Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Career Advice

    Posted 08-23-2022 09:50 AM
    Hello All,

    I am an incoming sophomore and I have a lot of questions about what my future holds. I am on track to graduate with my civil engineering degree, but that opens so many doors to different fields and study areas that I am finding myself frozen at the thought of choosing one. I have had internships in road design, residential, and surveying. I have really enjoyed everything I've done so far, but I am particularly drawn to the idea of environmental engineering. The only downside is that my school does not offer any master's programs or even a class for me to reach out to. I am hoping to secure an internship next summer working for an environmental division at one of our local plants, but that isn't solidified just yet.

    Those who have focused on one field, master's or not, how did you do it? How did you know that field was right for you? How can I find resources to learn more about environmental engineering, and if I like it, study it further and make that into a career?

    Thanks!

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    Evan Brittenham S.M.ASCE
    Bowling Green KY
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  • 2.  RE: Career Advice

    Posted 08-26-2022 12:30 PM
    Hi Evan,

    It sounds to me like you are in a much more well-informed position already than you may realize. After only your freshman year, you have already had multiple internships? Most students at my own University did not usually find an internship until the summer before their junior or senior year. With only one year of college education behind you, it is very natural not to know for certain what you want to do yet. My only advice is to keep doing whatever it is you are doing and keep gaining experience wherever you can. It will all be useful to you as you try to narrow down where you are most interested in going after college.

    I myself had no idea what I was interested in until junior year, when our classes transitioned from more fundamental math and science into engineering-specific courses on structural, water, environmental, transportation, and geotechnical subjects. I found myself more interested in the water and environmental classes. That summer, the only internship I could find was working for a geotechnical company. I learned a lot and it was both challenging and interesting, and also helped me decide that it was not work I wanted to get back into. This was equally as valuable as finding something I would have liked.  After graduating, a professor at my school asked me to stay for a masters as his grad student. This got me more involved with water (hydraulic and hydrologic modeling) and helped me find a job after school.

    So, some suggestions (by no means all encompassing ones)
    - Start researching schools you could earn a masters from. Look at the professors at those schools, and read over the work and research they perform. Reach out to them and see if they have time to talk to you about working with them after you finish undergrad. If anything there sounds exciting to you, it will help you plan the rest of your undergraduate route accordingly. It will also give you time to get an idea of what funding might look like. Oftentimes, a masters or PHD can be paid for, partially or fully, via the work you do as a graduate student.
    - Keep an eye out for more environmental internships (as well as any others that look interesting to you). Most places looking for interns recognize that you do not have a background in their field yet and are there to learn. Having previous intern experience in the other sectors you mentioned will still look good on your resume (keep your resume up to date as well).

    With a background like yours, you are already doing a great job. Keep doing your best to find work and coursework that you find interesting and I think you will be successful.

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 3.  RE: Career Advice

    Posted 08-29-2022 08:14 PM
    Thank you so much for your time and your advice. I am excited to look into different schools and internships!

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    Evan Brittenham S.M.ASCE
    Bowling Green KY
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  • 4.  RE: Career Advice

    Posted 09-01-2022 12:23 PM
    I had the same fear of being pigeonholed, I worried that I would pick the wrong field and I would regret my decision.  I graduated during the Great Recession so I wasn't able to have any kind of internship before I graduated. In the 11 years since, I have worked in structural design, transportation design, construction, municipal, and forensics.  In fact, not having picked a single field has served me well.  My breadth of knowledge in the industry is wide, I may not be the master of anything, but I feel comfortable in a lot of different situations.  Having experience in many different aspects has opened doors I wouldn't have had access to otherwise.  While it's not the traditional path, there is absolutely a path forward for you if you start doing something and change your mind later.  All of your knowledge and experience is cumulative, it will serve you well wherever you end up, and you bring along with it your own individual strengths.

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    Vanessa Rollins P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Rimkus
    Willowbrook IL
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  • 5.  RE: Career Advice

    Posted 09-02-2022 10:20 AM
    I agree with Vanessa. I haven't worked in as many distinctive fields, I mainly work as a municipal consulting engineer. But in that role, we help out with many engineering tasks such as typical municipal work (streets, sewer, water, stormwater), but also construction, coastal resiliency, I&I, studies and investigation, and non-traditional engineering work, such as seeking funding sources, asset management, GIS, etc. I graduated in 2016, but as I was in college I had a few internships which helped me see which direction I wanted to go. One of those internships was at the company I work at now, and what made me stay was the people, the foresight of rapid advancement, the breadth of range of work everyday that was different and unique.

    I guess where I am going with this is that choosing a direction is important, but also choosing a company which won't pigeonhole you is important too, however choosing a direction doesn't lock you into that direction forever.

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    Benjamin Hearn M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    George, Miles & Buhr, LLC
    Seaford DE
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  • 6.  RE: Career Advice

    Posted 09-03-2022 10:41 AM
    Evan, you've gotten some good advice here. In the short term, you might ask the ASCE student chapter to invite a couple of practicing environmental engineers to speak at your meetings. They can provide valuable insights and contacts.
    Chris, Vanessa, and Benjamin offer good ideas for your consideration. Our profession has a need for both generalists and specialists and you can choose between them or shift during your career. Generalists are most often tapped for management positions; whereas, specialists get to continue mostly technical work. All are good choices.

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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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