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Wednesday, 3 August 2016

My journey into geotechnical engineering

My journey into geotechnical engineering started some 22 years back when Soil Mechanics and Foundation engineering course was offered in my undergraduate third year at Bengal Engineering College. I immediately fell in love with the subject and even chose geotechnical engineering as my elective too. After getting my Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, I wrote the GATE exam and secured a percentile score good enough to get a seat in the revered Jadavpur University. And, from here my journey began with geotechnical engineering. MS program in geotechnical engineering educates and prepares individuals for careers as geotechnical engineers in the areas of soil mechanics, foundation engineering and environmental geotechnics. 

Let me take this opportunity to explain what this geotechnical engineering is all about. Every structure on earth, whether it be a building, bridge, dam, retaining wall, railway line, highway, canal, pipeline, landfill, or pavement is founded on soil and/or rock. Geotechnical engineering is a branch of civil engineering that is concerned with studying the engineering properties of soil and rock and its behavior under the influence of proposed loading forces.
After receiving my Master’s degree with specialization in geotechnical engineering, I worked in the industry as a geotechnical engineer. Job prospects are excellent because every construction project involves foundation work. With increasing use of developed land many projects involve the challenge of building on difficult ground such as swamps, or hills. In these areas, specialists like geotechnical engineers and consultants are needed.

If you are wondering what the geotechnical professionals do, here you go. The geotechnical engineer is involved in field and laboratory investigations to determine the engineering properties of site soils. The basic responsibilities include obtaining soil and rock samples at different depths across sites, testing samples to determine their strength, compressibility and other factors that affect the behavior of soil and rock when a structure is built on top of it and determining the safe loading level for the soil. In short, the work of a geotechnical engineer includes five key activities: desk study or research into existing information, ground investigation (gathering new data), interpretation (understanding new data), analysis and design, and finally construction (or remediation).


After working in the industry for good 8 years, I decided to pursue a PhD in geotechnical engineering because by then, my thirst for the course had increased so much that I wanted to conduct research. Deep in my heart I cherished my wish to become a professor. I chose to do research on landfills. So, I looked up at all the prospective research areas in the US and UK universities. I got an offer from Cambridge University but financially I could not afford and so finally settled down on the work done by a professor at Michigan State University in US. I took guidance from Career Plan where Biruda Virkud worked before. With good GRE, TOEFL and TSE scores, recommendations from my professors and my notable work in Master’s thesis, I landed up at MSU with full scholarship. Within four years, I finished my PhD and after that I worked at a college as a Professor where I designed a brand new course on geotechnical engineering. My love for geotechnical engineering continues till today…..

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