WILA Interview Series: Career Changes

image: iStock © Sadeugra
image: iStock © Sadeugra

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN leadership team developed 17 interview questions, and then found willing landscape architects to participate in the interview process.

This group of questions asked the interviewees to share information about their former careers and/or job experiences prior to landscape architecture. As outlined in our first post of the interview series, most of our interviewees said they chose landscape architecture as a second or even third career. So what did they do before, and how did those experiences help lead them to landscape architecture? Did those experiences help prepare them for their new career?

What kind of other job(s), if any, did you have before/during/after your career as a landscape architect?

Sometimes our paths to success and happiness become more crooked than straight. However, as we’ve all learned, there is no shortcut to any place worth going. Life can take some pretty sharp turns, but if you’re willing to follow a new path, you may end up where you always wanted to be. I had a prior career in the television industry and whenever I meet another landscape architect they’re always interested to hear how I ended up in landscape architecture. It seems like most of the time, the other person’s path was just as crooked as mine was.

Our interviewees were no different. In fact, they had a wide variety of job experiences prior to becoming landscape architects, including:

  • office management
  • coach
  • swim instructor
  • photographer
  • civil engineer
  • landscaper
  • nursery worker
  • marketing
  • teaching
  • communication
  • camp counselor
  • vet assistant
  • carpenter’s assistant
  • youth counselor
  • publishing
  • mom
  • design editor

In addition, several women reported that they currently teach in addition to their jobs as landscape architects. Some hold adjunct professor or visiting professor positions in university landscape architecture or design programs.

Which non-landscape architecture job(s), if any, gave you skills that have most benefited your landscape architecture career?

Despite the randomness of their prior work experiences, our interviewees unanimously reported that each experience was inherently valuable to their current careers in some way. Some women said that they would not have become a landscape architect had it not been for their particular path. Others said the specific skills they acquired in each job either directly or indirectly prepared them to become a successful landscape architect. The responses reveal that their prior experiences taught these women to become more organized, better communicators, more efficient and confident decision makers, better project managers, and to develop techniques to cope with stress.

Quotes from our interviewees:

  • “The skills I acquired prior to pursuing landscape architecture are not taught in design schools.”
  • “I’d say teaching taught me the most—I had to figure out efficient and clear ways to communicate complex ideas, had to learn to feel comfortable speaking to groups, had to be prepared and on top of it when I was giving a lecture, etc.”
  • “Prior to graduation, I had several retail and food service positions, which taught me how to work with a wide range of people, which is infinitely valuable in any position or career.”
  • “Teaching as an adjunct professor is helpful because as a teacher you must ask more questions and learn more about your topic than you might otherwise in practice alone.”
  • “The skills I learned [in civil engineering] that benefited me the most…were grading and drainage, mapping, road design, environmental review, working with city, county, state and federal agencies, and knowing how to move a project through the approval process. And of course, I learned how to work with engineers effectively!”
  • “Working with children is infinitely helpful in teaching patience and communication skills.”
  • “After graduation I entered the Peace Corps, where I worked as an agro-forestry volunteer in Senegal. That experience continues to inform my approach to design and life, providing confidence in the decisions I have made.”

There is no singular path to landscape architecture. I think that’s what makes it such an interesting profession. The culmination of all of our diverse skills and experiences makes us better designers. Don’t discount any of your prior “non-landscape architecture” experiences. This section of the interviewing process has taught us that our varied experiences, no matter what they are, can enrich our lives and careers. Skills you have learned throughout your life can easily translate to your current and future careers. Being self-aware and understanding your own skills and talents can be empowering and will help you build confidence moving forward in your professional life.

by Whitney Tidd, Associate ASLA, WILA PPN Officer

2 thoughts on “WILA Interview Series: Career Changes

  1. brita von schoenaich November 20, 2015 / 10:08 am

    Does anyone know the % of women in Landscape Architecture and in Architecture? I am interested in the figures for both UK and USA or even Europe. Thanks, Brita

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