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  •  This is a loaded question, and I could write an entire book on it! But, I will limit my answer to a few key points:

    1. Technology has been a game changer. Calculations and designs that used to take weeks if not months can now be done in hours and days. One would think that this would mean that projects are completed in a much shorter amount of time, but that is only partly true. The fact is, now that changes can be made so easily, clients desire and expect many, many alternatives to consider rather than three alternatives, which used to be the typical. And because of the ease of changing designs, last minute "tweaking" of the plans is often done. In other words, what used to be "good enough" is now tweaked over and over in order to get the best, most efficient design.
    2. Engineering markets its services. Forty years ago, it would have been virtually unheard of to see an advertisement for engineering services. And no firms employed marketing folks. In earlier days, professional services such as engineering, architecture, accounting and medicine were pursued by those needing that particular service. I can still recall the day when we sat and waited for the telephone to ring to get that next job. Today, there is much more competition among professionals, including engineers, and one would find it difficult to succeed even as a small business without spending at least 5% of gross revenues on marketing. 
    3. Engineering considers the environment much more than in the past. There was a time when engineering and the environment were at odds — engineers were focused on successful project outcomes that accomplished the goals of their clients, and environmental advocates were focused on stopping as many of the infrastructure improvements as possible. Today, there is a partnership between the two. A key step in the engineering planning process is to fully evaluate the negative impacts to the environment, and to mitigate those impacts to the extent possible. In fact, it is my opinion that the pendulum may have swung a little too far in the other direction, and often millions of dollars of taxpayers' money is spend on frivolous lawsuits by environmental groups who know they cannot win their case so choose to delay the project start as long as possible. Very costly!
    4. Communication is key. We are seeing more and more need for extrovert personalities to join the ranks of introverted personalities that pursue the field of engineering. There will always be a great need for those individuals who are energized by focusing solely on the theory and design calculations part of a project. However, in this age of global competition, the spirit of entrepreneurship, imagination, and open debate that characterizes America will be what makes our contribution to the engineering industry unique.
    Hope this is helpful,
  • Ashlee,
    Social class issues associated with civil engineering:
    In the workplace, I have not personally experienced significant issues regarding social class. Many engineers that I know came from low to lower middle class incomes and this has never seemed to impact their careers. In fact, some of the most successful leaders I know in our industry came from a lower social class background, including being the first in their families to ever attend college. With that said, it can make it a challenge to actually get the education you need to become an engineer. More universities are beginning to reflect the cost of educating students in fields like engineering in supplemental fees added to their tuition. Therefore, it becomes more expensive in some cases to get an engineering degree. Also, there are times when certain social classes are not educated in how to pursue scholarships and loans.
    Gender, age or other personal demographic issues connected with civil engineering
    Civil engineering remains a predominantly white male career choice. Women may make up 8-10 %, and African Americans a MUCH smaller percentage. There is no practical reason for this to be a better career choice for white males than others, it's just who happens to choose the field. Once women and minorities enter the workforce in civil engineering, I feel that there are no more gender or race issues in our field than any other career field, and in many cases, it is much less than some others. Age issues are a bigger challenge, as the older, more experienced engineers struggle with keeping up with the new technology, social media, etc. Our field needs to figure out a way for there to be shared resources among the younger professionals who do understand the technology, and the older engineers who have the experience and wisdom of many years in the field of civil engineering.
    Communication issues, either within the workplace itself or in relation to society in general
    The majority of individuals who choose civil engineering happen to be introverts, meaning that there can be less comfort with communicating in public, dealing with a wide variety of people, etc. This can make it a challenge when an engineer advances to a management level position (communicating with employees) or must communicate effectively with clients who are not engineers. At times our industry deals with passive-aggressive responses from individuals rather than outright open communication about an issue. It is important for our industry to figure out ways to attract more diversity of personality type, including a larger percentage of "people persons" than we have had in the past. This will provide a better mix for our industry and I believe provide some aid to communication issues. With that said, the number one issue in ALL organizations is communication! That is not limited to civil engineering!
    Hope these thoughts are helpful,
    Barbara 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

  • 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
    Hi Erica! Nice to see an email from a fellow Canadian. As an Engineer, you always have the opportunity to get involved in Engineering outreach. I mentor high school students in an annual model bridge contest that is organized by the local chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (there is also a Canadian Society for Civil Engineering). There are countless other ways you can get involved such as volunteering at local schools to teach students about the field of Civil Engineering and/or helping at special activities that may be organized by a local or national engineering society and/or science group. As for what to do about Physics... I would study and do the best that you can. Physics was not my strongest area of science either. But it is important to the study of Civil Engineering, so hopefully you can stick with it. I found that it started to make more sense after seeing the principles a few times over (first in high school, and then again in university). Finally, about working inside vs. outside... with a Civil Engineering background, you can do either. If you prefer to work inside, you may want to focus on engineering design rather than construction. I spend the majority of my time inside of the office working on the design or coordination of projects (I rarely get my hands dirty). Occasionally, I will venture out to a site to review construction progress and/or meet with a contractor in the field. I also meet with clients, consultants, and city/town agencies at different stages of the project either to discuss the project or work out issues that cross between the different disciplines (architecture, structure, landscaping, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, etc.) - usually these meetings are in an office. Hope this helps answer your questions! Good luck in making your decision! -Cheeta
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