Architectural Interns

November 8, 2012 — 80 Comments

Architectural Interns ~huuh ~ yeah

What are they good for?

Absolutely nothing~ awwwhuh-uhhuhh

[if you don’t know the Edwin Starr version of the song ‘War’ you need to go here after reading this post]


Architectural Interns


Other than slowing things down, interns aren’t very useful in small firms because we run fast and lean. Everybody wears almost every hat and as a result (and despite them generally being the most interesting people in the office) summer interns are generally more work than they are worth. That isn’t to say they aren’t worth anything, this has more to do with setting expectations at the proper level – mostly for the intern. Since they don’t typically know enough practical matters to come in and contribute, frequently they end up being relegated to menial tasks (model building, preparing renderings, etc.). There is still value in being around the culture of an architectural office, see how they really function rather than the urban myths that students hear while up at school.

The southern hemisphere is heading into summer so I have been receiving a handful of emails lately from people looking for advice or tips on how to go about securing a summer internship in an architectural firm. Well, I’ve had a few summer internships in my day but almost all unilaterally sucked in one way or another. Not knowing anything other than I should try to get a job in an architectural office, I got whatever job I could. When I showed up for work at my first “real” job” this is what happened:

Bob [first day, just walked in the front door] Ahhhhh … so this is what a real architectural office smells like [breathing deeply] … wonder what I am going to be designing?

New Boss #1: You can sit over there in the corner, just move that stuff, you should find a chair around here somewhere, just make sure somebody else isn’t already using it.

Bob: Okay … sure. Where should I put all that stuff that’s on the desk?

New Boss #1: You’re not at the desk, just sitting over there by the desk.

New Boss #2: Hey! You – new guy! It was Bill’s turn to mow the grass but he’s on vacation so that means it’s your turn.

Bob [looking up and down at new fancy work clothes, bought just for this occasion so I would look professional] Uhm,  I didn’t really know I would be mowing the grass…

New Boss #2: Don’t be a such a pu**y! [turns and walks away]

Bob: [looking back at New Boss #1] Did he … just …… what?!

New Boss #1: It’s not that bad, the mower is electric so it doesn’t work very well so the grass won’t get on your clothes … just don’t run over the power cord. And it’s going to get hot today so I would get started so you won’t sweat. As much.

 That is a totally true story – no hyperbole at all, but despite the context, I bet there are a lot of other similar stories available to share.  The gosh honest truth is that when we have summer interns, it’s usually done as a favor to someone (i.e. client) who has a kid in some architecture program … but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any insider tips to help you get an internship. To supplement my thoughts on the matter, I spoke with good friends Andrew van Leeuwen from Build LLC, Mark LePage from Fivecat Studio, and Andrew Hawkins from Hawkins Architecture, to see if they had some unique insight into how an architecture student can rise to the top of a pile of resumes and get that coveted architectural intern position. In no particular order, some bullet points to consider:

