GAIN EXPERIENCE AS A STUDENT
In the last article, we discussed the Architectural Education – Degrees; now, we discuss the experience. First, we will focus on how to gain experience as a student – in other words, what can you do as a current architecture student to become an architect.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Confucius (551 bc–479 bc)
Experience is the second requirement for becoming an architect; in all states and territories, there is a requirement for an aspiring architect to gain experience.
The authors of Building Community: A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice recommend that schools, practitioners, and local and national architecture organizations collaborate to increase the availability, information about, and incentives for students to gain work experience during school. Because the five collateral organizations commissioned this report, there is substantial consensus within the profession that gaining experience while an architecture student is valuable.
GAINING EXPERIENCE AS A STUDENT
As a student, one effective way to learn about the profession is to shadow an architect through a typical day of activities. Obviously, this is a short-lived experience, but it should be easy to accomplish. Many architects are more than willing to help the next generation in this way. Also, some high schools have a career program involving shadowing to expose their students to career fields. Any opportunity to interact with an architect, however briefly, can help you understand the profession. For referrals to architects in your area, contact the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Volunteering is a common way to gain experience. After shadowing an architect, you could request an opportunity to volunteer in the firm for a short period. A number of nonprofit organizations have formal programs that can help you find a firm at which to volunteer. One former student volunteered as a docent for the National Building Museum; during this volunteer experience, they had a chance to share “architecture” but they also had a chance to develop skills.
RESEARCH WITH FACULTY
Another opportunity for college students is a research experience with a faculty member. Approach a faculty member with teaching or research interests parallel to yours. Specifically, ask if you may assist in some manner with his or her research or writing efforts. This kind of experience may lead to further opportunities, both during college and after. Research with a faculty may continue as an Independent Study or actually being hired by the faculty. Also, the faculty member may be willing to write a letter of recommendation for either graduate studies or employment.
Sometimes considered a mini-internship, an externship provides students the opportunity to explore a specific career path, gain marketable experience, and make professional connections by working with professional alumni for an abbreviated period, usually a week during the winter or spring breaks. In many cases, schools match students with alumni, but they may also make connections with other area professionals.
The School of Architecture at the University of Virginia sponsors one of the largest externship programs in the country. Held during the winter break, the program provides students an opportunity to shadow an architect—typically an alumnus—in their workplace for a week. More than 125 students have this professional experience each year. The University of Michigan does a parallel program, Spring Break Internships, but it is held during the spring break. Through an unpaid week-long internship, architecture students have an opportunity to learn more about the practice of architecture within a firm throughout the United States.
The formal training required for licensure as an architect is typically referred to as an internship, but some institutions sponsor an internship program for students. The purpose of an internship is to provide the student with work experience for an extended period, usually a semester. In some cases, the internship earns academic credit. The position may be unpaid because it involves a large learning component; to the extent possible, avoid unpaid internships; however, you will need to make the decision on the experience gained vs. the wages not earned.
Cooperative education combines classroom learning with productive work experience in a field related to a student’s academic or career goals, achieved through a partnership of students, educational institutions, and employers. While details differ from school to school, some have established programs based on the idea of cooperative education.
Required for all students in the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati, the Professional Practice Program gives students selected practical experience purposefully with a gradually expanding academic background. The program consists of three and a half months of carefully planned professional practice assignments alternating with three-month study periods. For students in architecture, the year-round schedule allows for eight quarters of experience while obtaining a six-year Bachelor of architecture degree. Through the Professional Practice Program, students obtain firsthand knowledge of professional practices, expectancies, and opportunities. At the same time, they benefit from a realistic test of their career interests and aptitudes. Finally, as graduates, their experience makes them valuable to employers and increases their qualifications for responsible career opportunities.
Somewhat parallel to cooperative education, a preceptorship is another program implemented by architecture programs to provide students with experience. As part of their Bachelor of Architecture, The School of Architecture at Rice University provides a yearlong practicum between the fourth and fifth years of the program. During the spring of their fourth year, students apply to serve their preceptorship in a number of firms throughout the U.S.
Perhaps the most popular way to gain experience while in school is simply to obtain a position in a firm either part-time while in school or full-time during summer. While not a formal program like an internship or cooperative education, a career-related experience can be just as valuable, although perhaps more difficult to obtain.
Learn how either your academic unit or the career center of the institution publicizes positions for students. Most will post positions with area firms, sponsor annual career fairs to connect students with firms, or host firms who interview on campus. But do not simply wait for firms to advertise positions; instead, be proactive and contact firms in which you are interested with your credentials.
Gaining experience while in school makes you more marketable to prospective employers upon graduation. In addition, the experience may count toward AXP if it meets certain requirements.
Go GAIN EXPERIENCE