Playing Careers with an architecture degree
July 22, 2011 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm a recent architecture graduate trying to decide if I should be following an academic or professional route, and I'm losing a lot of sleep over the uncertainty.

I just graduated with the equivalent of an MArch or RIBA Part II from a good school. I love architecture, but I'm a bit insecure about my design ability - this might just need experience, and I know from working that the skills of an architect involve lots of other things I'm good at (client meetings, administration, logistics and project management). My degree is good, not top of the class but high up, and my design thesis was extremely well-received.

I've also always loved writing and had some opportunities at school to do research, particularly through interviews. It turns out I'm pretty good at this. Consistently, my grades in academic courses (rather than studio-based) would be much higher and this comes easier, though I enjoyed both. In addition to work, I write (about music) as a hobby and would be considering journalism if the job prospects weren't about equally grim.

Third factor is that where I live, the housing market collapsed and the country is not in a good state economically - think Spain or Greece, but not. Half of all architects were laid off, and many of those still working are on part-time, and there's a trend towards graduates working for free or in internships, which is bullshit and also something I can't afford.

At present, I'm working on a research/interview-based project but it's a one-off and will end in September. My plan is to send out job applications in this country by mid-August so I know my situation by the time I'm out of work.

My dream would be to practice 2/3 days a week, and research/teach 2/3 days a week, and I would be happy to pursue further academic qualifications as long as it isn't full time - I like academic work but I find it a bit insular and would enjoy it more in balance with team-oriented, client-driven work. I'm also in too much debt not to be earning money. I plan to apply for a Fulbright scholarship this year for a programme that would set me on a strong academic track. At my age, if I go academic for a few years, the chances of being hired at a junior level in practice afterwards aren't good.

So, questions:
1. Do I need to choose between academia and practice now, so that I can focus my efforts towards one?
2. Assuming I can't get work here, should I suck it up in terms of (a) emigrating to work in practice, or (b) going into more debt to get an academic qualification, which will likely involve some teaching work?
3. Is it foolish to be considering just starting over in something else that will pay the bills? I love architecture and would be incredibly sad, but I don't want to spend my life thinking dentistry is a luxury, either.
4. How do I stop losing sleep over this? Not only sleep, but I can't concentrate on my other work and am churning over the decision all the time.

Extra information:
1. I'm not in the US. European, can work in the UK and the rest of Europe, eligible for a one-year graduate visa to the US.
2. Anonymous so that I can be a bit more honest.
3. I am about $10k in debt and steadily paying it off, but cannot defer or repay less than about $500/month. This is a lot of debt by national standards and student loans are hard to get here.
4. I'm nearly 30.
5. I have a good network built up here through work, volunteering and my college work, and am reticent to leave that behind - I'm well-liked and my skills are known to lots of employers here.
6. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend that you go for the professional experience and work on theory and research in your free time, as a hobby (you can always come back to academia later). It is important to actually understand how buildings work and all the INSANITY that goes into organizing a real project. There is HUGE disconnect between academia and real work architecture and I rather enjoy trying to work in the moment in which they touch.

I am an architect in the US doing just this. It keeps me happy with my career, my intellect, and my bank account ;)
posted by LZel at 9:39 AM on July 22, 2011

I'd say get a job in the private sector to build up your experience. Then you can go into academia later, the experience will be really great on your resume. You don't want to be a sheltered academic stereotype with no grip on what is laughingly called "reality."

Plus, hello, academics are always looking for research partners, right? Your industry contacts will be great.
posted by tel3path at 9:51 AM on July 22, 2011

If you were to join a practice now, would you be able to enter the academic route later? To me that sounds more likely than the other way round.

It sounds like you need to start work. Possibly doing anything. My BIL lost his post-Part II architects job, and spent 8-9 months not in architecture. He did some bar work just for money, and did a few unpaid projects for his portfolio and looked for a regular work. He doesn't mention the bar work on his cv/resume.

Is there any harm in applying for jobs abroad, and applying for more courses? See what you get offers for before deciding.

Although, I'm not sure what course you would be applying for at this point. Why not look at people who are doing what you would ideally like to do, and see how they got there - what qualifications they have, what kinds of working experience. That will give you an idea of what has been possible in the past.
posted by plonkee at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2011

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