The Footnotes

ENGINEERING

What does civil engineering mean?

I build the roads you drive on, the bridges you drive over and the buildings you are driving to.

Civil engineering is a mix between engineering (which is about developing ‘sound’ infrastructures), design (CAD sketches) and art (designing aesthetic structures).

A practicing civil engineer will use their science, engineering and problem solving knowledge to plan, design and build infrastructures. These infrastructures can include anything from buildings, roads and highways; tunnels, bridges and rail systems, airports, seaports, water reservoirs and storm water drainage.

I love my job, because I build the things that people use in their daily lives. I love the tangibility of civil engineering. For example, take the building you work in, or the school you attend – the drawings and plans for that building must be reviewed by a professional engineer, usually a civil engineer. Now think about where you live – Civil engineers work to plan, design, build and maintain our roads, and they also design the bridges and tunnels we use to get to school or work. Even more, think about the glass of water you just drank, I guess that came from the tap? Well, the water treatment plants and the storm-water drains that bring running water, the most essential basic we have – was designed by a civil engineer.

I specifically work in transportation engineering. Most obviously I work to maintain roads and highways, bridges in Sydney – which is a feat. I work for a private company that then works for the NSW Government and this kind of set up is pretty common in the industry, it’s called ‘consulting’.

Something I love about my job is that I get to work across every phase of a project. I not only plan, design, and build a structure – but I also maintain it. Take a bridge, for example, civil engineers design and build it, but they also maintain the bridge. This means looking at traffic patterns, monitoring changes to the surrounding feeding arterials and roads and too, worrying about environmental factors.

An interesting project that I have worked on was the designing and building of an airport runway. My role saw me study the air path traffic patterns and suggest the optimal ways to control the traffic, there were more than 300 planes taking off daily on that runway – which I can tell you, took for some mathematically analysis. Problems I worked through were:

  • Are there winds aloft (off the ground) and at ground level that might effect take off?
  • What is the climate and the local weather patterns, and how will these affect the project?
  • What are the locations of off-airport hazards that may effect an aircraft?
  • Are there off – airport areas that will be affected by noise or hazards from aircraft using normal flight patterns?
  • What degree of separation from other runways I need to ensure that it has access to maintenance facilities and parking ramps?
  • What are the stability and suitability factors of the ground, the drainage patterns, is there an absence of geologic or hydrologic hazards?

Any student who has an interest in the sciences, such as mathematics and physics, yet also has a passion to improve our society would make a good civil engineering major. I think the coming generations will have the ability to use engineering techniques to build a resilient and sustainable infrastructure – something extremely rewarding, and that will impact generations to come. We are in an infrastructure boom, and I think there has never been a better time to be involved in the industry.

In my experience, Civil engineering was such a versatile course that I don’t think you could ever be bored. You won’t do the same calculations and the same number crunching over and over, rather you’ll go through the phases of your class project quickly. “Phases” are things like, the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of your working project.

The course will be very hands on, within your first week you will be introduced to a program called CAD that helps to create designs of civil structures. You will also have lab work in your curriculum, you will learn about things like “soil mechanics” where you test and evaluate soil. My favourite lab work was always hydraulics. This is where you learn how water flows. So I drifted more and more into hydraulics as my field of study during university; I found the ways that you can measure and visualise flow fields in rivers fascinating, which ultimately led me to working in transport (water = bridges).

I love my job, and wouldn’t change it for the world. As a graduate there are many job opportunities – which is a huge plus. I guess at the end of the day civil engineers are always in demand, since without them our society could not function!

 

What does civil engineering mean?
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