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If you relish challenge and adventure, a career in ground engineering could be just what you need, say foundation engineering specialist Alan Powderham and internationally renowned consulting engineer Ralph Peck

Do you want to make a real contribution to the infrastructure that underpins our civilisation, to be involved from the concept stage, to help identify and resolve what is viable and what is not?

Would you like to sustain and protect the environment and successfully manage risk? Do you relish challenge and adventure? If the answer is yes - to some or all of these - then a career in ground engineering offers rich and rewarding opportunities.

Consider the achievements of leaders in this branch of civil engineering. To judge from the recently published biography of Karl Terzaghi - a pioneer in this field - he enjoyed a long careercrowded with high adventure. Terzaghi was an indefatigable seeker of opportunities who achieved a deep sense of fulfilment.

We may not have such a strong sense of destiny, but we can follow his example not to let opportunity slip by; otherwise, in his words, 'you may depart before you have ever found out what living means'.

Opportunities in ground engineering are perhaps wider than in any other branch of civil engineering. They range from the small and intricate - groundwater control or minor underpinning - to the grand, spectacular and the dramatic - projects like the Channel Tunnel.

Expertise encompasses ground treatment, foundations, dams, and underground transportation. With the pressure of global urbanisation, the development and use of underground space is becoming increasingly viable.

So what of opportunity and the individual? There is clearly a need to become a specialist, but in this information age there is an increasing need to strengthen communication and promote teamwork. To make a real contribution requires appreciating the needs of others and the overall objective.

Ground engineering faces inherent uncertainty, so the ability to develop and exercise good judgement is fundamental. This demands an understanding of geology, soil mechanics, and soil structure interaction. In addition, an appreciation of the relationship between theory and practice, of the relevance of precedent, and of construction methods is vital. Relating design to construction is critical - success in addressing real problems demands getting the concept right and attending to details.

Keep in mind that your career is your responsibility, and have a plan, one that is flexible but aimed at achieving a varied range of experience. Keep in touch with developments and be aware of the 'state of the art'.

Contribute to relevant specialist committees and working groups, and share knowledge - every project has a lesson. Develop a keen ability for observation and capacity for engineering judgement and then, with humility, exercise that judgement and have the courage of your convictions.

Alan Powderham tel (020) 8774 2000

Alan Powderham (left) leads research and innovation and is a board director of Mott MacDonald's new Transportation Unit. He is also a visiting lecturer at the University of Illinois, where Ralph Peck (right) is Professor of Foundation Engineering Emeritus.

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