Happy singles awareness day – and Valentines to you
Valentines is just another day at work for me. But I need to thank all of you who are in love, you are the ones who consume, spend money and make my day at work awesome since you’re all pretty rushed for time and don’t ask questions I really hate or haggle over a few measly dollars. Valentines is awesome in that respect.
I thought that I explained myself many times before, but I guess I probably did that in real life but never in words on screen, so I was surprised when I got questions asking why I quit architecture and decided to do something completely different.
Like many people who like to romanticise several occupations, I was a dreamer who thought that I was ideally designed to be an architect. I got good grades when I was in high school doing technical drawing, I could draw (not well, but alright, but obviously not good enough – le doodle is okay), and most of my friends thought that I was pretty creative. I really actually did think that I could be awesome and design many buildings one day and take friends around the world, point out “I designed that” and proclaim it like a boss. Well, in reality, being an artist is not like being Picasso – more like it’s being a starving artist unless you really somehow make it big one day. I’m a dreamer, but I’m realistic. My personality is just like that – I just say it and think of it as it is. Forget the rainbows and unicorns – if it’s not going to work out, it’s not going to work out.
The subject that I studied (we all know it as architecture) I shall refer to as archi, which is what we all called it as. I’ve decided to use this abbreviated name so that you can distinguish between archi the subject your study, versus architecture the professional field. They are very similar, but not the same.
I feel that there are a lot of misconceptions about archi. I’m not saying it’s not a feasible direction to head to – oh dreams do come true. But to let you know, this is actually what we had to experience – and if you think that preparing a presentation for some marketing course is hard, you wait and see.
As archi students, we didn’t just design. We had to do research (note that most of the information we needed only existed as printed material in the library), write essays, write reports, do calculations (trigonometry, physics, yes – all), make models (computer and physical models) – out of several types of materials, do drawings (computer and hand drawn – includes technical, perspective and sketch/ diagrams), make presentation layouts (fill up the whole damn wall), do portfolios (graphic design?), design other crap that belonged to our design (industrial design, anyone?), make verbal presentations (communications/marketing?)… we, hands down, do more than the average student. This is why I absolutely think it’s ridiculous when people are so happy they graduated from like, commerce or something – dude, you ain’t seen nothing yet gurrrrl.
This list probably doesn’t just apply to archi – it applies to most design courses that involve time consuming activities such as making things such as physical objects (so I don’t think graphic design is quite as hectic).
NB to Americans – uni (university) is the equivalent of college in the States. A basic subject consists of 3 units (elective), but core subjects are typically 6 or 12 units. Each unit is about an hour at uni each week, and uni runs Monday to Friday – but is open 24 hours as we have access cards. Most local students tend to live quite far from uni (at least 30 minutes away), a select group of students manage to find university accommodation or live as close as 5-10 minutes away.
1. Being an archi student = no social life, or very little of it.
The amount of after hours work we have to do is probably like doing your commerce maths questions times by three in terms of time required. We do the same amount of units, but we have so few hours left over to actually do work. We have 4 subjects – sometimes 3 – (usually differently weighted, with design being the highest priority) and they expect you to do an extra 8 hours self-study for every unit you take. Design is 12 units, by the way, meaning they expect you to uses 48 hours of your own time working on design. And don’t forget the other 12 units. Working 48 hours on a project means that it is your entire weekend without drinking, eating, sleeping or socialising. Pure, non- stop working. That’s what they ask you to do.
Everyone you know probably is in your course. You rarely know anyone who isn’t studying the same thing. You lose contact with your high school friends.
Of course, most of us choose to prioritise our social lives instead of camping out at uni over the weekends, where I must admit can be quite creepy at night when it’s kinda empty and all. Obviously once you start choosing priorities over self-study, you end up pressed for time and find yourself rushing projects to be finished. Yeah.
2. Archi requires a high level of discipline ie. zero procrastination, steady progress – else you pull all nighters. Every single time.
That’s right –once you start to have a social life or you decide to let things dwell for a bit before actually working on your projects (which I am sure everyone does), you end up finding hours you normally wouldn’t have otherwise: time when you should actually be sleeping. You sacrifice your sleep in order to finish your projects.
If one night isn’t enough, then take two nights. When two nights isn’t enough, take three nights. Still not enough? Four, five. As many as you need, even if it means you have to hand in your project late.
I was not the type to hand in things late. I’d pull all nighters so that I could hand my projects in on time, and I’ve done that for pretty much all my projects. But you cannot imagine what it’s like to feel so sleepy in the middle of the night, you’re thirsty but don’t want to waste time drinking, your body feels like jelly and you really want to sleep. When you finally get to sleep (after staying awake for probably 30 hours or so, and napping for about 1-2 hours), your eyes feel like they’re on fire when you wake up.
