What They Don’t Teach You in School: Advice for Civil Engineering Graduates

Posted by on Aug 6, 2013

Laura Beth on graduation day

As many students head back to school in a couple of weeks, there will be many new civil engineers in the making, and those who recently graduated will be trying to figure out their place in the working world.

It makes me think about the great experiences I had in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alabama. They afforded me a great deal of knowledge, memories and friendships that I will cherish for a lifetime.

But of course, there are things you just can’t learn in school. I wish I had known about a few of these things while still in school and after graduation. While there’s a lot everyone has to figure out for themselves, here are a few pieces of advice:

  1. Leave your comfort zone. For students still in school, get involved in your department as much as you can. I felt that I got the most out of my education when I left my comfort zone and got involved with student engineering organizations. It will be extremely beneficial to you in your future career.
  2. You will find a new normal. I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to be at work all day and not have time to run errands or do other things I would normally be able to do while in school. It didn’t take too long for me to adjust to that being the norm, but it was something I had to get used to.
  3. What you learned will help. I had been exposed to most of the terminology and concepts that are used in my job. I knew the ideas behind the projects that I would be working on in the real world, which was very helpful, but I had not really been taught how to implement those ideas and concepts.
  4. But you may have to start from scratch. I had to learn from the ground up about all the methods and procedures Sain Associates follows for each type of project that we do. This isn’t something that can be taught in the classroom, because each company has different methods. Be prepared to re-learn anything that you think you already know. I didn’t realize how much of a learning process that would be. It was also a bit unnerving to know I was working not just on make-believe school assignments, but on projects that would have real-life impacts. But this was also very exciting at the same time.
  5. Expect the unexpected. You may not be doing exactly the types of things you worked on in school or what you thought you would be doing, but that is what’s great about civil engineering. There are so many aspects to learn and explore. Even within the subcategory of traffic engineering, which is what I do at Sain, there are many different types of projects to work on, which means it never gets boring.
  6. Get ready to ditch your homework. One of the best things about being in the real world versus being in school is that (most of the time) you don’t have to take your work home. You’re not constantly thinking about studying for that test or writing that 5-page paper.

Adjusting to a civil engineering job can be a challenge, but once you figure it out, it’s all worth it. And the fact that you’re now getting paid to do what you love doesn’t hurt either!

Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Cullman, Alabama, Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.

Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Cullman, Alabama, Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.

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