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PhD in Civil Engineering: Be a Bridgemaker with a Civil Engineering PhD

By Brendan Conway updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

That bridge over there? A civil engineer planned and designed it. That dam, the enormous one? Civil engineer. Canal? Civil engineer. Roads, buildings, utilities design... all of them were spawned from the pen (or keyboard) of a civil engineer. Civil engineers design the things we take for granted on a daily basis. If you're interested in joining their ranks, then a PhD in Civil Engineering may be the degree for you.

Civil engineering PhD or Master of Civil Engineering?

Like most types of engineer, civil engineers do not necessarily have to undertake any civil engineering doctoral programs in order to become civil engineers. In some cases, they may be able to obtain Bachelor of Engineering or a Bachelor of Science degrees, and then they may begin pursuing the other requirements of becoming certified civil engineers. Those other requirements may include anything from additional examinations to time spent at work as civil engineers.

In other cases, Master of Science degrees focusing on civil engineering may be necessary or important for those who are interested in working as civil engineers.

Civil engineering PhDs, then, would primarily be useful only for those individuals who are planning on entering into highly specialized or advanced positions within the civil engineering sphere or for those individuals who are planning to enter into the world of academia. A PhD in civil engineering might not be required for someone who simply plans on working as a civil engineer. Investigating whether a PhD or a master's degree is right for you should be one of your first priorities in looking at graduate school for civil engineering.

Subsets of Civil Engineering Graduate Programs

For those who do pursue PhDs in civil engineering, it is worth considering the different subsets of civil engineering, in order to determine if there is any particular type of civil engineering in which you would most like to specialize.

PhD civil engineering jobs are split into the following subtypes:

  • Construction engineering is related to construction projects for new buildings. It covers the various concerns that would inevitably arise around any plan for a new building.
  • Coastal engineering is engineering specifically for coastal areas. This is a specialized branch of civil engineering that often requires the engineer to design defensive constructions for the coast, so as to prevent flooding or erosion of the coast.
  • Earthquake engineering, as the name implies, is engineering with a focus on designing structures that are proof from damage caused by earthquakes.
  • Environmental engineering is engineering of structures which are important to environmental cleanliness, in general. Environmental engineering can thus include water purification systems as much as any structures used to manage or dispose of hazardous waste.
  • Geotechnical engineering is engineering which is meant to take into account important elements of geology which might affect engineering. For example, geotechnical engineering would focus on how to build foundations on specific types of soil in specific locations.
  • Water resources engineering is a type of engineering which focuses on the use of water. Dams would qualify under water resources engineering, as would attempts to channel water or send it over distances through pipes. Even bridges might fall under the overview of water resources engineering.
  • Materials engineering is a type of engineering specifically focused on the materials used for construction or creation of a given object or structure. Materials engineering is thus focused on the creation of new and better materials, and the perfection of items like paints and finishes for putting on top of materials.
  • Structural engineering involves the design and analysis of major structures, such as buildings, towers, and tunnels. Structural engineering has a focus on designing a structure for a given purpose, while also taking into concerns such as safety, cost, and the ease with which it can actually be built.
  • Surveying is somewhat tangential to engineering proper, but it is still important to civil engineering. Surveying involves obtaining information concerning the surface of the earth, for the sake of determining how best to build upon it.
  • Transportation engineering is engineering focused on the design and implementation of transportation schemes. Transportation engineering would thus focus on the creation of road, airports, railroads, and the like.
  • Urban engineering involves engineering of city infrastructure. Sidewalks, sewers, street lights, and other important fixtures of cities are all components of urban engineering.

Some forms of civil engineering will require civil engineers to work with other engineering PhD holders. For example, an environmental engineer would almost certainly have to work with a holder of a PhD in chemical engineering in order to discuss and determine the best options for treatment capabilities and hazardous waste creation and disposal.

A civil engineer might have to work with a holder of a PhD in mechanical engineering in order to create a mechanism for some project.

Almost all types of civil engineers might have to work with a holder of a PhD in systems engineering, as such an engineer would be trained to recognize important factors regarding entire complex systems, and would thus be well-suited to understanding how civil engineering projects fit into a larger picture.

Prerequisites for a PhD in Civil Engineering

A student who hopes to pursue a PhD in civil engineering will need at least a bachelor's degree, and will most likely need a master's degree, as well. Some PhD programs are oriented towards taking students all the way from a bachelor's degree up to a PhD, however, by first helping them get their master's degrees and then helping them get their PhDs.

In general, knowledge of mechanical, large-scale physics is likely important for any student of civil engineering, as is direct knowledge of civil engineering principles, obviously.

Some programs may lift some of these requirements, but in exchange might require students to take some form of test or assessment in order to determine their abilities in the subject matter.

Civil Engineering Programs
About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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