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Thread: My planning program experience has been negative. How about you guys?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    My planning program experience has been negative. How about you guys?

    Hi all,

    ---I am venting and I took a deep breath first, you've been warned

    I am at a school that I am told is well regarded and has a great reputation. I keep hearing this from faculty, and when prospective faculty come and interview, etc. But I am not sure I believe the hype.

    1. Most students don't even read for class
    2. The number one goal is to get a B "pay the fee, get a B, get the degree"
    3. Some of our professors I am surprised that they are professors at a graduate school- I'd say more but I don't want to identify anyone or the school.
    4. Research skills seem lackluster. Know enough to confuse themselves and others.

    Obviously, I am having buyers remorse, but it's too late, I am almost finished.

    Unsolicited advice to the uninitiated: If you are a GRA or GTA, do not have a class with that professor, and especially do not have two classes with that professor.

    Our seminar group was "slow boiled" this semester into a full fledge original research project and it is the blind leading the blind, come to find out at the end the proff. seems to have planned to publish the results, but does not like our analysis and wants us to do it again and is threatening to give us an incomplete! From 20 page term paper to original research, the target keeps getting moved and we are all clueless. Now we understand why the proff kept butting in the research. But my experience is usually that a proff who is using the class to do research with intent to publish is up front about their intentions and they are the PI and manage the project, as you are all students and need guidance. And again this was a seminar class, not a frigg'n research methods class.

    On top of all this, I still don't know what I've learned other than 1001 ways to split hairs, a little GIS, and that commercial is red.

    I am told that the MCRP does not do anything other than credential you for a job, and how it is all more sane and quite easy after grad school in the "real world". But then if the degree is just a credential, then what are we paying all this money for, if we "learn on the job" after we graduate. Is this some sort of Ponzi scheme? Not to mention for gone salary. I am almost middle aged, I have had social theory before (undergrad in sociology and minor in philosophy, and honestly some of this "theory" from planning seems rehashed from the social sciences), and am tired of hearing about the plight of the poor by some upper-middle class Prius driving professor who read it in a book somewhere!

    Honestly I'd love to be a professor! But not the way some of these folks do it. The cliche of disorganized, the cannibalistic nature of eating the young, the abusive right of passage attitudes, the peculiar nature of the seemingly psychotic and over sexed humored as some sort of in group out group balance of power.

    I'd love to be a professor and advocate for students and those in the community one would be serving. And if professors insist on these parochial and arcane traditions I'd like lead a revolt against them. I think they are part of the problem. After all, we students are the customers here!!! We pay taxes and a truck load of money to get these degrees. I think we deserve better than we are getting.

    Yes i know its what you make of it. Benn there done that so many times. But should not have to,and it is debatable that at my school there is much to make of anything.

    A positive note: I have met some really great fellow students I consider friends, and we all have the feelings I have laid out. We discuss these issues on a regular basis and there are about 6 of us. I am not the only one at this school who feels this way

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    So is everyone else's experience positive? (60 views) Now I really have buyers remorse!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Mine hasn't been positive or negative only because I haven't actually gotten to a MCRP program yet, I'm trying to finish up undergrad. I'm curious though what program you're talking about, mainly because of the "get the B...etc" attitude you described. Could you private message me, if you don't mind sharing?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I totally agree that school should really be focused on the student (i.e. the customer) especially if the student knows what they want out of the program. I went to visit UGA's MLA program, and I butted heads with the admissions director. He wants the program to serve as a guide for students, and he was not too happy that I have a clearly defined agenda for grad school (I am interested in master planning, streetscapes, and site design and really want a construction-heavy MLA program). Bottom line, I am the one paying the bills so I should have more of a say in the program. I'm not writing off UGA (it still is a great school) but I am going to shop around until I find the program that is right for me.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    No graduate program (urban planning or otherwise) is perfect. I had my qualms with many of the professors and the way various things were run. I really enjoyed some parts and detested others.

    Most graduate programs come down to the professors, how they teach, and how they relate to students.

