September 2006 ISSUE



Editor’s Note: The following is the third article in a series on the roles, policies and workings of the APEGGA Board of Examiners — the member body charged with deciding who is accepted for the professional register. This is one of the statutory roles of APEGGA, and therefore a critical part of self-government. This instalment looks at academic qualifications from the viewpoint of two veteran examiners.


Be assured, you’re more than a file or a number when you apply to become an APEGGA professional. You’re a person — one with a unique background, yet with a goal that’s common to the thousands upon thousands of applicants who have come before you.

It’s an APEGGA professional designation you want, and sooner rather than later would be nice.
But licensure is not always a simple process. This is all the more true for applicants from foreign schools or those with non-traditional academic backgrounds. Licensure involves an evalution and vote by a diverse, experienced and well-educated cross-section of your future peers.

Their main purpose, no matter how they view an applicant’s background or use their policies, must be to protect the public by making sure applicants meet the qualifications necessary to become an engineer or geoscientist.

The file stops first at the desk of a member and volunteer whose job is to examine academics. The misconception that the information sits there for months without any action taken is exactly that, a misconception.

“With every file that comes in, we’re very conscientious. We recognize that this is an individual we’re dealing with, someone who deserves a thorough and complete evaluation. And we’re also conscious that each applicant must meet our academic qualifications and that the public must be properly protected,” says longtime academic examiner Dr. Philippe Erdmer, P.Geol.

Adds another longtime academic examiner, Dr. Roger Toogood, P.Eng.: “The goal is to be fair to the applicant while maintaining a consistent standard. The challenge is to do that with information that is often incomplete or imperfect.”

On the engineering side, the best acceptable education for applicants is a degree accredited by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. Many applicants, however, have academic credentials that are difficult to examine and confirm.

“Backgrounds in engineering education range from CEAB-accredited degrees, which are the gold standard, to Internet-based diploma mill degrees, which are less than worthless,” says Dr. Toogood.
The process can be even trickier on the geoscience side, because there is no national accreditation system. There are, however, nationally accepted academic standards, which APEGGA’s geology and geophysics syllabi are based upon. That means there’s a standard to compare geoscience academics to, despite the lack of an accreditation system.

No matter what the evaluation demands, the importance of an academic background — and the role it plays in professionalism — cannot be downplayed. Dr. Toogood explains why.

“Academics are critical. The rigorous academic training obtained in a recognized degree prepares the professional for a lifetime of career development. As we all know, many of the facts learned during a degree are often either forgotten or become obsolete at some point after graduation.

“However, the subject matter that is the least likely to become obsolete is what’s learned in the first couple of years of a degree program. The volatile material tends to be taught in the advanced courses.”

Dr. Toogood continues: “Although the facts are the cargo, academic training is more about developing a way to approach and solve problems, to see problems from different perspectives and to explore different methods of solution. It is to be able to apply fundamental knowledge to novel situations, and to learn how to communicate in a highly technical environment.

“Certainly, that can be done on the job, through experience, but a formal educational program is a far more efficient way of doing it. That is why it takes a huge amount of experience to make up for a weak or uncertain education in the formula for waiving exams.”

Exams are used to confirm an applicant’s academics, after an examiner has done a course- by-course review. In areas where the examiner can’t confirm that an applicant reaches the accepted academic standard, exams are assigned.

Still, notes Dr. Erdmer, the policy of the board is to “look to exempt.” That means that the board tries, within the bounds of public protection, to confirm that accepted academic requirements are met.
“We’ve moved away from being rigid. Now, the routes you can take to qualifying are almost endless,” he says. Dr. Erdmer emphasizes, however, that not rigid doesn’t mean weak.

Indeed, like Dr. Toogood, he considers academics a critical component in professionalism. “To call yourself a professional, you have to have the ability to work independently. The logic and the thought processes you learn in a two-year community college program in geology just aren’t at the same level.
“Someone who has 10 years working under supervision on an oil rig is not a professional geologist. You don’t have the fundamentals of the discipline or the depth of the discipline,” he says.

“Without that base, it’s not possible to stay current in the field. Professional development is essential to professionalism or you’re soon out of the loop. Without professional development, grounded by academics, you can’t properly safeguard the public.”

Despite the obvious dedication of the board, there is always room for improvement, which is why a task force of the board has come up with wide-ranging recommendations. The board is also working with the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers to improve the handling of applications from abroad.

“The board and the CCPE are constantly trying to improve the way we evaluate foreign degrees,” says Dr. Toogood. “In exercising our due diligence, however, since the public interest and safety are at stake, it is expected that this will be a slow and careful process.

“Nonetheless, steady progress is being made.”