Co-Op Talk: Roundtable

said by: Jordan Fitch

For the third co-op talk of the semester, we wanted to try something different - a discussion about the co-op experience between undergrads and grad students, including those at both levels who have and haven't yet co-oped. We met in the Eames room in the library over coffee and bagels back in late November, and got a chance to pick each other's brains about the ins and outs of the somewhat crazy co-op experience that we at SAID throw ourselves into during our time here.

A special thanks to our seven attendees:

  • Caroline Errico, an M.Arch1 second-year grad, who is doing her first co-op in San Francisco in the spring.

  • Callie Forsythe, a second-year interiors undergrad, who is doing her first co-op in the spring.

  • Kenna Gibson, an M.Arch2 first-year grad, who is doing her first co-op in D.C. in the spring.

  • Rachael Green, a fourth-year architecture undergrad, who has co-oped in D.C., Seattle, and Indianapolis.

  • Jonah Pruitt, a fourth-year architecture undergrad, who has co-oped in NYC, San Francisco, and Chicago.

  • Jules Rosen, an M.Arch1 thesis-year grad, who has co-oped in Pittsburgh and Covington.

  • Austin Woodruff, a second-year architecture undergrad, who is doing his first co-op in Brooklyn in the spring.


In your opinion, what are some of the most successful parts of the process? 

Jonah: There's definitely a huge breadth of different firms and firm types on the list, which is always very interesting, which means you do hours and hours of research but it's always fun. For instance, I worked in an interior design firm that was 60 people, I worked at a firm that was one person in her house with her dog, and I worked at a firm with 20 people.

Jules: The fact that you're guaranteed a co-op is pretty incredible - that's an awesome part of this program.

Caroline: The variety of the positions - and if you read the descriptions about what some firms are looking for that isn't just limited to the traditional architecture experience.

Austin: The initial submission of application/resume/links to portfolio - I think that process works very well. And it's nice having something that brings all of those different pieces of information to one place, where we know everything has to be.

Callie: I know for me, the interiors undergrads have our own Google doc that has company name, everyone who has co-oped with that company, how much the average pay is, good places to look for housing in that city, good things to know, etc.

What parts of the process could use some improvement?

Jules: I think if you look at the firms that actually give people offers on the spreadsheet, you'll notice that repeatedly, a lot of firms will not offer co-ops, even though they are on the list. 

Callie: I know something that I experienced with that is when I applied to PAL, there were a number of firms that never even looked at my portfolio and resume, and I know that was a common factor, so I would have rather applied to a firm that was actually going to look so I would have more opportunities.

Austin: I'm not sure as first-years we have a couple more amenities, but I know Kim Burke, our advisor, kept us updated with a list of actively recruiting firms that we could reference against the list in PAL, and that was incredibly useful in deciding where to apply since we only have a limited number of firms you can send information to

Jonah: Maybe there is a way we could have people email for us - I know that's how the School of Design works - they don't email anyone, it's all run through their advisor.

Jules: I think also the evaluation process at the end could be improved. They have what seems like a university-wide evaluation system for the end of your co-op - so it's not applicable to architecture or interior design, it's just a general thing that I not sure they even look at.

Jordan: Maybe incentivizing, or more communication on the part of staff to get feedback and communication with firms.


Do grad students and undergrads have questions for each other?

How do you all think the process is different between the two programs?

Austin: I'm sure to many firms an undergraduate student looks like an undergraduate student, and when they are applying they may end up doing the same type of tasks that might be expected of a younger student - did you find that to be the case in your undergraduate studies? 

Rachael: So on my first co-op I did kind of mundane tasks - I did a lot of ordering material swatches (I worked at an interior design firm), and then as it went along I got more responsibility. But then as I went along, my confidence built up - you know what to ask instead of just agreeing to do things. By the end I was doing a lot more work than in the first co-op in a lot of different programs. 

Jordan: I think what's really interesting is the graduate students have a bit of an advantage because they are older and a different set of firms are looking for graduate students... but when you get there, an intern is an intern, and you usually end up with the same type of tasks until you build up your confidence.

Jonah: I have a question, specifically about UC - I'm applying to graduate school now. Is there something different about applying to co-ops as a graduate student?

Jules: I think the only difference is that you'll probably get matched with a firm more easily than as an undergrad... so your process won't last as long.

Caroline: I still had a very stressful first couple weeks because I felt like it was a very unrealistic experience in terms of trying to get a job, because normally if you sent out several feelers you wouldn't hear back from half of them. You certainly wouldn't hear back from half of them telling you they want an interview - that never happens - and that's specifically because there was a small pool of graduates this year. So there was definitely a couple of weeks of stress coordinating everything, I wouldn't say that entirely goes away.

Kenna: I think it's a little different too based on what kind of firm you want to work for. When I went through the list, I didn't look at all of them - I had very specific ideas in mind of who I want to work for, and what kind of work I want them to be doing. But with that said, I also wanted to relocate and I didn't want to do that for a small firm. So sometimes it is harder for them to get back to you because bigger firms look at more applicants.