    Looking back, I would say that prospective students should ask to sit in on a few classes to see what the professors are like.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    I am about to graduate and while I enjoyed mostly everything my program had to offer, not everyone here has the same opinion. First of all, grad school is, well grad school, harder than undergrad and more focused on your field. In general all grad school programs are what you make of them while you are there and taking advantage of all your program offers is really the reason to go to a particular school, i.e. don't be upset you didn't get more design in school when you didn't take all the classes or attempt to take classes in Landscape Arch or Arch if you are affiliated with those programs. Planning students come from a variety of backgrounds and I can just imagine be a professor teaching a class of some professionals, some straight out of undergrads, some with technical or design degrees and some with more policy oriented degrees! Professors are under alot of pressure to research and publish on top of teaching and mentoring to keep money coming into the program. Most people will tell you that you learn alot at your first job after school, as it is with most professions. The glass is half full here my friend.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    My planning school also sucks

    I go to McGill and planning school sucks!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I am also wondering how much of this the planning school and how much is the PAB. They recently came to review our school. They had the three site reviewers come and talk to us students for an hour. One reviewer doodled the whole time, the other looked sleepy and fell asleep am I told in another meeting, and their leader was condescending. Their leader kept hand waving me off, with "your a PhD student, you just don't know it yet". I felt the process was not at all in keeping with all these great and wonderful ideas from planning theory. I mean, are we not a community? Is this how planners treat communities they work with? And I made the point of asking, are we a degree mill, or a real graduate school? And the sleep guy said well, that's a good point . Are you being prepared to be a planner? I looked him in shock. I am thinking, how would I know, I don't work as a planner, ask me after have the job. Dog and pony show.

    Beach Bum: BTW this program is waaaaaaaaaay easier than my undergrad. I took the intermediate stats course that is meant for the PhD students and we covered more than that in my undergrad stats 101 for social sciences. I am no statistician, but planners seem to have a really poor grasp of stats at my school, and student complain about having to take the intro course, which IMHO is high school level.The difficulty is I think for the planning school is there is no plan, and they can't even plan a research project or syllabus.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 02 May 2008 at 10:37 AM. Reason: double reply

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    In the first post, I thought you were a masters student not a doctoral student. There are no "official" standards for teaching when you are at the PhD level. At my alma-mater, UIUC, PhD students had some introductory coursework and then were left out for the wolves: they had to figure out the program on their own.

    PAB accredits planning programs: they do not represent planners as a whole. I think some of them have to be critical of programs before accrediting them. I think several practicing planners have a bias against academics (and doctoral students to a lesser degree) because of the ivory tower.

    Until planning introduces a standardized licensure process across the board, like engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, etc., planning programs and urban design programs are going to remain one big jumpled mess of non-standardized programs (which is why I am not going back for a second planning degree). Enrolling in a PAB accredited planning program is preferred, but it is not going to prevent you from moving up your career ladder (you can still take the AICP exam, but will require an additional year of professional planning experience from a non-PAB school). On the otherhand, you cannot move up in other professions unless the program is accredited (NAAB, LAAB, ABET, etc.). I found out when interviewing at UGA, that all accredited BLA and MLA programs HAVE to have similar curricula to help prepare graduates take the LARE.

    I have always been an advocate of vocational schools or vocational/technical oriented collges and grad schools: pick up the skills you need to do the job, less theory, and go out and work. I also think that each state should license planners. I think it will make planning programs more consistent, boost their credibility to the general public, as well as give more weight to the few undergrad planning programs. Although, I have no idea of how successful a licensure program would be either (unless someone from NJ wants to step in). There are plenty of great planning programs out there, but there is also a bunch of garbage.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    surprised

    I'm surprised by the number of people having such bad experiences with school. When I first considered changing from my current career (consulting in life sciences industry) I thought about architecture. I spoke to about a dozen architects and they basically convinced me not to go into the field. I then thought of urban planning. Again, I talked to about a dozen planners and people in school and got only positive responses. All of the planning students I spoke to were at Harvard and MIT, so I'm guessing the school has a huge factor on the experience.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Response

    Quote Originally posted by javajuice1000 View post
    Beach Bum: BTW this program is waaaaaaaaaay easier than my undergrad. I took the intermediate stats course that is meant for the PhD students and we covered more than that in my undergrad stats 101 for social sciences. I am no statistician, but planners seem to have a really poor grasp of stats at my school, and student complain about having to take the intro course, which IMHO is high school level.The difficulty is I think for the planning school is there is no plan, and they can't even plan a research project or syllabus.
    I am do not know anything about your program except for what you have written here. I think that nrschmid is right, until the field is more standardized with licensure, then the planning programs will continue to be a mixed bag as far as quality. For example, I know alot of people dislike the new CM aspect of AICP, but IMO, it really gives alot more prestige to those with an AICP title. It also encourages planners to keep up with what is going on in the field, get together with other planners from other cities, firms, etc, just think how much things have changed over the past 10 years in our profession!

