How To Become A Geotechnical Engineer
Career Video: Geotechnical Engineer
Do you have an interest in maintaining a balance between natural and man-made structures? Do you have a deep passion for geological compositions—how they affect and are affected by construction? Are you interested in not only ensuring public safety but also in protecting the environment? Would you like to build your future through using the principles of engineering, geology, and construction project development? If you have the interest and aptitude, pursuing a career as a geotechnical engineer could pave the way to a meaningful and challenging future.
Why Become A Geotechnical Engineer
Geotechnical engineers are geological experts, who work with other professionals to analyze, assess, and ensure geographical stability and safety of man-made structures. Their objective is to survey the foundation of a construction project—rocks, soil, and other natural formations—and determine its integrity. They may be a part of designing support structures and making recommendations in regards to any possible problems. Not only are they responsible for guaranteeing a sound foundation, but they must also factor in the reliability of a structure during any number of natural disasters, designing safety strategies to combat any threats.
Geotechnical engineers are not only experts in geological formations and substances, but they are professionals who use engineering principles to perform many duties. They are responsible for onsite examinations, which includes the supervision of all sample collection, analysis, and data mining. Geotechnical engineers must determine the physical safety, as well as the impact of chemical compositions in regards to any natural and construction resources; they are responsible for devising a plan to remove and dispose of any hazardous materials. Geotechnical engineers create recommendations and plans, and then they present their findings to other professionals, such as construction managers, structural engineers, and architects.
Due to the safety risks involved with all construction, geotechnical engineers are charged with a tremendous responsibility; therefore, they must possess the following attributes and skills:
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving skills
- Sound judgment
- Excellent communication
- Practical and technical traits
- Technologically savvy (CAD software)
- Aptitude for engineering principles
- Knowledgeable of geological compositions and formations
- Knowledgeable of construction techniques and materials
- Environmental concern and passion
Geotechnical Engineer Work Environment
Geotechnical engineers can enjoy a varied work environment. Depending on their employment and stage of a project, their physical work can take place in an office, laboratory, construction site, or even a classroom. They can work as instructors/professors, construction contractors, and consultants. Industries that hire geotechnical engineers for consulting include mining, electrical, and fuel organizations. Applications of engineering and geological principles are needed during energy exploration (solar, wind, or fossil fuel). They may even work for various educational institutions or government agencies.
Most geotechnical engineers work fulltime, and they may work overtime to complete a large project within the confines of its deadline. They can expect to travel, sometimes nationally or internationally, depending on their role within a company or industry.
Geotechnical Engineer Salary
Many factors dictate the salary of a geotechnical engineer, but in the United States, individuals with a civil engineering background can expect to make a yearly salary of $82,220. Educational level, experience, magnitude of responsibilities, industry, project, employer, geographic location, and other factors determine the salary of a geotechnical engineer. Those working for federal, state, and local governments can expect to earn the most compensation and benefits.
Geotechnical Engineer Career Outlook
The job prospects for geotechnical and civil engineers are limited, although necessary. Due to low government funding for infrastructure and maintenance, it may be difficult to find work or projects. Nonetheless, geotechnical engineers are necessary in terms of maintaining safety of current and future structures. Engineers may have more access to employment as consultants, especially if self-employed; however, it may take several years’ experience to gain a reputable name in the business. Universities and other engineering programs are always looking for qualified candidates to teach future generations of engineers.
Geotechnical Engineer Degree
To become a geotechnical engineer, individuals must possess, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Senior positions require advanced degrees and licensure, while teaching positions at universities require a Ph.D.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring geotechnical engineers will need to earn a degree from an accredited program. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) supports programs throughout the country that will lead to a Professional Engineer (PE) license. Programs of interest may include geotechnical, civil, or structural engineering, as well as civil engineering technology. Students should be sure to take courses in mathematics, statistics, geology, fluid dynamics, and engineering mechanics and systems. Students should also make sure to balance time in the classroom with laboratory experience and any other coursework that will aid in a future specialty.
Step 2: Obtain a PE license. Any engineer that wishes to work on projects that may affect public safety will need a PE license. It is possible to find engineering employment without a license, but all work will be under the supervision of a licensed engineer. To obtain licensure, individuals must have relevant and supervised work experience (at least 4 years), as well as the following:
- An ABET accredited degree
- Passing score on PE examination
- Passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination
Step 3: Obtain a graduate degree (optional for advancement). Nearly one quarter of all civil engineers has a master’s degree. If an individual wishes to work as a project manager or supervisor, it is most likely necessary to have an advanced degree. Many senior positions require at least a master’s degree in a relevant field.
For individuals interested in working in a research or education setting, obtaining a Ph.D. is necessary. Some adjunct and instructional positions are available with a master’s degree in geotechnical or civil engineering.