Reconnaissance: The State of the Surveying Profession, Part 1

Recently, a colleague wrote to tell me that some concepts covered during my programs are perceived as advanced and often go over the heads of some in the audience. I found that thought disturbing because one of the things I work very hard at is taking complex ideas and conveying them in a way that is understandable and meaningful. But after actually talking with my colleague—who is an educator—I understood that the issue was not that I wasn’t doing a good job breaking down complexities. The problem was that I was simply wrong in taking for granted that everyone in the audience was familiar with some of the basic concepts that I mention only in passing. Thus the greater message in my programs are lost when attendees do not grasp certain ideas that I know to be fundamental to boundaries and boundary law.

I have been a student of surveying since I graduated out of the Purdue University Land Surveying program in 1976. (I will readily admit that I have been much more of a student since graduation than before.) Once I started my employment at the Marion County Surveyor’s Office in Indianapolis, I instantly realized that I did not learn everything I ever needed to know about surveying at Purdue. I could not, for example, conduct proper section corner perpetuation without understanding the history of the USPLSS, the rules outlined in its various instructions/manuals, the practices of its surveyors (who did not always follow those rules), and without having a distinct grasp of the differences between existent, obliterated and lost corners.

From there, I very quickly recognized that in order to be able to write a proper land description—and in order to interpret a poorly written one—and to properly locate the described boundaries on the ground, I needed to have an in-depth understanding of boundary law and its history.

The doctrines that form the basis of boundary law in the United States are complex. By their very nature the concepts are advanced. It takes study and work to develop even a fundamental understanding. It takes the ability to work with imperfect evidence, and flexibility in thinking to conduct a proper boundary survey. Boundaries are not a math problem.

If we are to meet our legal obligation as boundary surveyors to protect the health, safety welfare and property of the public we must understand the law. This means we have to be life-long students because the law and our understanding of it changes. It requires that we have the ability to be humble and realize that what we think we understand about law and evidence will evolve. My personal understanding of my responsibilities as a boundary surveyor most assuredly has evolved, even in the last several years. Your’s should have too.

How do we support and encourage professional growth in this 30-second attention-span world (I know—30-seconds is optimistic)? Certainly the pandemic has forced us to find ways to engage virtually, but hopefully in-person conferences and seminars are not a thing of the past; we need the networking and in-person learning experience.

There are so many issues to discuss regarding the state of our profession: technology and its effect, de-licensure, comity, education requirements, the concept of minimal competency, unlicensed practice, the definition of surveying, and more. It is my intent to probe these and more in upcoming columns. Stay-tuned for Part 2.

About the Author

Gary Kent, PS

Gary Kent has been a professional surveyor with Schneider Geomatics since 1983 and is also owner of Meridian Land Consulting, LLC. He has chaired the joint ALTA/NSPS Committee on the Land Title Survey standards since 1995. He also sits on the Indiana State Board of Registration and lectures nationally.