3. Archi is unhealthy.
What do you do when you pull an all-nighter and you’re damn sleepy? You drink coffee or energy drinks. Take a smoke outside if you’re a smoker, so that’s extra cigarettes you wouldn’t have smoked if you were asleep.
Again, I wasn’t the type to drink coffee or energy drinks because I never really thought they were beneficial for health on the long term due to their high caffeine levels. My way of working around it was putting together an awesome playlist of songs that I’d listen to whilst I worked throughout the early mornings of the day. I did drink green tea – but unfortunately they were the packaged bottle types you grab from a local Asian supermarket on the way to uni (2 litre bottle) to last you the entire night.
If you’re hungry you’re probably going to snack on junk food or fast food. To save time, usually we had one guy go through all the levels and he would take orders for us since he was going to take a trip to McDonald’s. I really appreciated those times, because it means that we get food without wasting time to go out and buy it. The guys would wait until what was it… 3:30 or 4am to wait for the breakfast menu to take place. Most of us probably have McDonald’s several meals in a row especially if camping out at uni for several nights.
Many students don’t go home for as long as perhaps, 4 or 5 days. Sometimes even a week.
This means a lot of students don’t shower. We do bring face wash and toothpaste/brush to brush our teeth though.
We skip meals regularly if pressed for time.
We are dehydrated because we worry we drink too much water, and that means we go to the toilet constantly which wastes time.
Most of the time we spend is in front of a computer screen. Namely a dual screen. We get arm/ shoulder/ neck/ back/ butt pain for sitting long periods of times. Our eyes also hurt and suffer as a consequence. Usually the first thing I did was change the contrast and brightness settings on the monitors I was going to use, in order to minimise damage. Not sure if it did anything though. Towards the final year, I suffered extreme dizziness looking at any computer screen – bad enough I slept 4 days out of the few days they gave us to complete our project. I first used a computer when I was about 6 years old and never have I encountered sickness looking at a computer screen – until the end of 2010. I was 22 years old then, barely what I consider old. Clearly, my health was deteriorating.
We sleep with our heads on the tables, or sometimes we take down a board which we usually pin stuff to, lie it flat and use that as a mattress. Some students choose to sleep across tables. Some choose to sleep on the floor. Some bring sleeping bags or air mattresses. Sleep is generally considered a luxury, lasts ideally for less than an hour, and occurs once every 36-40 hours.
I don’t need to go into detail, but as you can gather, there are a lot of unhealthy habits associated with studying this subject, and it’s usually beyond our control. We don’t want to do all nighters, but probably even if we didn’t procrastinate, we’d spend our extra 48 hours over the weekend doing the same thing over a period of 13-15 weeks. The majority of us choose to cram all 13 weekends into the final two weeks we get to prepare our final projects.
I gained so much weight by the end of my fourth year (still in the healthy BMI range, but it was like 8kg or something, JEEZ) so I went through a strict exercise regime in my fifth, which I detailed in my diet diary. I discovered most of it was water, since I dropped sizes really fast. All because I didn’t exercise enough while I was studying.
4. Archi is expensive.
Some people like to explain this by saying that archi(tects) are indulgent beings. I believe this is so, because if you didn’t have spare money to begin with, you couldn’t afford to study such an expensive subject such as archi in the first place –
Since you’ve all gathered by now that archi is a really damn busy subject, most of us didn’t have jobs. And without a job, income comes from…? Well, you can think about it.
Just to start the subject, I remember having to spend about $500 buying the “essential” items – possibly more because of textbooks. Thankfully, we never really had many textbooks to buy during the duration of the course – but when we did our research projects, we spent a heck of a lot of money photocopying and scanning stuff. A typical end of semester project would probably look like this: Models and material/ equipment – probably $500. Printed presentation – $300 to $700. Portfolio – $100. Archi was a really expensive subject. Don’t forget I didn’t include the cost of the interim submissions during the semester. ZING!
Because freedom was so seldomly enjoyed, whenever we went out for a meal (lunch, dinner, leisure), my friend and I would overexpend to compensate for the crappy times we had to endure. We ate probably twice as much as what we normally would, and spent probably three times as much as normal – to make ourselves feel better. It was a stupid habit, stupid and expensive habit – but it was nowhere as expensive as archi itself. Printing for a final project – easily up to thousand dollars or more.
And without a job, our income…? LOL.
There were a lot of students who did work part time jobs, but they were fairly organised and kept everything under control. I suspect they just were really good at organising their lives and they managed to fit everything in. The catch is that a lot of these students only studied part time, not full time.
I was a full time student for 5 years. I didn’t work a single job during that time. I was too busy to. I just couldn’t.
