career fair?

17 November 2011

On Wednesday I participated again in a Career Fair at my high school alma mater. Yes it was only April since I was there previously. I guess they like me, I’m a sucker when I get to talk about architecture. So for two twenty-minute sessions I spoke passionately about the profession of architecture, showing flashy images and explaining how they could get there in years to come. I generally speak more about the profession than myself. It’s far more interesting. However it got me thinking about architecture as a career, especially in light of the past few years. Is it fair? Is it fair to encourage young students to pursue being an architect?

I also teach part-time; currently I am teaching first year design studio to architecture majors. The same question comes up in my mind. What are we preparing these students for in the future? Will there be a career for these future architects? How many will become architects? Will the economy ever turn around and what will architecture be like in five or ten years? I wonder.

Another thought-provoker was Architect Magazine’s recent issue where they include data from the 2011 AIA Compensation Report. My first question is do any of you make this kind of money? Really? Yes it noted that salaries are down from 2008, but if I compare myself against the categories that match my experience and position, I am seriously pulling down the averages. Honestly, that doesn’t matter as much as some of these larger issues, but it makes me shake my head. How many out there have no job = no income? What does a survey matter when almost a third of us are unemployed?

A lively LinkedIn discussion was another source of angst (see Jody has me saying it). We were discussing the future of the profession and where we should direct young people for a career. What will the architect be in ten years? What will our role be? Will there be more of us? There ought to be, but will we redefine ourselves and make ourselves invaluable? Or will slow-to-change people like me stall the process and resist adapting to changing roles, changing processes and changing methods of delivery? Will there be a difference between how small firms operate and large firms? Maybe if we found better ways to team up and collaborate there would be no large or small firms. There would be large and small teams. OK, I’m getting off topic a bit.

So if you were speaking to high school students or college students what would you say? Try plumbing? In the recent issue of Architectural Record, one author explores whether an architectural education is worth it in this recession. Many question this path when many will leave school worn out and exhausted (perhaps a bit jaded) with a debt three or four times their starting yearly salaries if they can even land a job at all. The article mentions many go on to graduate school, but not for the assumed Master of Architecture degree, but an MBA degree or one in another discipline. Being unique with broad skills and a broad education seems to be a must.

I think about these things. I also consider myself blessed for still surviving after following a traditional path and practicing in a fairly traditional way. However, I can’t predict how long that will last and what I need do to prepare for the next chapter. I also have to wonder as I see my students three times a week what they will do if they make it through. Was I dishonest to the high school students? The term “career fair” where a few dozen people from a variety of fields come to share their chosen path with impressionable minds seems a bit dubious. Is the career of architecture fair? Perhaps if we dwell on that we’re asking the wrong question. What do you think?

photo is  from raman..exploring myself..’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

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6 Responses to “career fair?”


  1. Lee you have a gift for directing your posts right to my heart. When I read the first few sentences I had the same thought – it is this fair? And then you posited the question yourself. Wham-O!

    This question is a great one and deserves a well-researched and fair answer (which I don’t have). I guess the question would be – did you fairly represent what architecture is like to the students or did you glamorize it? I’m guessing it was slightly on the glamour side because you mention showing portfolio pictures. But maybe I misjudge.

    Re: the Architect compensation survey – not super accurate. The statistics are slightly skewed because of their sample group (mostly Firm principals). But it is still a useful survey.

    To answer the question, I’m not sure it is fair to direct graduates in the direction of architecture, carte blanche. They need to have an informed decision.

    The other day I looked at the tuition at my alma mater, Cornell University. Tuition has doubled in 10 years. 20k when I was there to 40k now. So 200k in tuition for a 5 year degree. Not counting room and board. On a 30k starting salary, does it really make sense? Depends on the person I guess. Does your spouse work? Do you have rich parents? etc.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love architecture. But I went in with blinders on, even though I though I was well researched. I think everyone deserves all the information.

    • leecalisti Says:

      When I talk about architecture in the pure sense, it seems rather glamourous. However, as we’re winding down and answering the basic questions, I have to give the honesty then. I have to wonder how much research the average person does before they make decisions. I also wonder where they get that information. I wrote a blog about that months ago (“who do you listen to”).

      For me I had to do it. It made me happy. Looking back, I would do it again, but I don’t know how anyone can make a living on it without a spouse helping. Anyone reading that compensation survey will think we’re all doing very well. When in fact, we’re not.


      • Good points. You know, I was thinking this would be a great topic for the LinkedIn small practice sub-group or Residential Architect group. I’d be interested in hearing other architect’s take on this.

        Also, you partially gave an answer in your response above, but I’m interested to hear more of your thoughts on whether it is fair to encourage HS students to pursue architecture.

      • leecalisti Says:

        I don’t think it’s my place to encourage or discourage someone’s plans. If I have a chance to say something, then it’s only right to be honest. However, at a career fair, I don’t think it’s my place to discourage, just present the facts. I feel they need to do their own research and make a decision. I am only a small part of that research. Architecture school has its own way of weeding out those who are not committed. It’s not intentional, just real. My take on the profession is still optimistic. We keep talking about changes in terms of being radical. I don’t see they happening in a way that appears radical. In years to come as we look back, we may be amazed though. So in other words, I would do it all over again.


  2. Oh by the way, love the play on words! :) I’m always a sucker for a good pun.


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