Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 32

Thread: [RANT] Flaky Interns and Ivory-Tower Disservice to Students

  1. #1
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,200

    [RANT] Flaky Interns and Ivory-Tower Disservice to Students

    Its been a while since the ol' Burb Fixer dropped the RANT bomb...

    Our summer intern just bailed on us today. Apparently the job was below her. Based on my discussions with the Director, she felt that the work was not important enough for her and weren't fulfilling her expectations to change the world within 6 months of beginning work. She was working on a project that was going to shape our annexation policy for the next several years. She was working on another project that was likely to result in a more streamlined permitting process. Alas, this was not up to her expectations. What's worse is that I, as well as others, really took her under our collective wings to show her why these projects were important. The whole time she was here she was never asked to perform the mundane clerical tasks, like copying, babysitting phones, etc.

    I know what you're thinking... "So an intern flaked out on you--this is nothing new." What is bothering me is that I know the underlying reasons she flaked out (other than bratty-ness).

    I believe the majority of universities are performing a disservice to their students, particularly to undergraduates, as they prepare to enter the job field. So many universities have planning faculty comprised entirely of ivory tower academics that have never set foot in a planning office. These professors are painting an inaccurate picture of the profession--glamorizing it as the ultimate "change the world" profession where you are rewarded on a daily basis for you work toward the betterment of mankind. While all of us have that idealistic world tucked away somewhere in the back of our mind (we wouldn't be in public service otherwise), we know and comprehend that there are only a handful of glamor projects available during the course of our careers. We work on projects that may never see the light of day. We work on projects whose results won't be readily known until 20-30 years down the road. We spend the majority of our time guiding people through the bureaucratic process, writing countless staff reports on everything ranging from a simple setback variance request to an amendment to the future land use map to allow for TODs near the newly proposed rail stop. We research issues in the back room do help design appropriate floor-area-ratios. Rarely do we get to design that community-altering project, that legendary project written up in countless textbooks. Professors often tell you otherwise--preaching the latest and greatest planning ideas and never accounting for the difficulty in implementing them while working through the public forum.

    Professors need to get real. When you join the planning profession, you are not signing up for a life of glamour projects where your name routinely makes the front page of the newspaper. You are signing up for a career in public service, where there is a calling beyond egos obcessed with high-profile, immediate, tangible results. We are in public service. We represent a calling to promote the public good. We are not in it for the money. We are not in it to have our name in lights. We are not mini-dictators that can wave a magic wand to turn the whole world into a New Urbanist Scandanavian Paradise where people gladly ride bikes everywhere, singing kum-ba-yah on the town square.

    We live in the real world, and so should professors. I'm not saying to remove idealism from the curriculum; I'm saying to stop sugarcoating it to a point that students are traumatized and angry for wasting 4-5+ years of their education.

    I still have my idealism, but I keep it on the shelf right next to reality.

    I feel better now.
    Last edited by Suburb Repairman; 14 Jun 2006 at 4:13 PM.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  2. #2
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
    Registered
    May 2004
    Location
    Snarkville
    Posts
    6,587
    I agree with your assessment. I recently had a project where the neighbor was a planning professor at the local university. He complained and asked all sorts of questions and made all sorts of statements that gave me the impression he knew absolutely nothing about how planning in the real world works.

    I don't think that's always the case, as a friend of mine is also a planning professor at another university AND he has worked as a planning director. It certainly seems to be a theme in universities however.

    As far as your intern loeaving however, get over it

  3. #3
    If it makes you feel any better, it's not a problem exclusive to urban planning faculties.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
    Registered
    Oct 2005
    Location
    The Gig City
    Posts
    2,639
    I learned more in my first 6 months on the job than 3 years of planning school... I agree the academia view of Planning and Policy is very utopian and doesn't get "down and dirty in the trenches" where most of us work day in and day out.
    @GigCityPlanner

  5. #5
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    8,991
    Blog entries
    2
    How about when they idealistic planners preach at various conference siminars. I remember attending a few where I thought -- I'll never be able to do THAT...
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  6. #6
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2005
    Location
    in a meeting
    Posts
    8,372
    hear- hear -

    I had an intern who I took with me to a Council meeting and he started to raise his hand and I said: put your hand down and he said: but I have somehting to say and I said: no you don't...

