Civil Engineering and its subdisciplines

engineer, engineering, structural engineer

Have you ever thought about a civil engineering career but were very confused about what a civil engineer actually did? So, what does a civil engineer do? The answer is that Civil Engineering has a broad scope related to the construction of any physical built environment. It’s one of the oldest engineering streams. To understand it, look at your neighbourhood, and you will be amazed to see the construction projects of community engineers from the streets, sidewalks, buildings to dams, canals, sewers, etc.If you are curious to take this as a profession, you should know at least a few subdisciplines in civil engineering. If you study civil engineering, you will complete many courses covering the broad field and typically focus on a significant sun discipline.

Major subdisciplines of Civil engineering

Although various universities and colleges may name the fields of study slightly different, there are a few subdisciplines in general.

Essentially, basic engineering principles apply throughout all the disciplines so that a civil engineer can specialize in more than one area. Since the field is so broad, you may find a civil engineer to practice in all of these areas.

If you consider a career in civil engineering, you should identify what subdiscipline you are most interested in.

Here I have summarized a few of the subdisciplines and a short description of each that might help you better understand them:

  • Construction Engineering and Construction Management
  • Quantity Surveying and Estimation
  • Material Science and Engineering
  • Structural Engineering
  • Transportation Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Geotechnical and Soil Engineering
  • Surveying
  • Earthquake Engineering
  • Water Resource Engineering
  • Municipal and Urban planning Engineering
  • Forensic Engineering
  • Coastal and Offshore Engineering
engineer, engineering, structural engineer

Construction Engineering and Construction Management is a Civil Engineering field specializing in project management techniques to oversee the planning, design, conception, and execution of a civil engineering project.

Quantity Surveying and Estimation is that subdiscipline in Civil Engineering specializing in the quantity takeoff, estimation of the cost, budgeting, etc., regarding a civil engineering project. This field also focuses on preparing Bill Of Quantities, Schedule of Rates, etc., associated with a project.

Material Science and Engineering study the fundamental properties and characteristics of construction materials like concrete, aggregate, steel, etc.

Structural Engineering is the study of structural analysis of buildings. Structural Engineers analyze various factors associated with the structure like the weight of the frame, dead loads, live loads, effects of natural forces like wind, rain, earthquake on the form, and design of a safe system.

Transportation Engineering involves designing, planning, construction, and maintenance of transportation facilities like roadways, railways, waterways, and airways. All of these subdisciplines are vast in their own right. Transportation engineers also design the traffic signal systems considering traffic safety of vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, etc.

Environmental Engineering is the study of best management practices that we should adopt to protect our living environment. This subdiscipline involves tasks related to the treatment of chemical, biological and industrial waste, water treatment, plume behavior

of industrial emissions to determine the air quality etc

Geotechnical and soil engineering is studying earth’s materials such as rock, soil, etc., and understanding their material properties and behavior. It also explores how different materials behave under varying conditions such as seasonal changes, temperature, etc. Geotechnical engineers research and prepare the soil report before the commencement of any construction project, which helps the designers determine what type of foundation is suitable under that condition.

Surveying is yet another subdiscipline that should be considered as a separate profession altogether. It involves taking measurements and mapping them for use in understanding properties and designing construction projects. Surveyors also conduct as-built surveying to collect data after the completion of a construction project.

Earthquake Engineering is another subdiscipline that involves studying how structures would react during an earthquake. in fact, a subdiscipline of structural engineering and consists of designing and constructing new buildings and structures, renovating existing facilities in compliance with safety and building codes.

Water resource engineering deals with the understanding, analyzing, and modeling of water resources. A Water resource engineer studies the quality of water and conveyance systems such as pipelines, water supply systems, drainage facilities, constructions of dams, canals, storm sewers, etc.

Municipal or Urban Engineering is a branch of civil engineering that focuses on designing municipal infrastructure such as streets, pavements, sidewalks, standard parking lots, water supplies, sewer systems, lighting, etc. Municipal and Urban engineers work directly with public agencies to bring about improvements in town planning.

Forensic Engineering is applying engineering principles in the investigation of failures or other performance problems of structures. This engineering field is typically involved with civil lawsuits and may provide evidence and testimony, including professional engineering opinions, reports, etc.

Coastal and Offshore Engineering is the division of civil engineering responsible for the planning, conception, development, and preservation of works in the coastal areas. They also study erosion control, flood control, dredging operations, etc.


In short, there are many subdisciplines within the broad field of civil engineering. Some of these areas overlap to some extent. So if you are considering a career in civil engineering, you need to have a better understanding of civil engineering as a whole. From there on, you would specialize in the area in which you want to move in further.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you can better understand what a Civil Engineer does and what all fields can be taken up as a civil engineer.

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