I got this letter from a soon-to-be-graduating BLA student who is looking to work in the field of healthcare design in landscape architecture. It’s a question I get a lot, so I thought I’d share her letter and my response on the blog. Hope it’s useful!
“I found your website through the Land8Lounge Therapeutic Landscapes Network group. I am currenty a fifth year student, receiving my BLA and will be graduating in May. I am very interested in therapeutic landscapes and used the Therapeutic Landscapes Database you created frequently last semester in a Healthcare and Therapeutic Site Design Studio. Upon my graduation in the spring, I am looking to join a firm which focuses on therapeutic landscapes – or has a component of the firm which deals with designing for healthcare facilities. I recognize that this is a difficult time to get a job, but would love any input you might have as to firms which you might recommend. I know that this aspect of landscape architecture is on the forefront and would love to be a part of it in the future.”
Dear student: It’s true, you’re entering the job market at a difficult time. Of course we’re all hopeful that things will have picked up – at least a little bit! – by the time you graduate with your BLA in May. Still, if your passion is therapeutic landscapes, then you should at least try to find a firm to work in where you can develop what you’ve learned in school and do what you love.
As you explore your employment options, I’d suggest asking yourself the following questions: Where am I willing to go? Am I willing to move anywhere in the country (or even outside of the country)? Am I willing to work in any size firm, from one person to 100 people? Am I willing to start with a small salary, doing mostly CAD work, and climb up the ladder as I gain experience and expertise? Am I willing to start somewhere that doesn’t specialize in therapeutic landscapes to gain experience and seniority, with the goal of finding somewhere else in a couple-few years? What is it about the study and design of therapeutic landscapes that appeals to me, and how can I best demonstrate my strengths in this area to potential employers? What are my weaknesses, and how would I like to grow and improve in my work? Answering these questions will help you identify your potential employers. The more flexible you are about place/preferences/salary/type of work you are willing and able to do, the better your chances of finding a position.
The three best places to start looking are Land8Lounge, ASLA’s Joblink, and the Therapeutic Landscapes Database’s People page. The People page is a great resource because all of these designers are working in the specific field that you want to work in – landscapes for health. In the next few months we will be adding many more designers, once we launch our “new improved” website (in the works now).
When I was fresh out of graduate school with my MLA, I very much wanted to work in healthcare design, but I was also moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where any landscape architecture job was hard to come by. I knew that if I really wanted to live in NM, I was probably going to have to put my desire to work in healthcare design aside for awhile. Which I did…and didn’t. Although my paid work was with a landscape architect who focused on commercial and high-end residential design, I kept up with my passion in my spare time: I joined the ASLA Healthcare and Therapeutic Design Professional Practice Network (which you should also do, if you haven’t yet), started the Therapeutic Landscapes Database, and did pro bono work in the community. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to do it, whether it’s your primary job, your unpaid passion, maybe right now, or perhaps in five or ten years. Knowing what you want you want and going for it takes flexibility, perseverance, and patience.
You are lucky in that you know what you want. So many people fresh out of school have no clue; they just go where the jobs are, letting the tide take them where it will. While they may be earning a steady paycheck, they often find their work to be mind-numbingly and soul-stultifyingly unsatisfying. Of course, the best of all worlds is to earn a steady, lucrative paycheck by doing what you love, where you want, when you want, etc., but sometimes that doesn’t all happen at the same time. So give it your best shot! Ask yourself the tough questions, be honest with yourself about the answers, and know your strengths and limitations as you venture out into the wild, wooly, wonderful world of landscape architecture and healthcare design.
Naomi Sachs, ASLA
Director, Therapeutic Landscapes Network