Programme: Landscape Architecture - MLA

Year: 2020

As a mature student, Mena's decision to study at ECA stemmed from a desire to push herself and aid her existing career by exploring a range of niche subjects related to the field.

For Mena, graduating during a pandemic, while challenging, was made easier by the support of the ECA teaching staff and Mena's increased confidence in her skills and portfolio. Mena was able to secure several volunteer positions during the pandemic and has since taken on a job in a large firm where she continues to gain experience in the field.

Why I chose to study Landscape Architecture - MLA

As a mature student who had spent many years out of education, I wanted to make sure I went for the right course that would suit me and my career direction, as well as tie together my past experiences and fill in any gaps. The MLA Landscape Architecture course offered at ECA seemed to tick all these boxes. ECA also offered a few other niche subjects that interested me related to the course I wanted to study and of course, Edinburgh has great fame as a city to live in, so it was a no-brainer to enrol on this course – and they weren’t wrong about Edinburgh. I miss it a lot.

Image of Mena Shah
Image courtesy of Mena Shah

"The tutors supported, inspired, and pushed all of us into finding our own individual qualities to bring to Landscape Architecture, cultivating the passion for this evolving subject which they brought very well to the context of today."

Mena Shah. Landscape Architecture - MLA alumna

My time at ECA

My time at ECA was a whirlwind of learning that was incredibly fascinating. We were churning out project after project, and I wouldn’t think it would be possible in such a short amount of time, but the intensity and pace of the course really helped me to grow and be completely immersed in the subject. My first year involved a lot of group work and organising our own field work. It was good to work with people from such varied backgrounds with different experiences to bring to the table and working together brought us closer together. The course helped highlight my strengths and weaknesses, what I enjoyed and what I didn’t enjoy, so that I could take this as feedback into the following year. My final year project explored how to give the non-human a voice in the way decisions are made about land use in the North-West of Scotland; and how to heal broken relationships in the landscape after centuries of intensive use and trauma, landownership issues, ecosystem imbalance and conservationist disputes.

As we had a long summer break between the two years, it allowed me time to try and find a summer internship somewhere. My first interview was awful, but I knew that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it there anyway. My second attempt went well as I had attended an open day previously with this company, and somehow made a good enough impression to get a summer job in their London branch. It was extremely useful having this experience, as I could get a feel of what the industry would be like in professional life, and it also gave me something to compare to in my jobs after graduating.

If I could do the course again, I would have walked around the ECA departments much earlier and got straight in there – it’s such a huge opportunity having all these amazing art facilities around that you can potentially use as part of your work. I would have also liked to have collaborated more with other course groups and to have taken my work out into the community.

Image of 'Northcoast Wayfairer' by Mena Shah
Image courtesy of Mena Shah
Visual produced by Mena Shah
Image courtesy of Mena Shah

My experiences since graduating

I probably graduated at the most unfortunate time where this Covid-19 pandemic had just broken out and planning ahead was impossible as everything was so uncertain. However, those circumstances also let go of the pressure of needing to find something right away, and instead gave me a more ‘in-the-present’ attitude and all I cared about was mine and other people’s well-being. Our tutor organised an alumni video chat, which was very positive and being a small group made it easier for longer discussion and questions. I think this encouraged me further to find some volunteering opportunity outside with nature, even though it was already on my mind – and that’s what I did for 6 weeks, whilst keeping an eye out for work opportunities.

I felt that the tutors supported, inspired, and pushed all of us into finding our own individual qualities to bring to Landscape Architecture, cultivating the passion for this evolving subject which they brought very well to the context of today. Through this encouragement of inquiry and critical thinking that I never really had before. I came out of the course feeling very confident with my portfolio of work because I knew I had put a lot of work, passion and effort into it, and had gone through a huge learning curve.

Whilst I was volunteering, I got offered an internship position in the South of Spain, and since my partner is Spanish it was really a perfect opportunity. This work experience was hands-on, at chaotic construction sites with a small team, and I was straight into designing. Unfortunately, after a month the job didn’t work out, and I was back to square one. I think my biggest achievement came after this: being down in the dumps over winter about being unemployed again while another lockdown was happening in the UK, I came out the other side with five interviews and three offers, one of which I am working for today. It is the total opposite of my previous job in Sevilla – a big team, organised, and less hands-on than I would like it to be, but this is just the beginning of the journey!

My advice to new and current students

For anyone entering their first year at ECA - do not be afraid to explore all of the departments, ask questions and use all the resources available, and try to find out what other things are going on in the city. Depending on your course, the first term can be quite overwhelming, so look after your well-being first and try to see it through – there are some friendly support officers to listen to you.

For anyone graduating this year, feel confident in the work you’ve achieved at ECA, and if you feel there’s something missing, just keep working on it and adding to your portfolio while the ideas and inspiration are still fresh.


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