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Thread: Looking for career advice

  1. #1
    Member
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    Looking for career advice

    I am a soon to be graduate with an MA in urban and regional planning. I am also a practicing civil engineer. When I began my pursuit of a graduate degree, I did so envisioning being able to transition from engineering to a land-use policy planner (my dream) upon graduation and hopefully passing the AICP exam in short order. However, as I am nearly 40 and making this career transition much later than I intended, I’m much more skeptical (read: scared) about my chances to make that transition. Instead I’m leaning towards either NEPA or transportation planning that would allow me to apply for positions with MPOs or DOTs. I chose a graduate program that does not offer transportation planning so I will have to rely on my civil design background and some self-training to get up to speed on current technologies and trends.

    Does anyone have a suggestion for training in transportation planning, either coursework or books, that could help me in this effort? I’m also thinking of re-joining ITE to get more involved in traffic engineering as a way to boost my understanding of transportation planning.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Derek Lloyd View post
    I am a soon to be graduate with an MA in urban and regional planning. I am also a practicing civil engineer. .
    Derek, I'm assuming by civil engineer, you mean that you do site civil work? ... as opposed to, say, structural or geotech? Assuming this is the case, I think many people who hire land-use planners will appreciate your professional status as a civil engineer, plus your additional graduate level work in planning. I think any of the big engineering and AE firms, for example, will deem such a background as sufficient for you to make the transition you want. In the private sector, it's widely accepted that there's a degree of flex between physical planning-specialized urban planners, urban design-specialized architects, and site planners (site civil-specialized civil engineers) provided you have the right work and project experience.. Planners are regularly employed as urban designers and site planners, architects with urban design experience are regularly hired as planners, and civil engineers are regularly hired as land-use and infrastructure planners. Frankly, once you've managed a few projects, many of the skills are pretty much the same. I can't think of a project where, as a land-use planner and urban designer (I have training both in planning and arch) I didn't have to do most all of the same site evaluation, hydrology, grading/soil, and cut-and-fill analysis, calculations, and strategies a civil engineer would've had to do, just because the engineer and planner can't always be available at all stages of a project. I also can't think of a civil engineer that hasn't had to analyze zoning, land-use controls, codes and even economic analysis in order to figure out what can be built on a site.

    I think a transition from site civil to transportation planner might actually be more difficult, as transportation work is viewed as being more highly specialized and especially if transport planning wasn't your academic speciality.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    Derek, I'm assuming by civil engineer, you mean that you do site civil work? ... as opposed to, say, structural or geotech? ...

    I think a transition from site civil to transportation planner might actually be more difficult, as transportation work is viewed as being more highly specialized and especially if transport planning wasn't your academic speciality.
    Yes you are correct, in that much of my career experience is in site/civil design. I began as an aspiring traffic engineer (and should have stayed there for greater career satisfaction) but my career path ultimately steered towards intially to highway design, then site/civil and public works, and now currently consists primarily of highway route planning/NEPA analysis. I went for a MURP on the hope that I could enter the public sector to work for a planning department, or if I stay in the private sector to develop comp plans and zoning ordinances, in addition to site development planning. As I've started reviewing job ops for the former, I'm concerned about having the skill set that most planning agencies appear to want besides a masters degree. For example, I've never worked for a planning commission or board, but I've appeared before them on behalf of a client. But your point regarding transportation planning is a good one, as having worked with a few traffic engineers in recent years, I've definitely lost much of my knowledge of that side of the field.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Derek Lloyd View post
    For example, I've never worked for a planning commission or board, but I've appeared before them on behalf of a client.
    To be fair, I don't think most planners have this type of experience, . I've been doing this for many years and I've never served on a planning commission or community planning board.. in fact, if I did, I'd probably lose clients, for conflict of interest, so it's actually something I've actually assiduously avoided and, in the latter case, declined. In many cases, the people that do serve on planning commissions and boards are often civilians, if you will, and not planners.. and represent the public interest, communities, specific stakeholders and, of course, the general public, instead of the professional and technical perspective actual planners bring to the table as their advisers (such as those working for city departments of planning, within the civil service) and their petitioners (representing developers and community groups to them). So I don't think that'll necessarily hurt you. The fact that you've given representation and navigated the entitlement and permitting process on behalf of clients should be the experience they look for. In fact, if I were a big city dept of city planning, I'd be very inclined to speak with somebody who has a keen awareness of site civil design, on the one hand, and has actual direct experience of 'being on the other side' for zoning, urban design guideline, or other land-use control requests, so to speak..

    Of perhaps greater concern is experience with comp plans, which you noted you don't have. However, not all public or private planning positions require comp plan experience, and not all planners work on comp plans.. in fact, most don't. Private sector planning consultants who work in more than geography are probably more likely to see them, but very few such consultants can afford to only specialize in them.. since they are so few and far between. I've worked on 2 comp plans (plus one more I was fired from because the client ran out of budget to do a comp plan at all!) in just shy of two decades of work and internship in the industry, all on the private sector side.. and I think it sounds like we're about the same age. I'm pretty even sure this amount of exposure, for not being comp plan specialist - is considered unusual.. and completely happenstance. Public sector planners may never see comp plans at all them because, in many parts of the country, comp plans are only updated every decade or even every several decades and, if you stay employed in one jurisdiction, you may never see one at all during your career.. so I wouldn't worry about it. I think it's more important to demonstrate your bona fides in the permitting and approval process and how that relates to land-use planning and design, more generally.

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