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Thread: Graduate Education / Career Switch?

  1. #1
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    Graduate Education / Career Switch?

    As a long-time "guest member", this is my first post as a cybubrian. I am looking for all opinions, comments, perspectives, ideas, suggestions, etc. Ok, this may get a little long, but here is the deal...

    I am a police officer for a medium-sized city. To say that I enjoy my job would probably be a stretch. I have been an officer for about 4.5 years and the entire time I have felt that my undergraduate degree (in Sociology) and overall education is under-utilized in terms of patrolling in a squad car. Not to undermine the profession, or to say that my job is not important to society, because it sure is. Someone has to do it, right? To me, the job is just not intellectually challenging. The excitement and luster of the job is defientely over-dramatized by the media and culture.

    Obtaining my masters has always been a goal for me since graduating from college. I have been given the fortunate opportunity to start graduate school at a Big 10 public affairs school. I just started my program and I am currently a Master of Public Policy candidate with a concentration in public and nonprofit management and leadership. My thought process at the time of applying was that this would be a great degree to give me an understanding into how a police department could be effectively and effeciently run someday. Kind of counter-intuitive as I am currently not very satisfied with my job, but more of a futuristic type look of where I want my professional career to lead to.

    Now, I have always had a love and passion for: big cities, maps, reliable and effecient transportation, arguing against sprawl, etc. Having hardly any knowledge about the planning field, I started talking to others within my graduate school that are in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree. Not only did this intrigue me to an extreme degree, I have seriously thought hard about switching my degree. I have spoken to numerous professors, associate deans, students, police chiefs, police managers, etc. My main concern being, if I decide to go the planning route but in the end stay in my current profession, will the degree be useful? On the end of my profession, I have often been told that a masters degree is all that is required; there is no usual fundamental focus that is needed. After speaking with some professors, I could major in planning with a focus in public management that could satisfy both worlds.

    Why would I want to go into planning if I don't leave the law enforcement field? That is a great question, and one that I have been debating endlessly. I don't know what my future is headed towards, and perhaps I would want to switch careers. I have researched pay and benefits in the planning field, and I may be wrong, but the pay does not compare. However, working wierd hours/weekends and the danger of the job no where comes close to the compensation we receive. So, at this point I don't know if planning would be my new profession. When it comes down to it, my take is that I would rather obtain my Master in Urban and Regional Planning that is accredited by the APA that would lead to a planning position if I decide to switch. If I decide not to switch, the fact that I have a masters and being able to articulate how that can relate to an upper-level administration job in criminal justice is all that is truly required. In addition, I would say that this degree would offer some diversity in my line of work that is sometimes needed at the leadership end.

    That is my dilemma that has caused some serious back and forth arguing in my head. I am not looking for a definete answer on what I should do, as I know I am the only one that can make that decision. Though, I need to decide which route I am going to take before I start taking classes that might be wasted if I switch to another degree too late in the game. At this point, I am leading to switching to the planning degree with the concentration in public management. I have never felt this interested in anything before and the ability to be able take courses that focuses on cities and regions seems almost to good to be true. To me, it wouldn't even feel like work.

    So, without further ado, I would love to hear some insight that could be from supportive to critical. I know many on this forum probably do not have experience with criminal justice/law enforcement, but to have some insight from planners and others with this type of degree would be very beneficial and truly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    K9
    Last edited by K9 Police; 21 Sep 2006 at 6:24 PM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmm....

    For what it might be worth:

    1. A masters is a masters is a masters....get it in something you might like to study.
    2. A job is a job is a job....a masters degree in most public policy, geography, sociology, planning, history, architecture, engineering, urban design, landscape architecture, public affairs, urban studies.....you get the picture....can land you a job as a planner.....that shouldn't be a big concern.
    3. If you get a narrowly focused masters degree, that will make it tough to change directions in the future. (transportation fields are a good example of this one )

    Pick something you would like, maybe try to keep it somewhat general and go for it.....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    I agree with The One. A Master of Public Policy would be just as relevant for a career in planning and also allow for more options in the future. I almost wish I went that route instead of an MCP. To get an AICP with an MPP, you would only need to work 1-2 more years in the planning field.

    Have you thought about getting into the police department planning/crime analysis field? Is that of any interest? It may be a bridge between policing and planning.

  4. #4
    If you feel that you're much more interested in the core planning courses then the core policy courses, I don't know why you wouldn't switch. Being genuinely passionate/interested in something is priceless. You might want to sit in on a couple of planning courses to confirm your thinking before taking the plunge. Also, jumping to planning would probably mean that you'd switch from policing in the long run...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian RubberStamp Man's avatar
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    I agree with the above posts.

    In addition, if you are still unsure you can also combine your planning knowledge with your police work through CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) although this is less administrative focussed. I'm not sure if your department already has a program such as this up and running, and if not - you could be the one running the show, where your other administrative skills and aspirations would help out.

    From my perspective planning and public admin are very similar as they use similar skills and even processes, but planning uses the process and applies it to a subject area, whereas public admin focuses more on the process that could be broadly applied to a variety of fields. So, what gets your jiuces flowing - the actual subject of planning or administrative work such as assessing and developing analytical constructs that are flexible to a variety of projects?

    I forgot to mention that perhaps we should switch places - if I didn't get into planning school I was going to be a cop. Some days I think about getting out of planning and joining the local police force.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 28 Sep 2006 at 1:25 PM.

  6. #6
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    Definetely appreciate the advice and insight everyone, thanks!

    The dilemma is starting to come to a close, at least I hope. I spoke to many upper-level administrators within my department and others and have found that there is no set degree program needed to become a chief in a law enforcement organization. I actually was encouraged to study what I found intriguing and use it to relate to the criminal justice field.

    I met with the dean of the planning program and it looks as though I could obtain my Master in Urban and Regional Planning, something that I have a lot of passion and excitement for, while still being able to create a concentration in public management and leadership that could be of use to public administration. At this point, I think that is the route that I am going to partake in.

    Again, thanks for the ideas/suggestions. RubberStamp Man, feel free to pm me if you have any questions/thoughts about the career.

  7. #7
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    Well congrats on at least considering going for something you're passionate about. I don't have much experience myself, but I can say this: the most important thing employers look for is usually specific coursework, which you can always highlight in a resume. To that effect, use your electives on public administration courses. They're probably invaluable in any profession you choose, and if thats all that you need to learn for a PD career, then why not get a degree you'd enjoy getting?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    I don't know about where you live but at the City of Austin we actually have "Police Planners" who determine coverage areas based on demographics and crime statistics, etc.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  9. #9
    Hey jread,
    isn't that a spatial analysis type of job that you would be qualified for? Sounds like an interesting job, I'm sure other areas of public services would have similar positions of this type.

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