The transition from academics to professional practice

April 16, 2019

Reflections from recent interior design graduates on what they’ve learned on the job


By Victoria Johnson, Marcie-Rae MacFarquahar, Elaine Medeiros, and Miranda Parenteau

The move from academia to practice is a significant one. At Stantec, we are not only looking for the brightest new talent but also looking for ways to make our newest team members successful. Stantec is a premier partner of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), an organization whose mission is the advancement of interior design education, scholarship, and service. IDEC provides a platform to connect interior design students, educators, and practitioners. Stantec is the first design firm to form a strategic partnership with this esteemed organization.

As educators, IDEC members are readying our future employees; and as researchers, they are continually striving to improve interior design practice. This partnership provides an opportunity to work strategically with the academic community to strengthen the bridge between education and profession.

We asked four recent hires at Stantec who graduated from interior design programs to share their thoughts about making the transition from university to workplace and what they learned along the way. Here’s what they had to say:


Elaine Medeiros, left, chats with fellow interior designer Ashley Fratis inside the Stantec Sacramento office.


What is the most valuable thing you learned that has helped you in your early years of practice?

Marcie-Rae MacFarquahar, Graduated 2010 from Mount Royal University

Now practicing in Calgary, Alberta

I was a student who started University straight from high school. I was used to a prescribed way of thinking, where there was always a correct answer and generally a straight path to reaching a conclusion. The hardest part of starting the Interior Design program at Mount Royal was to change my way of thinking into a collaborative and creative process. Yet, this has proved to be most valuable as I have learned over the years that the first design solution is typically never the best design solution. It takes brainstorming, research, and refinement from an entire team to find the best solution. Learning how to creatively approach tasks and allow time for process rather than immediate results has been most helpful in my day-to-day practice.


Elaine Medeiros, Graduated 2015 from California State University, Sacramento

Now practicing in Sacramento, California

One thing that has really resonated with me in my few years of practice is that it’s our job as designers to push the envelope and design a little bit outside of the box. You can always hone your design concepts after the fact to meet project needs, but it’s harder to add in design afterwards.

One quote that I keep in my back pocket is by Charles Eames, “The role of a designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host; he anticipates the needs of his guests.” As creatures of habit, people are inclined to ask for what they already know, but it’s our job to help present a creative solution to them that they might not typically think of, and then further refine it to work for our project.


What was the most surprising element you ran into?

Victoria Johnson, Graduated 2016 from University of Wisconsin, Madison

Now practicing in Chicago, Illinois

The amount of changes in a typical decision-making process for our clients was a surprise to me. You’ll go back and forth, you’ll progress, and then get a surprise change. I’m living that right now with my current project. I’ve learned that different clients have different expectations. Traditionally, in school, you’ll have a list of requirements that you refer to and that stays the same.

Now, you often create a concept and design, but you know not to be married to it, because it’s going to be fluid and change. That’s part of the challenge of design; you have the original design intent, but the end product will be different, and you have to figure out what approach to take to blend the initial concept and final design. The same is true for value engineering.


Miranda Parenteau, Graduated 2018 from Mount Royal University

Now practicing in Calgary, Alberta

I have learned just how valuable design reviews are for a project. Not only to be successful in project completion but as a learning opportunity. After joining Stantec, my outlook on design reviews shifted from something that I would hesitate to ask for, versus embracing them now.

Elaine: One more thing that folds well into this conversation that I wasn’t aware of until I started practicing was the coordination and collaboration that happens with MEP. Sometimes, we do our beautiful design, get our engineers on board, and it incurs changes that we weren’t expecting. There’s more than just lighting in the ceiling!


Research is a key element of academic career. How are you putting those skills into practice?

Victoria: I often use people as resources as a starting point. Sometimes research is in the form of looking at past projects to see what was done under similar circumstances.

Marcie-Rae: Research is vital in my everyday practice. I like to think of design as a mix between construction and anthropology. We are constantly analyzing human behavior to improve upon our built environment and make it more accessible and user-friendly. There is such great potential to make a real difference through our built environment and I think that research is the first step to this change.


This story was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of IDEC’s semi-annual publication, Exchange.

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