The purpose of one pursuing a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering is to develop a deep understanding and knowledge base specific to the specialization that is chosen (transportation, water resources, structural engineering, etc.). According to a 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the starting salary for a Civil Engineer with a Masters Degree was ten percent higher than what was offered as starting compensation to graduates with a Bachelors Degree. Obtaining a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering not only leads to higher pay, but more importantly it shows one’s commitment to their field and is looked upon in a positive manner by the civil engineering community.
An MBA on the other hand, held by a Professional Engineer working within the Civil Engineering industry, for some reason is not always looked upon in a positive light…and I cannot quite put my finger on as to why? MBA students study a wide array of business courses including accounting, finance, statistics, marketing, economics, management and other courses of the like. By gaining an MBA, one is better preparing themselves for a role in management, which often is not a natural path for the more technically inclined civil engineer. It’s not that it is really frowned upon, but my deduction is that the pursuit and receipt of an MBA by a civil engineer sometimes puts up a misunderstood “red flag.” In fact, many firms will reimburse their employee’s for coursework towards their MSCE, but not their MBA.
What I have found is that Civil Engineers who achieve their MBA have the best of intentions, but those on the outside looking in sometimes tend to smirk…as if that individual has “sold out.” For some outsiders looking in, they view their civil engineering counterpart who received their MBA as someone who is either attempting to get out of the industry altogether, or as a fellow professional who is not fully committed to the civil engineering profession in its purest sense. Or maybe it is that the existing supervisor or potential hiring manager feels threatened. Because the MBA candidate is unaware of this oft ill willed perception, they end up over estimating the power, if you will, of their MBA. They often believe it will swiftly take them to the next level in their career, when the reality is, it will eventually play a role in their career advancement. This mentality is ESPECIALLY the case for younger engineering professionals who, in the grand scheme of things, have really only just begun to put the brush on the canvas. Again, their intentions may be good, but occasionally they believe that with just a few years of design experience, and now an MBA, that cube world will be a thing of the past and the red carpet will be rolled out leading to the corner office, only after passing by their newly crowned Executive Assistant. This of course is not meant to be a blanket statement, but I would be lying if I told you that I did not speak to engineers from time-to-time who think this way.
Talking to hundreds of civil engineers each month for the past 12 years, the above scenario is what I see. I believe that the pursuit of an MSCE and an MBA are both admirable and advantageous to one’s career. But after talking to so many civil engineering professionals over the years and reading between the lines during the hiring process, both Masters Degrees can indeed benefit one’s career, but it is a matter of timing. I am of the school of thought that one should pursue their MSCE first, and then only consider pursuing an MBA after spending a decent amount of time in the trenches. The pursuit of the MBA should maybe come after one has already entered into the world of department or program management; or at least when they are on the cusp of attaining that level of responsibility. It is at this level that you will begin to reap the benefits of your MBA. You can have as many letters as you want after your name, but the way to respect is not solely through those letters, but through your successful technical experience within your trade, among other factors as well.
How has your MSCE or MBA influenced our career? If you had to recommend one over the other, which would you recommend? I look forward to your comments.
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