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Civil Engineering Overview

  “Civil engineering is about community service, development and improvement—the planning, design, construction and operation of facilities essential to modern life…”

    General, civil engineering majors are characterized by their ability to create solutions. They are responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of civil infrastructure, including building our world’s bridges, buildings, dams, tunnels, highways, railways, airports, foundations, water resources, coastal facilities, power plants and more. More than ever before, civil engineering is becoming a cross-disciplinary field.

  The undergraduate curriculum at Hopkins is broad enough to allow for elective opportunities for students within and outside of the department. Classes include those such as Calculus II and Linear Algebra through Bridge Design, Steel Structure, Intro to Ocean and Wind Engineering, and more. Classes are generally small, with 15 or less students. Learn more about the undergraduate civil engineering program here.

  Civil engineers are expected to work as part of a team to complete large projects. They often focus on geometry, trigonometry and calculus, as well as physics, material science, and chemistry in their undergraduate career, and later use theory and models to predict how their designs will perform.

Civil Engineering Career Options

  Engineers generally enter the career field with a bachelor’s degree, but advancement becomes more likely with the attainment of a professional engineers license (PE) or structural engineer (SE) license. To learn more about careers in engineering, click here.

Civil engineers usually work in the following eight specialty areas:

  • Structural - Structural engineers are responsible for creating structures that support weight and the loads they carry. This includes carrying out the planning and design of bridges, buildings, offshore structures, space platforms, amusement park rides, and more.
  • Environmental - Environmental engineers “translate physical, chemical, and biological processes into systems to destroy toxic substances, remove pollutants from water, reduce non-hazardous solid waste volumes” and more.
  • Geotechnical - Geotechnical engineers design projects below ground, such as tunnels, foundations and offshore platforms. This field involves analyzing ground properties that may affect the behavior of the structures. Other possible projects involve designing dams, embankments, and retaining walls.
  • Water Resources - Water resources engineers deal with issues pertaining to the quality and quantity of water in our world. Possible duties include preventing floods, providing water for cities, treating waste water, protecting beaches, or redirecting rivers. These engineers are sometimes involved in the design, construction, or maintenance of hydroelectric power facilities, canals, dams, pipelines, locks, and more.
  • Transportation and Pipeline - Transportation engineers are responsible for moving people, goods, and materials safely and efficiently. These engineers design, construct and maintain transportation facilities, such as highways, railroads, airfields and ports. Transportation engineers also focus on ways to improve traffic control and mass transit systems. Other transportation engineers focus on building and maintaining pipelines to allow for the reliable flow of gas, oil, and other commodities.
  • Construction - Construction engineers are responsible for turning the designs of other engineers into successful realities. They use their technical and management skills, as well as their knowledge of construction methods and equipment, financing, planning, and managing to turn designs into actuality.
  • Urban Planning - Engineers in this area focus on the entire development of a community. Possible projects include identifying park and recreation areas or determining areas for industrial and residential growth. As professionals in this area often have to coordinate with authorities, successful people and communication skills are required.
  • Coastal - Coastal engineers are responsible for protecting our world’s beaches and coasts. Possible responsibilities include deciding where sand should be added to an eroding beach.

  As seen above, the field of civil engineering is broad and interdisciplinary. Employers for civil engineers normally come from the construction industry, engineering or architectural firms, utility companies, oil companies, telecommunications businesses, manufacturing companies, consulting firms, railroads, and the government. Civil engineers are constantly on the move, sometimes spending their entire lives traveling to different projects. Possible job titles include: Civil Bridge Engineer, Hydrogeologist, Resident Engineer, Area Engineer, Construction Site Inspector, Tunnel Engineer, Hydraulic Engineer, Wastewater Engineer, and more.

