Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Me and the PE Exam

Next Friday I will take the PE Exam for the third time. The PE Exam is the professional engineering licensing exam. This is the third time I am taking it because I am not a studier. My success at school was related to my ability to absorb what the professors said in class and take good notes that I could reference during exams. The problem is that this exam covers a broad range of topics, most of which engineers do not use in practice.

About 75% of the material on the test is related to topics that I have not studied since college or have never studied at all. So I have to remind myself of things that I once new and teach myself the things I never knew about. This is an open book test where you can bring in as many reference materials that you like. But that isn't helpful if you don't have your reference materials marked and don't understand the concepts required to solve the problems.

I was never one of those kids who spent hours at the library. Every time I tried I ended up getting bored and putting my head down for a nap. But that is exactly who I need to be for the next 9 days. I need to come home from work and put in a solid 4 hours of studying every day. I need to do in 9 days what many people do for the three months leading up to the test. I know that if I do this, I will retain the material well enough to pass.

The PE exam is an optional exam. It doesn't make you more of an engineer than other people. It just means you were willing to torture yourself and sit through two 8-hour exams and spend a lot of money to get licensed. But it does mean that you get to review plans and reports and stamp them as a professional engineer. It means that you can review reports for other companies that don't have a PE on staff and charge them $120+ an hour for the service. In a lot of companies it means you get paid more than someone who's doing the exact same job.

For me it means that I'm as much an engineer as the person who I hope to one day replace at my company. I feel like it will give me more validity and confidence when I go into meetings and people assume I'm the secretary because I'm young, female and black. It makes me more marketable in my career and gives me the opportunity to make a little extra money on the side or as a part-time job in retirement.

In my business, a lot of people who didn't get engineering degrees in school call themselves engineers. So even though I did earn my bachelor's degree in engineering and have been working in the industry for almost 10 years, there is nothing that separates me from them in a lot of people's minds. Maybe that's shallow but it's my motivation. If I don't pass this test it will be because I didn't try hard enough and failed myself yet again.

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