BIM MSc or PhD?

PHD-PrizeThere’s currently a vast number of universities and institutions looking to jump on the BIM bandwagon and offer a BIM-related course.

I have personally been approached by a total of eight institutions since January to offer my opinion on the course content… Whilst I admire these institutions for contacting people in the industry for feedback, it’s important that they realise it’s not one-time input that is required; it needs to be continuous.

Here’s my dilemma with a BIM MSc or PhD – I’d love nothing more than to become ‘Dr Casey Rutland’ and I think I already have enough base knowledge to be able to research something of value to me and the company I work for. The problem is that anyone new to BIM and it’s intricacies, looking to leapfrog those currently at the coal face, simply cannot catch up over the duration of a two year static course (with a pre defined curriculum).

Perhaps you may see this as controversial, but the most important aspect when teaching future generations of our industry about BIM is the process, not the software.  People in the BIM Network know and understand this.  I can teach users to use software (at a basic level) in a day, but that’s not what is important.

BIM touches every part of the AEC industry…

And because of this, in my opinion the main topics to consider teaching are:

  • The co-operative working environment.
  • BIM for sustainability.
  • The programme implications.
  • Fee implications.
  • The use of BIM for stakeholder engagement.
  • The importance of client briefing.
  • The use of data.
  • How Contractors / Clients / FM co’s & end-users benefit from BIM.
  • NOT forgetting about ‘design’.
  • The legal aspects (not problems).
  • BIM for QS’s
  • The ‘new’ deliverables.
  • The importance of standards.
  • The state of the UK vs the ROTW.

Whilst this is not an exhaustive list, and I understand that this may not be within the remit of everyone I speak with who represent Universities, but if this point is understood by education providers we’ll all be in better place very soon.  Combined, multi-disciplinary AEC courses anyone?

We must remember that any BIM authoring software is nothing but a tool, in the same way that a pencil is.

If a university’s aim is to arm students with software knowledge then I’d agree that Revit is a good starting point but BIM is bigger than that.

If we can at least aim to reduce the gap between AEC education and the practicalities of ‘real world’ business needs, things will improve slowly, but much faster than they will if all we’re doing is taking up the slack for software skills that ageing industry figures can’t (or don’t want) to use and understand.

Those who can, teach? I’m not sure…

As I stated at the top of this blog, the input from industry needs to be continuous and from my education experience I’ve mostly seen tutors who had been disconnected from the industry for a long time.  This still continues and we sometimes see students being taught almost useless ways of working.  At least show them how the modern sector works!

I have no global solutions, but I have a passion to teach others whilst maintaining a position within the industry I love.  I’m not sure what that makes me, but I’m sure it’s a by-product of learning so much from the people I have worked with over the years.

I feel the need to share and educate wherever I can.  Even if it’s outdated in 5 years, it’s better than 20 or 30 years…

12 responses to “BIM MSc or PhD?

  1. Nice article thank you. I think you make a really good point Casey, when designing new curricular or reviewing existing content it’s imperative that its up to date with current industry practices. I think for the theory based aspects you’ve highlighted some good topics to be covered. Personally I also think its really important than student experience interdisciplinary collaborative integrated projects to ensure that they get some taste of what it’s like to work outside of the traditional silo’d working environment and move towards integrated (and Open!) BIM design processes.
    Danny McGough- Assistant Lecturer,Coventry Univeristy

  2. A process is nothing if you cannot implement it and I can totally agree with the topics you have set.

    Many years now, people connect BIM with Information Management. This makes sense. But there are strong technical skills that are needed in order to avoid the limitations and the bugs of the technology.

    So far I have reached in the conclusion that BIM is a combination of strong technical and project management skills. The technical skills contain the KNOW-HOW and the project manager skills allow you to understand a process, develop it and streamline it – manage of data – communication with colleagues-stakeholders.

    • Thanks Angelos.

      I’m glad you’ve commented; as you say, there are technical skills but let’s not forget these are all absolutely necessary skills but in addition to the core skills of the particular profession. Be it architecture, engineering or consulting the communication skills are seen as a sideline, but should come to the fore.

      Perhaps then the industry would be less fragile?!

  3. Another good post Casey, personaly. I think it will be very hard for any institution to set up these further education courses at this point in time for BIM processes. It’s all just too new and disruptive at this point in time. Perhaps it’s should be that by 2016, when we have definition and examples of BIM Level 2 then there is something to to be assessed against.
    For now I persoanlly think that the only option for those that want to demonstrate some sort of BIM skills should perhaps do through their own professional institution – so use BIM experience and evidence to upgrade to becoming a Member or Fellow of their own professional body. This way they can prove that they’ve had the personal motivation to improve their knowledge to a generally recognised standard. I’m actively thinking of trying to become a Fellow of the Insitution of Civil Engineers through this route. Yes it won’t be as obvious as an ‘MSc in BIM’ but it will show commitment to learning that is a another good chunk of what BIM is about.
    Or should we decide (with the hat tip to Shaun Farrell) that we just add the initials GSD after our names – after all that’s what it’s about really isnt it?

