Monday, June 21, 2010

Internship: you get out what you put into it, Part 1 of 2

My last post prompted a great response by reader JD, which deserves some response in its entirety. (And JD, you've asked some great questions lately for which I need to get answers--now that the Convention is over, I can finally get to them.) For now, I'll address the first part of his/her response, which was this:

I tend to agree that the "I'm just a monkey, nobody cares" crowd often wins the perceived "state of an interns life" battle. How many people really write/say they had a good experience? For many, it's just another series of hoops and they just want to move on. What I've found is that internship is what you make. Yes, there are bad firms. As you've noted, more often though I'm guessing the experience is good and if it's not, you might have to ask yourself "What is my role in this and who do I talk to make it better?".

JD: thank you. I'm glad you picked up on that part of the internship experience, because I'm not sure that we as a profession are doing a good job of conveying that to interns. IDP is a program that the intern and firm need to take seriously, but let me be clear about the dynamics of IDP from the firm and intern's points of view. An intern wants the IDP experience because it will (ideally and hopefully) provide them with a better understanding of the profession and more fully prepare them for not just the ARE but for that profession overall. Because IDP is designed to (again, ideally and hopefully) prepare an intern to be a better, more knowledgeable and experienced architect, it behooves the firm to make sure they acquire that well-rounded experience so that the intern can be more useful and productive in the firm.

But what happens quite often--and more often than we'd all like--is that an intern's development gets sacrificed to the bottom line, the fee. The business side of architecture can frequently push out the professional development side of architecture. Firm owners and project managers may reason, and rightfully so, that it's not a big deal: I know how to put together a proposal, what goes into a DD set, what the dynamics are of the upcoming client meeting...I just need these bright, young, capable people to execute my vision and knowledge. But the point we hoped to make at the Convention to the firm owners and project managers is that when you take the time up front to invest in an intern's development, you suddenly have a more fully-trained and more useful--and dare I say cheaper!--person who is capable of helping you more with your job.

Remember that no matter what you do for a living, it is your job to be your own PR person. What that means is that you will have to take some amount of responsibility for any IDP hours you lack. Managers and bosses don't know what hours you still need, so bring it to their attention: "Hey, Alex, I'm missing some Bidding & Negotiation hours, and that's all I need to wrap up IDP, so if you've got anything coming down the pike like that, I'd love to help with it!" The second thing you can do is something that JD touches on at the end of his/her quote above: How am I involved in this, and how do I make it better? You can make it better by actually trying to get more involved. Ask questions: why is there so much text on this slide? Why are we highlighting this part of the plan? What are you trying to convey to the client? What do you want this drawing to do for the contractor? If that's the case, can I show you better/faster/easier way to make that happen and get the same effect?

Next time, we'll talk about what happens when you're not getting the support and hours/experience you need. As ever, if you have a question you'd like asked or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, feel free to ask me in the comments or email me at the address in the sidebar. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. Ah; I have an old classmate who I was recently talking to, he mentioned that he's said before in interviews that he understands he'll "just be a CAD monkey," and that his creative input doesn't matter to the firm.
    I didn't say anything to him, but it was amazing to me that he could sell himself so short right at the get-go. Needless to say, his internship isn't at a very exciting place after all that.