Jordan: I would also say, not speaking from personal experience, but the people who had done undergrad here at UC, because they already had 3 co-ops, were a little more likely to be that first person to get an interview. As an M.Arch1, on my first co-op search I didn't have any experience, and I struggled to get interviews a little at the beginning.

Callie: What has, undergrad or grad school, been your experiences with going off the list as far as finding coops?

Jonah: I received the nicest rejection letter from KieranTimberlake ever. And I got a thank you email from Snøhetta, and that's about it. But I know people who have done it before - it definitely happens, especially if you have an in with someone - lots of times, especially by your third co-op, if you're in a city and you're part of the design scene, you can sometimes figure something out.

Jordan: Yeah I think it's also a little more likely to happen off the list for summer semester, because nearly everywhere is hiring for summer. I went off the list for my last co-op, and I think it might work better for bigger or more established firms that have open application systems for interns.

Kenna: Part of the reason I came here was for co-op - my undergrad doesn't have anything like it, and they don't help you find anything - it's all on your own. There's not even a list to go off of - so it's all about finding your own way in.

Austin: Have you all found that you are able to meet your own personal requirements for a co-op experience the later you are in your studies, once you have more experience?

Jules: I think my experience is a little different than Kenna's, because I was an M.Arch1, so I didn't have a lot of parameters - I didn't know if I wanted to go work for a big firm, small firm, whatever. So as I went on, I think I've developed and refined what I'm looking for.

Jonah: I've just been thankful to get a job, period. And oftentimes, when it comes to parameters and goals, you really have to be super open to anything. My first job was in New York with a lighting design consultancy and I had no idea what that looked like or what that was, and I was like "I'm moving to New York, it's going to be fine." And it ended up being one of my favorite co-ops because it was so weird and different. Especially when you're an undergrad, my personal advice is to be open to anything - any possible job you could get, even if you think you might not like it. You have to be willing to jump in and try a lot of things, because that's what firms want of an intern. 

Jordan: I would say talking your way through who in the firm is doing what you want to do, because there are always those people - even if it's not the job or project that you want to be on, someone else is working on something cool - the more you talk to them, maybe you don't even get on that project, but you get to make a connection.

Caroline: I was going to say, I haven't actually co-oped but I had an internship experience before this - and I found that as an intern you will be asked to do frustrating grunt work things like ordering samples or scanning things, and the more graciously and efficiently you do annoying tasks that support the entire office doing their job, the more your coworkers want to talk to you and get you involved on things, because they appreciate your energy and your hard work. Someone has to do the annoying tasks, and it's more important for the intern to do them than a principal, even if it's just scanning a couple of things or something.

Austin: Are you all familiar with anyone who has done an international co-op?

Jules: There's very few that are actually on the list - I know a graduate student that did one, off the list, in England, so it might be easier to do your own research.

Jordan: I've heard that you have to be flexible with timing, because a lot of international firms will want you for six months at a minimum - I'll say that the school is usually pretty flexible as long as you are proactive about communicating.

Kenna: One of our grad professors really stresses applying to international firms when they are trying to win projects in Cincinnati - that would be the time to look for places overseas, because they are much more apt to want a UC student's input.

Callie: And I know within interiors, the fourth year class is 30% abroad and then a lot of them are planning to study or travel for multiple semesters. So even if you were more interested or open to an interiors based co-op there are a lot of opportunities.

Jonah: And it's more than just getting a co-op - I just got back from the study tour for fourth year architecture and interior design can do. There's more than one way to study abroad - because the paperwork is tremendous, be open to other ways of getting the international experience that aren't co-op. 

Caroline: Once you're a grad student, it gets a lot harder. It's pretty much a co-op - there are not as many UC opportunities for grad students trying to go abroad. You usually have to find that type of thing for yourself.

For those of you that have co-oped, do you all have any advice for those who haven't? 

Rachael: I know with co-op we go into round one, and if you don't get a co-op you go into round two. I think it's just the nature of the beast of architecture and all of our personalities, but never feel intimidated or sad or that you're not good enough because you went to round two. I know a lot of my friends went to round two and they were like "no one wants to hire me, I'm a terrible architect, maybe I should just quit." And I say - who cares - you're doing the damn thing, you're doing architecture.

Jonah: A job is a job is a job.

Jordan: I would try to diversify the firms you work for as much as possible, because now is your best chance to sample different firms. The first firm I worked for was 150 people, and the last firm was 60 people, which was a totally different experience - I knew almost everyone in the office. So just experiment with size - obviously Jonah can say working for one person out of her home is very different than a bigger firm.

Jonah: You can't be scared - typically, you find that the personalities of architects are similar, so you can't be too scared of them, they aren't out to hurt you. You just kind of have to go in and just do all that you can. And more than diversifying size, the type of work and the cities you go to. This is the one chance you get to live anywhere you want - don't let the fear of moving stop you.

Thanks again to our roundtable participants. Our conversation has been condensed for clarity.

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