Geotechnical engineers study and determine how large-scale construction projects on or in the ground, including roads, tunnels, dams, and water supply and sewage treatment systems, will be affected by soil, rocks, and subsurface conditions. Using the principles of soil mechanics and rock mechanics, they plan and oversee the construction of foundations, slopes, earthworks, retaining walls, and tunnels. Geotechnical engineers work closely with civil engineers, as well as military, mining, and petroleum engineers, to determine the condition and stability of a construction site’s subsurface materials.
Geotechnical engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in geotechnical engineering. The core curriculum of a master’s program will commonly cover soil mechanics, foundation engineering, mapping techniques, and geotechnical material testing. Some schools offer online certificate programs in geotechnical engineering separate from a master’s degree program in engineering. Ph.D. programs in geotechnical engineering emphasize research on the part of candidates that is meant to benefit their field.
In most states, geotechnical engineers are licensed and regulated as professional engineers. They must successfully complete two licensing exams after graduating from an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc) accredited school. Several years of work experience under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer may also be required. Licensing and regulation of geotechnical engineers varies by state.