So it’s that time of the year isn’t it? Your exams have finished and there’s something standing between you and a summer of eating Doritos and binge watching Breaking Bad on Netflix. Psych! Maybe that’s what UCL Undergrads plan on doing for summer, we’re cooler than that, we’ve already watched that and are so deeply engrossed in Game of Thrones that we have it as substitute for reality. Winter is coming! Anyway, about the thing standing between your exams and building stuff in South America: Project Work. From the week long adventures of Creative Design Week and Constructionaroum, to the 5 week Group Design Projects and even the 6 month Final Year Project. It’s one of those things you’ve heard plenty about and in there are plenty of lies. Lies I tell you!
It’s easier than your exams they said, you can take it at your own pace they said. Lies! Sure, before it starts you think to yourself, as long as I put the work in everyday it will be alright, I’ll just use what I’ve learnt in lectures and apply it. This is going to be fun! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! You see, exams are limited in their scope, you learn a module, develop techniques and then apply them. You’re not expected to know huge amounts of information because there’s only three hours and your brain has a capacity, no matter what your Mind Palace tells you. Project work on the other hand literally leaves the world at your fingertips. Don’t know something? Look it up, it’s probably been done before and you’re in a position to start learning. In an exam you’re presented with standard cases, or cases that don’t stray too far from what you know, but project work on the other hand you’re expected to push the boundaries of what you know. You don’t want a normal structure, you’re expected to design something impressive and risky. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s definitely not any easier than exams by any stretch of the imagination. They’re two different styles of applying knowledge, but don’t for one second under estimate what the workload of a project is like.
So you know you’ve got to work hard, you set normal office hours and you have the belief that if you work hard enough you’ll be comfortable. Wrong again! A lot of project work is research, you can spend days looking up different types of construction, how buildings work and what type of materials they use. This information can sometimes be hard to come by, but when you do and two days have passed what do you have to show for it? Sure, you’ve found various case studies on modular buildings, how they’re constructed and how they behave structurally but how do you show that in a presentation? You can’t, you can’t sit there and recite research you’ve done. Sure, it’s interesting but what’s important is how you apply to your project. What’s important is outputs. Models, animations or floor plans, you don’t get any of that from research. You have an idea, you research it and refine your idea as you find more and more restraints. It’s a long process and you’ll soon see yourself working a lot longer than expected. Wave goodbye to those evening runs and trips to hipster bars in East London, it was a nice thought while it lasted.
So, on the odd occasion I’m not writing LIVIC, training for the World Cup Squad (I’m the 8th man on the back up list, watch your back Baines) or reading I occasionally like to have a good moan. Who doesn’t? Hence the article, but writing this stuff I always realise the points I make are often related to each other and then I start arguing against myself, it gets heated and mirrors have been smashed. Although nothing has been proven. Maybe, it’s my inner historian or my alter ego. Well, I decided to make a change, and perform a bigger U-Turn than Thatcher, mid article! So here are two hidden gems you learn while doing project work. My councillor always said to end on a positive note…
So while I complained earlier about having to do days of research and going beyond anything you know, sure it’s frustrating because you feel a little stupid, however there are some benefits to this side of project work. You start to learn all sorts of exciting new topics that none of your classmates will learn, once you learn to apply it and produce parts of your work there’s no better feeling than sitting back and appreciating that you did that all by yourself. Two days earlier you had no idea what a waste water treatment plant looked like, now you’re talking about how you’ve narrowed down your processes and finding the optimal solution and blowing the socks off Professors in the process. This will help you so much in interviews as well, you’ll have so much ammunition for their questions I wouldn’t be surprised if they would have to put their riot gear on mid interview. Also, lecturers might show you a proof or a process and tell you it’s outside the scope of the course, most of us immediately wipe it from our memory, well me anyway but that probably explains a lot. However, in projects you may need to fully understand the ins and outs of that proof or technology, and when you’re able to explain at interview how you researched, understood and applied it to your project it will reflect very well on you.
Also, the experiences you have in a team will never leave you because they’re normally so different to anything you’ve experienced. That group leader who led like a dictator on constructionarium? Sure, he was harsh, but the project was delivered on time and up to quality standards. That time your team leader wasn’t very effective and you nominated yourself to take control of the project? These are all useful experiences, they will play a role of how you behave in a team but also how you lead. You will draw on past experiences you’ve had, and luckily we have plenty of team projects throughout our degree. Not all degrees are so lucky. There’s plenty to talk about at interview but also plenty of experience to draw on when you have to make a tough decisions. Whether that’s a design decision or team working decision.
So next time you’re faced with a project, take on board what advice people tell you, it will help. However, make sure you get yourself stuck in and fully involved, sure you sacrificed a few evenings but that kick ass model you produced and those experiences you crafted during your project will shape the way you approach projects for the rest of your life.