The end

This is my last post for CEE 5804. I wanted to thank all of you for the lively discussions during class. I also want to thank Dr. Edwards for his serials of his ups and downs as a professor advocate for social justice. His blend of his stories, other readings, and his passion came out in the class. As I am officially done with classes for my PhD, I find it ironic that it ends on this class. There has been 67 other lecture classes I have attended since I started college 9,250 days ago. If you are doing the math, I started my undergraduate in August 1995. I imagine I started college before most of the class was born. I hope that you go into your profession either in private industry or academia with your eyes wide open to the world around you. I hope you can avoid the school of hard knocks with some of the lessons from the class. I wish you all good luck in your careers!

Barba Tenus Sapientes

Barba Tenus Sapientes. It is a Latin phrase meaning, “Wise as far as the beard.” According to one of the leading Latin officialdo publications Mental Floss, they have the following description for Barba Tenus Sapientes:

A man described as barba tenus sapientes is literally said to be “wise as far as his beard”—or, in other words, he might look intelligent but he’s actually far from it. This is just one of a number of phrases that show how the Romans associated beards with intelligence, alongside barba non facit philosophum, “a beard does not make a philosopher,” and barba crescit caput nescit, meaning “the beard grows, but the head doesn’t grow wiser.

When I was an undergraduate and a young graduate student, I thought the faculty should be held great reverence and they represent the best of society. I guess I worshipped at the “alter of science.” When I remerged into academia for my PhD work, I had 15 years of working in the real world that changed my view on the world. In the real world, I cam to realize that there are a lot of people who “talk the talk but can’t walk the walk” when it comes to engineering and science. Now through this new prism, I have realized that academia is the same way. Academia is no different. There are a lot of “ho-hum” professors, a handful of crappy ones, and a couple of really good ones. So, I have been looking for classes from the really good professors. It has been really tough trying to find the really good classes. I shake my head a lot and mutter “Barba Tenus Sapientes.”

Your education and experience has value…..

This has been floating around the social media sites recently.

A customer asked me how much it cost to do this job….
I answered him: $ 1500
He said: So expensive for this job?
I asked: How much do you think it would cost you?
He answers me: $ 800 maximum… That’s a pretty simple job right? !”
– For $ 800 I invite you to do it yourself.
– But…. I don’t know how to.
– For $800 I’ll teach you how to. So besides saving you $700, you’ll get the knowledge for the next time you want
– It seemed right to him and he agreed.
– But to get started: you need tools: A welder, grinder, chop saw, drill press, welding hood, gloves etc…
– But I don’t have all these equipment and I can’t buy all of these for one job.
– Well then for another $300 more I’ll rent my stuff to you so you can do it.
– Okay, he says.
– Okay! Tuesday I’m waiting for you to start doing this work
– But I can’t on Tuesday I only have time today.
– I’m sorry, but I’m only available Tuesday to teach you and lend you my stuff. Other days are busy with other customers.
– Okay! That means I’m going to have to sacrifice my Tuesday, give up my tasks.
– I forgot. To do your job yourself, you also have to pay for the nonproductive factors.
– That is? What is this?”
– Bureaucratic, tax, vat, security, insurance, fuel etc.
– Oh no!… But to accomplish these tasks, I’m going to spend more money and waste a lot of time!
– Do you have them? You can do it to me before?”
– Okay!
– I’ll make you all the material you need. Truck loading is done Monday evening or Tuesday morning you’ll have to come by 6 loading the truck. Don’t forget to be on time to avoid traffic jams and be on time
– At 6??? Nope! Too early for me! I used to getting up later.

– You know, I’ve been thinking. Y ‘ all better get the job done. I’d rather pay you the $1500. If I had to, it wouldn’t be perfect and it would cost me a lot more.

When you pay for a job, especially handcrafted, you pay not only for the material used, but also:
– Knowledge
– Experience
– Study
– Tools
– Services
– Time to go
– punctuality
– Accountability
– Professionalism
– Accuracy
– Guaranteed
– Patents
– Sacrifices
– Safety and security
– Payment of tax obligations

No one can denigrate other people’s work by judging prices.
Only by knowing all the elements necessary for the production of a certain work can you estimate the actual cost.

I did not write this dialogue, but am sharing it to support craftsmen and entrepreneurs.

I can do that!

I once had a boss that attended a week training course to learn hydrogeology. He proudly brought the 3-ring binder into a meeting to announce that he was now a hydrogeologist. I sat there in the meeting ticking off the classes that I had in hydrogeology like Applied Hydrogeology, Groundwater Modeling, Contaminant Transport of Pollutants, Physical Hydrogeology, Stable Isotopes in Water, one-month Hydrogeology Field Camp, Chemical Hydrogeology, and Modeling of Physical Systems. That is 24 credits of 400-hour level or graduate level classes. Up to that point, I also had 10 years of experience working primarily as a contaminant hydrogeologist up to that point. I had all the qualifications and years of experience to get the union card of being a Professional Geologist. Yet, that 32 hours of sitting in a class was enough for my former boss to proclaim that he was trained as a hydrogeologist.