It is important to note that while civil engineers generally end up in one of the specialty areas described above, engineering majors also have numerous general career areas open to them. These areas include:

  • Analytical - Use math to analyze engineering product designs.
  • Consultant - Offer consulting services on engineering issues and problems.
  • Design - Conceptualize something new.
  • Development - Coordinate the development of new products.
  • Facilities - Plan, design, construct, operate, and maintain facilities.
  • Field Service - Install, maintain and repair products.
  • Forensic - Provide expert evaluation and opinions on technical issues.
  • Manager - Oversee technical operations.
  • Production - Create products.
  • Project - Manage and coordinate engineering projects.
  • Regulatory Affairs - Ensure compliance with laws and guidelines.
  • Research - Find ways to accomplish specific objectives.
  • Sales - Provide technical assistance.
  • Test - Carry out tests and evaluations on devices and products.

Chemical Patent Law

  • A non-traditional, but lucrative field, that combines a law degree with graduate knowledge of science, chemical patent attorneys are responsible for determining whether a new compound or manufacturing process is sufficiently novel to be patentable, and then preparing the patent. They made be employed by corporations directly or as consultants.

  Other career fields within chemistry continue to emerge and grow as the science progresses.

Civil Engineering Career Prep

  The career path you choose may be influenced by your major, but it isn’t the only factor. Internship and research experience, extracurricular activities and the skills you develop as a result of your academic and out-of-class experiences all influence the career paths of Hopkins students.

  • Internships and Research Experience
    • To be competitive in today’s job market, it’s important that students apply the knowledge they have gained through their coursework in the workplace. Employers value the academic preparation Johns Hopkins University provides, but they want to see how you have applied your knowledge outside the classroom. Internships AND research experience are essential.
    • For civil engineering majors, on-the-job experience, such as internships, are vital in making you credible to future employers. Katie Francis, civil engineering major, Class of 2006 recommends, “Definitely get experience with internships while in college. Keep getting different internships until you figure out where you want to end up…. Internships are key, especially ones that show you aspects of the work that you may not experience on a daily basis in the job you want, but enable you to better understand the field in general…”
  • Extracurricular and Volunteer Activities
    • All employers want to see your ability to work on a team and to lead a project. Involvement in extracurricular and volunteer activities is the most effective way to develop and hone these skills. Communication skills are important for civil engineers, and can be perfected through extracurricular activities.
  • Develop Skills and Abilities Associated with Civil Engineering
    • Civil engineers are creative problem solvers who are curious, logical, and yes, usually a fan of math. Because they spend a large amount of time working with other professionals, it is imperative that those in the field learn to work well within a team structure and communicate effectively.
  • Strong Communication and Interpersonal Skills
  • Effective writing and competent oral communication skills
  • Physical Stamina for Outdoor Work
  • Ability to Organize and Direct Workers and Materials
  • Ability to Work Well Within a Team
  • Work in small groups/teams
  • Curiosity and creativity
  • Keep a group “on track” and moving toward the achievement of a goal
  • Interact effectively with peers, superiors and subordinates
  • Time Management
    • Managing one’s own time and the time of others
  • Complex Problem Solving
    • Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions
  • Critical Thinking Skills
    • Apply appropriate criteria to strategies and action plans
    • Take given premises and reason to their conclusion
  • Analytical
    • Ability to analyze and solve complex problems
    • Highly developed analytical and problem solving skills
    • Statistical awareness
    • Quantitative ability
  • Knowledge of…
    • Engineering and Technology
    • Design
    • Building and Construction
    • Mathematics
    • English Language
    • Physics
    • Transportation
    • Administration and Management
    • Customer Service
    • Public Safety and Security

Civil Engineering Alumni

Hopkins civil engineering alumni go into a number of fields. Past Hopkins alumni in civil engineering have become:

  • Area Engineer
  • Broker
  • Consultant
  • Design Engineer
  • Director of Product Management
  • Managing Engineer
  • Project Engineer
  • Professor
  • Research Engineer
  • Residential Designer
  • Structural Engineer

  Employers for Hopkins civil engineering majors have included Bausch & Lomb, Boeing Company, Canam Steel Corporation, Core States Engineering, Federal Aviation Administration, General Electric, Klewit Construction Co., Lucent Technologies, Millenium Science and Engineering, Northrop Grumman Corp., and Whiting Turner Construction.

