Practical experience in the field of architecture can be hard to get, because of this the ideal scenario is to work alongside university so when you graduate you’ll be comparatively well-experienced. The question of this blog post is if you manage to find a part-time practice placement how will you find working 16 hours or so a week alongside university?
Full disclosure I was able to get into a practice the summer after completing my first year of the Part 1 Architecture course through a family connection. Over the last 3 years (I didn’t take the sandwich year out) I’ve worked alongside university, typically 2 days a week term-time and 3-5 days a week in summer. There have been exceptions to this of course, I was placed on furlough for a few months in 2020 and when I’ve had deadlines I was able to take some time off.
An Understanding Practice
Your education is important to your future. Say you’ve hit the jackpot and two practices offer you a job, which do you pick? My advice would be if you have the option, the most flexible one. If you’re going into an interview make sure to ask questions to assess whether it would be the right fit for you…
“Have you had part 1 or part 2 assistants before that have worked alongside university?”
“Is there any flexibility around working less hours during deadlines?”
These sorts of questions should establish whether a practice is willing to work with you and help you complete your education. There has been numerous times where I needed time off and the practice I work for understood and allowed me that time.
What’s it like working alongside Masters?
Working alongside the Part 1 degree was difficult at times but manageable. Working alongside the first year of Masters was much more difficult than I could have imagined. It is worth noting that there are other factors such as Covid-19 and the transition to remote learning which did potentially make it harder.
I thought that the first couple of months went well but by January I realised I had fallen behind partially because during in-person studio sessions you can see where everyone else is up to and it was difficult to measure if you were doing enough. I kept working at my practice and worked constantly in the evenings, even before going to work in the morning. Towards April I realised I needed some time off work and I spent 3 weeks working non-stop (apart from sleep) to catch up. During this time my stress levels were through the roof to the point where I suffered a couple of panic attacks. Eventually through sheer determination I got caught up, all my assignments were submitted on time and I averaged a 1st. The support of my partner, family and friends got me through in the end.
I realise at this point it sounds as if I’m against working while doing masters but I’m not. Its important to acknowledge that some students have to work alongside for financial reasons. Personally I think from a work ethic point of view, it drastically improves your time-management, you have to find ways to stay motivated and honestly the idea of working a 9-5 following masters sounds like a dream.
Ultimately, if you can get a job at an understanding practice who will give you time off when you need it then take that opportunity. However, if you get to a point where you’re starting to fall behind you need to prioritise your studying and make sure you’re looking after your physical and mental health. There’s no shame in giving it your best and then admitting it if its not working.
I’m grateful to the practice I work at for all of their understanding and having had discussions with them I’ll be taking a break from September to May to finish this last year of masters, hopefully, with a little less stress. I wish you all the best and hope that by sharing my experience its helped you consider your options going forward.