13 Jun 2017

Bad Mentor, Good Mentor

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Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to getForrest Gump. My friend, Forrest, refers to the unexpected disappointment of finding a jelly core in your chocolate bite instead of a coveted caramel. Choosing your favorite chocolate from the box was an anxious adventure until chocolate manufacturer’s published a legend to distinguish the jelly (bad) from the caramel (good). Like searching for the chocolate in an unmarked box, your mentor search can prove equally precarious. On the outside they may look alike but will your mentor be chewy caramel goodness or wretched jelly sludge? Selecting a mentor doesn’t have to be a calculated risk. Setting your expectations and researching your options can separate the good mentor experience from the bad.

Bad Mentor:

Mentorship, Act 2, Scene 1: ‘Twas a cool November day the week after Thanksgiving when I started work with my second architecture firm after graduation. NCARB expunged my first two years of architecture experience because my first supervisor wasn’t licensed. Unwilling to repeat that mistake, I sought employment with a larger firm and a real mentor because the state board indicated i needed a mentor/advisor to complete my NCARB IDP program.

I was young, inspired and in search of my first social life since high school. [The studio-induced sleep deprivation and questionable hygiene are true; hence no college social life]. In the late 20th century I was not the social giant I am today so mentor selection was akin to selecting a breakfast cereal – I chose the quickest, easiest and cheapest. Selecting a mentor in the firm seemed convenient and advantageous. I glanced furtively around the office for a mentor and thought. that guy is tall and sits near me, I’ll ask him:

Me: Are you licensed?
Mentor: Yes, why do you ask?
Me: I’m enrolled in IDP. I need a mentor. Will you be my mentor?
Mentor: Yes, why do you ask?
Me: Because you sit close to me.
Mentor: *furrowed brow*

It was official, I had a new firm and a new mentor. I perfected a productive sleep schedule and remarkable personal hygiene but still didn’t understand the mentor-protege relationship so I approached it like a checklist. Every week I reported my hours to the mentor. The mentor signed his name and I submitted the report to NCARB. Occasionally, I asked innocuous questions, inquired about projects and solicited advice but he was absorbed in studio deadlines so we rarely interacted. I always thought he exuded the Foghorn Leghorn vibe.


Mentor #1 was my paper-mentor but something substantial was missing from this relationship. I grew hungrier (for something other than breakfast cereal) and smarter so I researched companies that integrated mentorship in the firm philosophy and found a new employer and a good mentor.

Good Mentor:

Mentorship Act 3, Scene 1: ‘Twas a humid August day the week before Labor Day when I started work with my third architecture firm after college. I amassed two years of IDP credits and regularly reported my progress to NCARB with help from my hand-picked architecture firm and newly appointed mentor.

I was still young, inspired and more confident in architecture and social life. Interaction was different this time because me, my mentor and the firm were committed to knowledge-sharing and professional growth. My first week in the office my new mentor searched expectantly around the studio, found me and introduced himself:

Mentor: Welcome to the firm. I’m your mentor. What can I do to help?
Me: Here’s my IDP. I’m behind in the following categories and want more exposure to them.
Mentor: Excellent. I have an activity schedule and people to introduce to you. Are you ready?
Me: I’ve been ready for 5 years!
Mentor: *impressed nod*

It was official. I became an architecture intern with a work, education and feedback schedule. Several different colleagues fulfilled a mentor role during varied studio assignments, lunch meetings and rotation to different departments within the firm. Here are a few of the mentor-protege actions my firm practiced:

  • rotated me from design, marketing, specification, administration departments to learn how the firm functioned
  • attended multiple professional courses (cost estimation, spec writing, project management) before continuing education was a requirement
  • joined feedback sessions between principals, project managers and interns to share expectations, feedback and discuss marketing strategy
  • visited clients and construction sites to learn the programming, design and construction sequence

This was the type of professional experience I wanted. Every day was a celebration!

Successful mentorship does not rest solely on the mentor. Mentorship is a program that depends upon full commitment from all parties, the protege, the mentor and the design firm. Mentorship is part of a healthy and inclusive culture in the companies and individuals who embrace knowledge-sharing, but there’s always more you can do to improve your mentor-protege experience.

  • you get out what you put in. fight for feedback
  • make every day an opportunity to learn and inch closer to your license
  • mentorship is two-way. you need mentors who listen and advise
  • behave like you want a mentor to behave
  • always choose caramel center chocolates over jelly filled

And that’s all I have to say about that — Forrest Gump

Architalks Credits

This is another entry in Bob Borson’s blogging brain-child titled, “ArchiTalks”.

The #ArchiTalks goal is to inspire blogging architects with similar educational and professional requirements to opine on the same topic and simulpost their response so other architects and a broader audience can enjoy the rampant thought-diversity within the architecture profession

Select the links in “Architalks Entries” below to read how architects responded to the “Mentorship” topic.

image/video credits:

Architalks Entries

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
This is NOT Mentorship

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff

Mark R. LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
teach them the way they should go: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Bad Mentor, Good Mentor

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
The Top 3 Benefits for Architects to Mentor and to be Mentored

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
I’ve got a lot to learn

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Gurus, Swamis, and Other Architectural Guides

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
The Lonely Mentor

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust

Samantha R. Markham – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why every Aspiring Architect needs SCARs

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Mentorship : mend or end ?

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Mentor5hip is…

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
My Mentor

Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
5 Mentors that are in my life

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood – Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
On Mentorship

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)

About the Author

Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 32 years experience in design, construction observation and life.