On Being Your Own Engineer
Ralph B. Peck (1983)
Here at this University and in this Department that has trained so many outstanding civil engineers, you have achieved a standard of excellence that results in recognition at this Honors Days ceremony. It gives me the greatest pleasure to congratulate you on these achievements. Here in your undergraduate career, you have become leaders in the pursuit of engineering knowledge, the first essential step in becoming a civil engineering. Excellence in undergraduate studies correlates highly with a successful engineering career in later years. I sincerely hope that the satisfaction of a successful career continues to be yours and that these honors and recognitions that you so rightfully receive today will be only the first of many satisfactions that will come to you in your practice of civil engineering. Yet a successful undergraduate career is not always or inevitably followed by leadership in your profession. In a changing world, in a dynamic profession such as civil engineering, how can you to be sure today that you will be among the leads of your profession 20 or 30 years from now? How can you even be sure to pick the branch of civil engineering, the particular kind of work that you will actually the best or have the most aptitude for? Do you dare leave these matters to chance, do you dare let nature simply take its course? Nobody can predict the future and nobody can guarantee success in the future. But there are, nevertheless, many positive things you can do to shape your own career. I should like to think about some of this with you today. I believe every engineer, perhaps even while an undergraduate but certainly upon graduate, needs to form and follow his own plan for the development of his professional career. Perhaps it is an unpleasant thought, but I believe it is only realistic that nobody else is quite as interested in your career as you yourself should be. If you don't plan it yourself, it is quite possible that nobody will. On the other hand, there are too many factors; there are too many changes in a dynamic profession to permit laying out a fixed plan. The plan that you follow must be flexible and it must continually be evaluated. To be sure, every career depends to some extent on chance, good or bad. But if you have followed a sound plan, you will be ready for the good breaks when they come. Those who feel they have never had favorable opportunities usually have not been ready and have not even recognized opportunities when they came.
Civil engineering projects don't exist in the classroom or in the office or in the laboratory. They are highways, the transmit systems, the landslides to be corrected, the waste disposal plants to be constructed, the bridges, the airports; they have to be built by men and machines. In my view, nobody can be a good designer, a good researcher, a leader in the civil engineering profession unless he understands the methods and the problems of the builders.