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Professionalism as a State of Mind December 19, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, education, employment, essence, principles, survival.
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professionalismBack in summer, architect Rob Anderson tweeted:

‪@Architect1122: AIA will be emerging professionals, now or later.

Erin Murphy AIA, the Director of Emerging Professionals at AIA National in Washington, DC tweeted back:

@erinmurphyaia: I argue this point every day.

Because I teach large undergraduate and graduate architecture lecture courses at a major state university, I get a pretty good look – at least number-wise – at the future make-up of the profession.

And what I see concerns me.

It’s not their intelligence. Most are very smart.

Nor is it their work ethic. They clearly work hard.

And it’s not for a lack of talent that they got into a competitive university.

What concerns me is this:

Being a professional requires an independent mindset.

In this age of collaboration, to be a professional means one has to think for oneself.

That’s not to say that they cannot seek advice. In fact, having people and resources you can turn to is a critical part of practice.

When starting a firm, for example, it’s important to line up a support system including a banker, management consultant, accountant or bookkeeper and an attorney.

And yet, to be a professional means not to be swayed by outside forces.

Architects cannot, for example, take kickbacks from contractors.

In fact, for an architect to receive payment outside of the client and still be considered independent, they should never accept a finder’s fee, share contractor’s profit or accept rebates from suppliers or manufacturers.

For an architect to be considered independent, they shouldn’t receive payment outside of the client.

There are other factors that distinguish the professional. Academically, an attribute of being a professional involves knowledge that is more than ordinarily complex and is an intellectual enterprise.

Being a professional means that one will apply theoretical and complex knowledge to the solution of human and social problems.

And to be a professional means that you will pass your knowledge to novice generations.

What concerns me about the current crop of students is this:

For them, being professional is conditional.

If you give me an A, I will like you.

If you make the assignments a breeze, I will give you a good teaching evaluation.

Give me what I want, and I will acknowledge you outside of class.

I will tell you what is important to know and what is not. Not you.

Here’s the thing:

Professionalism, like your mama’s love, is unconditional.

You have to love what you do and act from that passion.

You have to think for yourself and not be swayed by outside forces.

Each week, I had my professional practice students write a journal entry on the online blackboard course site.

I’d ask them to provide feedback on a guest lecturer’s presentation or a reading we had discussed in class.

Then I’d read each and every one.

Most of the students thought that these journal entries were a waste of time – and told me so.

I actually believe they were incredibly important indicators of who will and will not become valued professionals in the years to come.

Many of the journal entries told me what the student thought I wanted to hear. For example, in order to reach the minimum word count, they usually repeated the question or questions, and unnecessarily provided background information – the equivalent of throat clearing before getting around to a speech.

I warned them in class about providing “boilerplate” content – information one could find online or elsewhere without much effort.

Most ignored this advice.

I told them what I was interested in was their opinions. Their points of view. I wanted to hear about their experiences – and what they believed in.

The students who did this grew exponentially from the earliest journal entries to the last.

They were able to express themselves in writing. They were able to incorporate content that they had learned from other courses, or from experiences outside of school.

Others merely phoned-in their entries. They showed-up at the online site, usually at the last minute, as though to fulfill an obligation – one that was obviously not as important as the other demands on their time, especially design studio.

I saw reading 82 journal entries each week for 16 weeks – 1320 essays in all – as a gift.

It gave me a perspective into the future of the profession – like looking into a crystal ball.

Some of what I see concerns me, but I also like a lot of what I see as well.

I wish I had a dozen openings in my firm because I would hire at least that many students based on their journal entries alone.

Based on their writing, logic and critical thinking, based on their ability to articulate their feelings, communicate and care, we can rest assured that our profession – and the AIA – will be in good hands in the years ahead.

The others who merely showed up – they will have to decide what is important to them.

My whole contention in my professional practice course is that you cannot act one way at one time and act another way at another time.

As an architect, you’re more slab stone than laminate or veneer. Who you are on the outside is who you are inside.

Being a professional is something you take with you – it is the way you carry yourself and handle yourself not just in class, or in the office, but all of the time.

Whether you think someone is looking or not.

One day, I accidentally double-booked my calendar and didn’t sync my iCal. When my student showed up for his schedule timeslot, I apologized and told him I had another meeting I needed to go to, and asked if we could reschedule?

In my experience, there are students who handle this situation graciously, and others who will make you feel like a total heel.

The first type of student is, in my opinion, well on their way to being someone others will want to work with. Their level of maturity and perspective – their ability to suppress their disappointment, and to think in terms of the other person’s needs – is what distinguishes them.

They place long-term relations above expressing immediate feelings.

I will want to work with them because I know that I will continue to be imperfect and make mistakes in the future, and will want to work with people who are understanding, who handle the situation maturely, reschedule and move on.

For our profession and industry to thrive, we’ll need to send the message that to be a professional, you’ll need to do more than graduate from an accredited program, put in office time and pass an exam.

To be a professional means to behave in a way, even when alone, as though someone else is watching.

Because someone probably will be.