Questions and answers: wanting to become an architect

Question: Is the subject you are studying the job you want to do or do you need to learn anything else to get a dream job?

(Original question in Estonian: Kas eriala, mida õpid, on see töö, mida teha soovid või tuleks midagi veel õppida unistuste töö saamiseks?)

Short answer is: no, quantity surveying is not my dream job. I would like to be an architect, and in order to become one, I would need to study architecture.


But the long answer is this.

I've actually been interested in architecture for a long time. I even considered applying for a scholarship to study architecture straight out of high school, but for several reasons I ended up studying law instead - and it quickly became obvious that I realllllllly wasn't interested in law.

Then for about 6 years I sort of "floated about", doing random jobs in random places, finishing my law degree, until in my mid-20's I recognised that... I wanted to get back to architecture. I had a reckoning that mid-20's was way too early to have given up.

By that point, I was already living in New Zealand, had one child and another on the way. Re-training to become an architect in New Zealand - in these circumstances - was too hard. For one, there was no architecture school on the South Island - architecture degrees are only taught in Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North. It was too expensive to move: we were working hard to buy our first home, so I didn't want to move to an exorbitantly expensive city to put me through an expensive 5-year-degree. And it was simply not fair - not on my kids, not on my husband, and not on me, to do that at that time. Quantity surveying emerged as a doable, close-enough, good-enough alternative option to architecture. 

Most importantly, quantity surveying was and still is a skill shortage in New Zealand. There is a sustained, country-wide shortage of skilled construction cost managers. It gives me confidence that, once I have some work experience, I'll be able to do meaningful, well-paying work for a long time. I could've taken up study in architectural technology instead (it's a 2-year diploma which gives skills to do basic architectural drafting and is taught in most places in New Zealand) and it would've got me closer to architecture... it would've also meant entering a job market with more competition and less pay.

By the way, I keep on writing "I", but I really do mean "we" - most of these decision are made jointly with my husband. We function as a tight family unit - financially, practically - and depend on each other in most aspects of our lives. At the moment, he earns bulk of our income and I do bulk of our everyday tasks. Putting me through a study affects all of our lives, so the decision to do so has to be made jointly, too.

Because one of our short-term life goals is for me and my husband to switch roles again - something we did very happily in Wanaka, whereby I was working and he was the stay-at-home parent - then job market and potential pay is a very important aspect of choosing what to study. Quantity surveying allows us more life balance, I guess, in a sense that it gets me close enough to construction whilst allowing us the resources to do other things that are important - to renovate the house, to spend more time with kids.

Hopefully, if all goes well, I may take up architecture at a later stage in my life, when my kids are older and more independent. I am even undecided whether to take up studying architectural technology now, part-time, slowly. Because quantity surveying and architectural technology overlap so much in their content, I would only need to complete about 50% of the diploma to be qualified as an architectural technician and have the skills I need to do stuff.

But... it takes time. And after 3 years of concerted effort to get this quantity surveying diploma, me spending time at the computer in the evenings to study, Saturdays at school to get quiet time to study, we all kind of want to just... have some time off. To just be able to live for a while. Because, once kids are involved, doing just about anything becomes hard, and getting through school these last 3 years has been hard.

And we all want to have a break from hard.

A TED talk about Brexit

I wish videos like this (and information like this) were available 2 years ago.

Because it's well worth a listen

Would you like to ask me a question?

I'll try to answer them, if I can. Ask away in the comments :)

On slavery and freedom

Earlier today Jon Krakauer shared an article which he said, "It blew my mind. Please read it. Right now."

I read it just now. And it's true: it's an immensely well-written, powerful piece.

Please read it. Now.

Do I have diabetes?

So, have I got diabetes?

No. Maybe.

Before anyone throws a chair at a computer screen, asking how can someone maybe have diabetes, let me explain to you how diabetes is measured and diagnosed; it will probably explain a lot of what I'm wanting to say here.

6 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, I had what's called "gestational diabetes" - diabetes during pregnancy. We knew this because early in the pregnancy I was sent for a glucose tolerance test where I was asked to drink a large sugary drink and for the next 2 hours my blood sugar levels were monitored to see how my body coped with carbs.

The answer was: it didn't. Not very well, anyway.

I spent the remainder of that pregnancy keeping in strict control of my diet, and towards the end of the pregnancy used a medicine called Metformin because my doctors were concerned about the fact that I wasn't able to put on weight. They could see that baby was growing, but my weight stayed the same, so technically I was losing weight.


About half of women who experience gestational diabetes, will go on to develop diabetes later in life. One way to think of it is, pregnancy is like a stress-test which shows body's reduced ability to produce insulin when increased load is required. As insulin-producing ability then decreases with age, women who had diabetes during pregnancy are just already "closer" to that borderline.


