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Postgraduate civil engineering: Study options explained

James Davis

Structural engineers are responsible for creating much of the infrastructure we take for granted. With a postgraduate education, you can make a significant contribution.

Civil engineers are invaluable to societies, as they design and build roads, airports, dams, sewers, water treatment plants, bridges and more. Prospective postgraduate students have access to a variety of study options, each serving different yet similar purposes. This article will explore their content and what the entry requirements are.

Graduate certificates and diplomas

These generally allow students to sharpen their skills in a particular specialisation, taking between six months to one year of full time study or one and two years part time respectively. Take the Graduate Certificate in Port Engineering from the University of Melbourne. Naturally, units for this program are concerned with the topic in question, making them ideal for those with a desire to enter a career in port engineering. It’s also possible to take a general certificate or diploma in the wider field of civil engineering, which is great for entering the wider field.

So how do you get into these programs? For the first example, students need to hold a three year bachelor’s degree in a cognate discipline, with two years of work experience preferred but not mandatory. What constitutes a ‘cognate discipline’ varies between institutions, but for the University of Melbourne it’s safe to assume it refers to any variety of engineering degree, mathematics or science (social sciences excluded). As for more general qualifications, an engineering degree of some sort is a hard requirement. In most cases you’ll also need a credit GPA (65%, or 5/7).

Normally graduate certificates and diplomas are an easier way into a master’s degree than traditional methods, having lower requirements. For civil engineering this isn’t the case. The best thing you can do to get into these is doing your best doing a bachelor’s degree in any engineering field. In cases where you can either show a cognate bachelor’s degree or a combination of bachelor’s degree and work experience, the latter option will allow you to complete your program sometimes twice as fast. So, if you can get some work experience beforehand in the same field as your bachelor’s, that might be a valuable way to recoup some costs of university while also somewhat contributing to the completion of one of these programs.

Master’s degrees

These are predominantly coursework programs taking two years full time or four years part, meaning they’re mainly concerned with teaching students the fundamentals and building upon them as opposed to having them doing their own independent research. Granted, many coursework programs will feature a strong research component, but never to the extent of a bespoke research master, which normally requires a thesis of roughly 10,000 words. Take the Master of Engineering (Civil Engineering) from RMIT. This research degree has students choose a topic of their choice under the guidance and approval of a supervisor. They must meet with their supervisor regularly, who will monitor their progress and ensure milestones are hit in a timely manner. Coursework degrees are less self-directed, requiring the completion of assignments and workshops in a manner any undergrad should be familiar with.

Entering a coursework master requires students to have several years of work experience. The University of Southern Queensland hosts the Master of Engineering Practice (Structural Engineering), exemplifying this. Applicants must have at least five years of industry experience as an engineering technologist. Flinders University’s Master of Engineering (Civil) is similar, requiring a Bachelor of Engineering, Graduate Diploma in Engineering Science or equivalent qualification. All require a credit GPA at minimum.

A research master’s in civil engineering will have one additional stipulation, regardless of what institution you choose. It’s often mandatory to prove you’ve done significant research in the field previously. In RMIT’s case, this commonly takes the form of a first-class honours degree in an engineering field. If you’re interested in doing this sort of course, taking an extra honours year is practically the only way of getting in unless you can find a research-based graduate diploma, which we warn isn’t common.

Doctorates

At this level, entry requirements and course content become fairly homogenous between disciplines structurally speaking. The content of your civil engineering PhD will be entirely of your own making, following a similar process to that of a research master. You’ll have a supervisor, who will approve of a research topic you’ll undergo and eventually write an extensive thesis on (70,000 - 100,000 words typically). There’s also the option of undergoing a PhD by publication, which we highly recommended in an earlier article.

Applicants must prove they’re capable of significant research. This can either be done via completion of an honours degree in civil engineering or a master’s by research. It’s possible by RMIT standards to get in by experience alone, but equivalent ability to conduct research will weigh heavily in your favour.

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of what postgraduate qualifications are available to aspiring civil engineers or those wishing to develop their career in the field or in academia. No matter where you choose to take your qualification once you’ve obtained it, we wish you well!