  • Don’t expect an internship just because you sent in a resume. Everyone has a resume and it takes much more to get the attention of a potential employer. In fact, if all you do is send a resume … they’re always hiring at the Post Office.
  • Make sure that you take advantage of your personality and that your resume looks like something an architect designed and not someone who wants to ultimately work for IBM. I am a big fan of the “Interests” section on a resume. I’ve said it before but this is the area where you can put all the baton-twirling, bear-wrestling, cheese-grilling activities that round you out as a human being. If you were to add “model train collector” on a resume that came to my office, one of the partners would be sure to ask you about it. It might not be much, but these days anything short of cat juggling that sets you apart is probably worth adding to your resume.
  • Use the full potential of social media in your search for an internship. Today’s interns have networking tools at their disposal that their potential employers couldn’t dream of when they were hitting the pavement with their resumes. If you’re not following the tweets of a firm you want to work for, you are dropping the ball.
  • Connect via Facebook and Twitter. Build relationships with architects. Being involved in the ongoing discussions will indicate that you are dedicated and engaged in the profession. Build context, so when you reach out with your “remarkable” resume, you will not be ignored by the decision makers.
  • Face time will always trump emails – figure out ways to get in front of potential employers. If the firm is having an event, a partner giving a lecture, maybe someone from the firm is manning a house that is on a local home tour, you should make it a point to show up and say hello. Now instead of just a name, you’re a name AND a face which is a big difference.
  • Take 30 minutes and get to know something about the firm and its partners (a.k.a. the people who will probably be the ones interviewing you). “To whom it may concern” earns you a place in the trash. Google is an amazing tool…
  • Most employers aren’t enticed by a potential candidate buying them a cup of coffee. Coffee grows on trees in most architecture firms. You need to make contact with potential employers in ways that make their lives easier.
  • Make sure that any and everything you send in is free of spelling errors. I don’t know of a single person who regularly looks at resumes that doesn’t shut down as soon as they find a typo. Running spell check isn’t good enough, it’s LePage, not Lepage … and it’s Fivecat, not Five Cat or FiveCat or Fivecats.
  • Honor the employers time. I don’t want to see your entire history of academic work. Include 2 or 3 projects that exemplify your best projects in a file of no more than 3MB. File sizes of 8MB or larger don’t even get opened.
  • Do not send a resume in Word format. Please, please PLEASE do not do this – it’s not difficult to PDF things these days so sending in a raw format document just makes you seem incompetent … or at the least, lacking in technical skills. You should also follow-up with people who take the time to meet with you if you get that far. Send an email to your interviewer a day or two after the interview so that you can keep yourself on their radar. It might also be a good idea to expand or comment on something from the interview, just to show that you were paying attention and left with something.
  • Offering to work for free just to get a resume padding job is a bad idea – it sends the wrong idea of how you value your time. Besides, would you really want to work in a culture that is okay with not paying people for the work they do?

The other day, as I was thinking about writing this post, I received an email from Helena Tse, a grade 12 student from British Columbia. In it, she writes:

I am very interested in architecture and I have been wanting to build a 3D model of a house for the past few years. Finally, I come across a house that I love and that is the house you designed for your Modern House Challenge.  Not to mention, you posted the floor plans which makes it doable for me.

and she attached a dozen or so photos of the model she built based on the drawings I included in this post. All I can say is … WOW! I was blown away by the initiative and tenacity that Helena showed by building a model of a project from non-dimensioned drawings. Here is a look at the SketchUp Model and one of Helena’s photos:


Low Cost Modern House Challenge model by Helena Tse


Talk about leaving an impression. This was the first foam core model Helena ever made and I was beyond flattered that she saw one of my projects and decided to build it. Things like this leave an impression beyond just the architectural ramifications – this speaks to you as a person. I would much rather have someone of strong character with work ethic and a sense of their value as an individual than some hot-shot future starchitect wannabe. The point of all of this is to leave a mark – a positive impression about who you are as a person. If you can find a way to convey that to the person you are trying to hire you, I think you will find that your success rate will go way up.

Happy Summer Intern job hunting (ask ahead of time about the mowing the lawn)

Bob-AIA scale figure

Print Friendly

even better stuff from Life of an Architect

  • shibli

    Can you please tell me what a normal firm in uk would be expecting from an international intern in terms of the skills etc……..(myself ,from india)

  • shibli

    Hi bob,
    Thank you for the blog.

  • Pingback: Dear Future Architects - You need to Hear This | Life of an Architect()


    Hi Bob,
    I was just going through your blog and I really liked it. It was extremely helpful and you’re doing a great job at helping people with their queries. I’m a student from India almost at the end of my 1- year internship program and I was wondering about applying to firms in the US. I have also closed in on a few firms that I want to apply to after going through their works. I’d love to know my chances of getting in especially since I’m an international student. Is that possible ??

    • Hi Siddarth,
      Glad the the blog provides some value to you – makes the effort worthwhile. As far as your chances of getting employment as an international student I would have the faintest idea. My little firm doesn’t ever require the sort of manpower that necessitates us looking very far outside our neighborhood so this is an issue I have never had to address. I would imagine that the size and geographic location will figure in to the right areas of the country that might increase your odds of finding success.

      Good luck

      • SIDDARTH

        Ah I see. Thanks a lot for your insight on this Bob.

  • Laura

    I also showed up in nice clothes only to be told I would be spending my first week organizing the dusty and chaotic resource library at the back of the office. I was disappointed at first but in retrospect I got to look through a ton of interesting books and other resources that I hadn’t seen before. Definitely better than mowing the lawn.

