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How Do I Become a Geotechnical Engineer?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Geotechnical engineering is an important precursor to large-scale construction and environmental restoration projects. Professionals investigate the stability and geologic makeup of an area, and then consult with civil engineers to determine the best materials and techniques to use in construction. An individual who wants to be a geotechnical engineer typically needs to obtain at least a bachelor's degree, gain several years of supervised experience, and pass a series of exams. With the appropriate training and credentials, a person can become a geotechnical engineer with a large construction company, a government agency, or a private consulting firm.

Relatively few accredited universities offer degrees specifically in geotechnical engineering, but a student typically can gain the skills and knowledge needed to become a geotechnical engineer in a civil engineering program. An undergraduate can take classes in blueprint drawing, materials science, and computer science to learn about the tools and techniques he or she will utilize in a geotechnical engineer job. Advanced classes in geology, geography, and environmental science are essential in providing a fundamental understanding of how construction can impact an area in both the short and long term.

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A bachelor's degree is sufficient for most entry-level positions, but some hopeful engineers decide to pursue two-year master's degrees to improve their credentials and chances of finding employment. In fact, an advanced degree is often necessary to eventually obtain supervisory and lead engineer positions in many companies. A master's degree program provides a more thorough explanation of soil mechanics, mapping techniques, foundation construction, and other vital subjects. In most countries, an individual can take the first of two licensing exams upon graduation to qualify him or her to become a geotechnical engineer.

With a degree and relevant licensure, a person can browse job search sites and contact potential employers directly to find entry-level employment. A new worker usually begins his or her career as a junior engineer, acting as an apprentice to an experienced professional. He or she gains valuable firsthand training in the field, learning how to accurately survey ground, prepare documents, and oversee projects. The length of an apprenticeship can vary, but a trainee generally needs to work for about four years before he or she is qualified to officially become a geotechnical engineer.

A second licensing exam is usually offered at the end of an apprenticeship to provide an individual with professional engineer credentials. After passing the exam, a worker can begin working independently on large-scale construction projects. Experienced, successful geotechnical engineers are often awarded the opportunity to specialize with particular types of projects, such as surveying offshore drilling sites or overseeing highway construction.

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