    I am really sorry that you had a negative experience in graduate school, but not all schools are the same, and like I said before, I think half of graduate school is what you put into it and how much you take advantage of what your program has to offer. In my own experience I have learned as much from my fellow students as I have from my professors because many of us came in with planning experience (myself included). With that said, selecting a grad school that matches your goals and interests is very important!
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I am a master's student.

    My point was that the PAB site reviewer was dismissing my comments as irrelevant, because I was expecting too much from the program. And so he was saying, "you are a PhD student, you just don't know it yet". He said the repeatedly.

    As far as ' it's what you make of it'- my previous gripes, plus
    1. many of the professors not impressive, wonder how they got a PhD
    2. can't even find a working stapler
    3. No one in the Tech dept. seems to know how to properly install ArcView or ArcInfo
    4. SPSS and other license run out in the middle of the semester routinely.
    5. The GRA/GTA wages start at $550 and go up to a max of $930 for PhD students this for a 20 hr position, no benefits.
    6. The PAB is a dog and pony show! Doodling, sleeping, dismissive reviewers?
    7. Very limited practical experience offered from classes or projects.

    From what I can tell the program is a mill. Most students are either interning and hardly go to class or participate which does not do much enlightenment. Then the others are already in planning or government and are closer to my age or older, and just there to get the degree so they can get a job promotion. then there is the group I fit into, we might go into planning, but really expected more depth tot eh studies. The PhD program is basically the masters, but you do dissertation. In fact if you get your masters here, then you can test out of almost 60 hours of courses, then write a dissertation, take your quals and your done. I really don't see how my school is anything other than a mill. the great people that have graduated from my school have done so, because they were great before they went there, and it is a shame to think had they had the money to go to a better school how they might have reached their full potential.

    Our joke on campus is, "despite everything _____ has to offer, we still succeed".

    Oh, and I have worked in academia at other places, my point is, I have seen other programs, not in planning, but other programs that seems wholly more impressive. And so that's why I asked about others experiences. I am saying I think the problem is not just at my school but others. I thin k the PAB is part of the problem. I think some odd "culture" has arisen that maintains this situation, because it is not new and currently at my school I am not alone. I am just one of the few who will speak up when the PAB meets with us. I am one of the few who tell a proff. what I think. I know nothing will change by the time I leave , very soon. But I do it so a few cohorts from now, will hopefully have the basic necessities to succeed and get their money's worth. Graduate school is expensive! Not just tuition books and fees, but you are not earning significant money for 2+ years.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    If your program is as bad as you say, why did you enroll there in the first place? Didn't you see any red flags visiting the program?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    didn't see the red flags till 15 hours in. Also students who I met when I checked out the place say nothing really. Until we get to know each other no one seems to speak their mind, because of the politics in the school. I'd have to have waited another year if I quit to go somewhere else. I just never thought a program could be this bad. I only hear now about incidences in the past where several times a group of students left the program. And recently several assistant proffs have left or are leaving because of the nature of the program. Which is wise of them, but sucks for us, since they were the good proff.s. My interest though really is not so much in the bitching about the program as getting a sense of are all planning programs like this? Or is this just my program?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    What program is this? I think the only way to really gage a planning program is to see if other people have felt the same way. You might have different expectations of what a planning program should be (that's not bad) but then other people may enjoy the program but you end up disappointed.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by javajuice1000 View post
    My interest though really is not so much in the bitching about the program as getting a sense of are all planning programs like this?
    No. I have the exact opposite experience and feelings about my MSP program.

    I guess it is really just in the eye of the beholder though, because I felt “lucky” to be there and that probably shaped my outlook.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    mrnschmid: We basically have a support group for being there. My thoughts are shared with about 6 others and growing.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    so what program is this?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    nrschmid: don't want to say the name of my school. there is enough drama there now as it is. Just found out another proff is leaving! One of the better one's too! We 6 are all disheartened, but we know that proff is making the right decision for their career.