5. Archi is mentally challenging, tiring, abusive.
Apart from stating the obvious that if you can’t problem solve the design according to your beliefs andn the requirements of the brief, you’re basically stuck. If it’s shit in your opinion, you gotta fix it. And to do that, you gotta think.
That’s right, a lot of the time we are doodling and trying to figure out where to put what, how to do it and whether or not it fits or looks strange. Once we decide it’s alright and draw it to scale, we realise it looks freaking ridiculous and you forgot that you left out an essential part that is required, like the toilets or something – I dunno. Then you gotta start again – and fix it.
We go through many many trials – I think during the design stage I’m not surprised there are at least 10 mutations. Some students start completely anew (really unclever move – time consuming and doesn’t solve anything, just avoids all problems and ends up being weaker), some just can’t move on because they either don’t know what they want, their tutor can’t guide them further (there’s always that one kid who takes up a lot of personal tutorial time), or they’ve run out of time.
In other words, if you are intelligent enough to have an awesome idea, and can think of a brilliant way to express it, and is pratically flawless in terms of functionality and technicality, you’ve got yourself a winner.
Unfortunately a lot of us are just people who want to produce something we just want to present and be proud of it, because we worked our butts off for it – and ought to be congratulated for it.
Unfortunately again, we present to a panel of experts who really just like to concentrate on what’s bad rather than what you’ve managed to accomplish. Some aren’t really all that wide and accepting of quirky ideas and frown upon your design immediately. A lot like to feign ignorance because they didn’t listen to your presentation carefully and pretended that you didn’t explain it clear enough.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get this point through – it’s discouraging. It’s stressful. It’s depressing. After spending so many hours, sacrificing so much sleep, risking our health in various ways to get things done and spending so much money, our design is presented in about 15 minutes max, and a lot of the time, if it doesn’t tickle their fancy it’s shot to pieces.
I was lucky to have never had such a bad experience, but I’ve seen it happen to others. Once, my project was taken away for evaluation because it was considered a good sample – they never returned it to me. That presentation cost me about $700. Probably all gone to a recycle bin.
All that effort for that single moment of glory… is it worth it? Yeahhhh I guess so. But after a while, perhaps not.
Have I given enough reason to justify why I decided to not continue with this field?
Let me speed through another bunch of reasons that are plaguing society today:
* Bad economy. Few firms are hiring. They’d hire you… maybe for free. Most firms require 3-5 years full time experience. As you can tell… what experience?! I didn’t have any time for that.
* Bad economy. Few projects are actually taking place. No jobs to do… no jobs for you.
* Bad economy. Australian dollar is too damn high. Go overseas (ie. ASIA) where the money is.
A huge reason why I didn’t want to continue was because of my health. I did mention severe dizziness. I experience it now even. I was never a super fit or super healthy person to begin with. I get tired easily. I can’t get stressed easily. I will really seriously ka-boom. Although I merely described archi side effects, it’ll be the same whilst on the job – sitting in front of computer, all day – overtime. It’s not really all that different – except you’re given less time to do stuff and you have to do it, because it’s a job, not a uni project.
Also, I am, afterall, a girl – or if you like, a woman. My hairdresser used to ask me what I studied at uni, and I’d tell him archi – he’d then reply every single time, “ah, you want to be superwoman huh?”- little did I realise several years later, he was right. Architecture to me couldn’t be a long term job. If I wanted a raise, I’d have to wait for those in a higher position to retire before I could fill that position. I am (hopefully) going to get married one day, and I can’t possibly work a job where I have no idea whether overtime was waiting for me at the end of the day or not. I can do this whilst I’m young, in my early 20s… could I do all nighters when I’m in my 30s… 40s… 50s…? I really don’t think so. Archi was never all that family friendly to begin with – I got into so many arguments with my parents because they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be home to have dinner, or why I couldn’t be home to sleep. They thought that I was like a stray animal without a home… and sadly, I agreed.
I’m not saying being an architect is bad or wrong, and that studying archi is a bad choice – I learned a lot of things and as a result I can do a lot more than the average person probably could. I do have friends who have successfully entered the field and are doing well in their work. I’ve seen a lot of people transfer out of uni because they couldn’t handle the pace and just couldn’t fully grasp the subject – that’s perfectly normal.
But I just wanted to say, I experienced all of the above for 5 years, non stop, and that was during the years of my life which were supposed to be the best and most fun. Simply put, five years is enough – and selling jewellery is kinda cool.
PS: Did you know – when you are tired and sleepy, you have a higher tendency to make mistakes? Well once I was so tired, I sliced my finger open when I was trying to cut a piece of cardboard. Completely missed the cardboard, totally could open my flap of flesh. Please be careful.