Environmental engineering can be an interesting option for engineering aspirants with a ‘green’ mindset. Careers360 brings to you an article highlighting why you should specialize in this domain of engineering. Read the complete article below.Traditionally, environmental engineering was a branch of civil engineering and was variously called sanitary engineering and public health engineering. However, with the coming of dedicated higher education options in environment during the 1980s, it found its own niche.
Today, the stream is a widely offered higher education option and finds many takers. “Environmental engineering may not be the most popular choice among aspiring engineers, but there is no dearth of opportunities in it and increasingly a number of students are opting for it. Today, I have many students who are working in this field,” reveals Prof. Sudha Goel, who teaches environmental engineering at the Dept. of Civil Engineering in IIT Kharagpur.
A multidisciplinary subject
Environmental engineering is a multidisciplinary subject that borrows ideas from different sciences as well as fields of engineering to understand environmental issues and engineer design solutions for these, for example, by creating a landfill or a waste water plant.
Typically, a programme in this discipline will include concepts from physics, chemistry and biology as well as Civil, Mechanical, Electrical and Chemical Engineering. Apart from this, students will also learn about impact assessment, environmental management and audit. However, most modules will be geared towards developing a comprehensive understanding of different forms of pollution, managing environmental resources and controlling waste.
Undergraduate Vs Postgraduate
Although environmental engineering is generally offered as a postgraduate specialisation, a handful of institutes also offer it at the undergraduate level.
Prof. SK Singh of Environmental Engineering at the Delhi Technological University says that an undergraduate degree is a lot more broad-based for students keen on joining the field. “At the undergraduate level students take up to 40 different courses but postgraduate degrees are limited to a fewer courses. Initially, students preferred the postgraduate course because it was a prerequisite for many jobs, but today many companies are hiring undergraduates because of the range of knowledge they possess. The batch strength of our undergraduate course has grown from 40 to 60 recently and all our students get good placements.”
However, S Srinivas, Deputy Executive Director at the Indian Green Building Council (Part of CII) feels that it may be better for students to have an undergraduate grounding in a core discipline of engineering such as Civil, Mechanical, Electrical or Chemical and then apply this to environmental issues.
Another advantage is that it gives students the time to make up their minds about specialising in environment.
However, students should look up the postgraduate options at institutes, to see if they offer environmental engineering because transitions become smoother if students can continue their further studies at the same institute.
Admission to undergraduate courses in environmental engineering is open for students who have cleared Class 12 from a recognised board in India with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics with at least 50 percent marks. It is usually based on Class 12 results as well as performance in an entrance exam. Many institutes accept Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) scores.
Postgraduate courses are open to students from a related branch of engineering, such as Civil with 55-60 per cent. Admission is based on performance in an entrance exam. Most top institutes accept the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) scores.
A large number of jobs in environmental engineering are being driven by the public sector. “Governments around the world are pumping a huge amount of money to address environmental issues, such as pollution and waste. There is so much awareness and the impact is so well known that they cannot afford to neglect these issues,” elucidates Goel.
“Today there is no dearth of opportunities for environment engineers, be it consulting, research, industry or teaching,” she adds.
However, one constraint on students is the monetary compensation, with starting salaries ranging between 4-5 lakh per annum. “Many students get attracted to jobs in other disciplines of engineering such as IT because of the higher pay package,” says Singh but, he adds that the pay package is not much lower than the general package for fresh engineers, otherwise.
Monetary compensation though, is not always a problem and many students find that a career in environmental engineering can lead to financial as well as job satisfaction provided one has the passion. Reveals Rohit Lohia, founder at Climate-Secure Services, “After completing my studies in environmental engineering, I wanted to apply what I learnt. So, despite the reservations, I took up a job in carbon finance with a small but committed team at a consultancy. Soon, I switched over to a company working exclusively in the business. It was an upcoming field and with experience, career progression was never a problem. Finally, in 2013, I set up an advisory firm of my own. There has been no looking back since then. Even though I had to endure initial risks, I am glad I didn’t settle for conventional wisdom but chose to tread my own path instead.”
While some like Lohia end up as entrepreneurs, others can opt for jobs in process designing, construction management, materials handling and operations maintenance. Nitin Verma, Director at SustainAsia Ltd and Spans Envirotech Pvt Ltd finds that many environmental engineers only focus on jobs in process designing and don’t look at other opportunities in the field. “There is an impression that the best jobs in this field are in process designing. Even though process designers are instrumental in the planning stages, their work cannot be executed if one does not have able people handling the material, supervising construction and maintaining the facility after it has been constructed. It is important that students entering this field work backwards and start with on-site jobs in operations maintenance, where they can get a feel for the impact of what they design and the operational challenges.”
Apart from technical roles, environmental engineers are also recruited for advisory, policy and research work at various government and non-governmental organisations.
Verma says that although compensation may be an initial struggle, there is a strong demand for environmental engineers. Hence, career growth is inevitable and after working for a few years, one can certainly earn quite well.
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