Structural Engineering is a sub-discipline of civil engineering that involves the design of the built environment around us. In layman’s terms, these are the people that help design the components of a structure that enable it to withstand the various forces it is subject to. It is one of the most sought-after master’s programs chosen by undergraduate civil engineers. Architect undergraduates too can apply for such a program to establish a repertoire coherent in both: architecture and civil engineering. A master’s structural degree spans for two years generally if one opts for a research-based program. Otherwise, a non-thesis degree or course-work based curriculum sometimes referred to as M.Eng, has a study duration of one year. Nowadays, many universities have replaced the traditional structural engineering program with Earthquake Engineering. With the added emphasis on the design of earthquake resilient structures, this program should be considered as something different from the core program.
A graduate level education in structural engineering helps students develop a firm foundation in this stream that is later strengthened by research or experience. Students opt for such a degree considering two career objectives: industry or research. Sometimes, a vocation switch proves extremely beneficial as it provides a research-based perspective while entering the industry and vice versa. Consider this, a masters graduate who has 5 years of experience of working in a structural consultancy firm becomes aware of the current industry trends and practices that will make him more competent for a doctoral program than someone who directly opts for one after a graduate degree. That being said, it is strongly recommended that students should make a firm decision about the same at the start of the program so that they can build a profile that is suited to prospective opportunities later on in that vocation.
Students who are more academically oriented and who wish to be involved in developing breakthrough and novel concepts in structural engineering that would eventually benefit the industry generally opt for research. Such students apply for a PhD after their Master’s. It is advisable that while pursuing their Master’s degree, these students should start connecting with the professors in the university by pursuing assistantships in teaching or research (TA/RA) from the very beginning of the program. These are excellent tools to aid/finance one’s education (average salary $30K per annum). Also, taking a research-oriented coursework would be more preferred by them. For example, including nonlinear analysis, risk analysis and computational method courses in one’s curriculum. After a PhD, one can continue working as a postdoctoral fellow (average salary $50K per annum) at the university or take up the position of a professor (average salary $70K per annum).
Alternatively, students who wish to begin working in the industry after attaining the degree should start hunting for internship opportunities as soon as the program commences. A consistent performance at such an internship will help the student build connections and get accustomed to the work culture of the firm. Later on, he can apply for a job at the same firm. Firms wherein structural engineers are hired to include infrastructure companies, structural consultancy firms and architectural firms. Also, after getting the job, it is significantly important to have a mentor, who would help you understand your job role and guide you to resolve issues successfully. This mentor can be the immediate senior/project engineer under whom you will be working on the initial projects of your career. Being under such tutelage will help develop a structural designer’s mindset that is unique. Salaries for beginners are around $60K annually.