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Thread: HomerJ contemplates life-altering decisions, solicits input from throbbing brain

  1. #1
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    HomerJ contemplates life-altering decisions, solicits input from throbbing brain

    Coming close to my 2 year anniversary from receiving my BURP degree and perhaps spending this past weekend on a beautiful college campus has inspired some nostalgia in me. I’ve noticed cyburbian members always have quite a bit to say when the topic of post graduate degrees is brought up. Why not throw my own life out there for all to weigh in; I’m not shy after all. There is no doubt in my mind that going out in the world right after school and learning about the realities of planning was a good decision. 2 years ago I was kicking myself for not getting an accounting degree. Now I find myself relieved that I stuck with planning because, honestly, I don’t think I would have the same passion for such a field (not knocking any accountants out there). In a very short time, I’ve worked in quite a few settings and seen a wide variety of organizational structures from MPOs to suburban to large scale cities. I also feel that the current job I have is one where I really can start to make a strong positive impact for my fair city.

    So people would probably call me crazy to put a great job on hold and think about going back to school (in my mind I’m considering spring or fall 2014), but I’m not convinced it’s that bad of an idea in the long run. I understand that graduate school = loads of debt, but I am certain that if thought through well, the right graduate program will more than pay for itself. I am also certain that the longer I wait, the more likely I will face constraining commitments that inevitably come up (eg marriage, kids, etc). Right now I am single, willing to move wherever is best for my career, and very motivated.

    Unfortunately the programs within my metropolitan area universities do not match my desired area of focus. I do have the option (something I am very seriously considering), of getting a nearly free education for the local MPA program while staying employed. However, that entails at least a 3 year commitment for a program that isn’t geared towards my interests (although it undoubtedly would assist my professional development, especially while working in a local government setting). There are a few great programs within my state (in other words affordable) that focus on what I am really trying to pursue, which is the design element of planning. My goal is to eventually find a position in a private planning firm where I can focus on finding ways to help cities improve design standards along with improving development code language. There are plenty of other facets of planning I enjoy but this is my specific interest. This might be an opportunity that comes before me through the natural course of things, but “might” is not the best way to plan IMO.

    And so, to any of those willing to read through my long-winded rant, what say ye? Is my thought process still unrealistically optimistic? Am I thinking of going back to the campus setting far too soon or is now the time to strike when the iron is hot?
    Last edited by HomerJ; 17 Mar 2013 at 10:01 PM.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    A few more ideas

    --Can you get design credentials without going back to school? When I worked in computer graphics and publications design & editing, I picked up new skills on the job (i.e. getting paid to learn). If I'd taken classes, I'd have been several upgrades behind the software.

    --I wouldn't get a higher degree in the same/planning field. Add a specialty (e.g. Greco-Roman basket weaving, advertising & marketing, public administration) to expand your horizons and marketability.

    --Can you switch to a job in one of the U towns, or close enough to take classes?

    --As a returning student, I reviewed course schedules. The univs I selected offered classes during evenings, sometimes an early and later class on the same night. The "name" school expected you to be a F/T student; T-Th 9:30 am - noon; so much for holding down a professional job during the upgrade.

    Your overall scheme makes sense, doing this now before adding more complications of adult life. Hey, you might pick up a spouse along the way, since colleges are the happy hunting ground for young singles. (Worked for Rygor.)

    You might also network with the consulting firms to determine the extent to which their clients have any interest in this sort of service or guidance.

    HTH

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Follow your heart. And stop kicking yourself.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    When I think back to my graduate education, and recall the additional time spent around attractive coeds, I have no regrets. In fact, I keep thinking about going back for my doctorate.

    Maybe there are pros and cons to weigh, but sometimes you just do something because you want to. If you want to get the degree, then go for it.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    Cyburbian
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    My goal is to eventually find a position in a private planning firm where I can focus on finding ways to help cities improve design standards along with improving development code language.

    I agree, I'm not sure if you need a full-fledged degree for this, especially an MPA/MPP. Can't you just put together a portfolio of other work (writing samples, research, projects) and apply for positions in firms, locally or out of state?
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

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    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    There is something about a graduate degree that, in my opinion, grounds you professionally. Yes, its harder to go back the older you get and moving for school can be quite an adventure. I think going back after 2 or 3 years is the perfect mix of still being young enough to enjoy school and mature enough to get it done in a timely manner at a reasonable price. I was in your shoes a few years back and went for the graduate degree. I did it in 2 years, at a major state school, built my network, made lifelong friends and got my awesome job. Best decision I ever made.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  7. #7
    Having an MPA will give you more cachet with the public agencies that hire you/your company. "Improving development code language" means you will be working with public agencies.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    My goal is to eventually find a position in a private planning firm where I can focus on finding ways to help cities improve design standards along with improving development code language.