    • I would have to agree with you … because mowing the grass sucked.

  • Tosin

    omg lol I can identify with the sitting “by” the desk part. And getting all dressed up at first…though I didn’t mow the lawn. In my case, i had to arrange dozens of dusty books and old projects and in my mind I was like whaaaat. Haha

    • it’s the same (in one form or another) all around the world. It’s why all architects like one another, we’ve all been through the hazing process.

  • gaylord

    Hi Bob
    First of all thank you for creating this blog ,its really helpful and you doing great.Im an undergrad student from Ghana , I’ve had some internship training during every long vacation since second year buh this time around I just felt like getting some working experience abroad ,which will definitely help me a lot especially my thesis. I don’t really know how about getting internship at a firm in the US or Uk, please help me out.

  • shraddha

    hello bob,
    i am a undergrad student from India, and in few months i will be expected to apply for internship for 100 days as a curriculum.
    Now the problem i am facing is , first i wanted some architect who is in hotel design as i want to do hotel as my thesis project. but now i am confused.
    On what basis do you select some firm to apply?
    i am from india and want to intern abroad but which country is good or where can apply?
    basically on what basis do you choose a firm or an architect?

  • Pingback: 10 Things Every Architecture Student Needs to Know Now | TUSBOLT | Home Design Ideas()

  • Pingback: 10 Things Every Architecture Student Needs to Know Now | Design idea pics()

  • Pingback: 10 Things Every Architecture Student Needs to Know Now | Garage Door Window Kits()

  • Pingback: 10 Things Every Architecture Student Needs to Know Now « TOP Home()

  • Pingback: 10 Things Every Architecture Student Needs to Know Now | Houzz Designing()

  • Pingback: 10 Things Every Architecture Student Needs to Know Now ⋆ Steal Mag()

  • Pingback: 10 Things Every Architecture Student Needs to Know Now()

  • ajibrel

    i loved it! but i have this question in my mind one year now, if I am a third-year architectural student and wants to have an internship in Canada will that be possible? p.s i have Canadian P.R

  • Pingback: Dear Intern, … | mgp()

  • Pingback: Dear Sir or Madam | Panfilocastaldi()

  • lkschuler .

    Love this post. I’m on the fence if I should forward this to all my profs… or maybe I should wait until I graduate. I took Architectural Technologies (drafting) at a College before going to University, which I think is the only reason I get paid employment in the summer. At my current firm, I am one of two interns, and I definitely have the more ‘homely’-looking portfolio, but I get to help design, do up the Construction documents, go to client meetings, talk to consultants and really sink my hands into projects. The guy with the sexy portfolio renders, for free, sometimes.
    If I may impose on Mr. Borson’s post, I would suggest for students to approach their studio professors and ask whether they would be willing to also teach you more technical skills (like drawing proper details) – most firms can’t afford renders, spend your time learning things that ALL firms need.

  • zuni

    hiee i am currently sudying architecture from NCA ,pakistan i don’t know much about the internships that arch.firms provide to the foriegn students can you guide me in that respect as i really wanted to do internship somewhere outside pakistan 🙂 for better experience

  • Pingback: Profile of an Architectural Intern - Travis Schneider | Life of an Architect()

  • Arq26

    Hello, I recently got an Architecture job at a firm in Boston (part time for now and hoping to go into full time in the summer) I have been having the issue of being a bit slow and making certain mistakes because A) I am only there for four hours and I am not as versed in CAD as they might expect..I am trying my best but I feel that everyday that passes that I am not completely up to speed makes the possibility of being fired more tangible….

    Any tips on how to improve my performance and pick up some speed?

  • Nathan

    Howdy Bob,

    I just finished my first year (of five) as a student of architecture at Kansas State University. So far we’ve done exercises utilizing drafting tools and model building, all while jogging our creativity and aesthetic principles. We’ve done nothing with computers, however I have taken a basic CAD class at another school three years ago. Do you think this background is sufficient for any more than a lawn mowing intern position at a firm? (local firm preferably) If not, would I be of any more value at the end of the summer?

