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First field assignment - looking for advice

First field assignment - looking for advice

First field assignment - looking for advice

Hey everyone.

I'm a fairly junior civil engineer and have been assigned to assist and be involved in the field construction of grade for some railroad track, and have never been assigned any field work in the past. I am looking for some help and advice, both on logistical needs and what I should know and be prepared to do. I know there's a bit of a stereotype for junior engineers being more of a problem than a help on jobs and I would like to avoid that as best as I can.

My questions:
  • What should I have with me? PPE is a given, I assume I need the plans and specifications, but should I bring anything else?
  • What am I expected to do on a day to day basis on the job site?
  • What am I expected to know? Should I spend some time researching anything specific before heading out?
  • Any good recommendations on the field work overall?
Thanks in advance for your help. I think this is a great opportunity to gain a practical understanding of reality vs plans and don't want to waste it or be a problem.

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

Would start off reading the Contract to understand what your responsibilities are.

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

if you are "assisting" than somebody else is in charge. that will be your new supervisor and he will assign the tasks. you should be asking him

when you arrive, check in with the construction manager / resident engineer, at the trailer before you step foot on the site. bring your lunch

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

If on a railroad job, there may be more specific rules for PPE (steel toe only, no safety toe boots; no green vests, etc). Bring your boots with you, and any other PPE you've been issued previously by the company, but they may have a new vest or hardhat for you at the site.

The most important things to know are:
1. As a junior engineer, you are not expected to know much, if anything useful. Asking questions is a good thing. "I don't know.. yet. I'll find out." is the best phrase you can use.
2. You will do well if you quickly learn who the appropriate people are on site to ask those questions. Take into consideration their job role, their busyness (don't take everything to the PM), and their friendliness.
3. Bring your lunch, and define for yourself your willingness to come early and stay late. Many field roles will expect that of you. It can be good, at least for a season, to show that you are a team player. But be careful -- many people get stuck in a habit of 12-14hr days at the expense of other aspects of life.

The name is a long story -- just call me Lo.

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

Is the work at or next to functioning tracks? If yes, you may need Roadway Workers Training beforehand. Ask a senior engineer.

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

This definitely calls for some one senior to be on site. There is no way we can cover all the possible things that must be concerned with. If you arn't under the on-site guidance of a senior engineer at least for the early stages,I'd sure complain to the boss. A lot can go wrong otherwise AND IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT..

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

My questions:
• What should I have with me? PPE is a given, I assume I need the plans and specifications, but should I bring anything else?
Depends on the role and location but correct clothing for wet, hot, cold, medium weather
Some basic tools depending on what you're doing. (small spirit level never goes amiss) nor does a good metal tape measure.
A helpful attitude.
A small hard back book to write things in.

• What am I expected to do on a day to day basis on the job site?
Probably be the eyes and ears of your supervisor who will get stuck inside in meetings and discussions.
Probably a lot of watching other people work, but then asked to fix problems / issues as they arise. Some measuring of things and checking to see that the requirements have been met.
You know that they start to trust you when all eyes of the guys on the tools turn and focus on you waiting for an answer...

• What am I expected to know? Should I spend some time researching anything specific before heading out?
Plans, specifications, contractual requirements. You may often actually be more familiar than some of the workers who should know.

• Any good recommendations on the field work overall?
It can be hard, dirty, slightly more risky work, but also you see something start to happen in front of you. You also can get immediate feedback of questions or issues.
If you have a good group of people working for you who include you in the work it is a lot of fun, but if they're trying to pull a fast one and you're seen an impediment if can get isolating and a bit lonely.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

First, all of these questions should have been asked to your supervisor prior to you going out in the field.

If I am not mistaken, it is an OSHA requirement that your employer provides you with the appropriate PPE and safety training. As a minimum, I would assume your PPE for most active work site would include Steel Toed boots, hard hat and high visibility jacket. I would bring a copy of the plans & specifications, paper & multiple pens & pencils, appropriate weather gear, your cell phone (for phone calls and photos), water and a sack lunch depending on the location. Also, I would at least take another pair of shoes. A spare set of clothes may be helpful depending on the site and the work performed.

• What am I expected to do on a day to day basis on the job site?
At the very least, you're there to learn. If this is your first time out in the field, you should be with another engineer who should be willing to answer your questions and let you know what you're there for. If you're doing Construction Quality Assurance/Construction Quality Control (CQA/CQC) work, you're there to observe that the work is being performed in accordance with the plans. Are they testing the material at the correct frequency, is it achieving at least the minimal specifications, is the rebar spacing correct, are they using the correct size of rebar, etc. Be planned to take notes and pictures of the site.

