What is Civil Engineering all about? Discover the scope of Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines in the world and it’s origin can be traced back to the time when man decided to put a roof over his head for shelter. Civil engineering, until a few decades back, was a much coveted course among Indian students, but of late has been sidelined due to the software and IT boom. But with the increasing need to develop and maintain India’s infrastructure, which is lagging in all aspects, this field is bouncing back really strong. Before you decide to pursue your undergraduate studies in this field, it is important to understand that Civil engineering is not just about buildings and bridges. If you are under the assumption that all that civil engineers do is wear a yellow helmet and supervise workers in construction sites, then you are yet to understand the true capacity of this field. Read on to discover what this field is all about and the scope of civil engineering in terms of education, jobs and career.

Civil Engineering, simply put, is the study, design, development and maintenance of the built environment. When we talk about the environment, there are two types - natural and built. Natural environment involves everything that occurs naturally on earth, such as rivers, oceans, soil, and other habitat. Built environment encompasses manmade structures ranging from dams, bridges, buildings to water supply networks, aqueducts and parks, to name a few. Civil engineering develops the built environment while keeping in mind the safety of the natural environment, the economic feasibility and the society’s needs. By this way, a balance is achieved between the built and the natural environment. Now comes the interesting part, Civil engineers are not just limited to the construction industry. They are an intrinsic part of any industry dealing with infrastructure, such as oil and energy, chemicals, transportation, power, environmental and marine, to name a few. These industries require civil engineers because of their knowledge in subjects such as structures, materials sciences, geography, geology, environment, soils, mechanics, hydrology etc.

As mentioned before, Civil Engineering is not a popular course of choice due to the software and electronics boom of the past two decades, which has pushed this field into the sidelines. But, with India’s growing economy and lagging infrastructure, it is becoming increasingly evident that India needs skilled, qualified and bright civil engineers like never before.

The foundation for civil engineering lies in the basic sciences - mathematics, physics and chemistry. A strong foundation in the basic sciences will help students grasp engineering principles and concepts with relative ease. Civil engineering students can specialize in any of the following sub disciplines during their undergraduate and/or postgraduate studies: environmental engineering, construction engineering, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering and transportation engineering, to name a few. Since civil engineering is a very broad discipline, students have good opportunities for both higher studies and jobs as well.

Architects and civil engineers work together for the most part. When you try to define the role of a civil engineer and that of an architect, it may get quite confusing as many of their tasks, such as planning and designing, overlap with one another. The distinguishing feature between civil engineers and architects lies in who spearheads the design of the structure. Architects are largely responsible for the design part of the structures. They are the ones who decide how the building should look like on the whole. Architects decide the shapes, floor plans, layouts, appearances, aesthetics, style while keeping in mind the functionality of the structure. Meanwhile, civil engineers are responsible for analyzing and evaluating the proposed design for it’s safety and suitability with regards to the structure and materials used. Civil engineers come up with suggestions on what types of materials and building elements to be used for the proposed design and what modifications will be better suited for the structure on the whole. To sum up, architects conceptualize the design of a structure while civil engineers make it a reality by undertaking and overseeing the development work for building the structure.

B.E/B.Tech: A B.Tech/B.E in civil engineering is offered by numerous private and government universities across India. Upon completion of the engineering course, you must get the required license from the Indian government to practise as a civil engineer.

Integrated M.Tech: This is a 5-year dual degree course and offered by the IITs, NITs and a few other universities. At the IIT’s, along with a B.Tech in civil engineering, you can get your M.Tech in a specialized field of civil engineering such as structural engineering, applied mechanics, infrastructure engineering, geotechnical engineering, water resources engineering etc.

First year of any engineering course is devoted to basics and fundamental subjects. You will be studying subjects from both basic sciences as well as other engineering disciplines such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering drawing, electronics, engineering mechanics, basic mechanical engineering, introduction to computing etc.

Second and third year of civil engineering will cover core courses such as fluid mechanics, structural analysis, geotechnical engineering, surveying, hydraulics, to name a few. Several civil engineering sub disciplines such as environmental engineering, transportation engineering, hydrology and water resource engineering will also be covered.

Fourth year will have a lot of electives where you can choose subjects within civil engineering that you are interested in specializing further. Then there is the final year project which could stretch from six months to the whole year based on the university’s curriculum. If you are interested in doing your MS, M.Tech in civil engineering, then you can do your final year project in any specialized area of civil engineering that interests you a lot.

Considering that there is no proper accredited ranking system for engineering in India, we chose to use a popular world ranking system to find universities in India that are recognised globally for their work in Civil Engineering. The QS World University Rankings are annual university rankings published by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) which provides overall rankings as well as ranking for individual subjects. The QS World University Rankings is regarded as one of the three most influential and widely observed international university rankings, along with the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The following universities from India appeared in the QS world ranking for top 200 universities in the world for Civil Engineering (In no particular order).

  • IISc, Bangalore
  • IIT - Delhi, Bombay, Kharagpur, Madras, Kanpur, Roorkee and Guwahati
  • Mumbai University

The following universities from India appeared in the QS world ranking for top 200 universities in Asia for Civil Engineering. (In no particular order)

  • IISc, Bangalore
  • IIT Delhi, Bombay, Kharagpur, Madras, Kanpur, Roorkee, Guwahati
  • Delhi University
  • Mumbai University
  • Pune University
  • Calcutta University

Apart from the above mentioned universities, other prestigious universities in India such as the NITs, BITs Pilani, Delhi university, Anna University etc are renowned for Civil engineering. If you are unable to get a seat in any one of the above mentioned universities or reputed state government funded colleges within your state, then try working with professors in these universities for your internships and final year projects. This will give you the much needed practical, quality work experience that will help during job searches and further studies.

