Remember when you were 17 years old, filling out multiple college applications, scrolling through the hundreds of possible majors and choosing civil engineering? How with one swift click, you turned in your college applications and told all your friends and family you were going to be a civil engineer?
Back then you probably told them you were going to build bridges, dams, skyscrapers or design the next freeway. What you may not have known were the different subdisciplines within civil engineering that require training, experience and sometimes graduate degrees.
Here are my three tips on choosing your engineering discipline:
- You are as tough as concrete and as flexible as steel
All jokes aside, your undergrad is the perfect time to test your strengths and weaknesses! The best way to figure this out is if you join engineering organizations that connect you with design competitions, research, internships and industry professionals – to name a few.
I joined the American Society of Civil Engineers and was initially interested in environmental and geotechnical engineering. In my first year, I joined the GeoWall team, and in my last year I was environmental captain.
Don’t be afraid to move around and figure out what you like and don’t like. I realized I really enjoyed geotechnical engineering during my undergrad, so I decided to pursue it for my master’s program.
- Always think outside the box
The classroom should not be the only place where you can explore your interests. Do your own research, whether that is online or through networking opportunities.
The right discipline is out there for you. Get connected with industry professionals and ask them these questions to start off with: What is your daily workday like? What additional knowledge/education should I look forward to? Where can I get started as an undergrad?
I connected with industry professionals within geotechnical engineering through my internship (although not geotechnical related), CalGeo student chapter, and my geotechnical engineering professor. It was helpful to have these connections as they were ultimately able to write my letter of recommendations for grad school.
- Make every moment count
My final piece of advice and last pun. It is OK to not have it figured out!
Even if you’re already done with undergrad, take every opportunity that comes as an opportunity to learn and grow into a better engineer. This may mean taking an extra training course or attending a networking conference. The best moment is now. This also means you can “sieve” out anything that you find doesn’t align with your interests anymore.
Now, don’t worry if you do not have everything figured out. Go through the first three steps, circle back and eventually you will find a tangent vector that works for you. Good luck!
Nikki Zulueta works at the Bureau of Engineering as a civil engineering associate. She is currently on the rotation program which allows new hires to experience design, construction management, engineering services and/or project management. She is currently on her design rotation within the Geotechnical Engineering Division working on notable projects such as restoration of a historical theatre within Los Angeles and building temporary bridge home shelters for the homeless. Zulueta graduated from California State University, Northridge with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 2017 and obtained her Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in geotechnical engineering in 2018 at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been the K-12 Outreach Co-Chair for the Los Angeles Younger Member Forum for the past two years.
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