civil engineers

A civil engineer could...


Design a building that can survive a major earthquake without damage. skyscraper Build a dam to provide a source of hydroelectric power. dam
Design a bridge that is as beautiful to look at as it is essential for moving people and goods. bridge Design water-treatment facilities to reduce water pollution and provide clean drinking water. girl with water glass
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Key Facts & Information

Overview If you turned on a faucet, used a bathroom, or visited a public space (like a road, a building, or a bridge) today, then you've used or visited a project that civil engineers helped to design and build. Civil engineers work to improve travel and commerce, provide people with safe drinking water and sanitation, and protect communities from earthquakes and floods. This important and ancient work is combined with a desire to make structures that are as beautiful and environmentally sound, as they are functional and cost-effective.
Key Requirements A creative, analytical, detail-oriented mind, and the ability to communicate well with others and consider trade-offs
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, statistics, environmental science, applied technology
Median Salary
Civil Engineers
  $87,060
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
Interview
  • Learn how building wooden toys with his grandfather jump started David Hosking's love of engineering and eventually lead to his structural engineering career with Fluor Corporation.
  • Read an interview with a real-life civil engineer, Don Parsons, who went from wanting to join the army to designing a wastewater treatment plant.
  • Read this article to see what a day in the life of a civil engineer is like.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs. College graduates with a degree in a natural science or mathematics occasionally may qualify for some engineering jobs, especially in specialties in high demand. Most engineering degrees are granted in electrical, electronics, mechanical, or civil engineering. However, engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches. For example, many aerospace engineers have training in mechanical engineering. This flexibility allows employers to meet staffing needs in new technologies and specialties in which engineers may be in short supply. It also allows engineers to shift to fields with better employment prospects or to those that more closely match their interests.

Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class or both, is part of the curriculum of most programs. General courses not directly related to engineering, such as those in the social sciences or humanities, are also often required.

In addition to the standard engineering degree, many colleges offer 2-year or 4-year degree programs in engineering technology. These programs, which usually include various hands-on laboratory classes that focus on current issues in the application of engineering principles, prepare students for practical design and production work, rather than for jobs that require more theoretical and scientific knowledge. Graduates of 4-year technology programs may get jobs similar to those obtained by graduates with a bachelor's degree in engineering. Engineering technology graduates, however, are not qualified to register as professional engineers under the same terms as graduates with degrees in engineering. Some employers regard technology program graduates as having skills between those of a technician and an engineer.

Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Many high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.

Other Qualifications

Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Nature of the Work

Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.

Civil engineers design and supervise the construction of roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and water supply and sewage systems. They must consider many factors in the design process—from the construction costs and expected lifetime of a project to government regulations and potential environmental hazards, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Civil engineering, considered one of the oldest engineering disciplines, encompasses many specialties. The major ones are structural, water resources, construction, environmental, transportation, and geotechnical engineering. Many civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions, from supervisor of a construction site to city engineer. Others may work in design, construction, research, and teaching.

Work Environment

Most engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction sites and at oil and gas exploration and production sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites both here and abroad.

Many engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.

On the Job

  • Manage and direct staff members and the construction, operations, or maintenance activities at project site.
  • Provide technical advice regarding design, construction, or program modifications and structural repairs to industrial and managerial personnel.
  • Inspect project sites to monitor progress and ensure conformance to design specifications and safety or sanitation standards.
  • Estimate quantities and cost of materials, equipment, or labor to determine project feasibility.
  • Test soils and materials to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations, concrete, asphalt, or steel.
  • Compute load and grade requirements, water flow rates, and material stress factors to determine design specifications.
  • Plan and design transportation or hydraulic systems and structures, following construction and government standards, using design software and drawing tools.
  • Analyze survey reports, maps, drawings, blueprints, aerial photography, and other topographical or geologic data to plan projects.
  • Prepare or present public reports on topics such as bid proposals, deeds, environmental impact statements, or property and right-of-way descriptions.
  • Direct or participate in surveying to lay out installations and establish reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction.
  • Conduct studies of traffic patterns or environmental conditions to identify engineering problems and assess the potential impact of projects.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Civil Engineerses

