How I Navigated the IDP

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). 

My IDP experience was visceral and affirming, but would not have been without a bit of planning. Below are five key perspectives that made it possible for me to turn every single hour of time in the office into an IDP entry.

Lay the Foundation

Planning is an essential step in the IDP process, which I cannot stress enough. Once you have enrolled in the program, take five minutes to approach your supervisor and make your plan known. Supervisors are entrusted to facilitate your experience, and you are entrusted with staying the course. 

Before embarking on this journey, you’ll need a map. The IDP Guidelines contains the firsthand knowledge you need to lead yourself and your supervisor along the way. Know its contents. Know its angles. Know its high ground, its low-hanging fruit, its peaks and valleys.

In some ways, you owe it to yourself to uncover the timeline of a project and anticipate any fluctuations. At the same time, you may simply need to reveal the nature of the work you may be assigned to. Is the project long- or short-term? Is it broad in the experience areas it covers or specific? Take note. What does this mean for you and your plan? 

If you are about to undertake a feasibility study (which falls into several experience areas) then when is it scheduled to be delivered? If you foresee working far beyond the required programming and Site and Building Analysis tasks, then you absolutely must look ahead. Are you referencing any codes (Codes and Regulations) or zoning requirements (Planning and Zoning Regulations) while working? I imagine you are—which brings us to the next key perspective.

Intelligently Interpret Your Experience

A lot of what we do in a professional setting falls into myriad experience categories. But the sense of urgency surrounding a project can cloud our ability to see these nuances.

We have all met a colleague who has stagnated in the IDP. Their expertise in Construction Documents has found them toiling away for the past 16 months. But hasn’t he/she been negotiating different territories this entire time? Was the local code referenced while working? Weren’t the engineering systems refined and coordinated multiple times over the course of the documentation phase? 

This is why you need to see through the smoke. During our colleague’s-16 month journey into the world of Construction Documents he/she may have unknowingly fulfilled requirements in Material Selection and Specification, Engineering Systems, Construction Cost, Codes and Regulations, and the occasional General Project Management, among others.

Go on the Double Offensive

The IDP Guidelines outlines how candidates can earn experience outside of the traditional office setting. Use this information to your advantage. The weekend, the evening, your lunch break, and the breaths in between can either be spent watching paint dry or maximizing our experiences. Volunteering at nonprofits, engaging in community service, entering a design competition, or working through some of the Emerging Professionals Companion can all get a candidate closer to their goal. A colleague of mine once mentioned that he turned his children’s homework time into his own; while the little ones were busy with their homework, so was dad. Ice cream and some time on the swing set awaited their evening victories.

Hone Your Leadership Skills

Dwell for a moment on the nature of your relationship with your supervisor. What is his/her background? When did he/she go through the IDP, if at all? Do you think that all supervisors are authoritative in their knowledge of the experience that you need? And, if they are, do they know exactly how you’re going to get it? That’s where you come in. 

The IDP Guidelines is a map of the terrain beneath you. As you progress forward, use this tool to guide both you and your supervisor. I have always been of the mindset that, in many ways, the intern is the leader when it comes to navigating the program. Remember that you asked this of them, not the opposite. You should be courageous enough to approach your pursuit of licensure with the spirit of a leader. You lead yourself, you lead your supervisor, and you will lead others in the future.

Embrace Opportunity

I will cite this as the most important perspective to have when undertaking the IDP. Perhaps more difficult than the preceding aspects of our approach is the ability to parlay our progression through the IDP into new experiences. The right combination of circumstances is unpredictable and difficult to assume, which is why having total control over the IDP is difficult. 

We know by looking at the IDP Guidelines that we’ll need some experience in Construction Administration (240 hours) and Construction Phase: Observation (120 hours). Do you have what it takes to approach your supervisor and assure him/her that you would be an asset to this phase of the project? How hard will you fight for the chance to lace up your boots and represent your firm in the field, the real battleground? When a chance opens up to take on a new role, tackle a new experience area, or ask for the extension of new responsibilities, you absolutely must take it.

By embracing these perspectives, I was able to find my own level of success and momentum. Was I always careful and precise in planning my IDP progress? I’ll let you arrive at the obvious answer to that. Things get messy, and sometimes we have to rely on our own strength to keep going. The compound effect of successful planning and execution helped enhance my IDP experience, illuminating the joy architecture can bring both in and out of the office.

About the Author

Michael Archer was part of NCARB’s inaugural Intern Think Tank in 2012 and serves on NCARB’s Internship Advisory Committee. He recently celebrated the completion of the IDP and is currently taking the ARE.