    I know I sound like an old fart, and after 20 years this summer in this profession, I guess I am so I will say that my intern jobs were making copies, assembling packets and really crappy admin type stuff - but I eavesdropped on every conversation I could get away with, asked the questions when a staffer was getting a cup of coffee (thus not bugging them when they were trying to do work), and read every document I copied

    so yeah, you have to get over it as someone posted, but still, you had given this person some pretty big projects for an intern to do so that really sucks

    I killed a thread not too long ago in the student section here about social justice in planning, as in, wtf?

    I, believe it or not, still have high ideals and am an optimist overall but I also know we all gotta get through the day and sometimes we have to forward ideas that really suck and are stupid but the good news about planning is that nobody dies

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Feb 2004
    Location
    ????
    Posts
    1,184
    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    ...but the good news about planning is that nobody dies
    I had a project 2 months ago (townhomes) where one of the moms in the neighborhood adjacent to the project said that planners are evil and that our main goal in life was to kill the children.

    Yeah, we are in the intern hiring process for the second time in a month. this time, of the three applicants we chose to interview, one of them has called me back. Tomorrow is hiring time.

  8. #8
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,200
    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian

    so yeah, you have to get over it as someone posted, but still, you had given this person some pretty big projects for an intern to do so that really sucks

    I killed a thread not too long ago in the student section here about social justice in planning, as in, wtf?

    I, believe it or not, still have high ideals and am an optimist overall but I also know we all gotta get through the day and sometimes we have to forward ideas that really suck and are stupid but the good news about planning is that nobody dies
    Oh don't worry--I'm over it ; our other intern can absorb the projects. I just bothers me that professors are sending these students out with poor expectations, resulting in situations like this. Maybe this means I actually have a heart (this would be a stunning realization for me ). While these projects are important, they are on a level that an intern can do and will give him a lot of exposure to some different areas (I guess we see this as an educational opportunity for them rather than as slave labor for us).

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian H's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2003
    Location
    MKS
    Posts
    2,847

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    Unfortunately, I am easily able to see your point. But please, it is by no means all professors. (I expect you did not mean all, but some of your blanket statements lead that way). But not meaning to put words in your mouth either way, I want to make the point that many professors are very aware of the situation you describe and are diligently working to improve the ‘disconnect’ (others are not). Regardless, the difficulty (the way I see it) is not always with the professors anyway, but with the system. At most research universities (where most planning schools are located), professors are rewarded as a result of academic and scholarly accomplishments in terms of research leading to grants, books, journals, etc…, not from actual planning projects or even teaching. Students are often inspired to “change the world” based on this good research. Furthermore, good research takes time. Therefore, a productive researcher will “get lost” in their research, possibly loosing touch with reality, like jaws and his “private cities” for example (go ahead and flag me, but he/she is a perfect example of this from someone here on the boards). This is where the problem occurs. Again, many professors are aware of this and desire to improve the situation. I can personally vouch for the university where I am affiliated, in the fact that the professors are excellent as both researchers and producing productive “reality-based” planner professionals. So again, it is not all.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  10. #10
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 1996
    Location
    New Hampshire
    Posts
    7,540
    Quote Originally posted by H
    Therefore, a productive researcher will “get lost” in their research, possibly loosing touch with reality, like jaws and his “private cities” for example (go ahead and flag me, but he/she is a perfect example of this from someone here on the boards). This is where the problem occurs. Again, many professors are aware of this and desire to improve the situation. I can personally vouch for the university where I am affiliated, in the fact that the professors are excellent as both researchers and producing productive “reality-based” planner professionals. So again, it is not all.
    Moderator note:


    As requested. No personal attacks, please.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  11. #11
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
    Registered
    May 2004
    Location
    Snarkville
    Posts
    6,587
    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian
    but the good news about planning is that nobody dies
    Not true. I had a project a few years ago where we determined the lot was illegally created AND unbuildable due to habitat concerns. I sent the applicant a letter and he read it and promptly had a heart attack and died. And no I am not making this up.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
    Registered
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Land of Confusion
    Posts
    3,736
    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman
    . We are in public service. We represent a calling to promote the public good. We are not in it for the money. We are not in it to have our name in lights. We are not mini-dictators that can wave a magic wand to turn the whole world into a New Urbanist Scandanavian Paradise where people gladly ride bikes everywhere, singing kum-ba-yah on the town square.

