Fellowship: Opportunity, mentorship, and legacy

November 23, 2009
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Architectural fellowships—relatively new in the architectural education process—may offer budding professionals increased benefits and career-promoting opportunities aimed at enriching the ongoing personal and professional development process.
Fellowship: Opportunity, mentorship, and legacy
When considering the word intern, one assumes a student or a recent graduate undergoing supervised practical training. This is the path pursued by most architecture graduates on their way to acquiring the status of a fully-trained or licensed professional. This period of internship is a long-standing tradition in architecture.

The concept of fellowship, on the other hand, is relatively new in the architectural education process. Architectural fellowships may offer budding professionals increased benefits and career-promoting opportunities aimed at enriching the ongoing personal and professional development process. These benefits may include client interaction, direct mentorship, research opportunities, experiences catered to one’s values and interests, a broadened professional network, legacy, and prestige.

The term fellowship is defined in several ways, including the sharing of common experiences, a group of like-minded people, similarity and membership in a group, or the sharing of characteristics with others. Intellectual communities utilize fellowships in various capacities. For example, academia has research fellows, teaching fellows, and faculty fellows. In medicine, there are medical fellows. Many industries also elevate professionals to fellowship status. What all of these have in common is they recognize and encourage intellectual contribution through friendly association. In addition, the word fellowship can imply financial endowment for support of endeavors or research initiatives.

During these current economic times when the job search is particularly tough, new graduates may experience difficulty in securing a full-time position that is related to their field of study. Being awarded a fellowship can provide an alternative to drafting and construction documents. Fellowships can be privately funded, guaranteeing an opportunity for new grads and young professionals to accelerate their careers, even in a recession. While a traditional intern position at a firm may be hard to find, a fellowship may continue to be available. In addition, the sponsoring organization may also offer a permanent position after completion of the fellowship. Fellowships are not only awarded to recent graduates, but some are geared towards those who are well into their architectural career.

A fellowship may grant a young professional an edge in a competitive architectural job market. Experience with client exposure and interaction is perhaps more difficult for young people to achieve in the early stages of one's architecture and design career. The “front-end” activities related to project work, which are generally pursued by those in more senior positions, may be some of the opportunities offered to a fellow. These include participating in user group sessions, developing a program for a particular building type, and conducting postoccupancy evaluations.

A benefit of many fellowship programs is that it can “jump-start” one’s career. Client interactions occur from the start and leadership is given to the fellow to take initiative and become an almost equal player within the design team. Experience gained during a fellowship may also be eligible for Intern Development Program (IDP) credit, a mandatory component of the architectural licensing process.

In the continuously changing climate of architecture today, research, such as evidence-based design, has become an essential component of practice, especially prominent in healthcare design. Research initiatives possible to pursue during a fellowship are virtually endless and are generally tailored to a person's particular interests and skills. Research grants and select fellowship programs offer funding for the pursuit of individually developed research projects. Fellowships may allow access to resources that being an employee or intern cannot. Every employment opportunity can provide a means to evaluate strengths and weaknesses; however, fellowship mentors are dedicated to encourage and foster accelerated career development over its duration for carefully selected applicants.

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