Although little publicized, the civil engineering profession has nonetheless been ubiquitous for a very long time, as evidenced in Roman roads or aqueducts. In every age, civil engineering has imagined and built the infrastructures which are necessary for the well-being of humankind.
Transportation networks are more complex today, building is bolder, and materials are more varied, but the basic mission remains the same: putting the equipment that society needs at its disposal.
Whether parts of bridges, buildings, dams or tunnels, water and energy delivery systems, and protection against natural dangers, or even transportation planning, civil-engineering projects are long-term ones involving the consideration of their sustainability, their environmental impact, or territorial development, as well as social and economic considerations.
As a civil engineer you not only participate in the design, planning, and execution of infrastructures but also in their maintenance and use. Depending on the scope of the project, one and the same person can be entrusted with all of these tasks or they can be shared out as team work.
One of your tasks consists of defining the size of the work. As the case may be, you will succeed thanks to statics (the calculation of stresses in a structure), your expertise in the behavior of materials (resistance and deformability), your knowledge of geotechnology (soil characteristics), of hydraulics, or in the field or energy or transportation. Work, which increasingly relies on computer modeling tools.
Besides gaining expertise in the primary building techniques, you must also demonstrate your creativity, in order to offer solutions which are able to gain the broadest possible support for your projects.
BSc (180 ECTS credits)
The training in basic sciences (mathematics and physics) is spread out over the three years of the BSc, thus allowing you to tackle a good number of specific civil-engineering classes even in the first year (statics, geology, structures, materials). The second and third years include classes in soil and fluid mechanics, structures (concrete, metal, etc.), hydraulics, ending with a first project applying and synthesizing your knowledge
Prospects: MSc Program
The MSc training then offers several possibilities of specialization: Geotechnical Engineering, Transport & Mobility, Structural Engineering, Water & Energy. For 30 ECTS credits, this specialization gives a certain individuality to your training without taking away from its general character. A strong link with professional practice is guaranteed through project work and a compulsory two-month internship in a company.
Other programs will be open to you after graduating with the BSc degree, in particular some interdisciplinary MSc programs.
More information on master’s study programs.
Please note that the information regarding the programs’ structure as well as details of the study plan may be subject to change.
Once you have the BSc and MSc in hand, the most common path is to join an engineering firm in which, as someone just starting out, you will be part of a team.
Your tasks will consist of transforming ideas into project implementation. With civil engineering, this means above all making conceptual choices (shape, functionality, materials, methods, etc.) then carrying out static calculations, the results of which are used for drawing up plans. You will also draft the description of the work which will serve as the basis for the call for tenders and for the implementation contract with a company. When it is carried out, you will direct the work, ensuring that the technical and financial constraints are met as well as all deadlines, work which will frequently take you on site to see that is advancing satisfactorily.
With experience, you will gradually take on the responsibilities of a project leader. You will then be involved in managing the firm or will think about setting up your own company.
Your training also qualifies you to enter public administration: you will then to set out and plan maintenance or new equipment needs then, with the assistance of contractors, ensure that the deadlines and budget are adhered to during the implementation of work. Another possibility is also choosing to widen your knowledge in a specific field by doing a PhD.
Whichever path you take, you will have to work with many colleagues from fields including architecture, environment, sociology, economy, energy sectors and also politics. Very much sought after abroad, the know-how of Swiss civil engineers also gives you the opportunity to think about an international career.
I always wanted to finish my studies quickly, to start working and see the reality of the job market...
…I’ve been interested in architecture since I was a kid, but I had many other ideas and interests before I started studying at EPFL. Actually, when I chose my studies, the most important thing for me was to find a field that would give me as many opportunities as possible for the future. I did a first year in architecture, a year that I failed, and then decided to study civil engineering. Let’s say that civil engineering is the Cartesian side of architecture, and I like it more.
When I applied for my first job, I was in Montreal doing my Master’s thesis. I therefore had a job waiting for me in Switzerland before coming back. This first job—supposed to be the most important one for a young graduate—lasted only four months. The boss actually needed someone much more experienced than I was… After that, a work agency suggested that I changed my profile a little bit, that I shouldn’t only look for a job in transportation, but be open to working in other fields. I followed their advice, and I’m now working as a project manager in an engineers office that give me a chance!
Our office employs about 20 people and manages projects in the building sector (private houses, buildings complexes, renovating, transformations), but also projects less typical for civil engineering, like the ski lifts in Diableret or renovating the CGN boats. To manage different projects is a clear objective in the office. After 3 years, I’m responsible for managing entire projects, from the first calls to the end of the work. It’s always a very special moment to see your project in front of you, once it’s finished.
I think that civil engineering is one of the departments that gives you the most possibilities to find a job. I love having responsibilities in the company, being the one who makes my project succeed, or not, having to constantly find solutions, manage a team, and even not knowing what kind of project I will work on tomorrow. Moreover, the salary is good, even at en entry-level position.
But everything is not perfect! It’s a job where you can’t always do what you want, and you often have to work long hours to meet the client’s requirements, or do some training. Like for any other job, there are good and bad days. You will have to be able questioning yourself all the time and remember than nothing is written in stone. You will be the one who have to make your own experiences and take opportunities.