Careers in Civil Engineering

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By Joe, Civil Engineering
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Birmingham

Careers in Civil Engineering can be divided into two main categories. ‘Consultancy’ in an engineering context often relates to the discipline of producing designs or offering technical advice for infrastructure projects. On the other hand, ‘contracting’ denotes work that is undertaken for a project’s direct delivery and construction.

Work within consultancy is often desk-based and could be classed as a typical ‘9 to 5’ in terms of time requirements. It is also likely that a job in consultancy will call for numerous projects to be worked on simultaneously.

A job within contracting is likely to involve work ‘on site’, mixing desk work with practical applications of engineering. Such practical applications may include the use of surveying equipment and quality checking instruments. The hours tend to be longer than consultancy, however more flexibility and self-management is offered.

Having undertaken placements in both consultancy and contracting, I have learnt some important lessons about the industry. I have learnt the importance of time management, patience and teamwork but it has also become clear to me that there are several advantages of being regarded as an ‘expert’ within civil engineering. Furthermore, there is a continual requirement by the industry for experts for clear decision making.

This has therefore inspired me to undertake a PhD as part of an exciting opportunity at the University of Cambridge in partnership with National Highways. I will spend the first year of the programme being trained in research skills whilst refining my project plan. Beyond this year I have a further three years to carry out my research. At this early stage I am hoping to direct my research towards sustainability of materials and circular economy within road construction and management; however I am looking forward to completing a comprehensive literary review and numerous meetings with senior academics on the matter.

Ultimately, I expect myself to end up returning to industry, but the enticement of further academic work outweighs that of industry at this stage in my career. Moreover, the technical knowledge I will gain from the PhD will likely be more suitable for use in a consultancy role due to the in-depth knowledge I will have with relation to highways and geotechnical design. This is in no way set in stone and I am excited by the multitude of opportunities available to me as a civil engineering graduate, both in academia and industry!