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7 of the most common civil engineering myths, busted

14 August 2019

Civil engineering is a diverse career that allows people to travel and experience the most amazing achievements and solve some of the world's biggest problems. Don't believe us? Read on.

7 of the most common civil engineering myths, busted
It's definitely not just a man's world. Image credit: Emma Watkins

Civil engineering is an exciting and rewarding career, which we’ve tried to show through our ICE Invisible Superheroes campaign.

But for some reason, there are still some misconceptions about the job and the people who do it - and we want to put this right.

In their own words, civil engineers from a wide range of backgrounds bust some of the most common myths about the wonderful profession that is civil engineering, and the brilliant opportunities it provides anyone looking for something to do that’s more than just a job.

Myth 1: it’s a man’s world

It may have started out that way back when ICE was founded, but this is no longer the case.

“What a load of rubbish!” says Emma Watkins, Skanska engineer and one of ICE President Andrew Wyllie’s Future Leaders.

“I’ve had so much support and lots of help ever since I started and have been given nothing but respect for working in the industry.”

That’s not to say that there’s not still some way to go before the number of women in civil engineering matches that of men.

The good news is that the figure is rising. ICE’s own records show that 14% of the total membership is female, and the percentage of female engineers on ICE training agreements has grown to 21.3%.

Kishore Ramdeen, from Highways England, recognises the historic imbalance but says that organisations are becoming increasingly aware that diverse teams produce better results.

“You can now work in the civil engineering industry and be part of teams that have a 50:50 split male to female.”

Andy Mitchell, CEO of Tideway, said that 57% of the people his company employs is female, and agrees that while progress is being made, more needs to be done.

“We must continue to highlight what an exciting, wide-ranging and flexible industry this is to work in and to champion our female engineers to inspire the next generation,” he says.

Women civil engineers tell us about their experiences in the industry here.

Myth 2: you have to be good at maths.

If maths is not your strong point, fear not.

Hiba Khan, Mott Macdonald engineer, says that she’s “barely doing much maths”, and she’s five years into her career.

“I mostly find myself managing projects and people, talking to clients and pitching ideas,” she says.

Ruth Watson, an award-winning civil engineering apprentice, says there’s much more to engineering than maths.

“Rather than hardcore maths, it’s more problem-solving. How are we going to make this structure work? What components can we use to make this more sustainable? How will this impact the environment?” she says.

Myth 3: you have to be good at physics

Bianca Wheeler, Construction Engineer at Jacobs, was told as a student that she’d have to be good at physics, only to find that this was untrue.

“Yes, principles that stem from physicists’ work and theories are present in engineering, especially when working in design, but this is more about structural mechanics rather than quantum physics and such that you learn in A-level physics,” she says.

Myth 4: engineers are boring, and so is civil engineering

No one likes to think of themselves as boring, and many civil engineers are quick to prove the opposite is true.

Many we have spoken to have loads of hobbies and interests outside civil engineering, from music and dancing to sports, photography and travelling.

“A lot of us are quite social,” says Ashkan Amiri, from Kier.

Meanwhile, Blessing Danha says that the work is “incredibly interesting and you work as a team”.

The team aspect of civil engineering is significant, as a common misconception is that engineers are loners who don’t interact with other people much.

“Completely the opposite,” says Monika Szczyrba, Skanksa engineer and another of ICE President Andrew Wyllie’s Future Leaders. “It’s all about the team effort.”

Myth 5: engineers aren't diverse

“Put your stereotypes away,” says Ayo Sokale, from the Environment Agency, who says that the industry welcomes anyone and everyone who’s ready to take on the challenges that civil engineers try to solve.

Major Rob Ridley, from the Royal Engineers, agrees.

“The profession needs people with diverse skills; creative thinkers who can develop concepts to solve problems, highly analytical people who can dig into the detail, people in offices, on site, all over the world,” he says.

“There’s a space in engineering for most inquisitive people.”

And as for the industry not being LGBT-friendly, Tara Fraser says that your skills are much more important than your gender.

“My experience has been that sites and contractors are far more interested in your professional delivery of projects and couldn’t care less about gender or sexuality,” she says.

Myth 6: it’s all hard hats, concrete and hi-vis vests

Yes, there are parts of civil engineering that will involve you wearing the stereotypical safety gear, but who says you can’t have fun if you do, says Sakthy Selvakumaran.

"There are so many other sides for those who aren’t as keen on working in the mud,” she adds, and, as Kishore Ramdeen says, you can go an entire civil engineering career without ever wearing a hard hat.

Civil engineering doesn’t just mean construction either, Bryn Noble, WSP engineer, argues.

“Civil engineers improve the quality of life for society, we do this through a variety of ways, construction is just one of them.

This is why my project as one of President’s Future Leaders is focused on understanding how civil engineers can help mitigate loneliness,” he says.

Myth 7: engineers love Lego

“Not all civil engineers are obsessed with Lego,” says Jack Rose.

And believe it or not, a number of civil engineers we spoke to have never built anything with Lego in their lives!

So, if the iconic building blocks haven’t played much of a role in your childhood, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a civil engineer.

Related links

If we've managed to persuade you that civil engineering is the career for you, find out more about how you can become a civil engineer.

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  • Anh Nguyen, digital content lead at ICE