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Re: Idle Question...

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       Eh?  What's that?  You Scott?  Not a great writer?  Ha!!


Scott has made several good points. His time estimate is pretty much on target with mine. That said, however, in 2012 you will be six years older than you are now whether you do it or not; so the length of time shouldn't really be a major consideration.

I think the three most important questions to ask yourself are: why are you doing this; what are the alternatives; and what effect will it have on your personal life, including your family.

A Ph.D. won't gain you any knowledge that you can not get by supplementing your Masters degree with a few extra courses. Being Dr. Polhemus may increase your personal self worth or your credibility if you testify in court a lot, or are active in business development for highly technical projects; but it won't (in my opinion, anyway) make you a better engineer. It is, however, pretty much a necessity if you want to change careers and go into research or university teaching.

Alternatively, you could take some unrelated courses either for personal interest or to expand your horizons. For instance, in my case, I took an MBA degree. It didn't help me make a transition into management but it did help me to understand, and be satisfied with the fact that I'm not a manager; I'm an engineer. Period. It also helped me to gain a greater understanding of the importance (and lack of importance) of engineering in the grand scheme of project execution and development, and in the importance of good business decisions.

Now business decisions are often not made because no one realizes the need or benefit of making a decision. As an example, consider the following. A couple of days ago I posted a general inquiry for comments regarding a heritage building restoration project. This building will have scaffolding complete with poly hording for weather protection up the entire facade for a good many months. This poly is as ugly as sin; but, if it can be replaced with an attractive mural with some tasteful advertising, the revenue generated would be more than all of the combined engineering fees for the project. It is astonishing that we are the first to think of this; but the City of Calgary (population about 1,000,000) has no permitting procedures in place to deal with our request because they haven't had to deal with it before.

What effect it will have on your personal and family life is, of course, something you will have to assess for yourself.

       Good luck with whatever you decide.


H. Daryl Richardson

----- Original Message ----- From: "Scott Maxwell" <smaxwell(--nospam--at)>
To: <seaint(--nospam--at)>
Sent: Thursday, January 19, 2006 9:30 PM
Subject: Re: Idle Question...


I contemplate from time to time going back a finishing off my PhD (I had
completed the class work and was to the stage of doing the research and
dissertation).  I do believe that there is someone that I know who is
doing it right now, but I won't name him...I will let him speak for
himself if he so chooses.

It is certainly doable, but it would be tough.  First, I doubt that you
would be in a position to do experimental would have to select
an analytical topic.  If you do experimental work, then there typically is
a heavy "need" for you to be in the lab preparing and testing specimens.
A analytical topic could in theory be done remotely and during the evening
and weekends (i.e. computer analysis, computer coding, etc).

In general, in case you were not aware, you are typically looking at about
1 to 2 years of class work depending on the school (U of Michigan required
roughly 30 credits of additional classes).  Part of this "classwork" can
be independent study stuff, but usually are formal classes that help you
in the area that you have chosen.  Then you are into the
experimental/analytical stage to get your "data" for you dissertation.

You should figure that under "normal" circumstances that is takes on
average about 4 to 5 years.  Some doing analytical work can finish in
close to 3 years if they work the a$$ off.  And some take close to 7
years.  Obviously, working while also doing your PhD will likely effect
how quickly you can get it done.

I contemplate it, but then my "gainful" employment is technically a
part-time job and I work mainly from home.  So, I have more "room" than
typical to fit in other stuff.  I know that I would likely want to do
experimental type stuff not analytical stuff (but even if I do
experimental aimed research, there would undoubtedly still be a component
of analytical work to be done).  As such, I know that I would have to be
willing to spend a year or two where I am spending significant period of
time at the research lab at some university (Michigan is the likely choice
for me if I don't wish to relocate, but could consider temporarily
relocating somewhere for period of time...but don't know if that would
effect my part-time work or not).  My "sticking" point is that I am not a
big "writer" and don't look forward to having to write a dissertation
(part of the reason why I bailed before).

I would say in general a PhD would not be worth it, but since you have
joined WJE, that statement is not as applicable anymore.  Doing
repair/forensic type work is the one area of structural engineering where
a PhD does not really "work" against you.  If you were working for a
typical A/E design firm, then a PhD would likely hurt as much as help (at
least from my experience).

Your biggest challenge would be are there any schools that offer PhD
programs in structures that are reasonable close to you there in Houston.
Obviously, there is Texas (REALLY good for structures) and Texas A&M (I
know that they have a PhD structures program), but both of those (Texas
for sure) would still be hard to "commute" to if you had to spend
significant time on campus.  And I don't know how willing either would be
to allow you to do it largely remotely (I have to believe that you would
have to spend at least a couple years there on campus).  And I don't know
if there are any schools in the Houston area that offer structural PhDs.

In the end, I would say that it would be a LOT of work for you to do and
would take you around 6 to 7 years to likely complete.  Not to mention
your wife/family might start to miss you. <grin>  If you plan to stay with
WJE for awhile, then it could be rather useful, OTOH.

Tough call.

Good luck with it if you choose to go for it.

Adrian, MI

On Thu, 19 Jan 2006, Polhemus, Bill wrote:

Anyone here ever done, or thought about doing, a Doctorate while still
gainfully employed?

Seems like it'd be awfully hard to do, but I'd like some hard facts.

(FWIW, I did a Master's under these conditions, and it WAS tough...)

William L. Polhemus, Jr. P.E.
Senior Associate

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.
Engineers I Architects I  Material Scientists
10235 West Little York, Suite 245
Houston, Texas 77040
P: 832-467-2177    F: 832-467-2178
http://www <blocked::http://www/>

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