Architect Spotlight: Elizabeth Main

We caught up with Kansas Architect Elizabeth Main, AIA, NCARB, to chat about finding a supportive firm, tackling the ARE, and work-life balance as a new mom.

What do you love about architecture?

I want to make the world a better place through the built environment. As cheesy as that sounds, it's really how I feel! Entering a monolithic chapel can make us feel awe-struck and humbled, viewing a trendy skyscraper can make us feel excitement and fascination, and sitting in a cozy cottage can make us feel warm and protected. The built environment affects everyone in it, and I want to be a part of making that environment amazing.

How long did it take you to complete the IDP and ARE?

I completed my IDP in just over four years. I was fortunate to find a part-time internship while I was in graduate school so I could start accumulating hours right away. I completed the ARE (with one retake) in just over 13 months.

You recently served as a mentor for AIA Kansas City’s ARE Success Team. Can you share a few study tips?

Mentoring the ARE Success Team was such a great opportunity to help others progress through the exam, and I soon realized that there are many different study strategies. While I preferred to study alone and at my own pace, the Success Team members learned to rely on and support one another with regular study sessions, group pacing goals, and lots of happy hours to foster a healthy team dynamic. My biggest tip from this experience is to find a study strategy that works for you, and don't waste time comparing it to anyone else's strategy. We all learn in different ways—you know yourself and your learning style. Also, if you have a question or need help with a concept, never be afraid to ask around. If you don't have a study group like the ARE Success Team, ask around your office. You'll be surprised at how many professionals are willing to share their wisdom and mentor you in your studies!

What was the biggest hurdle you faced during your internship?

Over the course of my internship, I moved cross-country twice to support my husband in his career. I could have been overwhelmed by the prospect of losing my industry contacts and essentially starting over, but I chose to make each move an adventure, exploring new avenues of architecture. I had to step out of my comfort zone and be confident that I brought something worthwhile to each new firm, and this confidence was rewarded with some fantastic career opportunities. Now I am happy that I have a diverse resume of work, both in building type and project location.

Why was earning a license important to you?

Earning a license represents validation that is hard for young professionals in architecture to obtain. I’m glad that the intern title debate is still a hot topic, because I think it's important for our profession to truly examine the way we value and support the incoming generation. I want to be engaged in this discussion, and I felt that earning my license as quickly as possible would give me the legitimacy to truly contribute to the debate, while still being young enough to appreciate the implications of how emerging professionals are treated.

You’re about to have your first child—congratulations, by the way! How do you plan on balancing a growing family and your career?

I love being an architect so much, and I am so passionate about the experiences I can create through design. I knew that before I was ready to have children, I needed to feel equally passionate about being a parent and providing a great home for my family. Now I have two great loves, and I have some major balancing skills to finesse! I'm still not sure how I will balance my day-to-day life as a young mom. I may continue to work slightly modified hours while sending my son to daycare. I may just as well choose to stay home and give him my undivided attention.

The important thing is that I follow my passion and do what brings me the most fulfillment. If I continue to work full-time, I know every free second of my day will be dedicated to my family. And I know that if I become the primary care-giver for my family, I will fit as many conferences, continuing education courses, and industry events into my life as possible. In my perfect world, I would have the opportunity to telecommute, work as a seasonal/contract employee, or maintain a part-time schedule so that I could equally divide my time between work and home. I think these kind of opportunities have to develop for our profession to remain a viable option for talented designers who simply can't commit to 40+ hour, in-office lifestyles.

What advice do you have for other young women entering the profession?

Don't be afraid of obstacles! I knew early in my career that I would encounter various life events that could easily sideline my professional growth. Instead of being deterred, I used each seeming hurdle as an opportunity to be creative and sculpt new opportunities for myself. Don't be afraid to be your own best advocate, but also reach out to allies and mentors who can help you achieve your goals. When you are willing to work hard and be honest about your objectives, others will want to support you and help you get there!