    Also, my understanding of the job of an architect is still pretty blurry. Could you tell me what all you do in the office (or out of the office) in percentages of time? (i.e. 20% drafting, 40% CAD, 5% consulting clients, 2% coffee, etc.)

    • If you were summer interning at my office with one year of architecture school under your belt you would probably be building models, organizing the materials and product library, and following me around going to job sites and sitting in meetings (not talking). At this stage in your early architectural development, you don’t know what you don’t know so this is the time to soak up the culture of what it’s like being an architect. Just being around others who are working in the profession will have value to you.

      As far as a typical day … what are those? I did put this post together than showed what I did on one particular day:

  • Agegnehu

    Hallo Bob,

    I am a 3rd year student of Architecture who have rejoined the department after a year departure from the field. i rejoined because i really missed it, especially when i make models of my design and wanted to finish my BSC in Architecture.
    I was looking for interns for summer then i found this link and it has useful tips for a person like me, thank you for doing this and really appreciate it and sure others does too! so i will keep looking for one and since i hadn’t done it before i am excited about it a lot!
    Have a good day!

  • Pingback: Dear Intern, … | mgp()

  • Lisa

    Hello Bob,

    I am a recent graduate from Fashion Design from the Rhode Island School of Design, hoping to eventually go to grad school for Architecture in the US. I know there are programs that will accept students from non-architectural backgrounds but do you think it is better for me to try and intern/work at architecture firms for a year or so to get experience before applying? I am concerned that my lack of architectural work experience will severely compromise any application I make. In addition, I do not have the pre-requisite skills to be useful to the firms, I am not sure how to get around this “no work experience but can’t get any dilemma”

    • This is the sort of question that I would have you pose to the colleges where you are thinking about applying. I am over 20 years removed from the educational experience and things change often enough that you would be better served by doing some research direct with the schools.

      Good luck

    • Guest

      Lisa, I’m a current undergrad at Tulane University in New Orleans and our graduate program accepts students who have no previous background in architecture. I believe there is a required summer session in order for you to get caught up, but once the school year starts, you begin working along side the second year undergraduates until graduation. It’s a five year program for undergrads, but four years for graduates (as far as I know). I am not sure about the application process, as it has recently changed a bit. Good luck with your applications! New Orleans is an unbelievably amazing place to study architecture! And a whole lot of fun 🙂

  • Wilson

    Hi bob
    I am an international student (from China) studying in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Have you heard about the undergraduate architecture program in this school? What do you think is the advantage/disadvantage for an international student to study architecture?

    • I know that Dr. Lee Waldrep is the assistant director of undergraduate student services in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I also know that he is a nice and cooperative fellow who is far better equipped to answer your question than I am. You can email him directly – tell him I sent you.

      • Xiaosheng Wu

        YES he is my instructor. By the way, can you tell me the name of this blog website? I want to make my own blog. Thanks!

        • The name of this blog is ‘Life of an Architect’

  • Q.

    Hi bob! i am about to strt my 2nd yr in Bangladesh university of engineering and technology (BUET). it is the best archi school iin Bangladesh. my question is if i graduate from here then i complete my masters in U.S. then what will be my scopes? the salary? the job opportunities?

    • That’s years from now and neither of us knows what type of architect you are going to turn into. My experience is that if you are well educated, super talented, and have a skill set that people want, you will do quite well.

  • Dyuthi

    Hi Bob. I’m an architecture student studying in Dubai,UAE. I’ve just completed first year of my five-year B.arch course. I’ve got two months off and I have absolutely no idea what to do. Do you think its too early to apply to architecture firms for internships? If yes,what are the prerequisites i need?

    • I’m not sure what the prerequisites would be, I would think that it’s a bit of a crapshoot depending on the firm where you are trying to get work and their needs at the moment.

      It’s never to early to start – that’s solid life advice for you

  • Lee

    Hi Bob,

    I’ve been reading your posts for some time and really enjoy your comments… it actually makes me more interested in the architecture field 🙂 Can you explain a bit about what your high school interns do? vs. college interns?

    • Hi Lee,

      With the high school interns, it’s really about exposing them to what we do in the office because they can’t really do anything yet. They end up cleaning up the materials lab, deadfiling magazines and old catalogs, etc. True grunt work.