    We live in the real world, and so should professors. I'm not saying to remove idealism from the curriculum; I'm saying to stop sugarcoating it to a point that students are traumatized and angry for wasting 4-5+ years of their education.

    I still have my idealism, but I keep it on the shelf right next to reality.
    I think this rant made my day . Thanks to the ivory-preaching of their professors most planning students think they've failed unless they get a job somewhere like Portland, SF, or Boston, presumably implementing grand plans for sustainable development. They've been taught that working in the suburbs is invariably a no-no because that would be abetting sprawl and environmental destruction. The end result is that we have a glut of talented planners where we need them the least, most of which who will never know what is like to work as a planner in the real world.

  13. #13
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,200
    Just to clarify... I know there are some professors out there that successfully integrate the real world into their classes--heck, I'm good friends with one! It just seems we hear a ton more stories similar to this one (maybe not resulting in someone quiting, but definitely shock & disappointment) and not as many like mine (I had two different professors that integrated the real world pretty well and I credit them with my success and advancement).

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2003
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    7,061
    This is part of why I gave up a national merit scholarship and chose to go get a life and find out who I was other than an obnoxious know-it-all. Since I spend plenty of time in online forums talking to other parents of gifted kids, I know that this stuff continues to be a problem: bright kids are routinely treated in school (as early as elementary school) like "unpaid teacher's aids" and then crabbed at when they act as if they can boss someone around. They are expected to take on adult responsibilities and then punished when they assume this means they also deserve adult authority since they are doing the same job as the adults. Thus, a lot of bright kids are growing up in a totally dysfunctional manner and I think it goes a long way to produce things like politicians (such as Bill Clinton) who will tell people to their face "Why should we give you a tax break and let you spend your money as you see fit when we know what's best for you?" I consider the Clinton's to be Ivory Tower types who have no clue what really works.

    My favorite professors have been those who worked full time and taught a related course part time or who used to work in whatever profession they are now teaching classes about. Having spent so much time around the army and so much raising difficult, special-needs kids, I can't afford "ivory tower theories" concerning what idealistically "ought" to work. I need real answers for the real world. Having found enormous satisfaction in figuring out real world solutions for difficult problems, I have grown rather impatient with idealistic and unrealistic theories.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    Gale Crater
    Posts
    2,842
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    They've been taught that working in the suburbs is invariably a no-no because that would be abetting sprawl and environmental destruction. The end result is that we have a glut of talented planners where we need them the least, most of which who will never know what is like to work as a planner in the real world.
    Now that is a terribly cynical viewpoint. I was one of those students not so long ago who had that idealistic gleam in his eye. But thanks to my skillful, insightful, and critical professors, including the wonderful internship I had, and let's not forget the awesome student community in my graduate planning program that socialized and constantly discussed classroom topics when we were together, I learned what good planning is and learned to respect the idea that context matters. I was never taught that the suburbs are bad... what kind of planning program does that?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
    Registered
    Sep 1999
    Location
    400 miles from Orlando
    Posts
    13,743
    I took a graduate-level class in an MPA program where one professor, a former planner, told the class ad nauseum how planners should promote their own agendas no matter where they are working. He called it "advocacy planning" and kept telling tales about jumping up in public hearings and arguing with the governing board. Having been a planner for a number of years by then, I finally asked him just how many planning jobs he'd been fired from by sticking to that philisophy and he replied "Every one I've had". And this guy was teaching? (Of course, I had horrible profs in other areas, too....). He was giving that class (most of whom were looking to switch from other careers into planning) a horrible misconception. I am sure that some of them hit their internships and had a rude awakening.