    I agree, I'm not sure if you need a full-fledged degree for this, especially an MPA/MPP. Can't you just put together a portfolio of other work (writing samples, research, projects) and apply for positions in firms, locally or out of state?
    Nick is right on here. While not the best "designer" i know my way around a flimsy/pen and CAD. Maybe honing those skills at a JC is better to help improve your chances in the private sector (and while it is fun, in the end the only real difference you make is you are creating it, but budgets and politics still dictate final products. Some of my best designs that really had some nice "planning features" never saw the light because it was too expensive to build or the "market just isn't there" BS and instead where chucked in the waste basket or turned into a funny office meme).

    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Having an MPA will give you more cachet with the public agencies that hire you/your company. "Improving development code language" means you will be working with public agencies.
    CC is also dead on. You have a BURP. Don't beat a dead horse. Diversify.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Having an MPA will give you more cachet with the public agencies that hire you/your company. "Improving development code language" means you will be working with public agencies

    Third planning job in a row in consulting. Potential clients are the agencies that will award contracts to qualified FIRMS (not individual employees in a firm) with RELEVANT previous project experience. I'm concerned about the amount of time needed to pursue another degree so that you can do a certain type of work. What if you put yourself through the ropes, graduate, start work in a firm that goes after contracts for code projects, but the firm keeps loosing to competitors? I have updated/created code and guidelines (as well as code enforcement/current planning) in the private sector, and it's not so difficult that it would require a full fledged MPP/MPA. If you wanted to design bridges, then yes, you need an engineering degree. If you wanted to design houses, then yes you need an architecture degree. Code, not so much.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  10. #10
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Did I ever mentioned that I also tried to do an MPA, part time in the metro I worked in? I did not like going to school part time and working full time. I quit after 2 semesters and moved to go to school full time. I say take the two years for yourself. In grad school, with experience, you can get part-time work or an assistantship doing planning stuff depending on what you are doing. I know I'm more of the counter point in this thread, but when I read your predicament, I felt like I could have written that about myself seven years ago.

    Many land use lawyers write code too.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    You might look at on-line programs. A few years ago I considered doing an on-line certificate program from the Bloustein School at Rutgers. If I recall correctly yhey had one on urban design. That way you wouldn't have to move or quit your job.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of diversifying if you are going to go back to school. I was in your shoes a couple years ago (as you know) and had thought about going the MURP route, but instead decided that going MRED was a better choice for me. It gave me a whole different, and more practical and reality-based perspective that expanded my knowledge greatly and I'm sure made me a heck of a lot more marketable. But really it was the relationships and network I formed while in school (not to mention how much of a blast it was) that made it worth it. After two years I can definitely say I made the right choice, and tacking on a few tens of thousands in student loans is nothing compared to the job satisfaction, increased income, and growth potential I now have.
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    An online urban design certificate? You mean I've been doing it all wrong with pencil sketches and AutoCAD drafting? Man, I'm behind the curve.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

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    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    I truly appreciate the input everyone is providing. When I have the time to appropriately read through responses I will provide a little more detail but I just want to say the fact that people here are willing to respond thoughtfully and honestly is what makes this site an incredibly valuable resource.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    An online urban design certificate? You mean I've been doing it all wrong with pencil sketches and AutoCAD drafting? Man, I'm behind the curve.
    Man it is frustrating what is being produced from these planning schools now a days when it comes to design. My Alma marter really imo has done a dis-service to its students by not teaching basic fundamental design skills. My current intern asked what i believed to be an rudimentary coloring question. I than went into a 15 minute introduction into coloring, using 45's, media types (paper) and how to "layer and blend" colors. Granted some stuff was taught, but the layer and blending i merely picked up from learn by doing at work.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  16. #16
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Well once again thanks to those who took the time to respond. I think the fact that there is a lot of variety of opinions on this matter is indicative of how I feel I will once again be coming to a crossroads. It can be frustrating always feeling like my life is up in the air, but I would take that feeling any day over regret for not following through on my goals out of fear or indecisiveness.

    When I try to bring it all around full circle, I can remember pretty clearly what got me into planning. I was frustrated as an architecture student and didn't want to spend half of my lifetime redesigning other people's work before I could call projects my own. I started reading "A better way to zone" (yes, I actually read an entire book as a college student) and immediately felt engaged with the field. Calling a project my own became less important than getting to be part of something big. Despite the struggles planners face in terms of being taken seriously compared to architects/engineers/attorneys, it was an opportunity for me to jump right in to development projects and learn about the process.

    Have cyburbians out there had any experience providing pro bono work as a means of building a portfolio? I think what I'm really looking for, whether I achieve it through an official college degree or through some other means, is a way to expand my skill set specifically focusing on the design component. Local government planners can benefit from this skill to a degree, but often we take on the role of a critic or an advisor, rarely getting the chance to offer our own creative contribution. I like many of the aspects of working in local government, but I feel that pursuing the private route and taking on more of a consulting role will add an invaluable perspective to build on what I have already learned.