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Science Fair Project Idea
In this engineering challenge, you will use limited materials to build a paper tower as tall as possible, but there's a twist! Your tower must also support a heavy weight at the top without collapsing. Follow the contest rules to try it out and enter the 2021 Fluor Engineering Challenge! Teachers, lesson plan versions of this challenge are also available. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Build model bridges and then deliberately destroy them? Who'd be crazy enough to try that? Read more
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Skyscrapers are impressive structures. What does it take to design a building so tall? Engineers use strong materials and innovative design to push the limits of gravity. They use special tables to simulate earthquakes and test models of their buildings. In this project, you will build your own earthquake table and see how tall you can make a tower out of LEGO® bricks. You can even measure how hard your earthquake table shakes using the accelerometer of your smartphone and a sensor app. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen a geodesic dome? Geodesic domes are approximately sphere-like (or partially sphere-like) structures made up of interconnected triangles. A famous geodesic dome is Spaceship Earth at EPCOT in Walt Disney World, Florida, but geodesic domes are also commonly found as climbing domes at playgrounds. In this science project, you will get to build a geodesic dome using rolled-up newspapers and tape. How much mass do you think your dome will be able to support? Build one and find out! Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Amaze your friends and family by moving water with just a few turns of your wrist! Nope, it's not a magic trick. It's simply an Archimedes screw. In this science project, you will build a very simple pump, called an Archimedes screw, to transfer water from a low-lying location to a higher location. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Suspension bridges, with their tall towers, long spans, and gracefully curving cables, are beautiful examples of the work of civil engineers. How do the cables and towers carry the load that is on the bridge? Can a suspension bridge carry a greater load than a simple beam bridge? This science project shows you how to find out. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Here's a practical engineering challenge: you need to build an enclosure for your dogs, using material that they can't chew through. It's going to be a lot of work to build, so you want to do it right. What material should you choose for the fencing? This project uses the scientific method to evaluate materials. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
The idea of a colony on Mars is exciting! In this science project, you will tackle one of the challenges a Martian colony will face: what will buildings on Mars be made of? In this project, you will make bricks from Martian-like ground cover and measure how strong these bricks are. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever seen an arch structure in a building, such as over a doorway or surrounding large windows? Arches have been used for structural engineering since ancient times. This experiment tests the strength of a naturally occurring arch shape: the shell of an egg. How much mass do you think an eggshell can support? Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
On December 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.2 megathrust earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia unleashed a powerful tsunami that hit the coasts of 14 countries and caused the loss of over 200,000 lives. The devastation that the tsunami left in its wake was heartbreaking, and people across the world united to help the survivors. Tsunamis are a powerful force of nature that can change the features of a coastline and result in millions of dollars in economic loss, but can… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
It's hard to believe that the same water that you use every day to quench your thirst, cook with, bathe in, swim in, and wash your clothes and dishes, is capable of another trick—it can make electricity! Electricity can be generated through the flow or through the fall of water. A big, fast-flowing river, for instance, contains a lot of moving energy that provides enough pressure to turn the blades of a turbine and run an electric generator. This same pressure can also be created though… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
A bridge collapse, like that of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, can be a major disaster. Bridges that cannot hold enough weight to do their intended job can be a serious public safety issue. And if they collapse, they can also cause economic damage due to costly rebuilding and people and companies scrambling to figure out how to circumvent the months of traffic impacts. Figure 1. On August 1, 2007 the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapsed killing 13… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
This project is inspired by the Banaue Rice Terraces, 2,000 year old structures carved into mountainsides in the Philippines. See if you can recreate the water flow of this ancient marvel, often called the Eighth Wonder of the World, using just household materials! The 2017 Fluor Engineering Challenge is over but you can still try out the project and compare your design to the high scores, or use the idea for a science fair or classroom activity. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Research the famous collapse of the Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge. What lessons were learned about the potentially damaging effects of wind on bridges? What structures stabilize a bridge against wind forces? Build models and use a wind tunnel to test your hypothesis. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Advertisements for high-tech sports gear or the latest and greatest outdoor material promise lighter and stronger products every season. Is it a scam? How can engineers keep creating materials that are both lighter and stronger than anything known so far? The answer is in the nanoscale! Using nanotechnology, scientists can play around with the detailed structure of matter, leading to a whole new range of materials, some with amazing qualities. In this science project, you will get a glimpse… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever been in an earthquake? What did it feel like? Did you jiggle back and forth? Up and down? Was there a jolt? Or a rolling motion? Come build a house Hansel and Gretel would love to eat, a special table to shake it on, and see how different soil types can amplify shaking. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever looked up at a skyscraper and thought "That is so cool!"? Building a skyscraper, or any structure, is more than just building the walls, windows, and floors. All structures require a foundation to keep them from falling down. This is especially important when a structure is built on a hill or on a slope. In this science project, you will build a tower of Lego® Duplos® on slopes with different angles. You will investigate how deep you have to dig the foundation for each… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Bridges are big and beautiful structures, but they also need to be safe for the people who cross over them every day. Building a bridge that is safe and secure is a challenge to civil engineers. But the job is even more challenging if you live in earthquake country! Find out how engineers are solving this problem as they build a new bridge over the San Francisco Bay in California. Try some of your own Bay Bridge designs. Will your bridge design take the shake of a quake? Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Ever try to tear a telephone book in half? Even though you can easily rip one or a few pages to shreds, the entire phone book has strength in numbers and holds together. This project is an introduction to measuring and comparing the strength of materials. Does spaghetti get extra strength if you bundle it together, or does strength simply increase proportionally with the number of strands? If you are interested in materials testing, get cracking! Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
You may have seen movies or read books where armies in medieval times catapulted large rocks or other objects at castles (or each other!). These armies used different types of catapults to accomplish different goals — for example, launching things over or into castle walls to knock them down. In this experiment, you will use a ping-pong ball catapult to lay siege to a "castle" and find the right settings to hit your targets. Read more

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