During pregnancy, the guidelines I was given from the hospital for blood sugar monitoring were this:

* less than 5 mmol/l on an empty stomach ("fasting"),
* between 6-7 mmol/l an hour after having started eating ("post-food").

I never had any trouble with fasting levels (mine were usually around 4.6) - only with post-food numbers, and gradually I learned to choose my food very well to stay within the required limits. It marked the beginning of my interest in LCHF food.


Another thing I need to explain here is glycated hemoglobin, also known as Hba1c.

Hba1c is, basically, a long-term blood marker which shows how high average blood sugar levels have been in the last 3 months. Unlike finger-pricking blood tests which show, exactly, how much glucose is in the blood at any given time, Hba1c  doesn't measure highs, it doesn't measure lows - it only measures the average. And in a normal, healthy person Hba1c is usually between 20-40 mmol/mol.

Now, there are actually two reasons why someone's Hba1c may be normal. It may be that 1) the person's insulin production is very strong, so even though they eat a diet of ice cream and soda drinks, their glucose level never gets high enough for long enough to be reflected back in their Hba1c levels.

But there may also be another reason. Even a person with a 2) compromised insulin-production (ie, diabetic) can have normal levels of Hba1c because blood glucose levels go up in reaction to eating carbs. If a person doesn't it enough carbs, then their glucose levels will never get high enough to be reflected back in their Hba1c levels.

So, basically, if you sent a person for a glucose tolerance test (like is customary in pregnancy), then they may totally fail the test - and you'd be inclined to say that they are "diabetic". However, that same person may have an entirely normal Hba1c level because if they 1) modify their diet and 2) do exercise, then although their body doesn't produce a lot of insulin, it doesn't matter because their diet doesn't require a lot of insulin.

And in New Zealand, at least, diagnosis of diabetes is made not in response to glucose tolerance tests, but according to Hba1c levels. As long as person glucose levels are kept normal, it doesn't matter what their body would do if they drank a large glass of sugar water - there is no need to label them "diabetic" if their diet is not causing them to have high blood sugars. That is also why some people may be heard saying that "they've reversed their diabetes" - meaning, they've changed their diet and lifestyle so that their Hba1c levels drop back into normal range.


5 years ago, a couple of months after having given birth, I performed a couple of 'random' blood tests to get an idea on how my body was functioning post-pregnancy. I learned that if I ate what's considered 'normal' food in our society, something that is high in carbs (pasta, pie, potatoes etc), my post-food glucose levels would go above 8 mmol/l, sometimes even 9 mmol/l. My doctor at the time explained to me that it is not a problem as long as: 1) Hba1c levels remain normal and 2) fasting glucose remains low.

They explained to me that, basically, increase in fasting numbers is the first real sign of trouble in the insulin-production, and as long as mine remain at less than 5 mmol/l, all should be well, providing I eat a healthy diet - something reasonably low in carbs.

And THAT, long story short, is where I discovered the first signs of trouble two weeks ago. I pricked my finger in the morning, right after getting out of bed, and discovered that after 14 hours of not eating, my blood glucose was...

...6.7 mmol/l.

I think the exact words that went through my head were this: "Shit. Here we go"


Because, look, THIS IS NOT YET DIABETES and I know that. I know that! In fact, someone with actual diabetes might look at this number and think, "Oh, come on Maria, mine is 13." Whatever.

But the point is: ever since having gestational diabetes, I have lived in the knowledge that one day I will, probably, develop diabetes. It fits my medical history, and my family's medical history. And although I feel equipped to deal with it - though I wish it may never come - keeping an eye on it NOW gives me a chance to take care of my health before any potential damage from high glucose levels is made.

I have watched for years as my Hba1c levels have crept up, despite my relatively conservative consumption of carbs. 31 mmol/mol, 33, 35. The latest blood marker on my Hba1c level was 37 - just 3 digits short of the considered "normal range". I have not descended into panic over these numbers - rather, I have acknowledged them as the quiet progression of age and disability, and have offered them the respect they deserve.

Which still doesn't mean that I was prepared to see 6.7 mmol/l on a glucose monitor one morning.

That number - before any food has been consumed, in fact, more than 12 hours since last food had been consumed - has nothing to do with my self-control. It is a number I cannot affect. That number is a reflection of my hormones kicking in in the morning, getting my body ready for raising from bed, my metabolism converting energy stored in my tissues into blood glucose - and my pancreas not being able to deal even with that.

It is not diabetes (I think some countries draw the line at 7 mmol/l on empty stomach) - but it is a first real warning sign of the gradual degradation in my insulin production.


So, do I have diabetes? No. Maybe. If someone sent me for a glucose tolerance test - the way diabetes was diagnosed in the old times - then it's anyone's guess whether I would fail it. I think I probably would.

But I don't. At the moment it only matters what my actual blood sugar levels are doing - not what they would in the face of a fictional glass of sugary water - so for the moment, I don't.

And I intend to keep it that way. For a long, long time, if I can help it.