Jean Grobler from South Africa joined Atkins as architectural assistant last June. So what's it like, Jean?
Why do you want to be an architect?
My father's a structural engineer and I've always been interested in buildings but I didn't want to go into the maths side of it – I wanted to go into the making of spaces. I did a BArch in South Africa, which is equivalent to studying to Part Two.

Why did you come to the UK?
I came over because the projects are bigger and of higher quality and the career prospects are better. A friend worked for Atkins and suggested I apply. What appealed to me was that it's a big company where I could get involved in larger projects.

What does your job involve?
On a normal day, I get in at 9am and help senior architects on their projects. At the moment I'm doing a hotel and apartment development in Jakarta, Indonesia. Initially, I was helping with planning layouts. Now, I'm responsible for getting information from senior architects and using that to create 3D scale models. As I build I might find mistakes and have to start working out possible solutions. It could be that the facade of the building has a curve on it and we don't know where the beams or floors levels would stop so we have to use 3D to see if they meet at the right places. It's exciting to see the scheme take shape from paper to 3D.

What do you like about the work?
What interests me is getting the client's brief and working it into our design. This can be the most challenging part of the job – a difficult brief can mean having to fit something into 100 m of space that just won't go.

The projects are so varied, and that's what makes it interesting. The most exciting one I've worked on so far was for a Caribbean ocean liner.

What I also like about the work is that the senior architects let me follow my own mind – they give me work to do but they don't spoonfeed me. You might think you learn a lot in university, but you learn a vast amount more on the job.

Any advice for other graduates?
Graduates shouldn't be afraid to approach a big company – I felt a little bit like "I'm straight out of school, why would they be interested?" – but you have to have the confidence to go for it. And I don't think anyone who's just interested in sitting behind a computer all day will really progress – you have to have an inquiring mind.

What are your plans now?
My plan for the next two to three years is to finish my Part Three qualification, so I can register with the RIBA and then I can take on projects on my own and not just as an assistant. In the longer term, maybe in 10 years or more, I'd love to start my own practice. I would love to tackle a big building or a brief where there's a historical element – like a Guggenheim Museum in England.

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    Jean Grobler

    Age 25
    Job Architectural assistant, Atkins
    Salary package £20-21,000, 22 days’ holiday
    CV Graduated with BArch in South Africa in 2002. No full-time employment as such, but in summer worked at LVM Architects (first- and second-year holidays) and BK Architects (third-year holidays)
    Lives Walthamstow, north London. Originally from South Africa
    Hobbies Golf and fly-fishing
    Most admired architects Santiago Calatrava and Frank Gehry
    Favourite UK building Lloyds of London