Options for architecture graduate with a mental health disability


Hello forum members,

I am an MArch student and unfortunately I also suffer from bipolar disorder. I received my diagnosis 2 years ago, but still decided to continue with my architectural education, because I wanted to complete what I had started. In general, I have a very high level of interest in architecture, in both its theoretical and pragmatic dimensions. Prior to my MArch I interned at 3 firms (small, medium, large) and I have a realistic understanding of the work pressure that is associated with architectural practice. However, the case is that due to my illness my ability to manage stress has significantly declined, which is also why I am taking longer to finish my MArch. I am studying in Europe and education here is free, so fortunately I have not taken on significant debt with the MArch.

In the past period, I have been seriously contemplating what kind of role within the architecture sector would best fit someone who can't handle stress as well. I have been discussing some options with people from my network, but I also wanted to start a thread to gather some further opinions.

Of course, I understand that every person has different stressors and
this would inform the choice of role. Myself, I am particularly stressed by fast-paced work, tight deadlines or working under a PM who is very pushy or a perfectionist. Finally, I don't derive much stress from the liability aspect of the job as I am highly organized, thorough and careful.

From my former (entry level) experience, I realized that the most stress lies in front-end design. Therefore, I am personally leaning more towards the technical side because I sense that it is a safer choice and also because I am more skilled at it. I am investigating the following options:

1. Technical architect in an architecture firm working on public sector projects, like rail, education, airports.
> Ideally, I would prefer a non-production role, because I also want to avoid the pressure associated with delivering drawings to tight deadlines. I would be more interested in a coordination role or in solving technical issues (e.g. detailing / on-site architect). Would that be feasible for a graduate? Also, do these sectors actually involve considerably stress for architects?

2. Technical expert role in an engineering firm (specializing in facade engineering, energy modelling, sustainability consulting).
> My university has connections to various large engineering firms that offer these services. These specialisms can also be found within some architecture firms, but I am wondering if working at an engineering company instead of an architecture one could further reduce the exposure to stress? Perhaps due to profit margins, fees, company / industry culture?

3. Academic role, after completing PhD (possible research areas: facade engineering, environmental sustainability).
> Potentially good option because I have high academic ability, strong interest in the above research areas, and my university has relevant research agendas, however uncertain if the PhD would lead to a permanent teaching / research position. In other words, is there life after PhD?

4. Role within R&D (Research & Design) department of an architecture, engineering, or construction firm.
> Interesting option, however very limited positions available in architecture and generally within very niche firms. More commonly found within engineering companies, however I am also curious regarding the stress exposure, as the research would have to be performed to a tighter budget / schedule compared to a university environment. Could anyone give insight into this option?

Thank you in advance for your time!

Apr 23, 22 1:06 pm

This is an interesting and important topic, written up well.  I wish I had more time to think and respond at length.  Off the top, it seems that deadline pressures are key here.  I struggle with this kind of stress myself.  Many do, but some handle it better than others.

Architectural practice, you're correct, is probably too intense for you.  But the great thing about architecture-- that you nicely lay out-- is that it's the object of so many fascinating satellite pursuits and careers.

An academic or entrepreneurial path, where you can be (somewhat) your own boss, might serve you well.  Of course, pressures to perform in a timely way show up there as well-- but the day-to-day can be more under your personal control.

All this is why I continue to buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot goes north of a hundred mil.  :O] 

Continuing to work on your own mental health is critical in all this, regardless of the direction you pursue.  Best of luck!

Apr 24, 22 2:37 pm  · 

You will likely never find anything that avoids the stressful pacing, as that is usually at the project level and everyone gets to participate...sad reality.

On a more helpful note, if you are more interested in the technical side, next place you work at offer to write the specs and get good at it. Trust me, someone will pass that buck to you gladly. It's the "bland" part of the design work that no one seems to like to do and frankly, no one seemed to be very good at in my experience. It's actually pretty interesting, though and you'll learn a TON.

In fact, some sections of the specs you can probably just specialize in as an independent consultant or be a material rep at a company if you get enough exposure. I've worked on projects where our "door hardware guy" was a lifesaver, for example.

Apr 25, 22 3:14 am  · 
3  · 

This is a great suggestion.

Apr 25, 22 11:18 am  · 

Totally agree.

Apr 25, 22 11:44 am  · 
1  · 

This is what I came here to comment. Spec writing has it's own challenges, and requires a special kind of person, but ultimately the pressures are quite different than much of the rest of the profession.

Apr 25, 22 12:42 pm  · 

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