  The Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans six months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses in the Post-Graduate Survey of Civil Engineering Majors.

Hopkins Alumni with Civil Engineering Majors

Katie Francis- Civil Engineering, Class Of 2006

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I enrolled at Hopkins interested in pursuing Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. I switched into Civil Engineering second semester sophomore year when I realized that I did not want to spend the rest of my life working in a lab/hospital. Civil Engineering offers an opportunity to get outside and visibly see the effects of your work in the form of new structures or changes improvements to existing structures.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I have the career that I do today as a result of internship opportunities I pursued while in college and the senior design classes taken for the Civil Engineering major. Both the internships and senior design classes helped me to narrow my focus to the type of job I wanted to obtain upon graduation and also to give me the type of experience that was advantageous in making me into a desirable candidate for the position that I wanted. My internships included time in the field of construction management, at a steel fabrication plant, and at a design firm.

Carl Liggio- Civil Engineering (Consulting)

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I took a graduate class in energy market modeling about the same time I decided not to pursue Civil Engineering as a career choice.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - A professor put me in touch with the head analyst at a local energy company. I interviewed, got the job and never left the industry. We were bought by another company. That company sold their power plants to another. Then I left to start my own company.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Working as a quantitative analyst for a startup energy company in Baltimore. Totally unrelated to my Civil Engineering coursework. Somewhat related to my environmental engineering coursework.
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - You can be as good of a specialist as you are a generalist. Constantly be learning. Don't stop with your specific niche. Understand how your niche interfaces with others.
  5. What is your typical day like? - No such thing. Since I started a company no two days are the same. Wake up, check email, work. Gym, Eat, Work more, eat. Hope to eat out with friends or colleagues. Work and sleep. "You can be as good of a specialist as you are a generalist. Constantly be learning. Don't stop with your specific niche. Understand how your niche interfaces with others.
  6. What is your typical day like? - No such thing. Since I started a company no two days are the same. Wake up, check email, work. Gym, Eat, Work more, eat. Hope to eat out with friends or colleagues. Work and sleep.
  7. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Energy is in a constant state of flux. The policies change, the technologies change. Right now it has the attention of the world. What is rewarding is starting a company and watching it grow. What is most challenging is keeping up with it all and wanting to do way more than there is time for.
  8. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Tough question to answer. Power and gas schedulers require the least amount of expertise. Be willing to learn, work hard, and learn not just about your area of the business. Learn how to trade, manage power plants, learn the billing. The more diverse of an experience you have the more valuable you will be.
  9. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Such a broad field. I am involved in too many aspects of it. Power plant management will not change too much. Just the rules will change. Renewable technologies are a different story
  10. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Being proficient in Excel Knowing how to program in any language. Internships are very helpful. Most important though is showing a good quantitative background and an understanding of general energy issues.
  11. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - In power plant management or gas and power trading: Two years still working in it. Five Management of a group. Ten senior management
  12. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - There are occasional energy networking groups. All very local. There is no one be all end all organization. Also depends on what aspect of energy you are in.
  13. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Anything that deals with commodities or risk.

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    For more information on what you can do with a Civil Engineering Major go to What can I do with a major in Engineering.

    Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Engineering, Consulting, and Teaching. If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

  LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.

Civil Engineering Grad School

  While many civil engineers break into the field with a bachelor’s degree, some decide to pursue Master’s and doctoral level studies. The American Society of Civil Engineers now recommends a master’s degree in civil engineering for career advancement, and more than a third of civil engineers do pursue this credential. The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Click here for guidelines and preparing for Graduate School and Professional School.

  For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts, faculty members and graduate students in your specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.

Civil Engineering Societies

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