  4. I share similar misgivings, although I haven’t been approached by quite so many as you Dr Rutland! Still I think it is good that universities and tertiary institutions are getting involved. It might take a few iterations before they start to impact and influence – but after all tertiary institutions are meant to be society’s forward thinkers!

  5. Pleasure! It is a nice blog to read Casey.

    I feel that the institutions ICE, CIOB etc lack of real CPD development on BIM. So a university might need to fill the gap. People want to get their skills recognised and show that they are competent or learn fast, immersing themselves faster into this new way of working or they just want to study in something of their interest.

    I have studied Civil Engineering as well, and am a member of the ICE, but I did not know that my “BIM” experience and knowledge could help my CPD and upgrade my level as well. Maybe I have not searched it enough. Please let me know the way if you already do it 🙂

    I agree that it is disruptive at this point, but as it involves change at all levels of the process it is a necessity there to be people who will have the right mindset for the job. There is where universities can help. Can only give you the basic knowledge and help you with your research.

    Although, I must say, that I have seen some BIM and Revit Tests out there that a few companies would use to assess their employees, are to laugh with! That is something that worries me. Personally, as a Revit user from its first versions, I would not take them seriously…but that again is just a personal opinion that might change in the future as things improve.

    All in all, training is more important than ever before and we still have a long way to go. The rest are titles 🙂 But who do not fancy a nice title??

  6. I think that the institutions are missing the point slightly here, as demonstarted in Danny’s reply. At what point did the Academic world suddenly wake up and think that BIM was a reason to start “interdisciplinary collaborative integrated projects”?!?! This has always been one of the core elements of construction projects but due to external influences (ususally purse holders, legal people and project managers!!) this has been the casualty of quantity over quality, perceived trust issues, unrealistic programmes and a general deskilling of designers from practical biased professional into theoretically biased people reliant on computer outputs.
    It’s great to see institutions recognise that the construction process has evolved and wanting to provide theoretical principles. However,please leave the curriculum at the high level theory not trying to teach how BIM would be implemented on various all types of theoretical construction projects. Practice comes from the workplace and seeing how that theory is applied in the real world. Also – how many lecturers “teaching BIM” still have strong working ties with the industry and are able to demonstrate how BIM was implemented on real world examples. From what I am seeing, many lecturers on this subject have not worked in industry or have been away from it since “this BIM phenomenon” took off.

  7. I think the issue isnt bespoke to bim – how do we ensure any technologically based degree keeps up with the speed of changes in processes. My issue with these degrees is that this country is so heavily title based that those receiving their masters or doctorates will be considered experts when that will not necessarily be the case. The real experiences will be those who have been embedded in real life scenarios which again constantly change and evolve. A good article and something we all need to consider when hiring future ‘experts’.

  8. Great post Casey and equally great replies!

    I’ve actually taught at Universities recently. There is still an incredible amount of quite understandable confusion. As already stated, many people left industry well before “BIM” was even mentioned.

    I think Angelos hit the nail on the head with the tech and PM comment. I would like to see good PM and information management skills (which include of course communication etc) and good solid technical skills being conveyed. Do that with as much practical real life experiences as possible (as per Rebecca’s point) and you have a solid base to enter industry as it currently stands.

    Students need to understand industry speak, protocols, maturity levels etc, but as Julian raises all we have managed to do here is realise an already understood requirement and managed to successfully productise it as “BIM” in order to get people all talking about the same thing.

  9. The easy part is teaching people how to operate the software. The problem is that people are trying to force the software into the old process, which it wasn’t designed for. Lately I find myself spending a lot of time combating assumptions about BIM that were made five years ago. The only thing that can be guaranteed is that over the next several years everything we know will change completely, again.

    Thanks for sharing

  10. BIM was discussed at a Constructing Excellence higher education summit in June this year, when it was considered an integral part of a wider curriculum to teach integrated collaborative working and try to straddle the current ‘silo mentality’ of many taught built environment courses. The discussion continues, and Prof Jacqui Glass from Loughborough will be talking on the HE issues at the CE annual members convention in London tomorrow.

    One of my clients is the Association of Engineering Doctorates and through my work I am aware that both Loughborough and Reading universities have appointed research engineers to look at BIM-related subjects as part of EngD projects (the EngD is a more industry-focused equivalent to a PhD, but – I think Rebecca will be pleased to hear – the researcher spends four years engaged in a company-sponsored research project focused on a real-world requirement, rather than a academic/theoretical problem). Buro Happold, Faithful & Gould and Willmott Dixon are (if I remember correctly) sponsoring BIM-related EngDs.

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