Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Exploring careers with Civil PhD outside of academia

    Posted 10-24-2019 10:55 PM
    Hi all,

    This question might have been addressed already, but I'm relatively new here, so please just point me in the right direction if so.

    I'm hoping to hear from practicing engineers in the field of stormwater or water resources in general who have a PhD in this field but who aren't working (at least not full-time) in academia...
    I'm a doctoral student in civil engineering studying stormwater management and exploring career options outside of academia (I'm about 1.5 yr from graduating). My project is very application-oriented (i.e. not theoretical or modeling) as I'm analyzing the performances of several green stormwater infrastructure systems by monitoring volume and contaminant control. Stormwater is a strong interest of mine, but I'm open to careers in the broader realm of water resources engineering. I'm not categorically opposed to a career in research, I'm just not really into the university-type research with all that comes with it.

    My goal in posting is to learn more about what's out there in terms of relevant careers outside of research in academia for an individual with a PhD in civil (water resources) engr and potentially how I can start preparing now. For those of you who have a PhD (or even can speak for someone who has been down this path) in this or a related area, what sort of work are you in now and how did you find it? What do you wish you knew when you were in grad school about transitioning out of the academic world?

    I'm familiar with myIDP, but have found that many of those careers focused on the sciences rather than engineering. I've passed the FE, am a US citizen, and would like to earn my PE if that is relevant to your answer. Unfortunately, taking a summer to do an internship is not an option for me given the nature of my research.

    Gail Hayes EIT, S.M.ASCE
    University of Virginia

  • 2.  RE: Exploring careers with Civil PhD outside of academia

    Posted 10-25-2019 10:09 AM
    Hi Gail, I believe the three most frequent places to go for civil engineering ​PhDs are: industry, government, and academia. My speciality is, however, is seismic risk assessment, not water resources. I have met civil PhDs in all these three places, including flooding experts from US Army Corp of Engineers. After a short (5-month) postdoc position after PhD thesis defense, I have been employed with a federal gvt agency for 4 years.

    I found this job through my university job search engine, where typically only serious recruiters post their ads. I was lucky to be selected for consideration. and the hiring process took about 5 months (1 online judgment test in month 1, one proctored judgment test in month 2, an in-person interview in 3 month 3, security check depending on the situation, final hiring manager phone call to confirm before making the offer).
    Based on my experience, I suggest that you start looking at job postings maybe half a year before your thesis defense, from government agencies, such as Corp of Engineers, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and etc. I believe you will love working in these places right after graduation. I have seen people moving from one place to another, such as from government to academia, after a few years of employment. So you could still find your way towards your long-term goal.
    I hope it helps.

    Joey Wang, PhD, P.Eng
    CNSC, Canada

  • 3.  RE: Exploring careers with Civil PhD outside of academia

    Posted 10-25-2019 10:10 AM
    Hi Gail,

    I've seen engineers with advanced degrees valued more in the public regulatory field than in the private consulting field. Very rarely do I see a PhD in private consulting. If I do, the company they're with usually doesn't value their advanced degree enough. In fact, I've found that administration and marketing staff with little to no education are valued and appreciated more than staff with formal or advanced education and occupational licensing that is the basis of the firm's profit margin. It's backwards and very sad.

    Maybe consider a career with FEMA, the Army Corp of Engineers, the drainage division of the Federal Highway Administration, or even your state and local government drainage departments.

    Hope this helps. Good luck.

    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607

  • 4.  RE: Exploring careers with Civil PhD outside of academia

    Posted 10-25-2019 05:39 PM
    Hi Gail,
    I have a friend with a Ph.D. and he specialized in stormwater. His dissertation was on the hydraulic modeling of green roofs. He worked at a large, international firm in a stormwater-focused group that produces some research and does a lot of policy/design guidelines. He ultimately decided to move back to the area where he got his degree and is now with the municipal government working to help them with their various NPDES permit requirements. From what I understand, it was a big pay cut, private to government, but he has more free time to tinker with some ideas he had.

    Kristen Yoshida P.E., M.ASCE
    Belt Collins Hawaii LLC
    Honolulu, HI

  • 5.  RE: Exploring careers with Civil PhD outside of academia

    Posted 10-28-2019 09:52 PM

    I graduated from my Ph.D. in December 2018 and I currently work in the construction industry. My current organization's forward-thinking view and growth mindset really motivated me to join. 

    In my experience and in my field (i.e. construction), advance degrees are valued by very few people in the industry. Experience seems to be more valuable to the majority. For this reason, it is your job to understand and provide an interesting value proposition to motivate an industry organization to make you an offer. That is, how do you plan to apply your advanced knowledge to produce a better product or service? Something I have found during this time in the industry is that implementation is much harder than planning, and during graduate school, we are more thinkers than doers. 

    I suggest that you do a lot of networking. This is what lead me to my job. Reach to professionals you admire, attend meetings from professional organizations, go to professional conferences, ask a lot of questions, and be humble. Everyone has something to teach you and you can always learn something new. With every person I talked, I began to understand how could I fit in the industry, how to create my value proposition, and which areas I needed to get better. I also found that many people were interested in my work and my ideas, which was very motivating.

    I hope this helps. The mindset you will develop during graduate studies will take you far.

    Keep growing!

    Carlos Zuluaga Ph.D., EI, A.M.ASCE
    Ph.D. Student, Civil Engineering