Civil Engineering as a Profession

I realise several things. Having been employed in six different fields, and each time I applied having only a vague idea what the work involved, I believe young people are still in the same predicament. Did the soldiers joining, and more, their wives, ever think of them fighting in Afghanistan in extreme conditions? Do young shop assistants think of the stress and hours Christmas can produce, or the boredom of an empty shop? Do young dental students realise, like watchmakers, they will sit or stand in one position, operating in a small area, with meticulous skill for most of their working life? I have known a few dentists outside work, and they talk!

Civil Engineering, for those with the temperament, is a most varied, interesting and intellectually rewarding profession. Some will have read that towards the end of the war I was an instructor. I taught highly technical complicated subjects to recruits, WRNS, officers and old lags. When once I had got the hang of it, the repetition nearly drove me mad. My wife, who taught all her working life, on the other hand, enjoyed every minute, and was never bored. In civil engineering you will work in adverse conditions, sewage, compressed air, up pipes and tunnels, in extremes of heat, cold and rain, get filthy, often with hazardous implications if care is not taken, go anywhere, from the bottom of the sea to the top of a factory chimney. You are going to design, price, go to contract on, supervise and account for projects ranging from a few thousand to millions, be prepared to work abroad for a period, and you will have to deal with the Public, your contractors, your employer, consultants and the workforce. To start with you will be learning at a cracking pace, required to do as you are told, but within a short time responsibility will be yours and then the buck stops with you. You may or may not earn as much as some who started university on the same day you did, but you will have had a very varied working life. While much of the work may be similar, the problems will mostly be different. As you rise in status, so the work and the problems will change. It will only be when you are just short of retirement, that deja vu will take over, but even then old habits die hard.

For example, in the 50’s I had to learn Wave Modelling at a hectic pace. I was taking over one harbour in progress and later tested another. At the same time my innovative faculties were being taxed for the first time. I was designing wave height gauges, applying stroboscopic, photographic analysis, and putting in place much which I was reading up. Wave models fall into two categories, those only dealing with current and wind generated flows, and waves. Those which take into account the movement of the materials of the sea bed as well are siltation models. The models are built in a tank, with a wave-making paddle at one end which can be controlled to produce waves of any height or wavelength. Records of temperature, wind force and direction, sea bed formation, and any physical peculiarities such as sand banks, submerged impediments such as rocks and wrecks, are collected all over a number of years and seasons When the parameters of the physical conditions have also been copied within the model for a given occasion, then, by turning the model, or the paddle, the waves can be made to arrive at the model from any direction needed, exactly to scale, to what has previously been experienced,. The models are then required to replicate, in every way instances from the past to prove their accuracy. Only then is the model deemed accurate enough to prophesy the future reactions to physical modifications to the harbour. The models are made and remade in the future proposals and tested to see the outcome, remodelled to overcome problems, until all are satisfied that the scheme is worth pouring millions into. >From then the outcome is designed and built.

There are so many facets to civil engineering. There is marine work which involves working either below the sea, or dealing with tidal effects. Tunnelling has its own problems depending on the nature of the soil, from rock to silt. Shops and flats have problems of weight and expansion, depending on the architectural design. For a very long row of shops, the design factors for the expansion and contraction of the building, longitudinally, can be quite excessive. Sewage works and reservoirs, often relegated to poor ground, may have to be piled or supported against slippage of the retaining walls, and the piping to and from the works can also be difficult. One can be dealing in areas of half a city, at other times just one building. In today’s environment, roads and airfields have greater loads and traffic to deal with, which means that they too are becoming more complicated. One could say that there is little time for an engineer to become bored if his interest is in the work.

Categorized as General

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