What Does A Structural Engineer Do?

"In school I’ve taken a few drafting classes as well as a basic engineering class my high school offered, and I really got into it. I think that it must be really awesome to design buildings and stuff? Is that all structural engineers do, or do they also build other things like machinery? What opportunities would be open to me if I decided to major in structural engineering in college? How technical is structural engineering compared to other types of engineering?"

asked by Michael from Chicago, IL

Structural engineering is a pretty broad fields that deals with analyzing and designing structures which can either support or resist loads. Structural engineering is one of a number of disciplines under the field of civil engineering. Sometimes you’ll see it offered as a distinct major, while other times you may find it as a concentration under a civil engineering major.

Most structural engineers either work on buildings or “non-building structures.” This can refer to a number of different structures, such as dams, water towers, monuments, parking structures, bridges, and oil platforms (that is not a comprehensive list). These are all important infrastructure components which assist with water supply, transportation, power, and other human necessities.

Some structural engineers also get involved with the development of machinery, vehicles, and even medical equipment. Some even work on building structures for space, like space station systems.

There are so many different types of projects you can get involved in as a civil engineer. There are also many different roles you can play in regard to each. You can analyze maps and reports to plan projects and integrate them with geography, work on budgeting, test soil for foundations, decide on materials for projects, design complex engineering systems like hydraulics, and more.

These projects can be highly technical in nature. You may be involved more with the engineering end or the architectural design end—or you might do your work where both combine.

If you enjoy engineering and science—and maybe even art—you will find plenty of uses for your talents in the field of structural engineering, and a chance to make a difference in society. You also probably should check out other types of civil engineering like transportation engineering and geotechnical engineering.

I am guessing you would find those fields of interest to, and they all fall under the civil engineering umbrella. Most schools offer civil engineering as a major, and you will usually find the different types of civil engineering offered as concentrations.

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