Last year, I wrote about doing away with the title “intern,” saying the word “should be banished from the profession.” The post, titled, No More Interns, caused quite a flurry of responses, some quite angry, in fact. Some respondents defended the title, saying a title is just a title; others launched attacks against it, saying it connotes someone unskilled or untrained.
For the record, I still think we should get rid of it — not simply because it is demeaning and diminishing to individuals who have gone through the rigorous educational stages of the profession, but because it makes the profession look antiquated. Think about where you find “intern” used today and what it generally implies: volunteer, unpaid/low-paid, student, temporary, trainee, to name a few. Imagine how clients from progressive business cultures view it. Also, from the standpoint of business, doesn’t it make sense that people would pay more for architecture not done by “interns”? I would pay more for “associates.”
A few weeks ago I posed a question about architecture firms embracing a non-hierarchal office model, like holocracy, which some tech companies have embraced. This is one extreme, where a firm does away with titles and a vertical organizational structure to be more responsive and team-centered. There are no interns in this type of networked setting, where responsibilities are distributed by talents and abilities.
The title, intern, of course, is emblematic of the old vertical or pyramid structure. The intern is on the bottom - even if he or she’s the one in the office with valuable specialized knowledge. Architecture firms have “interns” that are not being utilized to their fullest potential as talent. The reasons for this can be complex and related to the culture in an office, its organizational structure, institutional history, and “tradition.” But another part of this is the title itself and how that shapes perceptions, expectations, staffing charts; how one fits into professional culture; and how much one is ultimately paid for working 70 hour work weeks.
Now the AIA’s Center for Emerging Professionals has set up a quick survey - it looks like even the people at the AIA’s highest levels have been discussing the issue at length.The question posed is: If it was up to you, what word or short phrase would best describe someone on the path to licensure?
If you are an “intern” what do you want your title to be? Do you care? Should we?
Guy Horton is a writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to authoring "The Indicator", he is a frequent contributor to The Architect's Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, The Atlantic Cities, and The Huffington Post. He has also written for Architectural Record, GOOD Magazine, and Architect Magazine. You can hear Guy on the radio and podcast as guest host for the show DnA: Design & Architecture on 89.9 FM KCRW out of Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyHorton.