Exploring this Job
Visit the Geotechnical Engineering section of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Web site, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/engineering/geotech, to learn more about technologies, innovations, current projects, and to find publications and workshop listings. Read magazines and books about geotechnical engineering to gain a better understanding of the field. Another great way to learn firsthand about geotechnical engineering projects currently underway is to visit the Web sites of engineering consulting firms. Type the keywords "geotechnical engineering projects" and see what comes up. Talk to geotechnical engineers about their careers, or see if your career counselor or science teacher can arrange a job shadowing experience.
Read the International Journal of Geoengineering Case Histories (https://www.issmge.org/publications/issmges-international-journal-of-geoengineering-case-histories-ijgch) to learn more about the field.
Geotechnical engineers evaluate soil, rock, and underground water to determine the feasibility and design specifications for construction projects. Geotechnical engineering, like civil engineering, focuses on the design and construction of buildings, roads, tunnels, dams, bridges, and water supply and sewage systems. Types of problems they may be hired to solve include leaning towers and buildings, railway track failures, and slope failures and landslides. Because geology plays a heavy role in this type of work, geotechnical engineers might also be known as soils engineers, ground engineers, or geotechnics engineers.
Before construction can be done on a building or a roadway, for instance, geotechnical engineers need to test the soil to determine what materials are safe to be mixed with it to create the foundation. They also determine if the soil can even be used, and if the site is appropriate and safe for construction. Geotechnical engineers use special drills to collect soil samples, which they then test for ground strength. They analyze the amount of rock, sand, clay, and moisture that's present in the soil sample. They also perform tests for soil pressure and composition. They write a report on the soil composition and their recommendations for construction and development at the site.
Challenges geotechnical engineers face can include building on swamps or hills, renovating sites that are prone to flooding, or even devising strategies to clean up sites that are hazardous. They often work closely with civil and structural engineers, as well as with developers, landscapers, contractors, construction crews, and sometimes landowners. They usually work in a geotechnical consulting firm, with a team comprised of project directors or managers, senior engineers, geologists, checkers and/or reviewers (making sure the project meets standards and specifications), as well as other civil and geotechnical engineers.
Other geotechnical engineering job responsibilities can include planning site investigations, creating foundation and structure designs using software design programs, managing projects, creating project estimates and budgets, preparing construction documentation, and working closely with and managing clients. Some geotechnical engineers with more years of experience may work in the area of identifying sites that have potential for development and renovation. For most geotechnical engineers, some degree of travel—it may be local or international, depending on the project—is required to conduct analysis, meet with teams, and oversee work.