6 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Internship

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So you want to be an Architect. That’s great – once you’ve completed your required education, now you must tackle the three tasks (at least in Alberta) for becoming one. Your hours, your exam, and your interview. This particular post will focus mostly on your hours – and some general tips on what you can do to get the most out of your internship.

Be proactive

First things first – take a look at your options for employment. There are pros and cons to going with a large or a small firm. I went with a larger firm because I knew that at any given moment there would be projects in different phases and that for sure there would be projects in construction. Main problem I found was that tasks are highly compartmentalized, and budget driven, so you may not get to work on certain things right away. A smaller firm offers a steeper learning curve and allows you to learn the ropes quickly – which means you become comfortable faster. However, a small firm may not have any projects in construction, and it may take awhile for it to happen. Nothing says you have to stay with one firm for your whole internship either – keep that in mind if you aren’t getting the hours you want!

Once you have the job remember that your employer will rarely just hand you all your hours. You have to work at it – continually remind them where you are lacking and what your goals are for completing your hours. Keep your ears open for what projects are being worked on in the firm, ask for what you want and what projects you want to work on. You won’t always get it because of budgets or staffing requirements – but it does work and the next time something comes up they will remember that you asked for it.

Be prepared to do extra work

This seems like a no brainer, but when I mean extra work I don’t necessarily mean over time. Which you should always make an effort to accept (unless you are on the brink of a burn out, or have to attend your sister’s wedding). Overtime goes a long way in adding extra hours to the end goal of 3750+ hours.

What I mean is that gaining specific experience might be outside of work time. You may have to do some hours on unpaid time, or using your banked or vacation time if you want to get paid. As much as I would love to be paid for every single hour, sometimes a project just can’t handle a ‘tag-along’ and if you want to go you have to make it work. Many of my site hours came from surprise moments when a particular project manager/contract administrator I had been bugging about taking me to site would say – tomorrow I am going to ‘x’ project for an hour you are welcome to come. So, if my other project work would permit, I would take the hour to go to site and either use it as my unpaid lunch hour, or work an extra hour after 5 pm to make up for it.

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Find a support system

Using your network to help you with your hours, with your studying, and with your interview is essentially the key to actually completing this thing. Someone else in your office recently became registered? Pick their brain. Other interns in your workplace? Make a study group. Know certain people are particularly skilled in one area or another (for example an architectural technologist who has been working for 30 years)? Ask them a million questions. Most people are totally willing to help you, especially if you show how eager you are to learn. If they aren’t you will find out quickly. Also offering a coffee or snack in return for an hour (outside of work) of their time to ask them these million questions can go a long way in making the situation more comfortable. Same goes for talking to principals or owners. Don’t be afraid to talk to them!

Also – finding a group of people who have your back is an amazing thing. I am lucky to have not only friends from school who are all going through the process of internship to rely on, but also many amazing people at my workplace who helped me get through tough times. In particular, two amazing ladies who listened to every complaint, fear, anxiety, and horrible situation (and of course all the great ones!) and kept me going. We call ourselves the girlgang and I pretty much wouldn’t have gotten through it without them.

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Rely on your supervisor and mentor. And choose them carefully.

A supervisor is a bit of a luck of the draw kind of thing – they have to be from the firm  you are working with so figuring out who is best can sometimes be hard. I always went with whoever was actually working with me, trying to always have a principal or someone who has been in architecture for awhile. This way you don’t have to explain to them every hour you worked, they know because they saw it or were reported to about it. Sometimes it worked for me and sometimes it didn’t. My first supervisor wasn’t that invested in being a ‘mentor’ for me – I know behind the scenes he worked to get me on specific projects, but it never felt great. My last supervisor (sometimes your supervisor moves firms haha) was much better. She genuinely always asked me how things were going, worked hard to get me on projects she knew would help, and gave me great feedback on my progress.

Your mentor is someone you can choose that has to be outside of the firm. I honestly would choose your mentor really carefully. Think about what you want to get out of your internship meetings, and pick someone who will be on your side and help you if things are not going well. Even if you don’t know anyone in the industry – the governing body provides a list – do some research! I chose one of my professors who I had in school, who has his own smaller firm. I chose him because he would be a foil to my large firm experience and be able to offer me information about running a business/owning your own firm. I chose him also because I knew his position on architecture was much more design driven and academic. We had/have great conversations about not just my internship, but architecture in general, design, art, events etc. Best of all, I knew that if I ever needed his help he would help me – he told me as much in our first meeting. Luckily he never had to yell at anyone for me, but it was good to know someone was batting for me.

Take any learning opportunity you can get

Literally. If your firm offers paid training hours – use them all every year. Attend conferences, training sessions, or get professional designations. I got my LEED Green Associate designation paid for when I passed the exam. If your firm offers other sorts of tutorials or training – even if you have to do it on your own time – take it! I was able to learn Revit much faster because we had to do mandatory training in our first year (wow)! Attend lunch and learns (product rep presentations) to learn about products – many of them also count as CEU hours (which you don’t need as an intern) but it means they will not just be product specific but give you a broader understanding of a topic. Attend workshops or information sessions put on by the City or other governing bodies. Attend lectures put on by local universities or firms (design matters lecture series, or d.talks in Calgary). Listen to the elderly principals (yes even when it is highly condescending) – you might learn something important.

Additionally – take a look at exam materials early on in your internship. I found that studying Ching (Building Construction Illustrated) and parts of the CHOP (Canadian Handbook of Practice for Architects) helped me with my work. If you took an hour, heck even a half an hour, after work to read something technical, read over previous projects from work, or do a tutorial in one of the many programs we work with you can greatly advance your knowledge quickly. I wish I had done more of this throughout the process, not just when I was preparing for the exam.

Pay attention to what hours count as what

Some hours can be considered in more than one category – for example – coordinating drawings and details in Construction Drawing phase. This could count towards “coordination” hours, it could count as “construction drawings” hours, or it could count as “project management” hours. Pay attention to what you need and what you already have. Also think about what you are likely to get in the future. Hours take a bit of strategy and planning. Also, things that you don’t think count might actually count. There are statements in the Internship in Architect Program (IAP) handbook that literally say “reviewing previous projects or firm policies” can count as hours as well.

Read the IAP carefully and keep a really good record of your hours. I used the company’s time sheet software to keep track of mine. I would record my work hours daily/weekly anyways because I had to, so in the comments section I would write down what I did for each project so that when I came back I could classify my hours based on the IAP. Best part was at the end of my reporting period, the person in charge of project financing could kick out an excel spread sheet for me organized by project – easy to use and already containing dates. Use the tools you can! If this isn’t available make your own spreadsheet and ensure you dedicate time to it every day and recap every week to keep track. CERB (hours) logbooks are the biggest pain in the ass in the world, so make it as EASY as possible for yourself.

That’s all for now. Some of this you might have known already, but hopefully there was some helpful tidbit in there for you. Despite the range of internship processes between Provinces and Countries – much of the concepts are the same. If anyone wants to add to this please comment! I know there is nothing more daunting then starting an internship, or hitting a plateau during – so let’s provide some information to others out there.

 

 

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