What is Civil Engineering?

Civil engineering is arguably the oldest engineering discipline. It deals with the built environment and can be dated to the first time someone placed a roof over his or her head or laid a tree trunk across a river to make it easier to get across.

The built environment encompasses much of what defines modern civilization. Buildings and bridges are often the first constructions that come to mind, as they are the most conspicuous creations of structural engineering, one of civil engineering’s major sub-disciplines. Roads, railroads, subway systems, and airports are designed by transportation engineers, another category of civil engineering. And then there are the less visible creations of civil engineers. Every time you open a water faucet, you expect water to come out, without thinking that civil engineers made it possible. New York City has one of the world’s most impressive water supply systems, receiving billions of gallons of high-quality water from the Catskills over one hundred miles away. Similarly, not many people seem to worry about what happens to the water after it has served its purposes. The old civil engineering discipline of sanitary engineering has evolved into modern environmental engineering of such significance that most academic departments have changed their names to civil and environmental engineering.

These few examples illustrate that civil engineers do a lot more than design buildings and bridges. They can be found in the aerospace industry, designing jetliners and space stations; in the automotive industry, perfecting the load-carrying capacity of a chassis and improving the crashworthiness of bumpers and doors; and they can be found in the ship building industry, the power industry, and many other industries wherever constructed facilities are involved. And they plan and oversee the construction of these facilities as construction managers.

Civil engineering is an exciting profession because at the end of the day you can see the results of your work, whether this is a completed bridge, a high-rise building, a subway station, or a hydroelectric dam.

Please look at the Web pages of our individual faculty members to learn more about their special interests as examples of what civil engineering and engineering mechanics is and can be about.

Civil engineering: Jobs

What can I do with my degree?:Civil engineering: Jobs

A civil engineering degree prepares you for work in the construction industry as well as in the

broader business, management and financial sectors

Job options

Jobs directly related to your degree include:

 Building control surveyor

 Consulting civil engineer

 Contracting civil engineer

 Site engineer

 Structural engineer

 Water engineer

Jobs where your degree would be useful include:

 Building services engineer

 Engineering geologist

 Environmental consultant

 Patent attorney

 Quantity surveyor

Remember that many employers accept applications from graduates with any degree subject, so don’t

restrict your thinking to the jobs listed here.

Work experience

Employers place great importance on experience. If your course does not include an industrial

placement, look for relevant summer work experience and placements. Any kind of role in a

construction or civil engineering setting will allow you to build your understanding of issues related to

the planning and execution of projects. Use this experience to expand your knowledge and to develop

contacts and network.

Casual, hands-on construction work and administrative jobs may be available, but many employers

offer structured work experience opportunities.

Typical employers

Civil and structural engineers work in a range of sectors, particularly the construction sector, on

buildings of all kinds, transport and communications infrastructure. This includes bridges, roads,

tunnels, canals and other large structures. They also work for employers involved in the production,

storage and distribution of electricity, gas and water.

Civil engineers are employed by a wide range of contractors and consultancies and also work in-

house for a variety of national and multinational organisations. There are many opportunities in the

public sector, with local authorities, government departments and environmental organisations, where

engineers are often involved in setting project specifications and drafting tender documents.

Opportunities are available with employers both in the UK and overseas.


Civil engineers are in demand for their technical and subject-specific knowledge and understanding.

With a sound grasp of science, mathematics and technology, you can design, create and build

structures efficiently, making best use of available resources and techniques. Through realistic

construction-based group projects, you gain practical experience of applying your engineering

judgement and working successfully with others.

The skills gained by studying civil engineering are also sought after by employers in many other job

areas. These include a creative approach to problem-solving, critical thinking and the ability to

interpret data, numeracy, IT and communication skills, analytical and decision-making abilities, and an

awareness of ethical issues.

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