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Thread: Questions from newbie entering training for the field...

  1. #1
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    Questions from newbie entering training for the field...

    I have decided to apply to an urban policy and administration grad program, with an urban planning focus. My prior education includes a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Education. I pursued the Master's in Education and teaching as a practical measure, because as an English graduate, it just seemed sensible. However, my heart was never really in it; I thought that I could just do the job and live my life outside of the job. After entering the field, it became apparent that this wasn't the case; it was necessary to feel like teaching was a "calling" to endure the daily beating one would take from the students and senior staff members. After leaving the field, I decided to take some time to find a practical career path which I truly believed in.

    I landed on urban planning as this career path. My calling will always be writing, but as traditional career options go, I feel very positive about what I have researched over the months regarding urban planning, and how it relates to my passions.

    Sorry to be so long-winded; here are my questions-

    1) I feel confident that I want to enter this field, but I would like to get some idea about the typical quality life of the workers. Let's just address the typical government planning job, for now. Of course, you expect some criticism, growth, and struggles at work, but would you say that the level of interpersonal pressure you experience on the job is more or less at a reasonable level? Would you say that the workload is such that allows for a balanced life?


    2) How would you describe the job market for planners at the moment? I have heard mostly positive things about the job market, but the accounts I have encountered have been somewhat varied. It is likely that I will be allowed to pursue a Ph.D. instead of a Master's with my program, whatever that is worth.


    I'm very excited about this career option, being that I have a genuine interest in what I would be doing, so I don't mean to indicate that I'm not willing to take some lumps in the beginning. I suppose that my experience with teaching just has me ultra cautious about what I get myself into. Thank you so much for your time in answering these questions.

  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ajs81781 View post
    1) I feel confident that I want to enter this field, but I would like to get some idea about the typical quality life of the workers. Let's just address the typical government planning job, for now. Of course, you expect some criticism, growth, and struggles at work, but would you say that the level of interpersonal pressure you experience on the job is more or less at a reasonable level? Would you say that the workload is such that allows for a balanced life?


    2) How would you describe the job market for planners at the moment? I have heard mostly positive things about the job market, but the accounts I have encountered have been somewhat varied. It is likely that I will be allowed to pursue a Ph.D. instead of a Master's with my program, whatever that is worth.
    Welcome to Cyburbia! We are glad to have you.

    Before the Negative Nancies attack... and they will... my answers are as follows:

    1. Much of this question is dependant on the location or size of jurisdiction you are employed at. Some government jobs are niche jobs - economic development, transportation planning, permitting, land use planning, etc. In these more niche jobs most the time it is pretty structured and your workload will vary, but it typically more "standard". In smaller communities planners tend to do everything. In a position such as that, it is difficult to give a standard answer. Everyday brings something new or different, and much of the pressure and workload is dependent on the day. Some are busy, and some are not. Overall, planning is generally an 8-5 job with night meets 3-4 times a month. The standard wage is $40k or so. It isn't going to make you rich, but you won't be poor either.

    2. Look around the Career advice subforum. You will see that overall the job market is horrible. It is just like most professions right now... we just also have to deal with the "shrink the government" concept as well. If you want to work in planning don't get a PhD. You won't get hired. If you want to teach go for the PhD. Many people won't hire the Ivory Tower planners because of their lack of understanding of real life planning. There are phenomenal PhD planners, but those who work in the field are mostly Bachelors or Masters level.

    Good luck. If you love planning and want to go into it, go for it. In 2 years once your program is done, the economy and the job market will be different. One specific person will chime in with the world ending. It isn't. Planning isn't going to fade away, it is going to change. Be mobile, be adaptable, and you will find a place that suits you.
    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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  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    As Hink said, I'd be hesitant to pursue a PhD just because it seems like they close more doors than they open. It'll certainly open doors in an academic setting but if that's not where you're interested in working, I'd avoid it.

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    If you want to work as a planner, do the master's program. If you want to teach, do the PhD.

    As others have already mentioned, government planning positions are on the decline due to the economy and shrinking government among other reasons. That said, there are a number of other avenues of work that planners pursue. Many of my fellow classmates, myself included, work in the non-profit sector doing community development work of all types: organizing, environmental, affordable housing, community development finance, health initiative, bicycle/pedestrian advocacy, etc. If I were you, I really would spend some time thinking about what it is you hope to do as a planner and think hard about what type of job you hope to obtain when you are finished with the program and what your expectation of salary is and go from there.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  6. #6
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    A masters in urban planning would be a better route than a doctorate. Your undergrad will be good to leverage for the future; being able to write well is a vital skill in this profession.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

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    Thanks for all of your responses.

    I can see that the job market is much rougher than I originally thought; joining a forum like this is the only way to get real answers regarding this. My research regarding the job market had actually been somewhat inconclusive. I don't want to sound naive, but the student adviser for my likely future program provided me with fairly detailed numbers regarding the high percentage of their graduates receiving planning work, but that of course is going to be a quite biased representation.

    Thank you, also, for the opinion regarding the pursuit of the Ph.D. option. Having already received a Master's in another field, it's a bit tempting to move up the degree chain, but I have to do what is practical. Fortunately, some of my higher level interests do lean towards niche planning areas the forum has mentioned, such as transportation planning and historical preservation.

