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Brock Barry, PhD 2008

Brock Barry

Brock Barry decided to return to school and get a PhD in engineering education after ten years working in industry, where he was a consulting civil engineer with Haley & Aldrich. During his final four years working as a consultant, he was also employed as an adjunct professor teaching courses in civil engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as courses in physics at Monroe Community College. Brock completed his PhD in two and a half years and, after graduation, joined the engineering faculty at the U.S. Military Academy. He spoke with Deepali Pratap about his experience at Purdue.

Why did you decide to do a PhD?

While I was working as an adjunct professor, I enjoyed being on campus. But I reached a point where I had to go into management or redirect my career towards academia. I felt like my real-world experiences gave credibility to what I taught in a classroom.

Why this program at Purdue?

This was the only program in the world for me [grins]. I had applied for academic positions without a PhD, and been offered employment as well. But the financial support from Purdue helped me make the decision. Also, my wife is a Purdue graduate, and I saw an article about engineering education in The Purdue Alumnus, the alumni magazine.

I am really interested in the continuous improvement of processes, about research into it, and about how to teach students. I felt that I had absorbed enough technical classes in the civil engineering discipline. Here, I had broader opportunities to control the research I did, and this research in the School of Engineering Education [ENE] had better potential to make an immediate impact. I needed to know that this research is more applicable to the practice. I wanted to go to the best program in the world!

What are you planning to do now?

I have accepted a faculty position at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy, as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering. I enjoy taking my learning back into the engineering community to make an impact in the industry. West Point is always interested in how they can improve their current program. [It was the first engineering program in the U.S.] I am going to enjoy serving my country in this way. I feel like I am making contributions to the future leaders of the U.S. Army, and I have a lot of respect for my students.

How did you direct your job search?

I knew I was graduating in December [2008], which is not the usual cycle. So, I started last year [2007]. I looked at job listings, trade sites, applied to five or six positions last year, and interviewed for three, resulting in three job offers. This tells us that the engineering community is interested in hiring ENE graduates. I had very positive experiences when I told people that I was getting a degree in ENE. People are familiar with the concept and the degree. All our alumni have been placed where they wanted to go.

I used,, and in my job search. The last is mostly international. These sites are good for academic positions. I also looked at civil engineering trade journals.

What was the most challenging thing about your PhD?

Some advice for incoming students: you can’t fathom the amount of reading you need to do in the first year. Read, absorb, synthesize, and write about it. You must learn how to do that effectively and efficiently. On a personal level, it was difficult to strike a balance between personal life and academic responsibilities.

What further advice do you have for incoming students?

I co-taught a class in civil engineering at Purdue with the head of the School of Civil Engineering. She became a colleague and mentor for my career, and gave me great advice. I also taught two other courses within civil engineering. I sat on committees in the School of Civil Engineering and went to workshops there. Your competencies required to graduate in this degree are easier when you have these connections and relationships.