      The college interns have other skills that we can take advantage of. We have three working in the office this summer (all paid positions BTW) and 2 are building models and the 3rd is working on a graphic catalog of our projects – something that we can leave behind with clients.

      Hope that helps.

  • Carla

    Hope you don’t mind me picking your brains but I am in Australia and am toying with moving to work in the US in the next couple of years. I have completed my architecture degree and am now working towards completing a Masters in Architecture. I have also started a job within in a firm. This means I when I look to move there I will have completed my studies (though not be registered) and have two years experience (maybe more). Would I still be considered what you call an Intern? I have been trying to do some research into job availability and am confused what I should be looking at as over here I would be classified a Graduate Architect but I can not see that term used on any US sites.

    • Yes – you are considered an intern until you have your license. Some people will dress it up and call it an “associate” – but both basically mean an unlicensed person with an architectural degree.

      • Carla

        Thank you for replying

  • for the first month of my first internship, they had me single-handedly demolish the office space next door, mostly without any proper tools, as if I knew anything about demolition back then. i remember pulling down sheetrock and scraping carpet glue with a screwdriver. they compensated by bringing me beer every few hours, so I was often quite drunk before the day ended.

    • jackwhite

      Would LOVE to work in a place like that

  • Kevin Tientcheu

    I am a sophomore in architecture school and I am currently interning. There seems to be a lot of complaint about interns’ performance. Could I please know what the main problem is – if there is one?

    • I don’t know about complaints – they just don’t know much yet to truly be valuable. But like I said in the article, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having.

    • Barabbas

      The main problem is time.
      Any new employee requires time and effort to train properly. Interns usually leave after one summer, so by the time they go, they will have only been profitable for a couple weeks.

      There’s really nothing you can do about this except maybe offer to return the next summer so the firm doesn’t have to start the process all over again.

  • Guest

    ” I would much rather have someone of strong character with work ethic and a sense of their value as an individual than some hot shot future starchitect wannabe.”

    • Kevin Tientcheu

      A phrase I need to remember. Thank you.

  • Kaśka

    Oh, oooh, which reminds me that my intern is back in few days from his midterms! Yes! No more annoying printing and folding paper for me 😀

    But anyway, what an intern do in a company can also depend on the size of the company. On my second year I practised at small office- two architects total and they actually gave me small project to design and lead the whole process. On my third year I worked for a 20+ office and all I got to do was brewing coffee.

    Also tiny tiny suggestion for people applying- don’t lie about your interests. One well asked question – you’re down and it’s really not a good way to impress your possible employer.

  • Daniel Schmeling

    If the intern avenue doesn’t work out for the summer I would recommend looking at other related fields for summer learning opportunities. I spent my college summers working as a laborer for a local general contractor. At first I got all of the s..t jobs, but after they found out that I was going to school for architecture and that I truly was interested in learning more about how the building goes together, I got one of the best educations ever. And if your looking for a resume builder, that type of experience is hard to beat. I know even now when I am looking at hiring a new drafter or graduate I am much more inclined to look to someone who has some practical experience. And, the pay is probably better.

    • I agree, I actually went the old school route and 1st worked as a drafter for 3yrs, then went to architecture school. while in school I worked construction because I could not get an internship. It hurt me on the design side in school (my professors told me I was to practical) but helped me on understanding how buildings go together. In fact, I even worked habitat for humanity a couple summers (not knowing I could use the hours towards IDP) just to increase my understanding of building construction; & to be competitive when I graduated. It has definitely helped my career. Although I feel very strongly the field should do something about the term intern and “intern”!!!

  • Liz O’Sullivan

    I love this post!

  • These are actually good tips for any student looking for an internship. My son likes science, so maybe instead of building a house, he’ll blow something up in an experiment. Sadly, he said that’s not what he does.

  • Nicole

    In New England, winter is home show time. That’s how I got my first job. I showed up with a resume and portfolio, in my new professional clothes, and just dove in, talking with all the architectural and design firms, as well as contractors. It really helped putting a face to my name when I left my resume. I also made sure to research which firms were going to be at the shows, so I could have an intelligent, thoughtful dialogue with the architects. I’m sure this would help with getting internships too!
    Also, working at a very small firm, we have had summer interns that were able to help me with the CAD workload, and although at times it was frustrating, it was refreshing to work with young people that had open minds, and were willing to work with our standards. It brought a breath of fresh air to the office, and renewed my passion for what we do!

