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    On Internships and Mowing the Lawn

    Everyday Intern Mar 21 '13 2

    Spring is finally here in the US and that means that students everywhere are working on their portfolios and getting ready to apply for summer internships. Even everyone's favorite blogger-tect and twitter-tect is sensing the longer days of sunshine and dusting off old posts to help the potential interns out. However, before you read any further a quick disclaimer: this is not a post about how to find a job. There are plenty of other resources out there including some good advice on the tweeted article linked above. In fact, there are many right here on archinect (this is one of my favorites).

    No, this post is not about finding a job. Instead, this post is a bit of rant on Mr. Borson's first paragraph. In full disclosure I intended to write this back when Bob first wrote and posted the article but I think the winter had me in a more melancholy and depressed state of mind less easily provoked to online ranting ... or maybe it was that fact that I was in the middle of dead-lining on a project that needed this lowly intern's contribution in "slowing things down." Who can remember? Either way, this isn't a personal attack on Bob and his employment practices as much as it is a response from an intern who was actually quite offended reading that first paragraph. I actually cringe thinking of the employer out there that reads that paragraph and nods in agreement without at least chuckling a little. The advice in Bob's article is good for anyone applying for an internship, but I would hope that an interested intern doesn't get the wrong idea about the first 5-7 years of their career. Perhaps this can shed some light on what an intern is good for. Hint, it's more than absolutely nothing ... huuh!

    We interns will slow things down for the first month or so before we can get up to speed on how the office runs and what you expect of us. So try to hire us for a little bit before your big project has to go out to bid. Bob's story about mowing the lawn is a good example of miscommunication about job expectations. He didn't expect to be hired as a lawn mower, but yet that is what that particular office expected of him. I'm sure after a week or two he was the best lawn mower that office had ever seen. But without a supervisor letting him know what to expect, he would have had no idea what to prepare for. I would think that a savy employer and intern would have at least some sort of expectation that there is a period where an intern learns about the office and the office learns about the intern.

    We may be "more work than [we] are worth" during this time and afterwards as we try to navigate the Intern Development Program (maybe you've heard of it?). Together with architecture schools it's sort of the future architect incubator. And just like an egg waiting to hatch, we helpless little architect-lings need a warm and safe environment in which to grow up in, but eventually we have to break out of the shell and poke our nose out into the cold cruel world. Maybe we feel safe sitting in the corner doing menial tasks like building models and preparing renderings. But if we don't get put in situations that are out of our comfort zone, where we can learn from them, we'll never leave the safe confines of our shell. Of course, maybe that is the point. A built-in check on the number of future competitors. Of course, if we felt like we were valued members of the team, perhaps we wouldn't feel the need to fly the coop and strike out on our own as soon as we get licensed.

    I will concede that students hear way to many urban myths about what an internship is like and what a real architectural office is. However, if the only value we can take from an internship is to somehow absorb enough of the office culture through just being around real architects, then I'd say that employer isn't using their interns well enough. There has to be more inherent value than this for the entire structure of this noble profession to be set up this way. Take us to meetings, give us something to present, let us design the staircase. If all we do is build models and mow the grass you'd be better off hiring a high school student and giving them a taste of the profession before they drown themselves in debt getting a degree that barely qualifies them in your eyes to do what they could have been doing since they were twelve.

    Perhaps the better advice for students looking for internships isn't to "ask ahead of time about mowing the lawn." Instead, ask ahead of time to find out if your potential employer is committed to helping out the up and coming generation of would-be architects instead of just doing you a favor by letting you hang out in the office for a summer. If I just want to absorb some architect culture I can do that on my own time. Isn't that what thread central is for anyway?

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    • 2 Comments

    • Donna SinkDonna Sink
      Mar 21, 13 1:02 pm

      Excellent blog post, everydayintern.

      I'm a registered architect, and I spent the morning putting together an Ikea-type piece of furniture for my boss.  Granted, the furniture was at our company-owned residence.  My point is that there is nothing inherently demeaning about doing something like mowing the lawn, or like emptying the trash, answering the phone, assembling materials binder shelving, or buying snacks for an office reception - all things I did as an intern.  Being willing to pitch in and help wherever it is needed, and with a good attitude, is valuable, and puts you in a better bargaining position to then ask to work on more challenging projects.

      But by all means ask potential employers what your job duties might be so you can prepare appropriately.  And do not ever, ever work for free. If they offer to pay you nothing then yes, spend the day on Thread Central.

      Brian HenryBrian Henry
      Mar 22, 13 8:51 pm

      Good post indeed. I think a lot of us interns are just so happy to find a job that we tend to forget about finding a good job. The interview process should be a good spot to figure all this stuff out. Don't let the prospect of an offer get in the way of figuring out what the employer is looking for and also letting them know what you are looking for.

      Oh, and don't ever work for free.

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About this Blog

An ellipsis [...] is used to signal an omission, an unfinished thought, aposiopesis, or brief awkward silence. Architectural ellipses are those aspects of the profession we (perhaps intentionally) omit, gloss over, or let dwindle in silence. Generally applied this blog should encompass many aspects of the profession. Yet, as an intern architect I'll focus primarily on the architectural ellipses that occur in the internship process.

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