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Thread: Transportation engineering

  1. #1
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    Transportation engineering

    As I begin to apply to masters programs in planning I am trying to narrow down my focus toward one specialization or another. Two things continue to pop out at me: a. Public Transit or b. promoting local economies.

    As I understand it, to do a transportation specialization you generally have to take at least one engineering course. Some schools, such as Berkeley, even offer dual degrees in planning and engineering if one commits to this specialization.

    My question is this: Will I be able to qualify for an MS in engineering program if I haven't done anything seriously quantitative in about 7 years. Will I struggle from the get-go if I get admitted? Is it even worth considering pursuing? Even if I were to not go for an engineering degree concurrent with a planning degree, how familiar with math/physics would I need to be to take an engineering class while pursuing a planning degree?

    A little backstory: I used to be on track for a degree in Math but I ended up switching to History halfway through college. Since then I've done very little in math or the sciences for the past 7 years.

    Does anyone have any insight or advice they could share?
    Thanks.

  2. #2
    I am going to piggy back off your post since I have a similar question to an extent. I am most interested in transit planning, and I am looking at doing a transit concentration at whichever school I go to. Math though is by far my weakest subject.

    Can you be involved in transit planning, and be not that great at math?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    My experience is ~15 years old now, but I didn't think there was any serious amount of math in grad school, even in my program which was fairly traditional traffic/transportation engineering. Everything was much more application-based than in undergrad. The formulae are there but you are using them, not trying to derive them or change them. Most of the math was pretty simple, you are learning and applying concepts, making connections, reasoning for conclusions, etc. As long as you're not scared of math, and have decent number sense and spatial reasoning, you should be fine. That you even looked at a math degree indicates to me that it would be fine. Some people may get deep into math depending on their thesis or project topics (lots of statistics maybe, or the guts of transportation models), but you can steer that where you want to go.

    Now the school may have some kind of threshold of math GRE they want to see, mine was decent but my verbal and analytical were higher and got the program's attention. That stuff seems very flexible if you can get through the door to talk to the program's leadership.

    Compared to many engineers I would call myself only fair at math at best, I really struggled in undergrad with DiffEq, thermodynamics, fluids, and the later physics classes. (Looking back on it, I should have done much better, I wasn't applying myself). But those were the core classes, Civil Eng stuff was much less demanding. Once into grad school, it was great because all the classes were in my area of interest so it was easy to work on them and I got great grades (my only B was in Statistics LOL).

    Every program will vary. To be sure, you might want to visit the profs and ask to see their texts and some typical homework. Or better yet drop in on some grad offices and talk to current students. They will tell you it sucks but somewhere between them and the profs/glossy brochures is the truth


    Theonlyone, for most things you don't have to be great at math but you do need a certain level of number sense. There's a wide variety of transit roles too, the more flexible and skilled you are the more opportunities you will have. But even management needs to know budgeting and judging technical results, public involvement people need to know enough to interpret plans and answer questions on the fly, etc. But again most of it is application of concepts. For most things that are difficult, someone has already written a Excel macro or standalone program to do it. We're professionals, our time is too valuable to spend working things up from base concepts repetatively like you do in school.

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    Thanks RTG, that is very helpful and informative.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally posted by Random Traffic Guy View post
    Theonlyone, for most things you don't have to be great at math but you do need a certain level of number sense. There's a wide variety of transit roles too, the more flexible and skilled you are the more opportunities you will have. But even management needs to know budgeting and judging technical results, public involvement people need to know enough to interpret plans and answer questions on the fly, etc. But again most of it is application of concepts. For most things that are difficult, someone has already written a Excel macro or standalone program to do it. We're professionals, our time is too valuable to spend working things up from base concepts repetatively like you do in school.
    Thanks! Would you say that there is anymore math involved than other planning fields or is it about the same? I am okay with basic math concepts, and I probably would be fine with computer based programs as long as I was taught in how to use them to calculate the needed math.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by theonlyone View post
    Thanks! Would you say that there is anymore math involved than other planning fields or is it about the same? I am okay with basic math concepts, and I probably would be fine with computer based programs as long as I was taught in how to use them to calculate the needed math.
    I'd say the math would be about the same, with certain exceptions like developing software or other meta-tasks. Even in engineering most of the math is pretty simple but you need to be sure you are using the correct functions, and applying the right reasoning and procedure. That's why I say basic number sense is important, just being able to have a feel for where things should be, enough that your brain raises an alarm when some value is outside normal parameters (e.g. because you added something rather than subtracting, or moved a decimal place, etc).

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by Random Traffic Guy View post
    I'd say the math would be about the same, with certain exceptions like developing software or other meta-tasks. Even in engineering most of the math is pretty simple but you need to be sure you are using the correct functions, and applying the right reasoning and procedure. That's why I say basic number sense is important, just being able to have a feel for where things should be, enough that your brain raises an alarm when some value is outside normal parameters (e.g. because you added something rather than subtracting, or moved a decimal place, etc).

    Okay, thanks! It sounds like I should be fine doing urban planning then.

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