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Aspiring Structural

Question about Structural Engineering profession

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Hello.



I am an aspiring Structural Engineer. I have finished up a bachelors in Civil, Structural Emphasis and am getting ready to do a Masters.



Before I go 'all in', I have a question.



From what I have heard from some professors and some other sources, it leads me to believe that the Structural Engineering profession is very stressful and the hours are very long, like 60 hrs/week on a regular basis. That design checks are a luxury. How true is this? Are structural engineers under constant stress? Much more so than the other type of Civils?



I would really like to hear some opinions from SEs, or people who know them or work with them.



I realize the market isn't exactly exploding right now because I have not been able to get an internship or even interview, so unfortunately, I haven't been able to get any real world experience.



I do not mind working hard. I actually am a 4.0 Civil Engineering student, but I don't want to live in the office. I also welcome challenges, but do not want a job with an extreme amount of stress.




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First, I will say that don't let anything that I am about to type below sway your career choice away from the path you are already on. I can only type about my personal experience and everyone that does this job will have a different view about it.



The job as an SE can get stressful and I can say that I've put in only three 40 hour or less weeks this year and I'm salaried, so no OT. I've lost sleep or been running on very limited amounts of sleep for a few days on end. A yearly bonus check is only there if the company does well as a whole in most cases; but I already know that I won't be getting one this year. My current supervisor is the only other SE in the office and since he's in a managerial role, he often puts in 60+ hours (again, only truly getting paid for 40.)



I think Engineering as a whole is stressful as you are usually dealing with different contractors and clients that all think they are the highest priority. Sometimes your personal life can suffer because of it. There may be a time or two where you have to work long hours or pull an all nighter to get a job out the door on time. I don't think there is any difference between the amount of stress that each of the different Civil disciplines (or Engineering disciplines for that matter) will encounter.



Once you've been in the office for a few months, and depending on the position, you'll be getting into the field more and more. Field work can be fun (I enjoy it); but you will have to rely upon the office experience to make informed choices on the fly. Don't be afraid to inform the contractor / client that you will look into the issue and let them know in short order. Also don't be afraid to call your supervisor / more experienced PE to come to the site to make a call.



I will say that the amount of stress that you deal with will also be different between the private and government sectors. Some of the government jobs have less stress as you are not as "liable" as those in the private sector, but this is not always the case; and maybe I'm a little biased about that (no hard feelings towards those in some of the guberment positions). Not every position is the same, some offices are better than others.



As I do not know what part of the country you are looking for work in so I cannot comment as to why you haven't been able to find a position. Times are tight in most of the country right now, but some locations are hiring new blood. Others are wanting a few years experience.



Don't give up on it and don't limit yourself to a particular geographical area (if possible). There is work out there for those willing to relocate.



Good luck with your classes and please don't let what I've written above sway you away from the engineering field. It might not be for everyone, but if you've made it past the bachelors degree, you've got the hard part behind you.


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My experience is basically yes to everything you said. Was a 3.8 Civil (Structural) Engineering Major, got a summer job as an associate engineer between BS and grad school and hated it (50+ hr weeks, high stress, etc). Decided not to go to grad school and got a transportation engineering job instead (did grad school at night while working). Of course YMMV, I have several friends that enjoy their structural jobs. Maybe I was just at the wrong firm, who knows.



I do think the stress is higher in structures than say land development or transportation, as in structural you are responsible for interpreting an architects drawing and making it work(no one tells you what the loads on the beam are in practice.)



I would recommend trying to work in industry before finishing the MS in case you hate structures after working in the field and get stuck trying to get jobs in land development with a masters in masonry design.


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I agree with the two previous posts:



- I work in the private industry, and it can be very stressful at times, but the challenge can also make it fun, and rewarding when you see a finished project. There are a lot of different projects and it usually is not mundane or repetitive work. The government is probably less stressful as stated above, because the liability is lower and the work hours are like school bells a lot of time, and never work an hour of overtime. They are not under the same time pressure from private clients as private consulting engineers are. They also get paid left, and might not have the jobs that are as creative, due to the public funding the projects.



- MWC PE made a really good point that even I had not thought of... the aspect of dealing with the architects and all other disciplines. It's possible that structural is a little more stressful because the consequences of error are so much greater and more expensive to fix. When I had liability training after becoming license, the insurance companies told us that the structural field is where most of the claims come from, and where most of the money is paid out.



- I agree with blybrook, bonuses have always been slim to none where I work. I currently do get paid overtime, it's just my straight hourly rate, it's not 1.5 or anything like that. I usually average about 10% above my base annual salary due to my overtime, so that can give you an idea of the average number of overtime hours worked annually. The next level that I get bumped up to is when I lose the overtime pay.



Also, it was not bad advice to try and get a job before jumping into the Masters, if possible. That way you can try the field at first, and maybe even get your employer to contribute towards your tuition.



Good luck with everything. It all depends on what you enjoy doing... the stress, overtime hours, etc are just part of the engineering field. Everything comes down to dollars, and the faster firms can get projects complete, with the smalles amount of money spent, then the better.


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Thank you so much for the answers guys! Very insightful.



I have another question I hope some people could chime in on.



I'm in a favorable situation where I can complete the Masters degree in a short time, and get some of it paid for. I NEED to pick a concentration. It's required. There is some course overlap between the different disciplines, but not much.



My question is, if I get a Masters in Structural, can I still enter the other fields? Will it be a big problem? Will they ask me during the interview what my Masters Concentration was, and if it's not in what I'm interviewing for, I'll have no chance for the job?



