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What is Civil Engineering?

September 24, 2020
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Civil engineers create, enhance, and protect the environment in which we live. They propose, design, and orchestrate the construction and maintenance of structures and facilities. This includes the roads we drive on, the railways we ride, and the airports we frequent. In addition, civil engineers design plans for bridges, harbors, dams, parking lots, irrigation projects, power plants, and water and sewage systems. It's no wonder that one day is not the same as the next—but there are similar threads throughout different assignments.

A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer

What is a typical day in the life of a civil engineer? In what is arguably the oldest engineering profession, there is truly no "typical" day. A day in the life of a civil engineer involves making use of one’s design and construction skills and applying them to a physically built or natural environment.

1. Planning

Any day in the life of a civil engineer (CE) begins with a plan or strategy on how to accomplish the myriad of tasks at hand. For a civil engineer, this is particularly important. The plan lays the foundation for the day, and every day is a step toward completing a substantial project. Missing a deadline because of poor planning can cost the CE's company thousands of dollars. Planning often begins with a feasibility study, which answers the question of whether the proposed project idea should be pursued.

2. Contract writing

This is the paperwork part of the project that lists specifically what is included. Deadlines and due dates are often included, as well as cost projections. Some civil engineers oversee specific mandates and ensure that all parties involved fulfill obligations to which they agreed.

3. Understanding government regulations

Civil engineers have access to databases that provide many pages of guidelines and restrictions relating to building and infrastructure projects. A CE must make sense of the legalese in order to properly plan and fulfill state and local projects. In addition, a CE may have to attend and prepare for public hearings. Being familiar with the applicable local laws is necessary to represent the project accurately. If necessary, the CE develops procedures to clean up contaminated sites.

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4. Project management

Project management involves leading a team of designers and engineers tasked with working on and designing a particular undertaking. During project management, the civil engineer directs the creation of a set of plans that will ultimately show how a project should be built. In this function, a CE’s engineering education plays a large role in ensuring that all facets of the design will function as required.

5. Construction management

While similar to project management, construction management focuses on the actual work of building and creation. Managing construction requires strict adherence to the budget to avoid cost overruns. In addition, every deadline along the way must be met, leading up to the final high-quality deliverable.

6. Creating proposals

A strong proposal is persuasive, outlining exactly what the engineering firm is planning. It presents a well-organized plan of attack. A strong proposal has technical details, because technical depth is needed to "sell" a project. It also includes a budget for the client's project.

7. Meeting with clients

In-person, on-site client calls are critical to any project. Not only does this ensure that the CE understands the client's needs, but it also solidifies their relationship. Of course, regular phone calls are also part of the job to keep clients up-to-date. However, nothing beats the results that meaningful face-to-face interaction can provide. Together, the parties involved can hammer out the details for a quality, cost-effective project that meets the client's needs.


The civil engineer's day is varied and full of challenges. They are consistently faced with problems that require many different tools to solve in an economic and efficient fashion. Civil engineers often interact with other disciplines to ensure they are meeting requirements and exceeding their clients' expectations.

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