    Mostly I am just wanting others to not name, just describe if they had a negative experience, and why? I am wondering if there is a common denominator. And what could be done to change it without naming people or the schools. And something other than funding, yes we always need more funding and more money.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    I can see how you want to save face with your own program. Personally, I don't think it's an unethical to offer your honest opinon about a specific program, even if it hasn't been positive. I have a sleu of criticisms with my alma mater UIUC and have stated them on there (but again I haven't been in school in 5 years). If anything, it would be a warning sign for other people considering your program. But again, that's entirely up to you.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    yeah i feel conflicted about it. But given the politics, I need to graduate and get away. I am currently working with the others to improve the cohort experience, empower the GRA/GTAs, which is not exactly a welcome thing for me to do as it is.

    But hopefully by empowering students and improving communication between the students, people will find out if the program is for them sooner, find faculty that they connect with, etc.

    nrschmid: So what are some of your criticisms of your alma mater?
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 04 May 2008 at 9:54 PM. Reason: double reply

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by javajuice1000 View post
    yeah i feel conflicted about it. But given the politics, I need to graduate and get away. I am currently working with the others to improve the cohort experience, empower the GRA/GTAs, which is not exactly a welcome thing for me to do as it is.

    But hopefully by empowering students and improving communication between the students, people will find out if the program is for them sooner, find faculty that they connect with, etc.

    nrschmid: So what are some of your criticisms of your alma mater?
    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...highlight=UIUC

    Some programs have faculty that are more responsive to students concerns than others. However, if you REALLY want to change things when all else fails (in no particular order)

    1. Become a department head or better yet a college dean (and hopefully under a university admnistration that backs you on your reforms).
    2. Lead a vary active and vocal alumni association to lobby for changes.
    3. Sit on the board of directors.
    4. Become a big benefactor and choose where the money goes (or threaten to pull out all together if things don't go your way). Yes, it's bullish, but it's your money isn't it?

  23. #23
         
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    I would agree with most of your points. Graduate school was definitely not what I expected. Much of what you get out of it is what you put into it. Professors are there to facilitate learning and not really to teach (to be honest). Graduate school is too theoretical and less practical. But then again, most of what planners do can be learned on the job. Was it work the extra $40k in loans?..Definitely...just for those extra letters at the end of my name...

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Really though I want to know others negative experinces to find a pattern. I think part of the problem is the PAB. But also the lack of leadership at my school. There is also political infighting that students are not spared from being in the line of fire.

    But to respond to the "it's what you make of it' comments....

    It is hard to get something out of the program when the computer lab has computers that are 8 years old and run 215MB of RAM and repeatedly crash. And that the IT people can't seem to figure out how to properly install ArcView. Licenses that expire near the end of the semester for SPSS. I am lucky to find a working stapler! The GRA computers are even worse! I bring my own laptop since the school can't seem to provide a decent computer. GRA pay starts at 550 a month no benefits, though most seem to get 700-800. I have some professors who really have nothing to offer, I had undergrad proff.s who were better and from a supposedly lesser institution. Other wiser professors are leaving, and they are the ones I like.

    So, to those who keep saying the cliche of 'its what you make it' I've been trying, but I need something to work with! Seriously! This is ridiculous at my school. grrrrr can't wait to leave.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally posted by javajuice1000 View post
    So, to those who keep saying the cliche of 'its what you make it' I've been trying, but I need something to work with! Seriously! This is ridiculous at my school. grrrrr can't wait to leave.
    Then leave. If you are unable to get anything out of professors then it isn't a good place for you. Transfer to a better school that can teach you more. If you didn't know what you were getting into until 15 hours, that is understandable, as schools sell themselves much more than they can back up. But by staying there you are only helping the school by having their enrollments up and their professors having full classes.

    I believe that my grad school experience wasn't great. I didn't love the professors, I didn't love the classes, and I certainly didn't think we had the most up to date computers and programs. But I worked within the context of what I was given (knowing that I didn't want to transfer) and I got a great education.

    If you truly believe that you know more or cannot learn anything from your professors, than you are one of two people; 1. very, very smart, or 2. unwilling to listen to people who have done more than yourself.

    I know that going into grad school I felt I was a bit of both. I felt I was too cool for school and didn't think that professors really had knowledge to give me. Once you get past this short thinking, you realize that you can learn amazing amounts of information from about anyone, let alone a professor with years of experience.

    Good luck, and I hope that you end your education with a positive experience.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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