  17. #17
    I thought every good planner was supposed to get fired at least once????????

    Real World Planning and what you learn in Planning School are definately two different worlds.

    But it ain't a bad thought. It's just getting that thought to stick.
    Forechecking is overrated.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2005
    Location
    In my own little bubble
    Posts
    2,561
    Oh trust me this happens everywhere- but i wouldnt say that it is always the professors fault.

    As a part of my degree we have to do a years (paid) work experience- you dont do it you dont pass your degree until you do. So what happens is that employers advertise through the uni and student apply for the job. I got a job at a council- (which im still working at) after doing some unpaid work at another coucil and working as a assistant heritage planner in a private consultancy. In both jobs i never expected to get anything major- i was a student- i was there to photocopy, answer phones and sit and learn- nothing more nothing less. I was given minor responsibilities and that made me over the moon.

    So i come to work for Council- it wasnt the highest paying job, but it didnt bother me, its all about experience. At Council i didnt get a heap of responsibility, but i was given enough, i still had to do mundane tasks, but hell i was the student. But i learnt SO much from listening and doing minor tasks. I would never hardly say a word if i was in a meeting- even if i knew the answer- it was not my place.

    I got retained by the Council to continue working after my work experience, and it is only now i am getting a lot of responsibility- i have had to work for it, and it is a better feeling that people see that you have earned it.

    Back to what i was saying before about employers advertising, since there is only say 40 students, employers offer huge sums of money to get the 'best' students. Some places are paying students up to $US 39,000 for their work experience, while i was on something like $US24,000. Students earning that much have a higher expectation of getting work that is 'major' and full of responsiblity.

    But i think in general people coming out of university have this attitude that as they have a degree, they dont start at the bottom, and i think that is such a poor attitute to have. A degree means S**t sometimes. People can earn a degree but in the real world just cant make it. Its all about experience and attitude as far as im concerned.

    Sorry bit of a rant, it annoys me too!
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  19. #19
    Gunfighter Mastiff's avatar
    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Middle of a Dusty Street
    Posts
    6,358
    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner
    Not true. I had a project a few years ago where we determined the lot was illegally created AND unbuildable due to habitat concerns. I sent the applicant a letter and he read it and promptly had a heart attack and died. And no I am not making this up.

    Way to go, imakiller...
    -----------------------------------------------------------------
    C'mon and get me you twist of fate
    I'm standing right here Mr. Destiny
    If you want to talk well then I'll relate
    If you don't so what cause you don't scare me

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
    Registered
    Sep 1999
    Location
    400 miles from Orlando
    Posts
    13,743
    Quote Originally posted by Mastiff
    Way to go, imakiller...
    Reminds me, my last 2 jobs, the planners and code enforcement officers kept records of their "kills". One code person at my current jurisdiction had 3 people clutch their chests and croak during code board hearings. To my knowledge, I haven't killed anyone yet....

  21. #21
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Where Valley Fever Lives
    Posts
    6,950

    Yup....

    I remember clearly one of my studio classes with dual professors, one in planning and one in LA, with students from both sides.....let's just say that the planning prof. didn't get along with the LA prof. at all....and it all had to do with reality and our studio project. The LA's wanted to map every foot of a 65 mile long scenic by-way at a 1" to 20' scale and the planners wanted to pick and choose specific points in the road that needed such specific detail and would still allow us to provide a decent first phase analysis on time and under budget......I kid you not...

    Now, I was an intern for 13 months during grad. school working in a County Planning office, doing everything from building permit review to counter work to sign permits to liquor licenses to you name it......and I loved it and learned a ton from that.....and got a planning job out of it...... As for idealism, I place bits of it in my job when appropriate and when I think it might take hold. This is much less likely to really upset someone and very likely to get them thinking about a new direction....

