt it will be accepted). You will have some additional financial leverage with a Masters, I know from personal experience.

    I would keep my options open. Don't necessarily commit yourself to one route or another. Start working and take one graduate class at a time if you can and see how it goes. You really need some of the graduate courses if you are going to be doing a lot of seismic design.
  7. Apr 20, 2007 #6
    That could be...

    I don't doubt that a Master's may be more of a priority in some markets. In any of the markets I mentioned, companies are looking for warm butts from good accredited schools to try and stave off some of the work load. Many companies in those areas will see if you stay afloat after one year of learning everything you can, some of which you would learn in a Master's program. Should those markets slow, companies will get more selective if they hire at all.

    Structural firms tend not to be good friends with other firms, which makes profit margins thin and design fees go down. It was deduced in my area that ASCE would have to lobby nationwide for better standard rates of service in tough markets before they could justify more education because firms are competing so relentlessly with lower and lower fees, many engineers would not see a salary increase and be stuck with higher student loan bills. One of the reasons doctors and lawyers enjoy better compensation but similar liability is greater strength within the profession to keep from stabbing your colleagues in the back financially. When’s the last time a doctor said, “If you come to my office, I’ll charge half what the guy across the street costs.” It’s been my experience that new hire engineers have the same productivity (usually a negative number) their first 2 years with or without a Master's degree, basically because the job has more facets to master than simply how to crunch more complicated numbers. Many of the engineers in my firm are licensed in California and I myself perform seismic analysis regularly through sitting down and learning it. Where you learn it is not as important as what you know.

    Salary negotiation is very individualistic in hiring. Most companies will not pay much for a fresh engineer. When you've proved yourself after that first year or two, that's when you really can negotiate. My former company tried to higher some PhD graduates and found them to be budget hogs performing unjustified, complicated analysis for simple scenarios, and let them go within a few weeks. A Master's could never hurt, that's for certain. I do not think a lack of a Master's would leave you jobless, however. Should ASCE require a Master’s degree at some point for a license, the starting salaries will remain the same. The market cannot support the new “norm” being paid more, but billed out at the same fee. Should that happen, young engineers will just have higher debt to income ratios when they begin their careers, that is unless ASCE or ACEC figures out a way to get engineers to agree on a minimum fee for each market.
  8. Apr 20, 2007 #7
    It pisses me off as much as you, trust me. So how do we fix it???

    Well that will be the choice of the state.

    I agree. But most engineers are stupid in terms of business so I doubt there will be an agreement reached.

    If you want a real discussion on this, join and post to the SEAINT list.

    http://www.seaint.org/sealist1.asp [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
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