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re: MS/PHD, where to study

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Richard Hess put it best, put that theory to some practical tests.

Dr Seuss aside, I could not agree more. We hired an intern for the summer so this has been an eye opener for him and for us, I thought it was just last year I graduated but then I realized, damn, I got old and now I am in my tenth year of being an engineer and I am training me TEN years ago...  And this kid is a good student, and had an internship, knows numbers, knows CAD, and I verbally told him something to put on the drawings, and I was redlining and read "ALL DASH THREAD RODS". Kid is smart but this real life stuff is all new to him. He said he wanted to get his MS when he came here but now he has second thoughts. I tell him go for it, or maybe get some experience first, or maybe come and work for us part time and go to school part time.... 
If I had to do it all over again, I am not sure if would have stayed to get my Masters or not (I have no plans to go back now). There were some personal reasons for not staying in school longer, plus I wanted a real paycheck. I would DEFINITELY take a step back before your PhD and go work for a year or two. That PhD and the scholarship will probably still be there for you. But wives, kids, house payments and stuff can creep up on you during that time period, so that is something to consider. With all due respect to my professors, I would have wanted some of them to get more practical experience before teaching. Accademia breeds theory and research which we need, but we also need the praciticality of our profession like Richard said, someone has to build these things we design and we have to tell them on our drawings.
For what it is worth, the principals of my last two firms had BS degrees from regular universties (not MIT, Ga Tech, CA schools, etc.), and they were good engineers and very knowledgeable and did high rise design. I think engineering degrees are like getting a bunch of power tools and some instruction manuals, and you can probably use them a little bit; then you show up at the site on day one and you look at a pile of lumber and realize you don't have a clue on where to begin. You learn that on the job, and quickly...
From what people on this list have told me, if you know wind you can learn seismic, after all it is structural engineering.... I know enough seismic to make myself dangerous if I were to sit down and try to do design. There are other pains in the butt like IBC, FEMA, ductility, spectral response, California reviewers checking every calculation, etc, but lateral loads are lateral loads in the end. I would also think in your studies during your MS and PhD you will get plenty of exposure to both if you choose. Also, if you go work for a big firm anywhere in the US (whether California, New York, Florida), you will likely be doing high rise or large, complicated structures like stadiums, theaters, musems, etc. Your projects may be anywhere in the US or internationally, especially with government or militiary jobs.
Plus who is to say you will not marry some gorgeous girl and she insists on moving you to ________, or you may change your mind in the future. So I think well rounded knowledge is the first step, then practical experience. Even if you focused on wind just take some seismic classes too and you would be fine anywhere you go. With a MS or PhD and some practical knowledge you will always have a job, I sure hope!
No matter what you are not painting yourself into a corner in my opinion. Scott gave some great advice too, things like finances ALWAYS play into your decisions...
Good luck!
Andrew Kester, P.E.
Principal/Project Manager
ADK Structural Engineering, PLLC
1510 E. Colonial Ave., Suite 301
Orlando, FL 32803