Career Advice Needed - Balancing Industry / Academia


Hello everyone,

I would like to ask somebody who is more experienced for some advice considering my personal development. Sorry for the long post, hopefully, somebody makes it to the end :D

I am an architect from Eastern Europe in the late 20s, living and working in Italy at the moment. My professional life is full of everything that I could get. Since the situation in the industry is not so well, I accepted everything offered to me and also developed everything that got to my mind. So, at the moment I am:

- doing a Ph.D. in architectural technology
- freelancing for the US market - real estate projects
- finishing my own website/blog focused on parametric design

And since the new academic year is ready to kick in, I was thinking to reorganize my life a bit. Assignments killed me in July - breaking deadlines and making mistakes.

How I ended there? Well, first I was terrified by the current job situation, so I started to read a lot of books about architectural business and business in general. Then, when the opportunities started to come I tackled every one of them and worked hard to leave a very good impression.

When I was 24 I went to Italy to do my MSc in Architecture and then as I finished, I got this job in real estate for the US. It is excellent paid considering the difference in average salaries between Italy and the US. Starting from 26, I was able to support myself and not have fixed working hours. Sounds great! The problem, well most of the projects are not fancy and to put in your portfolio. Suburban single and multifamily projects. However, I learned a lot about project management and project organization. In fact, the company was first planned to be a startup developing plugin, but since that didn't work, they moved to real estate.

Then, after half of the year of freelance work, I got invited by my old professor to do some structural calculations for special structure (through Grasshopper). Amazing! The cooperation went well, the project was transferred to a research paper, although I never wanted to work in academia. Other projects also came in - couple of them per year and with long waiting for the payment - administration :D

Then I got an idea to create a blog to attract attention from the general public on my parametric design skills and slowly transfer to those projects and convert the blog to the studio. Well, indeed it was slow - it took me 2 years to set everything and I should launch it in a couple of weeks. Still not any project for that, but soon I will get out on the market and hopefully something will happen :)

And also while doing all of that, they offered me to join a Ph.D. in architectural technology. Use my parametric knowledge for different kinds of optimizations. No scholarship, but they will let me keep my side jobs. Enrolled! It was a good experience until now, I was working a bit as a teaching assistant and overlooking a dozen projects helped me in understanding design better. Also, I met some people from the industry who are very interested to hire me right away and one opportunity for transfer to Scandinavia for research.

Now, all of the above sounds great and I am very grateful to God/destiny/coincidences for everything! My initial plan was to get extremely busy and then be able to dictate the prices of my work and choose projects. I just don't know how to recombine things now. Real estate work is still paid the best but offers the least of the skills development. University work offers the most of advancement but is the least paid. All the other is in between. And also I am quite exhausted and slightly overweight.

So if you can share some experience and give me a better insight of what is the "real deal" to achieve. Thanks to you all!

Sep 1, 19 6:04 pm

Wow - there is quite a lot to unpack here.  Here are some things to think about...

How much money do you need to cover your basic living expenses?  Can you do just enough real estate work to pay the bills and spend the rest of your time on the other endeavors?

It sounds like you aren't that interested in the real estate work and would rather do the other work.  How can you reduce your living expenses so you can take on less real estate work and more of the fun work?

I'm not sure what you mean by "real deal," but I think you should do what really makes you happy because that is what you can sink your entire self into.  That will give you a greater chance of success.  It may not make you the most money, but that isn't the key to happiness.

I have found a balance.  I really enjoy my day job and the projects I get to work on, plus that job pays all of my bills.  I also get a crap-ton of happiness from my side work, but it doesn't pay as well.

The only way to find your own balance is to try to push and pull things in different directions until you find that place where everything feels right.  

And keep in mind that everything is fluid.  You never know what you will feel next year.  Just make a decision and go.  You can alter your path if you are wrong.  Nothing is set in stone.

Good luck!

Sep 5, 19 8:09 pm

Very few individuals get to work only on jobs that are fulfilling and have them pay the bills.  In general firms have profitable work and exploratory work - finding the correct balance that keeps everyone happy is the difficulty.  By everyone, it includes clients (are they getting good value for their money?  if not, you'll start to lose business), yourself and your employees (which you do not have yet, but may wish to have in the future as the size/scope of work may be limited by your ability to produce on your own).

Advice I've heard passed on is to have a limited number of passion projects supported by paying work that on their own allows you to explore some aspects of the passion projects; at some point hopefully your passion projects can support their own, but the flip side of that is when something goes awry in those, it can be hard to emotionally remove oneself smoothly.

Sep 6, 19 10:44 am

What exactly does the real estat work entail? Is it drafting?

Sep 8, 19 9:41 pm

Thank you everyone for responses. And apologies for not answering earlier, I was expecting some e-mail notification.

@Michael Noll Thank you for the advice about living expenses and pushing and pulling to find the best situation. Let's say I started to go in that direction.

@3tk Thanks for the idea, I guess this "hybrid" type of work is a necessity.

@BulgarBlogger Yes, it is mostly drafting. I mean, we export drawings from 3D models, so it modeling as well. I get some creative freedom here and there, but without meeting the client or other professionals it is difficult to create.

Sep 16, 19 6:47 pm

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