Student internship is a quintessential part of an architectural education. However, it is increasingly becoming an unmitigated ordeal for many within the community. Affecting both students and practicing architects, the workforce imbalance and issues of ineptitude have created an unfavourable – and often exploitative – situation.
Inviting the opinions of architects, educators and students, we strive to start a conversation about what can be done to improve this situation. Below, Chitra Vishwanath shares her opinions about the issue.
There is a need to look at internship very seriously.
The large number of students in the country is not commensurate to the available offices. There is also a limit to the number of students that an office can take in. When such is the case, what are the responsibilities of the students as well as the schools of architecture?
Most of the times, the student selects an office to apply to, while the office selects the student on the basis of the portfolio sent in. Both of these are legitimate processes. However, this comes with its own set of problems:
Authenticity of Portfolios
There is little to no input from the institutes when it comes to verifying the subject matter of the portfolio. The office, then, must take the contents at face value. We trust that what is represented in the portfolio genuinely belongs to the said student. However, there have been instances where a student’s performance was contrary to the skills displayed in the portfolio.
Here, I question the role of the institute – shouldn’t it validate the authenticity of the work?
Hierarchy within the office
An office builds up its reputation on its design methodology, and that takes perseverance and creativity of the person/team that set up the practice. At no point in any office is an intern or a fresh graduate expected to handle a design charge. If the office does so, there is something amiss.
Most conscientious firms feel it is their responsibility to pay back to the society by providing internships. However, the purpose of internship needs to be understood by the interns as well as the offices.
The dictionary meaning of an intern is “A student or trainee who works, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification”. For a student, the intention of an internship is to gain experience. Interns are thus the smallest cog in the wheel. They get the chance to learn from watching and maybe even imitating.
Most offices provide a stipend, which may or may not be equivalent to a salary. However, as mentioned before – an internship is a part of the course and therefore not a job. Further, architectural education is a long, drawn-out process and is never finished.
Ideally, the interns should apply themselves as they would as students. Einstein said – “Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.” and a practice expects this from the interns.
Irresponsibility of Institutes
As per the institute’s policy, practices often fill up a form for student evaluation. However, there is very little genuine communication between the institute and the practice. In fact, the institutes rarely even acknowledge the learning that the students receive from the practice.
Moreover, most offices are digitally equipped but the schools send inadequately trained interns. The office/practice is a commercial entity, not an ‘Institute’ to either teach or provide a knowledge sharing platform. They may/need not have the patience all the time to teach the basics. In this situation, it is the student who suffers. Institutes should take a serious view towards making students adept at the required digital skills.
Mindset of the Students
At this stage, it is important to learn the nuances instead of being too concerned with remuneration. When a student gets consumed with the aspect of remuneration and the “kind of work” they get, the mind gets closed to learning. In every office, something can be learnt which is of use to the student in their professional lives later.
The ideal time for internship is the 7th semester. This gives institutes the time to prepare students for internships by teaching them the necessary skills. Interns, in turn learn from real-life scenarios which they can tap into in later semesters. A student coming after the 9th semester tends to believe that he/she is already an architect. This perception colours the objective of learning and tends to make it job-oriented – which an internship is not.
My advice to students is to neither take internship lightly nor look at it as a means of commercial gain. You are at a stage in life where learning must be the primary means for self-fulfillment.
Chitra Vishwanath is a Bengaluru-based architect who works on themes related to ecology and architecture. She is the Principal Architect and Managing Director of BIOME Environment Solutions Private Limited.