As a result of exhaustive research, I have concluded that the only people who hate the word “Intern” are interns. Big surprise there … glad I didn’t spend any money on market research to figure that out. If you are outside the field of architecture, I’m sure you couldn’t care one way or the other.
There is a lot of chatter going on within the architectural profession where the interns have picked up their mantles in an effort to have the intern label removed from their personal descriptor. The consensus among interns is that the word is demeaning and doesn’t actually represent their contribution to the office and to the practice of architecture. It isn’t unreasonable to think an intern would be far more knowledgeable than the licensed architect, sitting just a few feet over, in some of the various methods and technologies that architectural firms employ. I have first-hand experience of such a situation with one of the interns we had in the office this summer – John Charbonneau. John had the knowledge and command of certain software that allowed us to take on a very complicated project that otherwise, without John, we would not have been able to complete.
Before we go much further, let’s first define “intern”:
“The term intern refers to any individual in the process of satisfying a registration board’s experience requirements. This includes anyone not registered to practice architecture in a U.S. or Canadian jurisdiction, graduates from NAAB-accredited programs, architecture students who acquire acceptable experience prior to graduation, and other qualified individuals identified by a registration board.”
Well, that’s the very specific definition as provided by NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) and according to the people who hate the word “intern”, NCARB is the devil – a completely unreasonable conclusion but in deference, let’s take a look at a more traditional entity that defines words … This from Merriam-Webster:
: a student or recent graduate who works for a period of time at a job in order to get experience
: a person who works in a hospital in order to complete training as a doctor
Pretty straightforward really and between the two definitions, I think you can figure out that within an architectural context, this basically means that anyone with an architectural education who has not yet met the requirements (work experience and passing the registration tests) is labeled an “intern.” Only after you have met these requirements can you call yourself an “architect.”
If you ask most recent architecture school graduates “just how different is the real world from college?” almost every single one of them will acknowledge that there is a HUGE difference between the two. The period of time that occurs immediately after graduation is when most people realize that the real world of architecture bears only a passing resemblance to the things you did while you were in school. (re: The not-so-sexy side to Architecture). Good thing that “practice time is built in there, right?
There is a process to becoming an architect, and a fairly long one at that. You go to school for 5 to 7 years, you take the Architectural Registration Exam (which is actually 7 tests) and then you have to complete an internship period – the time when your education is supplemented by working in the real world on real projects, budgets, clients and gravity. The average time it takes for most applicants to complete the Intern Development Program (according to the 2007 Internship and Career Survey) and pass the Architectural Registration exam is 6.4 years. Add that together with the time spent getting your degree, the path to architectural licensure and the right to call yourself an “architect” is the longest of any licensed profession in the country.
Wow – sounds pretty sorry doesn’t it? No wonder these highly educated and (clearly) dedicated individuals don’t like being called an intern. I get it, I really do, but I’m not sure what I think of any alternate titles.
Do you know what an unlicensed lawyer is called before they become a lawyer? Probably all sorts of things but “Lawyer” isn’t one of them. How about an unlicensed doctor? (other than a shaman that is …) The answer to this question is part of the reason there is actual fuel for this fire. Immediately upon graduation for medical school, a person can call themselves a doctor but they aren’t licensed to practice medicine. They are doctors only in name, at least from a legal standpoint, until they become licensed. To clarify, here is a breakdown:
- Medical Student: Student in a graduate-level medical program
- Resident: Medical school graduate undergoing on-the-job training
- Intern: First-year resident, usually not yet licensed to practice medicine
- Fellow: Residency graduate undergoing continued specialty training
- Physician or doctor: Person with a medical degree; may or may not yet be licensed to practice medicine
Maybe I’m not reading the right medical journals but I haven’t heard a lot of squabble from medical students, residents, or medical interns over the names that the profession calls them … maybe they have other things to hold their attention. Right now I have 6 people in my office who all completed architecture school and have either passed the A.R.E. or are in the process of completing it. I don’t call any of them architects or interns as the title fits. They are Michael and Audrey, Ryan, Morgan and so forth. The only time anybody outside our office (i.e. clients) pays attention to the descriptor is when looking at the billing rate assigned to each level … and the only people who are labeled as “interns” are the folks who come in during the summer while on break from school; everyone else is either:
There is no question that the architectural profession is slow to adapt to the changing marketplace and the perceptions of our profession. Fewer and fewer people are becoming architects and that’s a problem. I don’t really care for the argument that we are underpaid (How much does an architect make?) – that’s our fault, we can’t push that off on the ignorance of society for not recognizing how arduous the road or how long the journey; but there is clearly a disconnect between what we as a society demand of our architects compared to other professions. I also don’t really care about how long the process takes to become a licensed architect – other than the fact it is keeping people from actually becoming architects … which is a big problem for the industry. I knew the path was hard and long before I started so I don’t really complain about it after the fact. It didn’t “sneak” up on me and surprise me.
Since I like to think I am a man of the people (because I’m one of those people) I think its time that the architectural profession shift its focus away from business as usual and do what it can to attract new young people to the industry and increase its efforts to keep the ones we currently have. If that means protecting the word “Architect” across other industries then let’s do that. If unlicensed architectural graduates want a title that they think is less demeaning than “Intern” … give it to them. Whatever it takes but do something other than meet and talk about it. I know that NCARB has assembled the “Future Title Task Force”, a team of 14 people from around the US (both licensed and unlicensed) that will meet in October 2014 to discuss an overall logic that will ideally determine what architects – before and after licensure – can call themselves, but who knows if they will actually be able to make a change – the individual states are the governing bodies that set that sort of regulation as I understand it.
In the meantime, if you are one of those “interns”, go get your license and take the solution into your own hands. If you are an architect, treat your unlicensed associates with respect and recognize their value to the office. All of us can be a part of the solution to this issue (which in my mind is less about what to call interns and more about how we can attract and keep our talent in the profession).
Best of luck, let me know your thoughts below, hopefully, we can assemble enough information here to aid the Future Title Task Force.
There are plenty of articles out there where people present their opinions on the use of the word “intern”. So particularly good ones are:
The Indicator: No More Interns by Guy Horton
The Great Intern Debate by Jared Banks
Stop Calling me “The Intern” by Benjamin Docktor
The list of what each state calls their young professionals on the path to licensure, along with the accompanying article can be found on the AIA National site – AIArchitect.