    I like the comment Cardinal added regarding the attractive co-eds too . I'm still not sure what the best route will end up being for me. But at least now, after putting some time in the field I feel like I am starting to hone in on where my professional interests truly lie. I guess that was the point.
    Last edited by HomerJ; 19 Mar 2013 at 12:43 AM.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Raf View post
    Man it is frustrating what is being produced from these planning schools now a days when it comes to design. My Alma marter really imo has done a dis-service to its students by not teaching basic fundamental design skills. My current intern asked what i believed to be an rudimentary coloring question. I than went into a 15 minute introduction into coloring, using 45's, media types (paper) and how to "layer and blend" colors. Granted some stuff was taught, but the layer and blending i merely picked up from learn by doing at work.
    I just got in from work about a half an hour ago (12:15 AM). My boss is out this week (getting hitched on Friday) so I have to keep the planning projects/staff humming along until sometime early next week. I am designing hundreds of acres of subdivisions and master planned communities by hand and in AutoCAD (depends if the site has curved streets or grids). Our new hire from a public sector agency is struggling to learn AutoCAD on the fly (I'm not getting into THAT at this hour). You cannot learn AutoCAD (or design for that matter) in an online degree (and in many cases a classroom either). To the OP, if you want to have some part in design, even the writing side, why are focusing on a degree that has absolutely nothing to do with design? Is it because the graduate program is nearby and/or affordable?
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  18. #18
    Cyburbian chupacabra's avatar
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    Yeah, it sounds like the OP should be looking at design programs. I went with an MLA, got steeped in design, but have worked primarily as a planner since. However, the design training has really informed my work and I feel enhanced it.

    If you are interested in design, why go in another academic direction?
    You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I am all for going back to school after a couple of years of reality, if you can swing it financially. Find a school that will give you a free ride and maybe even a stipend- then use it as a 2 year opportunity to get into the area you want to be in afterward.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    HomerJ - it sounds like you are starting out on your career path, assuming you were a more or less "traditional" student with the BURP degree. I think considering grad school with a perspective on what you want to do is a great idea. Particularly if your current experience is in the public sector, 3 years of experience plus an MA with some internship experience might be a great way to segue into the consulting you want to do. While the economy may be coming back, I don't want to advise anyone to throw out a job if you really like it and can still grow in it. The design fields are still hurting. At the same time, my advice to someone your age and at your point in your career is, if there's something you're passionate about, find the path to make it happen. Yes, be realistic, but don't listen to negativity. It sounds like you are serious about pursuing education and putting some quality creative work into it. I have yet to meet someone who regrets pursuing their passion. (Admittedly, zoning may sound like a strange passion to a non-planner ...)

    IMHO while many folks have had long and successful careers with only a Bachelor's degree, the planning world values a Masters' which can be a great chance to develop skills, a portfolio and further network (true, all things you could do outside of school as well). An MA program can be a great experience too. Given your interest in design, it sounds like some of the advice here might be relevant - consider an MLA or perhaps an MURP plus an MUD, or at least a MURP with a strong studio component. Whatever you decide, my advice would be: 1) choose a program wisely considering factors such as the quality of the program as it matches your particular interests, the ability to do hands-on studio work or internship projects, and the types and location of connections you can make; 2) don't go into tons of debt - some is perhaps inevitable, but look for programs that offer TA/assistantships, scholarships, in-state tuition if you're lucky enough to find this. And of course, if you're single, the co-eds.

    I'll just throw out some ideas that may or may not be relevant:

    You may also think about creative approaches to getting the degree. If your employer is flexible and values your work, and you do too, would they ever let you drop to part-time? For example, my public-sector employer once offered to let me go to 80% time to pursue a Masters in Urban Design program.

    If you haven't already, you may want to do some informational interviews to get a better idea of the breadth of the urban design field.

    Also, there are indeed opportunities for pro bono work. Try your state APA chapter, your state or local Main Street programs, your state Congress for New Urbanism chapter (and things like the better block project) or non-profits working on planning, complete streets or revitalization issues.

    Perhaps your job would allow you to take on a more design-oriented discretionary project ... something that might be on the workplan or that there is a need for ... and possibly pay for some professional/continuing education.

    You might also look for programs to get your feet wet - I see Berkeley has a summer studio program for students with an undergrad degree exploring the design options. For a shorter program, I'm looking at a 4-day hands on course in bicycle planning this fall in Portland.

    Hope some of that is helpful!

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    I'm a strong advocate for going to grad school young. It will open doors for you -- provided that you don't go into crazy debt for it.

    It might be good to diversify your credentials with a MBA or MPA rather than go again from another UP degree.

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