We live in a society that watches a professional and believes that they could do that profession. Oh, I can be that musician. I can host that radio or tv show. The same is true now for the STEM careers. I can now be an epidemiologist or a medical doctor after spending some afternoons surfing the internet. Most of the careers is a craft. It is getting the training and then the painstaking honing over years of time. It is getting the art training and then spending years painting every day. The best way of becoming an author is writing every day they say. Most people think they can go out and play professional golf. They don’t see the hours of training every day that has lasted years to hit that little white golf ball.

I am all for people to learn more throughout their life. I am for people to better understand their environment around them. I want people to become educated to make informed decisions. I want the citizen scientist advocating for a better world. Yet, there is a craft in almost every profession these days. Ok, I am now done being on my soap box. I have to now go cook dinner because I can make it better than Bobby Flay.

Academic Caste System

I came to Virginia Tech for a PhD and I decided that I was not going to do it full time. For the last 5 years, Virginia Tech considers me not in “residency” for my PhD. I had to derive a plan and approved by my committee to show Virginia Tech that I am meeting the criteria for residency through various activities. I live and work outside of academia. For me, I only have a foot in this big world of academia. I always joke that I wear two competing hats but I try very hard not to wear at the same time. I wear a hat with the company that I work for between 40-50 hours a week job that I work for a paycheck. I had an agreement with them that my “extra time” beyond the full time schedule was for my schooling. The other hat is some form of Virginia Tech that I occasionally proudly put on. My employer’s setup of being completely virtual and having a flexible work schedule for the last 5 years let me go back to school.

In the private sector, there is a caste system that you are supposed to pay your dues. The entry level folks do the “grunt” work and you work your way up from the bottom. The speed of how fast you work up the ladder is wholly dependent on how many other skills that you have or you can learn quickly. In the “consulting” business, that usually corresponds to how fast you pick up the business and start managing projects. Your fancy degree only counts on your first job and if you are going to be licensed. However, the vast majority of project managers and upper management doesn’t care about the degree that you earned. Most employers avoid people with PhD because they think they will complicate all the projects and make them science fair projects. All that matters is the amount of work that you have and the amount of money you are bringing into the company. There is a serious competition both internally between colleagues and externally between companies. If you look at the demographics, only 10% of all engineers and scientists will go on to have a career in the consulting field. Yet, the movement upward is quickly. You are managing projects within 5 years and trying to get to the next level of managing. Once you get 10 years, you are a peer.

In academia, there is a pedigree. Where did you do your undergraduate? Where did you do your master’s? Where did you do your PhD? Did you do that postdoc at NASA or some well renowned professor on the other coast? In the academic world, you don’t matter until you have your PhD and what your pedigree is. Honestly, I know very little about the hierarchy of professors. I don’t know how if there is much of a gap between the assistant professor and the professor with tenure? I have no idea. I imagine there must be one. I know that you are judged by the number of papers that you publish and the quality of the journal where those papers are published in. Yet, I don’t know what those levels are either. The whole world is foreign to me even going through my masters now 20 years ago and now this part time expedition for the last 5 years. When are you considered a peer in academia ranks? Is it also 10 years? 5 years for a PhD and then 5 years to get tenure?

Can we take the Dunning-Kruger Effect graph and add a third axis for time?

I am obsessed with competence. It has been an obession for the last twenty years competing in private industry internally against colleagues and against external coemption for various projects. I have been fortunate that I have sit at the knee of very smart people that I would consider “experts.” Expert is an interesting word in private industry. After working professionally, we are told not to use the word “expert” because people would expect a level of work that is beyond what is the “standard” of what is provided by the industry. I see the word expert alot more academically and in social media circles. It seems that there are a lot of experts in both fields. Yet, the whole concept of “expert” is clouded for me looking back at a twenty year career.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect has been brought forward to explain to people what it takes to really “learn a subject.” Malcolm Galdwell’s book “Outliers” has promoted the idea that “ten thousand hours to be an expert.” So, that means that I should have reached the plateau of sustainability by now. I have worked 33,000 hours as a professionally and billing my time that a person/company pays for my work.

Professionally, I feel that I am still climbing the “slope of enlightment” even after the 33,000 hours of on the job experience, 4 years of undergraduate, 2 years doing a masters, and now 5 years of working part-time as a PhD. I don’t know what the plateau of sustainability looks like.

As I sit here, I wonder if the plateau of sustainability is wisdom. I heard recently that knowledge is what is taught or you get from a textbook that you can recall. I have had plenty of classes that I can’t recall a thing. Wisdom is the ability to recognize the patterns of what you were taught and using previous experiences to know what to do. I do not know if the plateau of sustainability is reserved for wisdom. I have another 30 years of hike the “slope of enlightenment.”