• What am I expected to know? Should I spend some time researching anything specific before heading out?
This depends on the job. If you're doing QA/QC work, you should know what type of work will be performed, any tests that need to be performed, and the minimum passing criteria. (e.g., for a HDPE liner installation, you should know what type of test, both destructive and non-destructive test must be performed on the liner, the frequency of the test, the minimum passing criteria. In most cases, you won't be performing the test, the liner installers will normally do all of the work, but you're there to observe that the test are being performed properly, achieving the appropriate results, and any failures are properly resolved.) Knowledge of what is going on at the site (e.g., any ASTM test), construction drawings, permit conditions, etc. Additionally, keeping a daily log including site conditions, work performed, and any problems observed, taking pictures (which is a lot easier nowadays) are also some good ideas.

• Any good recommendations on the field work overall?
Depending on the time of the year, you'll be Hot/Cold/Wet/Dealing with Allergies/Insects/Poison Ivy/Wildlife. It will not be as clean and pristine as your office, but you'll learn a lot. Remember, although time is money, it's a lot cheaper/easier to fix a problem with the subgrade/foundation before the building is built instead of after.

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

zelgar makes some great points


A bloody good phone with a decent camera with a high IP rating and rubber protection for when you drop in a muddy stony puddle.... and you can use to call for assistance.

A good go pro like camera is great for recording action.

You learn that real life construction is nothing like the nice clean lines on the drawing, but really makes you realize how good design which considers construction issues

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

The fact that you are admitting that you don't in fact already know everything and that you are asking for advice from people who may know or have learn't from experience means that you are probably bringing the right attitude to the first day on the job.

That's a great start and is perhaps more important than all the other pieces of great advice that has been given.

"Any water can be made potable if you filter it through enough money"

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

As a beginner, for a while or the first few times out on the job, keep your eyes wide open, your ears wide open, your brain fully activated, and your mouth a little less active. You should have someone or someplace to go with questions and for direction, ask your boss. A well thought out question is seldom a dumb question, after all you are there to learn and see things for the first time. But, at first it may be best to ask these in a one-on-one with your mentor or supervisor, rather than interrupt conversation in a crowd or meeting. Come with a couple possible solutions or alternatives, do a little research and digging on your own, this will stick with you better/longer, and finally, keep a notebook of things learned and the why’s and wherefore’s for each, and don’t ask the same question twice because of your own inattention to listening and details of the situation.

Don’t every feel guilty about saying “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you with an answer shortly.” Then be sure to follow through. You will become the go-to guy because you do follow through with meaningful and constructive answers or solutions to the problem, once you’ve revied the situation with your superiors.

Study the plans and specs., etc. for the work or the general area which is to be done the next day. This will give you a leg-up at the start of the day, since you have familiarized yourself with the general conditions. You’ll look the smarter for knowing where to look on the plans and what the details are.

Good Luck

RE: First field assignment - looking for advice

I'd agree with Ashtree that the fact that you're asking these questions at all leads me to believe you have your head screwed on correctly to begin with.

One thing I don't believe anyone has touched on. I'm not a civil guy but I would imagine there's a certain level of sameness with regard to the typical relationship between engineers and field guys (techs, laborers, et al.).

In my world, the field guys make the world go 'round. I can't tell you the number of times that a field guy has come to me on a jobsite or called me when I wasn't on the jobsite to tell me about something that 'wasn't quite right' when they didn't need to. They did this because, through careful work, I've built a reputation with my field people as an engineer that values their input, won't reject criticism our outside ideas out of arrogance, and also isn't afraid to go elbow-deep on a piece of equipment when another set of hands is needed to get the job done.

This type of reputation is, in any engineering field which involves field work, intensely valuable.

My field probably differs from yours in a few ways; some subtle, some not. In my field I am more than capable of doing anything the techs can do- you will not be. (for example... even if a field guy asks you to, you're obviously not going to jump into the cab of an excavator and run it for awhile).

Point is, it is intensely valuable long term if the field guys, especially the ones who are likely to be around long term (senior laborers/foremen/site quality managers/project managers etc) see you as someone they like working with.

So, try and consider that in your interactions with them.

The first thing you can do to develop this reputation is to avoid being in the way and avoid slowing them down. That's important. Beyond that, little things matter. See a guy waiting for someone to give him a hand lifting a heavy tool into the bed of the work truck? Spend 3 seconds and help if you're not doing anything. See a guy in need of a measuring tape for a quick check and doesn't have one on his belt? Offer yours for the minute he needs it (and get it back after).

Little stuff like that matters, and it's what people remember. Don't be a doormat to these guys, but be nice.

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