Looking Back: Professional Development

A significant portion of my graduate studies took place in Houston, Texas, as part of a practicum work-study program offered in the Texas Tech University College of Architecture. After graduation, I stayed in touch with my professor, MaryAlice Torres-MacDonald, and was recently able to connect with the program by offering portfolio reviews and interview critiques to new students. As part of this review process, participating professionals were asked to reflect on several questions, which I feel are important to share with a wider audience. Here is a snapshot of looking back at my professional development.

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Looking back, what advice would you have wanted a professional to share with you as you were entering the profession of architecture?

Be confident, show initiative and speak up. Confidence is not a matter of knowing everything; rather, confidence is a belief in your ability to learn, to grow, to find the answers you need. As a new graduate, you are not expected to know everything. What impresses a professional the most is aptitude and someone who identifies potential solutions to problems. As you work through problems, you will quickly discover areas that you need more training or knowledge. Speak up when you need additional education, training or support (and of course, bring potential solutions on how to get what you need!). Don’t forget to also ask for what you want, as well as what you need. If you have a passion for a particular project type or role, ask to be involved in some way. Sometimes the biggest hindrance to career advancement is waiting for opportunity to come to you. Don’t wait – go out and find it or create it for yourself!

What paths in your profession led you to where you are today?

After an internship during graduate school, I landed my first job in Houston. I entered the job market just before the great recession, so I experienced the full gamut from boom to bust. It taught me a lot about being efficient in my work, and gave me an appreciation for business-savvy firms. After 2 years of working through the recession, I found myself unemployed. I knew I had to keep my skills sharp and differentiate myself, so I focused on creating online portfolios that were easily shared with potential employers. I taught myself how to build a website, and participated in design competitions to keep my portfolio fresh. During this time I also integrated heavily in social media and connected with a great group of industry peers and leaders. These diverse experiences helped me appreciate the new possibilities that came my way. One of those came in the form of a job offer at PDR, the company I now work for full time. We focus on corporate interiors – a sector I had not worked in previously. However, I knew the company was a great fit for my personality, work style and goals. I was confident I would be able to contribute my creative and analytic approach to their work. Here I am, just 3 years later, working as the project architect for the interiors of the Imperial Oil Limited campus in Calgary, Alberta. I always advise students to try as many different project types as they can and be open to trying new things. You never know what you will end up loving.

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Why do you think practicing architecture in Houston is beneficial to your career?

Houston is a great city, and all of the media outlets confirm this with their ‘top 10’ lists. We rank highly for our strong and diverse economy, our low cost of living and our thriving (albeit unique) culture. Houston affords so many opportunities for professional development, from the range of firms, the close-knit design community, and the numerous internationally acclaimed buildings. Houston may be the fourth largest city in the US, but it still has the feeling of a small town within the architecture and design community. It creates an atmosphere of collaboration and camaraderie, and I hope to see more projects built in partnership as we continue to nurture this aspect of our great city. The initiative the city is taking for improving our transit system and parks system is encouraging and speaks to our ability to respond to the needs of our citizens. It is an exciting time for young designers to get involved and start their careers, as they will have the opportunity to directly impact multiple generations of Houstonians with the development that is in the works.

Complete this sentence: “Houston is…”

A wild card. A place like no other. Opportunity.

Houston is this funky, unique place you can’t help but root for. Houston is sometimes an underdog, but you always want it to succeed. We are still creating our identity, which presents unique opportunities to be involved in that process. We get a lot of things right: We are investing into the future of our parks with amazing bayou improvements. We are soliciting world-renowned architects to contribute to our developments and raising the bar for all architecture across the city. And yet, at the same time, we can’t seem to figure out how to make bike lanes or create contiguous sidewalks. We still struggle with how to convince our neighbors that light rail is a good thing without stepping on each other’s toes. We need designers. We need thinkers. We need the young, ambitious grads to join us and to have the conversations about architecture and design that inspire and guide the city to keep doing the things that make us great. Not many cities afford the opportunity to leave a mark and make a difference. Houston does.

Have other questions about what to expect when you graduate? Leave a comment below!



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