Why complete a graduate-level degree in civil engineering? Well for one thing, research suggests that those with higher levels of education in the field tend to earn more than those with just a bachelor’s degree. This makes sense. Those with a master’s or PhD will have higher levels of specialization and expertise – which may also mean more interesting, challenging and stimulating roles to choose from. Pursuing higher levels of degree often also means progress towards national accreditations, such as Chartered Engineer status in the UK. Click on the tabs below for more information.
Common skills gained with a civil engineering degree include:
A wide range of civil and structural engineering programs are available at both master’s and PhD levels. These vary not only in terms of specialization, but also learning and teaching style, and the type of role for which they prepare students.
For example, MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering offers a choice between Master of Engineering (MEng) or Master of Science (MSc), with the first being more industry-focused and the second more research-based.
It’s worth noting that different institutions often use the same degree title to refer to programs that are actually very different. For example, one university’s DEng program may be very academic in focus, while another may be more oriented towards professional practice.
Depending where you are in the world, master’s and PhD programs may not be the only options for graduate-level study. In the UK, some universities now offer Doctor of Engineering (EngD) programs, which lead to a qualification equivalent to a PhD, but with research conducted mainly within an industry placement.
In the US, some universities offer an ‘Engineer’s Degree’, which again is completed as an alternative to a PhD, and typically has a more professional focus. In contrast PhD programs tend to be more theoretical, and more focused on preparation for a career within academia.
While an undergraduate degree in civil engineering is an obvious starting point, most graduate-level courses in the field will also consider applicants from related subject areas – and even subjects that may not seem to be so close. For example, MIT says its graduate school includes students with backgrounds ranging from economics to microbiology.
At master’s level, it’s possible to choose a specific area to specialize in right from the start, if you know which sector you’re interested in. For example, if you know you want to go into bridge engineering, the UK’s University of Surrey offers a master’s degree in just that.
If you’re headed for a career in transport systems engineering, then you may want to check out the dedicated master’s program at the University of Texas at Austin. Or if building design is where your passion lies, then you may consider the two-year master’s course for budding architectural engineers, at Eindhoven University of Technology. If, on the other hand, you’re still more open-minded, you may decide on a master’s program which allows you to study a broader spectrum of topics.
For instance, at Kyoto University’s Department of Civil and Earth Sciences Engineering, master’s students are required to take courses in infrastructure engineering, and at least some other key topics – including geotechnics, hydraulic engineering and resources development. Beyond this, students can select from a long list of course options – ranging from river basin management and environmental disaster mitigation, to international leadership in science and technology. There are also opportunities to study courses offered at other departments within the university, if the fits the student’s study program.
Elsewhere, entire programs are offered jointly by two departments. One example is the MSc in Civil Engineering and Management offered at the UK’s University of Glasgow – run jointly by the departments of engineering and business.
Andrew Stanley, head of education and learning at the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers, identifies the following key areas of research:
Transportation: Developing new materials and techniques, especially for maintenance.
Energy: Developing renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, tidal, solar and hydro-power; upscaling carbon capture and storage; heat exchange and geo-thermal energy and nuclear new builds.
Hazards: Adapting to climate change including resilience to flooding and droughts and food security issues; habitat creation and maintenance of bio-diversity in the face of climate change.
Waste: Recovering materials from waste; treating waste as a potentially useful commodity.
Water: Long-term water management planning in the light of climate change and socio-economic changes and disruptions.
In general, the outlook for civil engineering professionals looks bright. The US Bureau of Labor, for example, has predicted jobs growth of 19% between 2010 and 2020 – higher than the overall growth rate, and meaning more than 51,000 jobs are expected to be created.
Overall, this is not the highest paid engineering sector – but it’s still likely to bring home a healthy-looking pay check. According to the ASCE/ASME Engineering Income and Salary Survey, full-time civil engineers in the US earned an average of US$86,000 per year in 2010 – while the average across all engineering disciplines was US$93,000.
The survey also showed that income levels tended to be higher for those with higher levels of education, suggesting that gaining a master’s and/or PhD qualification is likely to pay off in the long term. The median income for those with a PhD was US$110,900, compared to US$85,001 for those with just a bachelor’s degree.
While societies worldwide will always need civil engineers to keep them running, different regions are likely to experience higher demand for particular specializations.
For instance, countries undergoing population growth or urbanization will need more civil engineers to work on construction, transport infrastructure and water systems projects. Elsewhere, environmental engineers may be in higher demand in societies where sustainability is becoming an increasingly prominent issue.
At the same time, however, civil engineers must be prepared to work within an international context. “Civil engineering is a global career,” says Andrew Stanley, head of education and learning at the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers.
“The prime focus of research is the need to manage our infrastructure within planetary boundaries – managing the scale of human activity in relation to the capacity of the Earth to sustain that activity. Research needs to investigate how we must operate and work to avoid changes that may challenge social and ecological resilience both regionally and globally.”
He adds that areas likely to see growth in coming years include: waste management, the provision of safe water, energy, ensuring resilience to hazards such as flood and drought, and developing transport infrastructure.