    • aren’t you the clever one! That is some insider information – I hope people read these comments. Thanks Nicole

  • Pingback: Architectural Interns: Read This Now! « Entrepreneur Architect()

  • architectrunnerguy

    I guess I carried the intern thing a step further. In high school I figured I wanted to be an architect so in the spring of my junior year I wrote the few firms within driving distance looking for a summer job. The summer gig didn’t work out but one firm said they had an office boy who was leaving for Va. Tech School of Architecture in September and I could work after school when he left.
    So that’s what I did. About 20 hours a week after school and maybe a Saturday here and there, running prints, errands, etc. but kept my eyes and ears open and eventually got a “board” doing reflected ceiling plans and what not. Worked great and I left for Tech myself the following September and had a ready job every Christmas and summer. By my junior year in college I was designing and running (no one to actually run but myself!) small jobs like storefront designs and putting together whole presentation boards.
    The pre college thing works great and I recommend it to anybody if the subject comes up. If you find you don’t like the profession, you’ve found that out before a few expensive college years. And if you do like it, you get to know people in the profession early on. As it’s said, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And interestingly, the guy that was two office boys behind me, he and I became partners and built a firm that eventually had 16 employees including 6 architects…….and yes, I made sure we had high school office boys/girls come in after school. Another interesting story there but I’ll save that for later.

    • that story is way better than mine…
      The interns in our office have mostly been graduating seniors about to enter architecture school. Most of what I did was take them to lunch and bring them with me on job sites (if they had sorted all the magazines by then…)

  • Pingback: A Few Tips for Architectural Interns from Bob Borson and Friends « Living Well in Westchester()

  • Another great post Bob, with some very useful tips for those
    seeking internships. My first summer working in an office I was the “Kroy Boy;”
    I spent almost the entire time with the Kroy machine making text for title blocks
    and drawing labels for the architects in the office. A little better than
    cutting the grass, I guess? Probably showing my age as well; I don’t think an intern has touched one of these in a loooong time.

    • Vivian Volz

      I worked the Kroy for the firm I interned with in high school! That, and erased stuff, and sorted fabrics into color groups… Luckily, I’d taken drafting, so I was actually able to become more useful during my stay.

      I have to admire that firm (Oglesby Group in Dallas, now Oglesby Greene) for taking on a high school intern, knowing what I know now about how hard it can be to keep an inexperienced staffer productive. They respected me, gave me useful recommendations about my work habits and future pursuits, and never made me do non-architectural grunt work.

      By contrast, a firm I worked for a couple of years later, the summer after my sophomore year in college, had me assemble my own desk-in-a-box the morning of my first day. And yes, Girl Architect that I was, I’d worn a skirt.

      I think interns need to have the guts to ask not only what they’ll be doing on a daily basis, but specifically what they’ll be doing on their first day. If heavy lifting of any sort is involved, you’ll know to save that spiffy suit for the day you finally earn your way into shadowing the boss at a client meeting.

      • Jennifer

        Hi Vivian, I’m a high school student interested in learning about architecture, and I was wondering how you approached the firm that you interned with in high school? I wanted to intern with an architecture firm, but I’m not sure what to tell them.

    • if it’s better, it’s just barely. Somehow I missed the Kroy machine days. They were around but were being phased out. Maybe that’s why they went straight to the lawn mower?

    • architectrunnerguy

      I was pre Kroy. Those appeared in the mid ’70’s so before that we had these pressure treated letters. One of my jobs as the office boy was to be sure we always had enough on hand in all the styles and font sizes we normally used. The minute the guys had to start making “W’s” out of two “V’s” or a “P” out of a “B”, I heard about it.