    There should be a nice mix of real world planning and La La Land planning at the university.....not too much of one over the other....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  22. #22
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Wishing I were in Asia somewhere!
    Posts
    9,586
    Blog entries
    5
    I am a summer intern at the county planning office (at age 32!). Some days I find it horribly boring and somedays it is quite interesting depending on the people who walk through the door and if Ms. Bipolar in the office has taken her medicine or not.

    I've been assigned pretty mundane work which takes me about 20 minutes to finish most days so I just remain sitting in the break room in the rickety chair using the old laptop since there isn't anywhere else for me to sit. I answer phones when I cover the receptionists lunch.

    I was asked to review and revise the population element of the comp plan which I did willingly and put a lot of effort into trying to make it more user friendly and understandable by anyone who would read it. I reworked much of the statistical data since some of the data had erroneous formulas. Where is it now? Sitting on the director's desk for two weeks without comment although the other people that saw it said it looked great.

    At least the internship is helping me to figure out what I don't want to do in planning. I think at this point I have been wise to choose Rutgers as a planning grad school because they have an excellent policy component and I think that is where I will focus most of my effort.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  23. #23
    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman
    Its been a while since the ol' Burb Fixer dropped the RANT bomb...

    Our summer intern just bailed on us today. Apparently the job was below her. Based on my discussions with the Director, she felt that the work was not important enough for her and weren't fulfilling her expectations to change the world within 6 months of beginning work. She was working on a project that was going to shape our annexation policy for the next several years. She was working on another project that was likely to result in a more streamlined permitting process. Alas, this was not up to her expectations. What's worse is that I, as well as others, really took her under our collective wings to show her why these projects were important. The whole time she was here she was never asked to perform the mundane clerical tasks, like copying, babysitting phones, etc.
    I'm currently an intern with a municipality, and the tasks that you had her doing sound pretty damn good compared to what they have me doing! Would you take a mid-summer transfer??

    Seriously though, I have to agree. My current schooling in Planning is now my second degree and I spent 3 years in the business world between degrees, so perhaps I had a realistic expectation for the 'real world' when I left my first degree and entered my first job, but I think you're bang on; most Planning students who are in their first go-round do think they are saving the world.

    I think internships can be as good/bad as the intern him/her self makes it to be. I usually have no more than 1-2 hours of work per day, but I pester my bosses to let me in any meeting I can get in on, keep my ears open for conversations, and read everything I can get my hands on (I've gone through about 20% of the city archives, reading plans as far back as 1960). It can be a little boring sometimes, but I can honestly say I've never learned as much, if only through osmosis and exposure. And the 1 great, busy day out of 5 makes it totally worth it.

    But put yourself in the mind of the intern; that first real world experience can be a shock, and while she may realize the reality when she goes into another job (if she can find one after quitting her first taste of the profession), i'm sure she thought she was making the right decision for her (and the world
    Last edited by Yorke790; 15 Jun 2006 at 12:22 AM.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,893
    I had professor who regularly did contract work for planning jurisdictions, for which they would hire students. The students gained a good deal of practical experience mapping land uses in a multi-county area or examining well logs to develop bedrock profiles so that they could site a landfill. That is valuable expereince. On the other hand, I have seen planning departments where everyone is indoctrinated in New Urbanism and told that they are going to be Andres Duany, enlightening the mindless masses and imprinting suburbia with a new paradigm of how people should live. Face it, kid, you are going to be working at a cubicle in the basement of city hall, putting together maps of cracked sidewalks that need replacement and telling people that their shed needs to be five feet off the property line.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2001
    Location
    Mr. Cool Ice
    Posts
    4,161
    I truly believe that no matter what the course work, those who spend their life in academia, never stepping foot into the real world, believe that their so-called profession can change the world.

+ Reply to thread
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast

More at Cyburbia

  1. Interns & frustration
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 23
    Last post: 06 Mar 2012, 9:38 AM
  2. What do YOUR interns do?
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 13
    Last post: 08 Feb 2008, 10:59 PM
  3. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 7
    Last post: 29 Apr 2005, 9:24 PM
  4. Flaky postmodern spam
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 16
    Last post: 17 Jul 2002, 2:23 PM