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A Career in Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering

July 22, 2014 By: Chad Category: Careers

From the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the skyscrapers and highways of the modern era, civil engineers have been responsible for the design, construction, and maintenance of such structures. That would make civil engineering one of the oldest branches of engineering; only military engineering is older. Civil engineering is split into so many sub-disciplines, the newest of which include geotechnical engineering and geoenvironmental engineering.

Geotechnical vs. Geoenvironmental
With the advances of science and technology, civil engineers have had to be more efficient in how they respond to the engineering behavior of earth materials. This is particularly the job of the geotechnical engineer, who studies the principles of soil and rock mechanics. Geoenvironmental engineers can be seen as specialist within the geotechnical engineering sub-discipline, since they study the behavior of the earth to protect groundwater and maintain landfills in particular. They also design processes for waste minimization or disposal. Ultimately, both types of civil engineers determine the relevant physical, mechanical, and chemical properties of the soil; evaluate stability of areas of land; assess any possible risks; design the desired structures; and monitor the construction and site conditions.

Education and Training
Aspiring geotechnical or geoenvironmental engineers require at least a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from a four-year institution, such as a college or university. Many schools—like the University of California Berkeley, MIT, Stanford University, USC, and Texas A&M University—have the geotechnical engineering specialization. As a newer specialization, geoenvironmental engineering is comparatively rare. However, a few schools—such as George Washington University and Missouri University of Science and Technology—offer a Graduate Certificate Program in Geoenvironmental Engineering. For higher earning potential or level of training, students can enroll in a Master of Science in Civil Engineering degree, or continue with a Doctor of Philosophy degree if they want careers in research or academia.

Work Environment
Due to the nature of their job, geotechnical or geoenvironmental engineers split their time between the outdoors at construction sites and indoors in offices. Outdoor time is spent monitoring operations, solving problems , and ensuring that guidelines are met. Indoor time is dedicated to research, design, and modifications. Most geotechnical or geoenvironmental engineers work in engineering or building firms. However, a significant number can be found in government agencies.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineers in the Civil Engineers category. In 2013, the median annual salary of civil engineers was $80,770 (or $38.83 an hour). That’s an increase from the previous year, in which civil engineers had a median annual wage of $79,340 (or $38.14 an hour). The lowest 10 percent made around $50,000, while the top 10 percent took home around $122,000.

The BLS estimates the number of civil engineers at around 273,000. The agency expects a growth rate of 20 percent between 2012 and 2022, thus adding more than 53,000 civil engineers to the workforce. The employment growth rate for this profession is faster than the average for all occupations in the U.S. Such a bright job outlook can be attributed to the need to replace aging infrastructures. Geotechnical or geoenvironmental engineers will need to apply new ideas regarding the behavior of earth materials to rebuild or upgrade bridges, roads, levees and dams, among other structures.