  • Great post Bob. There’s an important aspect of being an
    intern that is often over looked and worth pointing out here. The intern
    experience is less about what you’re actually doing as an intern (be it making
    copies, models or coffee) and more about learning from the environment. Most
    architecture studios are physically open (no offices, walls or cubbies) which
    means the interns have an exceptional opportunity to listen to conversations
    and directly observe the dynamics of an architecture firm. Seeing, hearing, and
    understanding how an architecture firm works is far more important than
    building that model (although you still need to build nice models). Overhearing
    how the partners coordinate with the junior architects, how architects
    communicate on the phone with the trades, and how client meetings are conducted is extremely valuable information. If you’re buried in that model with your earphones on, you are missing the point of an internship. Worse yet, if you’re outside mowing the lawn, you’re really getting the shaft –Bob I think you’re owed some back-pay on that gig.

    One final point –working for a mediocre architecture firm can teach you bad habits on all of these fronts to the same degree that a good firm teaches healthy habits. Be mindful who you trust with your training and happy interning out there!

    • some of the items you bring up are directly proportional to the size of the firm and the type of work they focus on. Interns at our small residential practice firm go on lots of site visits and sit in on meetings. Larger firms will expose you to a completely different sort of culture – not better or worse, just different.

      Trying to learn about firm culture as an indicator of learning good or bad practice habits can be daunting if not downright impossible to find out – but that’s where social media can help out. Reading blog posts for a firm can really help you understand what you are about to enter into. Make sure that you take the time to discover a firms blog.

  • Kat

    This is sometimes where picking the right school is critical. Shameless plug for my Alma mater (University of Cincinnati); we didn’t have to summer hunt for internships because co-operative education got us real jobs where we did real work. We worked for 3.5 months solid and learned quit a bit depending on where you are. Granted, I spent my fair share of time in the print room, but I spent a lot of time learning and doing actual architecture (and yes, it didn’t deter me either). I try to remember to be kind to our interns when I get frustrated and remember I was there once too.

    • We had that as well where I went to school but it was more of a work program, not summer job placements. If your school helps them find summer jobs, that is awesome.

      • Bob – the co-op program Kat described above (I’m also a UC grad – go Bearcats) sounds similar to what you’re talking about your school did. It was not just a summer job placement – starting in the second year, we did a quarter of work, quarter of school, quarter of work, etc. for the remainder of our time in school.
        When your work quarter was over, you then had to report to a ‘co-op adviser’ and write up a report on your experiences – which was then logged, so then other students who were applying for co-op positions could learn things about the company when deciding where they would try to work (you could figure out which firms were looking for a barista and which would give you actual experience based on reading others’ reports). It’s how I found my current job – I co-oped here back 12 years ago in undergrad…

  • Jwkathol

    Does anyone here remember blueprint machines? My internship in the early 90’s consisted largely of making hundreds of bluelines in the print room all day long. I reeked of ammonia and got a million paper cuts. It was a sucky job but I made the most of it by studying the drawings as they slowly rolled into the machine and really learned what professional construction drawings were supposed to look like.

    • That was also one of my tasks – ammonia in the paper cuts is terrible but we are dating ourselves a bit by telling people we ran blueprints.

  • Jeff

    During an internship, I helped my boss put up shutters on his house before a category 5 hurricane hit. You know, those corrugated metal shutters… they slice your hands up really good if you don’t wear gloves and aren’t careful. Spent all day doing it.

  • Great post, Bob!

    I was lucky enough to have a summer internship at Bernbaum Magadini Architects while in school several years ago. Yes, it was (mostly) done as a favor because my mom was on the PTA with the partner’s wife. And my sister was friends with his daughter. But, that doesn’t mean that I loafed around all summer.

    As an intern who worked summers in a range of firms while in college, I gained the most from my time at a small firm. Since everyone ACTUALLY does everything in every phase of a project, I was able to see all facets of a project. And, shockingly, that didn’t discourage me from wanting to become an architect.

    Also, the camaraderie at a small firm is like nothing else. Even as a lowly summer intern, I felt as if I was part of the team. And as a young architecture student, that left the biggest impression on me.

    • Glad to hear that your time here was positive – I know I liked having you around. That was something that I hadn’t considered, feeling like you were part of the team but that speaks to firm culture. I’d like to think we treat people properly here and nobody has to sit in the corner waiting to mow the lawn.

      • Although, I think I did have to assemble my desk chair on the first day. But, that was probably on purpose. Very clever, Bob. Very clever.