I am lifting the following paragraph from a “nameless” friend that just sent it to me in an email. He is trying to get published and the reviewers are hung up on a detail. He won’t be able to publish until he collects the data. He is done with his PhD and the funding is gone. However, some friends collected the data for him. His thoughts (taken with a grain of salt for the political slant):

Science is tough!  The general public, and many elected officials in government (esp. Mr. Trump) do not know or appreciate how difficult it is to get “the truth” about any hypothesis.  Scientists do not go out  and collect “facts.” Rather, they collect “data” and then try to use them to test hypotheses. The results of all our work may, or may not, have much to do with the “truth.” 

In the long discussions we had in class about falsifying data to get the hypothesis you want, I love his thoughts. I am now using that logic in my research. Is the data driving the hypothesis or is the hypothesis driving the data?

Intellectual Property

As I am reading the “Bad Blood” book, I keep thinking about intellectual property. If I come up with a good idea, it is owned by someone else. As I have employment outside of the university, I have signed (the now common) non-disclosure agreement and non-compete agreement so my employer owns all patents and “good ideas” that I may come up with at work. If I come with a good idea at school, I can control it but the university and department gets a chunk of the money. <spoiler alert> In the book, I enjoyed the part when the “bosses” of the company called the police when an employee quit. When the police came and asked what he stole, they responded that he stole what was in his mind. I found it interesting that the company would hire the best and brightest for a particular skill set to work on a portion of the project but they were so afraid their “technology” would be stolen even in their minds of their employees.

I wonder if a private company or a university would announce that they would not touch an individual’s intellectual property if they come up on their own if that would promote invention and intellectual advancement. There would be a profit incentive for the individual to put something together. I guess I will never know.

What engineering degree?

Twenty years ago, I graduated from school and went to work at a mid-size engineering company. I came into those gilded halls as a staff hydrogeolgoist. It was the corporate headquarters with 150 people working in plush 8th floor offices in a skyscraper in Atlanta. It was an office that required a collared shirt and slacks. Jeans were only for special occasions in those halls. There were different groups in the office from a landfill engineering group, a geotechnical group, a bugs and bunny (biologists) group, and a environmental/remediation group. I came into the ER group. At least half of the people working there were engineers working professionally and the vast majority had degrees from Georgia Tech or Clemson up on their walls proudly.

When I arrived, I had two degrees that I hung in my little cubicle. I had a geological engineering BS degree from a very small college and a master’s degree in geology from a well-known “yankee” school. I am proud of that engineering degree. I took enough classes to satisfy both the requirements for a Professional Geologist license and a Professional Engineering license. You can’t beat getting two degrees for the price of one.

That company wanted licenses. They offered raises and promotions as incentives to get you to go through the testing and headaches of getting a license. They wanted to market that a PE or a EIT was working on that job as a selling point. I bounded into my boss’ office for my first annual review and the discussions of next year’s goals. One thing about private consulting is that there are always goals to be evaluated against. I was on track to get my PG license after 3 more years of “experience.” My two-years at graduate school counted as 1 years towards the license so it was shorten down to 3 years. I then asked about my engineering license. My boss looked perplexed and asked “What about an engineering license?” “I want it”, I said. He said “no.” The company will not count my time working there as an engineer towards an engineering license because I am not an engineer. Looking back, I could have counted what I was doing towards an engineer license but I wasn’t going to argue. I realized after awhile that the company didn’t view my degree from that small ABET-accredited college counted because it was not from Georgia Tech. Because of that geology stuck in that engineering degree, I had 150 credits coming out with it compared to 132 credits for a BS in civil engineering from Georgia Tech. The company didn’t view degrees equally.

I went on and got my PG license in 3 years. It took me another 6 years to get my PE license because I couldn’t count my time there. When I left that company, I always made sure my position was “engineer” going forward. I hope when you get your shinny Virginia Tech degree that you remember that there are a lot of places where engineers are made.


After today’s reading about branding and setting an professional identity, I thought of an experience when I first started out being a professional. I did a bunch of small geophysical projects with a very well known and one of the tops in his field geophysicist. After a couple of years of him and his company doing small projects, I managed a much larger geophysical project that lasted a month of collecting data. After spending days at a time with a person, you get to know them quite well. While he was collecting the data, he would field calls about upcoming jobs and I would try not to overlisten.

One day towards the end, he was trying to line up a “whale” of a project for a contractor for a US installation that made my month long project seem like loose change. An individual on his crew was from Australia and was working in the States on a visa. The contractor was giving hassling him about having a foreign national coming on the facility and it would require a bunch of paperwork and headaches. After a half dozen tries of him talking with the contracting people and the managers of the work, he finally told them which particular orifice that the contracting people could stick their extra paperwork.

I was floored. I was amazed by him walking away from suck a large project. He then told me the following that has stuck with me now for 20 years, “It would have cost me more than it was worth. Not every project is the same. Not every client is the same. You work with the people you want to work with and avoid the ‘assholes.’ If he had that much trouble now, it will cost him even more to get paid and having problems on the project. They would eat his profit on the job.”

I went on for him being hired into my company and becoming my boss. I have since left that job but I still have the pleasure of him still willing do geophysics on my projects. I consider him a friend.

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