    I will give it a go and see what the job market turns out. Besides writing novels, which I am doing as well it is my preferred pursuit. I figure I'm already qualified for a career which I hate, with a stable job market, in teaching, so I may as well pursue things which are more meaningful to me, even if the market is more uncertain, before I give in to that. Thanks again for your help, guys!

    P.S. When I say I hate teaching, I specifically mean being a school teacher. The university level doesn't involve the daily battle to control juvenile behavior, one of my biggest reasons for getting out of the profession.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by ajs81781 View post
    Thanks for all of your responses.

    I can see that the job market is much rougher than I originally thought; joining a forum like this is the only way to get real answers regarding this. My research regarding the job market had actually been somewhat inconclusive. I don't want to sound naive, but the student adviser for my likely future program provided me with fairly detailed numbers regarding the high percentage of their graduates receiving planning work, but that of course is going to be a quite biased representation.
    The samples of those surveys are usually comprised of respondents. The employed are much more likely to respond to a survey; the unemployed are not. They usually read like this: Out of 22 respondents, 20 were working in the planning field, making more than $35,000. Which is basically saying nothing. Regardless, be very wary of any veiled promise of work in relation to planning programs. Program directors are only slightly more trustworthy than snake oil salesmen.

    I'll just go ahead and say it (I'm the one who's supposed to play this part on these forums): Planning as it's been known is a dying (or "transforming" to satisfy the ostrich set) profession. It's getting much more diverse and specialized, ergo, you can enter it from a lot of different angles. The classic generalist planner is fading away. You will undoubtedly hear different from the few remaining generalist planners here. You will also hear different from those who are basically saying the same thing as me, but who don't like how I say it. In the end, be very, very cautious about investing time and money into the hope of surviving successfully in this profession. The reward to sacrifice ratio is so far out of whack it's not even funny. Just become a registered nurse or something instead.

    BTW, if you want to be a writer, and just want a practical profession to support that, the LAST thing I would recommend is planning. The last thing you will feel like doing at the end of the day sitting in a cubicle is write. Pick something that pays well and that you could possibly do part time and still support yourself. Planning requires much to much upfront and ongoing personal investment for what it offers, especially for someone who ultimately wants to be in a creative profession. This kind of work saps your mental and emotional strength. If you want to write, write.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    be very, very cautious about investing time and money into the hope of surviving successfully in this profession. The reward to sacrifice ratio is so far out of whack it's not even funny. Just become a registered nurse or something instead.

    BTW, if you want to be a writer, and just want a practical profession to support that, the LAST thing I would recommend is planning.
    This profession will be especially bad if austerity at the state and local levels continues. Especially if the plutocrat gets elected and wants to depopulate certain states by making all states responsible for more things. Nothing looks more tempting to be an expat than a plutocrat president.

    Nevertheless, nothing crushes creativity like writing a staff report. That your boss - a rumpled old planner - revises four times, and the City Manager wants to read a certain way, and you don't care that much about because this isn't your battle.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

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    I think the writing thing depends on who you work for. At my office my writing skills are very valued and appreciated. It can be a little dry doing staff reports, but I've found you can actually put a fair bit of thought into making them clear, logical, and readable to the general public. It can actually be quite satisfying in a way (he says as he pushes the glasses up on his nose).

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Regarding question one: it is impossible to predict what your work environment may be like as a beginning planner, as this depends more on the personalities you work with much more than the work you'll be doing. Whether or not you'll be happy, satisfied, fulfilled or nightmarishly drained of life on a daily basis is pretty hit or miss.

    A few things to look for in terms of internships or entry level jobs that might say something about the experience you're in for: As an intern are they using you or teaching you? Big city planning depts often have a much more collegial approach to interns...they will actually help you to learn the work, take you under their wing, etc. But in many places interns are either underutilized or overutilized to an extreme degree one way or the other. If you are just going to be assigned limited tasks and given minimal guidance, you're wasing your time. However, on the other hand, if you're given the workload of full time staff member with salary and benefits but have none yourself...the novelty of all the important work you're doing will wear off pretty quickly.

    If you end up with job offers, be VERY selective when it comes to municipalities. Either ensconce yourself and hide in a large department or go with someone who you think will take an interest in you and help cultivate you. If you want to go the public sector route, attend planning commission meetings, city council meetings, etc...get a good sense of the types of personalities that come to dominate and learn what to stay away from.

    Regarding question two: I would say that planning today is a dying profession. The current paradigm exists to sop up some of the benefits that trickled down from the 20th Century's shuffling around of population and infrastructure between declining cities and growing suburbs. With growth in construction and real estate stalled, state and local revenue streams are tapped out, and consequently, demand for planners is reduced. Add to that a seeming glut of plannign school graduates, and the job market promises to be bleak for the forseeable future.

    So yes, planning is dying, or at least that paradigm is. I mean, if you take the idea of peak oil seriously, you can conceivably imagine an enormous nationwide campaign to mobilize resources to cope with the effects: re-populating small and mid-size cities, rebuilding rail transportation networks, helping companies re-tool their distribution and supply lines...and on and on.

    Also, with the increasing prevalance of major hurricanes, we are likely to see a growing interest in not only plans to cope with the direct effects but very serious efforts to reduce carbon output and reduce the impact of global warming.

    Given these circumstances, I find it hard to say that there won't be a growth in the need for planners at some point in the near future. But things probably will get worse before getting better. If you're getting into the profession now, I would start thinking mainly about peak oil and global warming.

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