Hello, Andi! I saw your interview with Jake Voorhees on youtube today and wanted to reach out and ask you a few questions. I am a 34 year old community college engineering student who is working on obtaining her bachelors from the University of Oklahoma. When I graduate, I will be the only person in my family to ever complete college, much less work in a STEM field. I read “The Ripple Effect” by Alex Prud’homme a few years ago and it started a real fascination with water for me. I decided I really wanted to do work that I found satisfying and get my degree. So, if you have a free moment, I’d really appreciate your insight regarding these questions: 1. I am really stuck on deciding between civil or environmental engineering. I have read that environmental engineering can be very niche, which can make it difficult to find jobs. If I want to work in wastewater, which major do you think would be best? 2. While my dream school is UT – Austin, I unfortunately must attend the University of Oklahoma. My ultimate goal is to move to Austin, however, I am worried not having a degree from UT will make finding a job difficult. I noticed you did not obtain your bachelors from UT and was wondering if that made things difficult for you when looking for work? So, congratulations on all of your accomplishments. I’m really glad I found this blog and I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.
Hi Katie! I received your note through my blog and wanted to respond by email. First, thank you so much for your kind words..hopefully some of this helps!
For question 1… personally, I’d go with civil engineering (though I may be biased). My undergrad did all their wastewater through the environmental group (and I think my grad university did too) but from my experience in the industry, generally the wastewater gets lumped in with water/wastewater engineering. By the time you have a degree in civil, you’ll be versed in water (and wastewater), transportation, structural, etc which can be more valuable than a specialized degree. Plus, depending on if your civil program has you ‘specialize’ at the undergrad level, you could choose water/wastewater through the civil department. It’s probably worth a trip to one of the advisors to talk to them about how to get some more wastewater classes into the civil curriculum if you’re sure this is the route you want to go. There are a lot of similarities between water treatment and wastewater treatment, water pumps/systems and wastewater pumps/systems, etc.. I’ve found that the people I know who went environmental end up working in compliance–that’s where the majority of the jobs are. They do field work (water sampling, air quality, acoustical hazards, etc) and write reports to mitigate those impacts. If you’re looking for technical design, that’s more of a civil engineering route. There’s also working at the state level (like TCEQ in Austin). I can only think of one person I know there that works in WW and she’s got an undergrad in civil and a grad in environmental. Another thing to think about is the PE test. There are two routes: civil water resources and environmental OR environmental. Check out the material on both and that might help make the decision easier.
And for question 2… I know right?! UT Austin looks like so much fun, but it’s hard to pass up an in-state school. While I was at Texas A&M, there were a lot of rumors about how people with PEs were taking entry-level jobs just to live in Austin. While I haven’t seen that to be the case, it is true that many of the larger consulting companies (including, unfortunately, my own) underpay their Austin employees due to the ‘desirability’ of Austin. This is me eyerolling. I did get my job through my connections in a roundabout way–the aggies at my company reached out to my professors specifically looking for a groundwater engineer. It helped that I had a master’s degree and specialized in groundwater (the one instance being that specialized actually helps…) and they found me. Searching for the perfect job can be hard for everyone regardless of where they are or what they want to do. Many people I know will start with one company and then leverage that experience to find a job in the city where they want to build roots.
So I guess the theme is to pursue what gives you lots of experience, but keeping in mind your specific interests in wastewater. That way you have that to speak from when it comes time for job interviews. They’ll be able to see how interested you are in wastewater and you’ll have a solid background to be versatile in the industry.
Let me know if this helps. I’ll absolutely look into The Ripple Effect–I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before!
My name is Courtney and I have followed you on instagram for a little while now. I am a junior in civil engineering at the University of Utah. I am emailing you because I am really interested in the kind of work that you do. I am wanting to do field work and it looks like you are in the field a lot. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about how you got started in water resources and how you were able to get into field work. I have been researching internships for summer 2018, but I haven’t found any that describe doing field work. Maybe I’m just not researching the right thing. I know you are probably really busy, but if youhave any insight I would really appreciate it! Thank you!
Wow that’s great! I took a look at my company’s website and they’ve only got one internship posted (it’s in Philadelphia). That’s pretty normal for this time of year.
Let’s see… I think I got my first internship about 2 weeks before the end of the school year. A lot of companies are super busy that they don’t put the resources on looking for candidates even though they have a need to hire them. Because of that, I’d make sure you go to the career fair. It always seems like a bore and that no one is hiring–“go apply on our website, we don’t take paper resumes”–but occasionally it comes up with something! Especially because the internship position is inflated. There’s a lot of people looking for internships but employers tend to be looking for full time employees.
It can’t hurt to try to find jobs this early. I think for entry level, when you have limited experience along with all the other candidates, quantity of applications goes far. It’s good to be open to many possibilities but if you sorta know which discipline interests you, that will put you ahead with a company looking to hire for that particular discipline. They just want to see that your’e motivated and enthusiastic. Our HR person likes to say “We can teach you anything on the job”.
As far as my field work opportunities go, I got into field work by working on environmental engineering projects. Groundwater remediation, stormwater sampling, etc. I work with geologists who spend A LOT of time in the field (so much that they are never home!). I know if you look for mining engineering or petroleum engineering companies, you‘d be looking at working at the field site in the office and going out on site to look at stuff. As far as transportation, structural, etc…. I have no idea what they do… :/ I don’t think they do tons of field work, but it probably just depends on the opportunity and their willingness to travel. I generally jump on travel jobs which is why I get because none of the other civil engineers want to be away from home or working out in the heat. Never be afraid to tell people exactly what you want–it actually puts you a step in for an opportunity they might not have thought you available for!
Now I have a few questions for you! 😉 How did you get into civil engineering? Are you particularly interested in water engineering? Did I follow you on IG/is that how you found my IG? I’ve been wanting to reach out to high school and uni aged girls who might be interested in civil but it turns out… I have no idea how to do that! You‘d think having been one myself would have made it easier lol.
Question from Ariana on engineergirl.org:
I’m 13 years old, in 8th grade and I want to be able to be an environmental engineer, but the problem is I don’t know where to start practicing. Any advice??
Hi Ariana! Thanks for the question! I guess my first suggestion is…figure out why exactly you want to be an environmental engineer! There’s many different paths (air, water, soil, federal work, consulting, sampling, treatment design) so that it might help to do a bit of research on it first!
My next suggestion is this: A lot of environmental engineering is knowing the laws and how entities are in compliance with the laws. If you have a class or opportunity to do a paper on a topic of your choice, pick environmental regulation! There’s so much to dig through but it’ll really give you a leg up if you can begin to understand the history of the laws in the US and the jargon.
My final suggestion is this: Get out and about! One of the abilities of mine that I’ve leveraged in the past is being able to travel and navigate well. I can easily call up a lab to set up sample bottles, or make lodging arrangements for field work on short notice! It’s nice to know that you can jump on a plane by yourself and end up in a different city ready to work!