Also, later on down the road in my career, will the concentration of my grad degree matter?



Thanks.




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Aspiring Structural,



I have some thoughts on the topic that I wanted to share. Without writing an autobiography - I graduated from an Architectural Engineering program with an MEng - Structural Emphasis 6 years ago. I spent the next 2 years working for a structural consultant. I spent the next 2 years working for a utility at a nuclear power plant. I have spent the last 2 years working for a large railroad as a bridge engineer. I'm leaving that job this week to go to work doing structural design for a heavy equipment manufacturer.



In my experience, consultants will work you hard - certainly some harder than others. Generally, they will try to get as much out of you as they can. In many cases, you end up sacrificing yourself and you may or may not be compensated accordingly. Depending on your management and co-workers, they may pressure you to cut corners. On the other hand, you may work with some really upstanding, excellent engineers that will mentor you and teach you a lot about the profession. You may to work on exciting projects, you may not. Some of these things you may be able to discern ahead of time.



On the other hand, there are options other than consulting. Specifically, owners hire engineers. This work is usually more on the managerial side than the technical side. The pay on the owner's side is usually less than the consulting side. However, the benefits may be better and owners usually work 40 hour weeks year-round. The other difference on the owner's side (especially at the railroad) is that you seldom coordinate with architects and sometimes don't coordinate with any other design professionals.



In a nutshell, if you want to pursue a managerial career and work 40 hour weeks, look for a job on the owner's side. If you want to do design work, you don't mind working overtime, and you are OK coordinating work with other interests, look for a job in consulting.



There are other options out there. In my case, as I mentioned, I'm moving to structural design for a manufacturer which combines traits of the consulting side and the owner's side. I'll do design work nearly full-time, but as long as I can keep up with fabrication schedules, I'll work 40 hour weeks. I've been fortunate to get exposure to several different environments and I'm lucky that there is an opportunity that seems like it will suit my relatively unique interests. Several colleagues have told me that they would absolutely hate doing that much design. I respect that, but I love design. Furthermore, I'll be in a situation where I'm not coordinating much, if anything, with other designers. That's another great thing for me, I don't necessarily thrive in a team environment.



In the modern employment paradigm, you will likely only find out what a given job is really like after you've worked there for awhile. For me, as you can see, it's taken about 2 years to learn a job and culture, decide it's not the right fit, and find something that seems better. In any case, any degree in engineering will adequately prepare you for several careers outside of engineering if you choose. And, that is a valid choice for many people. I know an ex-civil engineer who ended up leaving the profession to become a loan officer. Engineers commonly rise to management and even executive levels in corporate America. Many engineers start-up new businesses outside of their discipline. Some engineers become successful politicians. An engineering education demonstrates that you can learn and at least rudimentally apply abstract concepts and mathematics. These are fundamentally useful skills in almost any human endeavor.



Final paragraph (I promise). Some people look at my career and see someone with problems. A different job every 2 years in different areas and so forth. I understand that. However, I consider myself lucky to have had these opportunities and I've spent a considerable amount of time extracting lessons from these experiences. I think I can speak intelligently about my experiences including what I've learned and what circumstances in my life were like each time I made the decision to move on. I believe success in life is fundamentally tied to three skills: reading, thinking, and communicating. If you focus on developing those skills, you will have a lot of freedom to choose the kind of career and lifestyle you wish to live. Moreso today than ever before, your career and lifestyle may change dramatically more than your parents and grandparents. Whether you remain in engineering or not is partially your choice and partially up to chance, but it is an excellent foundation upon which to build your life and success in engineering or any other field will be based on how well you develop those three skills. In other words, no, I think you'll be free to do a lot more than structural engineering or any discipline engineering in the future. It's really up to you to decide what you want to be.


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Cool stuff. Everything from everyone that's posted on this topic. Let me ask something similar to the topic in hand. I hope its ok. I will be starting my Masters in January with concentration in Structures. However I wanted to ask, is it me or has the Civil Engineering field taken a hit since the recession and will it come back to what it was anytime in the near future?



I mean no internships, certainly lesser jobs than the other engr. fields, and the pay is only reasonable. The whole thing on 60+ hours in the private sector is not a surprise to me, nor does it scare me away, but it just seems dull in this field now. Im very concerned and I don't mean any disrespect to anyone, but a recent email providing me options with leveling courses to approach a Masters in other engineering fields really got me thinking. Will Electrical, Computer Science, and Mechanical take over and will we just be the "maintenance" engineers in the future?

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I'm late to the party with this response, but my answer to your final question is "no, civil and structural engineers will certainly not become maintenance engineers." If you dip your toes into the waters of structural engineer licensing, you'll find a lively debate with many pros and cons. The structural engineering profession is generally becoming more sophisticated and the minimum qualifications for entry to the profession will continue to become more difficult and resource-intensive. This movement may result in relatively fewer qualified structural engineers for future projects, but I'm sure you can imagine what that means for structural engineering fees. On the civil side, I'm less qualified to comment. However, most jurisdictions require a vetted, locally-licensed civil and/or structural engineer for many aspects of nearly every civil/structural project and that's not going to become more lax in the future. As a result, qualified and licensed civil/structurals will continue to be in demand, serving similar roles to the ones we perform today. In my opinion, of course. I think the hit to the civil/structural/construction industries that we've seen is primarily a result of tight credit, which resulted in little to no loans available for building/infrastructure which resulted in little to no work for the engineers. I think civils and structurals have been doing well in other areas, like petrochemical, during this time and it seems that as credit expands, the "typical" civil/structural projects are picking up again.


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