  • All engineering disciplines derive their foundation from the basic sciences - mathematics, physics and chemistry. Therefore, you have to be good in the basic sciences in order to do great work as a civil engineer.
  • Depending on the type of job you are in, you maybe required to do a lot of travelling like visiting on-site projects in remote areas and staying there until the project is over. Sometimes, this kind of work may not be suitable for girls considering safety and other aspects.
  • Most civil engineering jobs are in the construction industry and if recession affects the construction industry, then there will be a lot of layoffs. This scenario will persist until the economy bounces back which might take a long time. But, since civil engineers can find work in other sectors apart from construction, it is possible to find a job even during hard times but the process will be difficult.
  • Jobs are not as plenty as software and IT industry, you have to be patient enough to find a good, core job. Neither is the salary as high as software field. This sometimes dejects a lot of civil engineering students as they tend to get disappointed when they see their peers in computer science getting multiple offers and high pay packages. So, you have to be mentally prepared for all of this.
  • Campus placements vary from university to university. IITs, NITs see prestigious, core companies coming for campus placements but other universities that are less reputed see only a handful of companies coming for placements and they end up hiring very few students. So, if your college is not reputed nationally or within your state, then chances of any civil engineering company coming for campus placements will be zero. Therefore, you will have to hunt for jobs on your own.

Mathematics, chemistry, physics and computer science will be a good choice for students who are keen on a career in civil engineering. The role of computer science is increasing rapidly in almost every engineering and science fields, including civil engineering. Being a skilled programmer in languages such as MATLAB will be very helpful to solve problems quickly that will otherwise take hours to do so by calculator or an excel sheet. Some schools and boards offer engineering graphics as an elective instead of computer science and biology. Since engineering graphics and technical drawing play an integral role in civil engineering, this will be a great elective and more suitable than computer science.

Upon completion of your undergraduate studies, you have two options ahead of you - find a job or pursue higher studies in Civil Engineering.

Jobs: Presently, unlike IT and Software field, civil engineering industry does not have a large numbers of job openings. Also, most prestigious core companies prefer to hire students from premier institutions such as the IITs, BITs , DU etc. Other lesser known engineering colleges place only a handful (in some cases none) of civil engineering students in core companies while the rest end up in the IT industry. In these cases, you will have to hunt for a core engineering job all by yourself through off-campus placements. Creating strong professional networks, developing a great resume with stellar GPA and doing impressive projects and internships will help you secure a job in one of the core civil engineering companies. Also, civil engineers find work not just in construction industry, but also in other industries such as oil and energy, transportation, petroleum, environmental, power and electric utilities, chemical etc where infrastructure projects and construction facilities are involved. Some students transition to software, consulting or banking as they feel that salary and growth prospects are better in these sectors.

Following are a list of companies from different sectors that hire civil engineering students.

Construction, Design, Transportation and Real Estate: L&T, Sobha developers Ltd, Maytas Infra Ltd, Shapoorji Pallonji, Shimizu Corp, Jones Lang LaSalle, Jacobs Engineering, Alacriti Infosystems, TATA consulting engineers Ltd, Land Transport Authority etc

Oil and Energy, Power: Schlumberger, Technip, Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd

Consulting: Atkins, ICRA etc

Salaries: This depends on the nature of the work, students academic profile and reputation of the universities. Students from universities such as the IITs get paid better. Also, private companies pay higher than government. Average pay is Rs. 15000 per month for a fresh civil engineering graduate and the salary gets higher based on the above mentioned factors.

Studies: Considering that civil engineering is a very broad field, students have plenty of options to choose from for further studies. Also, since environmental engineering is in the realm of civil engineering, you can expect more job openings due to global issues such as climate change, global warming and water conservation. Other areas that will see a big boom in the near future are in sustainable energy and renewable resources and civil engineers can find jobs in these sectors by specializing in them during their postgraduate studies. Some other areas where civil engineers can specialize for their M.S, M.Tech or PhD degrees are in transportation engineering, structural engineering, environmental engineering and water resources, geotechnical engineering, engineering mechanics and construction engineering. Many civil engineering students also do their MBA and move into the business and management aspect of civil engineering or venture into banking and finance.

Since majority of the civil engineering jobs are in construction, if the construction industry gets hit hard during recession, then finding jobs will be difficult for a period of time until the economy bounces back. But the good thing about civil engineering is that civil engineers are qualified well enough and have the skill sets required to work in other sectors such as oil and energy, petroleum, chemical, marine, environmental etc. During the great recession from 2008 - 2011 that plagued the United States and subsequently every other country in the world, including India, surprisingly the construction business was in full swing in India. Worldwide recession did not affect civil engineering jobs as much as it affected banking, IT and software industry in India and other parts of the world. However, civil engineering and architecture jobs took a very bad hit during the recession period in the United States and many civil engineers and architects are still without jobs. So, if you are planning to go to the United States for further studies, make sure you speak with seniors and professors to know how job opportunities are in this field. Regarding job placements in Indian universities, from year 2008 onwards, placements statistics look consistent and has been doing well.