In choosing a future career, do you find yourself torn between balancing your creative nature, your love of words and communication with an interest in science and technology? Do you dream big and feel you might be capable of bringing people together to navigate difficult decisions that have to be made in pursuit of the solutions to the great global challenges posed by poverty, economic crisis and climate change?
It may come as a surprise, but if the answer to either of the above was yes then a challenging and rewarding career awaits you in the field of civil engineering.
Civil engineers are tackling some of the world's most pressing challenges, namely minimising and mitigating the impact of seven billion human beings on the environment, whilst providing infrastructure to support the relentless expansion of the world's populations and cities. To tackle these challenges, there is a need to not only communicate the expertise that engineering can offer, but also to learn from other settings and disciplines in order to understand issues in a wider context.
The reason for this is that although it is true that engineers need a good grasp of mathematics and physics, it is also the case that there is never a single solution to an engineering problem. This means that any project team will need to influence, and draw influence from, other professionals - whther they be architects, contractors, environmental scientists, social scientists, economists or lawyers - and the public when selecting a solution.
Engineers need to be able to communicate ideas and thoughts across fields and be able to understand the needs and constraints of each. For example, aims of generating larger quantities of low carbon renewable energy have lead to government schemes in China engaging in the construction of large scale dams in order to create hydroelectric power schemes. This has been pushed as a "green" scheme as it does not produce carbon dioxide in the way that traditional coal or gas schemes do; nor does it have the issues of decommissioning and unknown dangers associated with nuclear power. However, this issue cannot be considered in isolation of just the technology. By considering the wider issues, it can be seen that the construction of large dams would disrupt the flow of rivers, destroy precious environments and profoundly affect the lives of local people when their access to these rivers and local environment changes, or the river floods or dries out in different locations.
The ability of engineers to open up effective communication channels is pivotal, because such channels play a vital role in influencing positive changes to government policy.
Additionally common sense is a key attribute of an Engineer. There is no point in an engineer designing something accurate to the fifth decimal place of a millimetre, and optimal mathematic design if the Contractor isn't practically able to come up with solutions to make the designs come to life and build it on site. The new Wear Crossing in Sunderland has made the press recently for presenting an aesthetically pleasing and technically feasible solution; but it has proven to be impossible to construct without a steep increase in costs. As a result the project has been scrapped (despite already spending a significant amount in planning and design) in preference of developing a simplified scheme. Better communication and an interest in reaching across different disciplines (from architectural design to practical construction in this case) is the only real means of protecting against such pitfalls. If these are skills you have then you can make yourself an extremely valuable addition to a project team.
Creativity is a vital attribute in a good Engineer both in terms of pushing the boundaries of developing new materials or technologies and coming up with a variety of solutions to an engineering problem. Engineers work with Architects to develop structures from an initial concept and take projects through to being built on site. How to get from a vision and a piece of paper through to something you can physically touch and interact with is more than maths at school where there is one answer, and you crunch through the numbers.
The perception of dusty overalls, drawing boards and carrying around scrolls of blueprints is outdated. Working as a Contractor involves more than spending time in steel toe boots. Engineering is not all about being best friends with your calculator and spending all day staring at a screen. Even as a designer, there's more to it than equations and computer models. Don't think that this is a career that involves quietly sitting in the corner of your office and crunching numbers -there is so much more to being a successful civil engineer, and so many more opportunities. From meetings with clients and project partners, to travel across the world, to 3-D drawing to keeping up to date with new technologies, materials and concepts. The simple fact is there are far too many opportunities to get bored with your day job as a Civil Engineer.
If you have good communication skills, if you are willing to take the time to understanding the social context of technology, to act as a mediator between science and the people, if you want to understand the impact of technology and to influence it for the better, then my advice to you would be that you may want to consider a career in engineering.