My Journey Toward Licensure

It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve last put pen to paper for this column.  I’ve done a lot of soul searching in that time about where I want to take my career.  Losing what you thought was your dream job (as well as having a child) can really make you question the path you’re taking in life.  I am sure many readers can relate to those instances when you pause and wonder, “What am I doing this all for?” and “Is this what I really want out of my life?”

Not being able to answer these questions is partly why I decided to take a hiatus from writing about my experiences while on my journey to become licensed.  I needed some time to reflect and determine if I am strong enough to deal with all of the issues that are plaguing the land surveying profession (and have been plaguing it for some time now).

To Test or Not to Test

As I grappled with various options for the future of my career, I continued to work for a small land surveying company (H&H Land Surveying, Inc.) from October 2008 to August 2010.  We were about like every other survey firm in our area … just trying to weather the storm.  We wondered where our work would come from week to week and attempted to just keep on trucking to keep the doors open and keep everyone who was left employed. 

I managed to stay busy most of the time working on a variety of projects.  We worked on boundary retracement surveys, topographic surveys, plot plans, foundation inspections, elevation certificates, etc. I was willing to take on whatever came through the door and be wherever I was needed, whether it was the field, the office, or even at home if there weren’t any projects that day.  I decided I was going to stick with land surveying for now and still work toward getting my license.  Then I would sit down and reevaluate how I felt about my career and where it was headed.  Really, I decided just to see where the wind would take me and then figure out what I wanted for my life and my career.

Along the way, I wondered if I were the only one having such doubts and internal struggles, so I’ve kept in contact with many of my fellow graduates to see how their journeys were going. It turns out many of them were dealing with similar issues that ranged from frustration with working for individuals who were cutting corners on projects during this recession, to the loss of a job, to wondering if we had wasted a lot of time and money on our education because now we’re faced with the predicament of not being able to find a job to pay back college debt that we incurred because we thought college would get us a job.  I still don’t know if any of us have found answers, but we still keep struggling forward, hoping that eventually we will find that light at the end of the tunnel.

On a positive note, not all of my peers have had such despondent experiences thus far.  Those who have explored either the engineering path or areas more likely to be defined under the geomatics spectrum versus traditional land surveying seem to be very pleased with their career choices to date.  So for me it becomes difficult to differentiate between what are recession-based obstacles and what are some of the truly long-term obstacles facing the profession. 

The biggest struggle for me since beginning my career is that I like to be a problem solver and am ever an optimist, and yet I’ve become very frustrated with some individuals’ unwillingness to work together toward a common solution.  They will agree something is broken but will not work together to implement any sort of solution.  They would rather sit and argue over why the other individual’s solution is wrong.  This is the attitude that nearly pushed me away from the profession, until I realized this isn’t an issue faced by only our profession but is a societal one that I will likely face wherever I go.  Thus, I decided to stay the course and continue on the career path that I set for myself previously.


In December of 2009 I decided to gather all of my information to submit my application to the Tennessee Board of Registration for Land Surveyors, hoping they would allow me to take the test for licensure in April of 2010.  I accumulated my years of experience, sample plats, sample land descriptions, and all of my references and submitted my completed application to the board, and then I waited for their decision.  I received word in February of 2010 that they had decided I was eligible to take my test for licensure as a registered land surveyor.  Thankfully I had previously passed the Fundamentals of Land Surveying, so I would have to take only the six-hour national portion as well as a two-hour state portion.  Subsequently, I began the long process of studying for the test.

A week after I was approved to take the test, the Tennessee Association of Professional Surveyors hosted an exam review workshop at the spring conference.  I decided it would be in my best interests to take that course, and hopefully from that I would be able to determine what areas I was strong in as well as where I had some brushing up to do.  After completing the exam review course, I still had several weeks to get some good studying in.  Consequently, for several hours every Saturday I holed myself up in a Panera Bread where I had access to unlimited coffee and a big table to spread out all of my references, and I dug my heels into the areas I had not been exposed to for quite a while, such as many of the concepts regarding the sectionalized system in PLS states.  Because I am not too far out of college, the studying part was pretty easy for me.  Plus, I am one of those weird individuals who enjoy taking practice tests and solving problems for the fun of it.

Thankfully, I had a lot of good resources from my days in Purdue University’s Land Surveying and Geomatics Engineering program.  Some that I found most useful are Brown’s Boundary Control and Legal Principles, Evidence and Procedures for Boundary Location, Land Survey Systems, The Restoration of Lost or Obliterated Corners & Subdivision of Sections: a guide for surveyors, and finally Elementary Surveying: An Introduction to Geomatics.  I also reviewed several items in GPS Satellite Surveying by Leick and Elements of Photogrammetry with Applications in GIS by Wolf & Dewitt. 

As I said, I had acquired a library of excellent surveying references during my years at Purdue.  I also had quite a bit of review materials from the exam review course I had taken.  Not only did I review many of my textbooks, but I also acquired a copy of the NCEES’s Fundamentals of Surveying Sample Questions and Solutions and worked through all of those questions for practice. Since the PS exam is open book, I made it a point to be very familiar with my reference materials, including tabbing significant pages, in the event that I would need them during the examination.  I wanted to be prepared enough that I wouldn’t need them, but if I did I wanted to be able to look items up as quickly as possible.  The last several days prior to the test I decided to take a complete break from studying anything surveying related, and I simply went to work and came home and enjoyed my family.

The day of the test came and went, and then began the most agonizing part of the whole experience: waiting for the results.  For me this is very difficult because I am one of the most impatient people you will probably ever meet.  Also, no matter how confident I am about my performance on a test (or anything for that matter), I always have that nagging question in the back of my mind—screaming, not whispering—“What if?”  I guess most sane individuals would think, “Oh well, if I don’t pass this time I’ll have another chance to take it,” but I am ridiculously hard on myself if I do not perform as well on something as I feel I should have.  So I continued to stew and stress over my results, even though at that point it was over and there was nothing else I could do about it. (Don’t worry–I work on these traits.  They used to drive my husband bonkers but I think at this point he just laughs at me when I get worked up over silly things.)

Finally I received word in June that I had passed the exams and would officially be a registered land surveyor in Tennessee. 

What’s next, and how do I feel about being licensed?  To be truly honest: I don’t know, and I don’t know.  I’m still trying to let the wind take me where it will, but I do struggle with not having a defined plan and mapped-out goals to strive for.  So, lately I’ve been setting my goals with the subtitle, “Subject to Change.”  I’ve also discovered that, even though my formal education has ended, my educational journey is still just beginning, and I’m probably less confident than ever about how much I know.  The biggest problem with wanting to continually educate yourself is learning how truly little you know and how much more there is to learn.

Thus, now that I have my “big stamp,” I want to hide it and use it as little as possible.  I guess I also feel that the charge is on me to figure out how we are going to work together to overcome the obstacles of our profession.  Every day is a continual struggle for me because of my love/hate relationship with this profession.  Sometimes I hate that I love the work so much; otherwise it might be easier to do something more lucrative.  I do not know where I will be a year from now, but I will take it as it comes. 

I wish I had some better words of wisdom regarding what I have learned on my journey.  The problem is I am still learning, and my journey is truly only beginning.  Maybe I need to learn that that’s not a problem.

About the Author

  • Ashley Rose-Nalin
    Ashley Rose-Nalin
    Ashley is a recent graduate in land surveying and geomatics engineering form Purdue University and a newly licensed surveyor in Tennessee.

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