In Response to Dr. Elgin

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Sapper PE LS

Aspiring Couch Potato
Apr 25, 2006
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Near Alpha Centauri Relatively Speaking
I recently read this article at the American Surveyor website and felt that I couldn't let it go without comment. Even if nobody of real consequence reads my reply, I still feel compelled to respond. So, I figured I'd put it here, because... why not.

First, I mean no disrespect to Dr. Elgin. I recognize that he has years more experience than I do and also has held dual licensure in both engineering and surveying for many years. I appreciate the work that he has done in authoring texts, serving on licensing boards, and contributing thoughtful content to blogs and professional journals such as the American Surveyor, etc. However, I think he's suffering from a raging case of "that's how it's always been done"-itus. He is absolutely correct when he claims that the current method for examining and licensing surveyors has been in place for many years. And, undoubtedly, the process has been successful at licensing surveyors for as many years as it has been in place, but that isn't sufficient reason to continue to do it that way. I want to spend a few minutes talking about the points that he makes that I think are wrong.

Dr. Elgin makes the claim that taking the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam prior to obtaining the necessary experience for licensure results in either a) an exam that is not sufficiently difficult in determining a person to be minimally competent, or b) an exam that is so difficult that 100% of people who take it without experience will fail it. Aside from the fact that the conclusion he makes is a logical fallacy, it is also untrue. It is my understanding, or perhaps my misunderstanding, that the experience requirement that the licensing boards are looking for is not determined by passing of the test. I believe that the licensing boards verify a candidates experience solely based on their work history. They look at the types of jobs a candidate has worked on, level of complexity of assignments, number of people the candidate has supervised. This is the "experience" component to licensure. It's absurd to think that any licensing board relies on the PS exam (or PE exam for that matter) to determine if somebody has experience. Clearly everybody's experience is different, and it is up to the board to determine if each individual's experience is sufficient to warrant licensure. No, what the exams are testing for is competence in application of knowledge. The Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam is designed to test the candidate's knowledge of the mathematical principles required to solve surveying problems and accurately measure the physical features of the earth. The PS exam is designed to test the candidate's knowledge of laws, regulations, and generally accepted methods and assumptions in surveying practice. To know those things doesn't actually require experience. To know those things requires having learned them. It is possible to learn these things in the first ten days on the job, or it might take 10 years for others. It is valid to say that having experience in the industry helps a person to learn these things, but it is inaccurate to say that they can't know it, or shouldn't know it, without four years of experience. Dr. Elgin's claim here is simply not supported by reality.

My next concern is with Dr. Elgin's claim that the use of state specific exams has been around for years and there is no need to change a process that has been in place for good reason for so long. Contrary to Dr. Elgin's claim, the process that has been in place for so long hasn't been in place for "good reason". The only part of that statement that has any merit is the fact that individual states have differing laws related to real property. But in terms of surveying minimal competence, the PS exam is more than sufficient at testing a candidate on their ability to understand the methods and math content necessary to perform sound surveying techniques and data acquisition. Further, why would any surveyor not want to know and understand the processes surrounding the U.S. Public Lands Survey System (USPLSS). They may not use it on the East Coast, but the younger generation of professionals are much less likely to remain stagnant through their life than older generations. I personally, have lived and worked in Florida, Virginia, Connecticut, and California. I'm thankful for the knowledge I have about the regions where I worked. I think that the knowledge I gained on USPLSS has served me well for many reasons, and to abandon that knowledge just because I currently reside in Connecticut makes no sense to me as a professional. The only thing that makes sense for states to test independently is the case law and statute laws. Everything else can and is covered under the FS and PS exams. Just because the states have always given their own exams doesn't mean it continues to make sense, and I for one would like to see that changed.

Finally, I'll conclude my response by saying that nationalizing the examination and licensing process makes tremendous sense in our ever shrinking world. Today more than ever, we as professionals are able to perform accurate, high quality work across the globe without the need to physically maintain a presence in the geographic region where our work is located. Due to the advancements of telecommunication, high definition video and photography, real time data transfer of gigabytes per second, and advanced sensing abilities, more and more surveyors will be taking on work in more places. Why make the path to licensure for otherwise extremely competent and experienced professionals more difficult by maintaining an antiquated vetting and licensure process? I bet you a cheeseburger that these guys with multiple licenses in multiple states and experience literally all over the nation (and world) can run circles around the folks who have only ever worked in their own little region. Were these guys experienced in that state? No! But they learned the laws required for that state. Isn't that all the state boards are asking of candidates? Why do we need an antiquated system to do that when a more streamlined one can do it just as well and more efficiently? The answer is, we don't.