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Engineering PE vs Graduate Degree in Civil Engineering

  1. Mar 4, 2012 #1
    For those with a background in Civil; what do you think about graduate degrees in Civil Engineering for people with a different undergraduate background?

    I don't plan on doing traditional engineering work but a lot of what I do does relate to the water quality part of civil engineering. I'm not sure if a PE would be worth more than a graduate degree from a career standpoint. Please let me know what you think.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2012 #2
    I am a controls engineer and I work for a large water/waste-water utility. In general, a graduate degree in Civil Engineering will get you further along. It won't be wasted time. You can use the time spent on the degree toward your PE.

    That said, the actual practice of engineering is unavoidably a hands-on experience. If you think you're going to hit the ground running just because you have a higher degree, you're gravely mistaken. Even with experienced people, it still takes at least a year for us to show them where stuff is, how the bureaucracy works, take all the safety training, who the people are, and what our group policies look like.

    I recommend you get both, and then I recommend making like a sponge when you start working in the real world. This business has many nuances and it will keep you busy for an entire career.
  4. Mar 13, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the reply. I always thought I'd have to get a second BS in order to sit for the PE. I've also wondered if people respect the graduate level engineering education when you aren't an "engineer".

    I also work for a utility. We have one 130 MGD plant and another 60ish MGD peaking plant. I bet working on control systems would keep you busy. I think our SCADA system could keep a team of people busy for years.
  5. Mar 14, 2012 #4
    The prerequisites for the PE vary from state to state in the US, though they generally follow the recommendations of the NCEES. As it happens, I know someone with a PE who doesn't even have a four year degree. More than anything else, the key to taking the Principles and Practices exam, is documented working experience.

    These days, you probably will need the four year degree, and proof of passing the EIT exam. Then you document a certain number of years working as an engineer with someone who holds a PE. Some states also require the co-signature of several other PE certificate holders to say that you're a decent and moral person.

    Many states, such as Maryland, allow for alternative demonstrations of experience for those with lengthy military backgrounds. This experience exception is for cases where the ultimate design products are classified.

    As for me, I took the PE without needing the EIT because I documented 15 years of solid experience working with other PE certificate holders. Some states allow for this, others may not. My employer places a premium on such certification, and they make sure that you have plenty of opportunity to earn one.

    All that said, I must emphasize what the PE is, and what the PE is not. The PE does not indicate that the design is any better or worse than a design coming from someone who doesn't have a PE. It is merely a statement of liability. You can certify the work of others if you know it to be safe, reasonable, and ethical. However, if you design a bridge, and it falls down due to a fault in the design you certified, you and your successors in the company will be personally liable for the failure of that bridge. In other words, you are signing your name to a design that you are certain is reasonable and as safe as it can be.

    A PE is also an indicator of expertise to a court of law. In matters of engineering, a PE is generally expected if you are to testify as an expert witness or filing a brief as a friend of the court.

    However, as a practical matter, having the design stamped by a PE does not mean it is any good. I have seen drawings stamped by numerous PE certificate holders that wasn't worth the paper it was drawn on. The design got built anyway, and though it is fail safe, there are numerous flaws and failures in this design that make the ultimate product a massive waste of money. Incidentally, the firm that perpetrated that design has earned a permanent place on my personal black-list. I will recuse myself in any future work with them, primarily because I can not be objective with them, and also because I don't trust their work enough to allow my reputation to be associated with anything they do.

    Basically, that's what the PE is about: it's about your reputation and your stature as an engineer. It is an indicator of professional responsibility and ethics. It is not an indicator of competence.
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