Barbara Mulkey

Barbara H Mulkey

Title
Founder and Chair
Organization
Mulkey Engineers & Consultants
Location
NC
Barbara Mulkey
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Biography

35 years in the field of civil and structural engineering Founder of Top 500 engineering company, Mulkey Engineers & Consultants Author of "Building Bridges - A Collection of Thoughts About Engineers Connecting at Work, at Home and in Life" available through Amazon.com

Answers by Ms Barbara H Mulkey

Giselle,

I'm always glad to hear from another female interested in civil engineering.

I'll do the best I can to give you my opinion relative to your question.

I am sure there are structural engineers who do get to travel to potential project sites, and projects under construction. However, in all honesty, the typical structural engineer does not do a lot of international travel, at least in my experience. If that is what you desire, it will be important for you to do research on the companies that offer structural engineering on projects throughout the world. This could a an engineering company, or it could be a construction company that does design/build projects.

I would basically have the same answer for architecture -- the amount of travel would depend totally on the company you go to work for. The average architectural firm will do more local projects, but there are firms out there who are sought after for projects throughout the world.

One plus of structural engineering over architecture is your starting salary -- architects typically start at a lower salary until they are licensed, whereas engineers can make a pretty good starting salary before getting their professional engineer's license.

I urge you to take some time to look again at your interests, personality and strengths as you choose between these two professions, as they are very different. If you are looking for more of a creative outlet, and greater overall project management opportunities, then architecture would be a better fit. You find more introverted, scientific personalities in structural engineering (although I am a structural engineer and an extrovert).

Another option is a major that some schools like Penn State offer -- architectural engineering. That gives you the best of both worlds.

I truly believe that a degree in structural engineering is a great basis for a variety of careers, and if travel is what you want, you should be able to find that opportunity with some searching.

Hope this helps,

Barbara Mulkey

Esther,

Thank you for asking a great question, and one that many people have and are a little confused about.

Civil engineering is a very broad field that includes environmental, transportation, water resources, geotechnical, construction, and structures, just to name a few. Based on what you have told me, you are interested most in structural and/or construction engineering.

If you want to plan and design structures, you would focus on structural engineering. These job does not usually require moving a lot — you can plan and design projects all over the world from one location. You may visit the proposed site, but no need to move there.

Construction engineering is what you would focus on if you want to be on the site of the projects being built. Here is where you would actually get to see the project that has been planned and designed actually get built, and you would manage that process. While not always the case, there is a much greater chance of your needing to move where the project is, or at least commute.

They typical engineering degree can theoretically be obtained in four years. HOWEVER, usually it actually takes more like 4 1/2 or 5 years as it is a very full program. Also, there is a big advantage to getting some job experience while you are in school so that when you graduate you can list this on your resume. I always strongly encourage a co-op program, internships, or summer employment to get that experience.

I happen to have graduated from NC State with a degree in civil engineering, and later went back and got a master's degree in structural engineering. If you would like to see more about their program, go to http://www.ce.ncsu.edu. Also, Penn State has a very strong architectural/engineering program that combines structural engineering with some aspects of architecture. I believe that program may be five years but it is highly respected in the industry.

Hope this helps,
Barbara Mulkey, PE, FASCE

Dear Erica from Canada, I, too, hated Biology! I also found Physics to be very hard. Yes, you do have to survive Physics, but it can be done. The interesting thing is, once I started taking civil engineering courses, I found that many of them had been touched on in Physics but we went so fast and touched on them so briefly that I never could fully understand the concepts. Once we took each concept and dug into it for a semester, I found I understood and really enjoyed it. No one should allow those beginning courses to keep you from the career you desire. In the case of engineering students, those early courses that cause difficulty may be Physics or Chemistry or Calculus. Just because they are tough for you does not mean you should not go into engineering! Just get through them in order to reach your goal, and don't worry if you did not make high grades in those early courses. As for being an introvert, there are many different career choices in civil engineering and many of them appeal to those who consider themselves to be an introvert. By the way, being an introvert does not mean that you are not social; rather, it means you are selectively social and are a really good friend to those you choose to be in your circle. Many introverts are much better friends than extroverts! I hate getting my hands dirty, too, and believe me, that is not part of my job as a civil engineer! There are choices for those who do prefer that environment, but like you, I am not one of those and I have had many career opportunities. I love the fact that you love to work with children! Children, especially young girls, need great role models of women in the math and science fields to show them that they have many career choices. I always tried to model that to my children (all 3 of them), and also have enjoyed working in the community by mentoring teens and young adults. Lastly, I am a total bookworm and love to read! We need more people in engineering who enjoy both the arts and the sciences! Good luck to you--sounds like you will make a great civil engineer! Barbara H Mulkey, PE, FASCE