In 2011, I moved from England to the USA to take a postdoctoral research position at the University of California Berkeley. It was going to be a year full of world-class research, performed at a fantastic university, topped off with backpacking, hiking, biking, and trail running. Other than buying flights, I made pretty much no other preparations. A year later, still going strong in both research and hiking, I renewed my contract and my visa. Then again the next year, and again the one after that.
Fast forward many years, and I have left academia, married an American, live in the state of Washington, and am looking for an engineering job. Many (but not all) of the jobs that I see posted require an EIT. Armed with Google and an unlimited text messaging plan, I start trying to figure out what exactly an EIT is. Despite the strong agreement between my Google results and the boatload of texts from my U.S. engineering friends, I couldn’t believe that people willingly take a six-hour exam on everything they learned during their undergraduate engineering degree. At the time, I thought that seemed super-intense and not something I needed to do right then, so maybe I could put it aside and not think about it.
Then again, the more I ran across job ads looking for an ABET accredited degree or an EIT, the more I started to think I may have to take this FE exam after all. I talked with people, engineers, and companies, and I was given the same none-advice from all of them: “I don’t think you need that. You have a master’s and a Ph.D. I think they will just let you sit the PE exam. I know a guy who said “they” let you do that. But who is “they”? And how do I get them to let me skip the FE exam too? And how does everybody seem to know a guy who did this?
I finally decided that having been out of the engineering game for a while now, being from another country, and wanting to work toward my PE, I should contact NCEES directly and see what they say. That led to the following chain of events
- NCEES suggested I talk to the state engineering board. Some people with foreign degrees have to have their degrees evaluated prior to sitting the FE exam and some don’t. Only your state can make that call. (If you don’t know who this is, you can find them here.)
- The Washington state licensing board said I should talk to the NCEES. (Depending on what your state says, you may save yourself time and money.)
- This time, NCEES said they could help, and I had to complete a Credentials Evaluation.
The NCEES will need transcripts mailed directly from your university. Depending on where you studied, this could be the hardest part of the whole process. I’m used to the university mailing me sealed envelopes that I pass on without opening. Initially it seemed there would be some difficulty in getting my old university to mail across to the USA and add the cover sheet that NCEES needed. Luckily for me, email and telephone had been invented by this time and after a little effort, I got a really nice person who said I could email the cover sheet directly to her, she would print and mail the envelope to the U.S. address. I know the system is a little different and easier to navigate now. But, this still took me weeks, and is time that should be allowed for.
The NCEES also needed my course descriptions for all my undergraduate classes. This took a little searching, but wasn’t tasking as everything was there on my old university website, ready for me to copy and paste. I should say that even if the information is not readily available online, all universities have admin staff who know where this information is kept, so if you can’t find it yourself, then send them an email and ask for help.
The next step was to get a copy of my degree certificate. For neither love nor money could I get the university to send me this. But it turned out to be OK. NCEES replied with “We can accept a color copy of the diploma from you as long as it is notarized by a U.S. or Canadian Notary Public. The notary stamp and contact information must be viewable. Don’t forget the cover letter.” In the end, a simple and achievable task.
Finally, I gathered all the materials together and sent them to NCEES for review. After getting the results, I contacted the state engineering board again and they gave me the go-ahead to book my FE exam.
In the end, the biggest issue I had was how long this all took. It all sounds very simple, but it was all time sitting around waiting. I knew that my degree wasn’t the same as a U.S. degree, and originally thought that I would more than likely have to do additional work to be allowed to sit the Civil Engineering FE. I was very lucky to have a broad educational background (relative to most UK graduates), which is why Washington state allowed me to register for the FE without having to complete any extra coursework, saving me some time. All told, from the start of the information gathering process to finally getting permission to sit for the FE exam, took about two years.
I’m reluctant to give advice to other engineers with non-U.S. degrees because everyone’s situation is different, but if you pushed me into a corner and asked me to write a blog based on my experiences, then I guess I would give the following advice:
- Act Early! The process will take longer than you think. While the review itself is fast, collecting all the required materials can be laborious.
- Talk directly to NCEES and your state licensing board. Even after I had done this, people would still advise me incorrectly on what I should do, mostly because they knew a guy who had done such and such strange thing, and it had worked great. It’s better to get in direct contact with the relevant agencies. They are the ones with direct knowledge of the requirements, and can offer help for your specific situation. Sometimes it’s better to just talk to a human than go in circles on Google.
About the Author:
Rae Taylor is an Engineer with extensive experience in advanced techniques for materials characterization. She received an award-winning Ph.D. in Materials Science, which focused on the analysis of microstructures using electron microscopy. Prior to her research in Materials Science, she worked in the clean and wastewater industry. Over her career, Rae has gained extensive experience in project management and lab management, including team building, process engineering, construction oversight, safety management, and quality assurance. She has over ten years of experience designing, developing, and testing experimental procedures. Rae is team-oriented and has extensive experience teaching and tutoring, both in the work environment and in the classroom. She has presented her work to a wide variety of audiences, ranging from academics and industrial specialists to the general public and holds a particular interest in the development of resilient whether it is in materials or infrastructure as a whole.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post by guest author Rae Taylor. If you’re interested in your firm possibly joining the Civil Engineering Collective, please contact us here or call us at 800-920-4007.
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Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success