While I’ve been in the process of moving back in to school this week and getting acclimated to dorm-life again, I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting on my summer internship. It’s kind of surreal to think that the last time I spoke about this experience on the blog I was just finishing up my first week, and now I can actually say that I have successfully completed an entire summer as an engineering intern.
Here’s a little reflection on my 12-week-long internship, and what it felt like to be a real working engineer:
Company culture is a lot more important than you’d think.
My mom has been talking about how she liked the “culture” of her workplace since I was a little kid, and I never really understood what that meant. Isn’t work just work? I would think, Why does a culture matter? What does that even mean?
After experiencing full-time work, I’ve come to realize that work isn’t just work. While the projects that you complete at your job are important, it’s the people in your department and on your team that leave the most lasting impacts on your life and your career. As a result, it’s really imperative to make sure that you feel compatible with the environment, the people, and the general atmosphere of your workplace.
I honestly don’t think I would have been able to get through my internship at all if I didn’t feel like I was a right fit for the environment I was working in. Speaking of work…
It’s true – you do learn almost everything on the job…
When I started in May, I felt so unprepared and worried – everyone I spoke to was telling me how different work would be from my course work. As a person that prides herself on preparing for everything, the idea of adapting quickly really freaked me out, but I realized soon that what these people were saying is true! Much of your job is truly is based in what you learn while working.
Don’t get me wrong – your hard-earned engineering degree is definitely worth the money, blood, sweat, and tears, but there are a lot of things that the college world doesn’t really prepare you for as a full-time engineer.
Of course, you’re going to use the basic knowledge that you gained from your coursework – math and physics are heavily used, and depending on your major, some of the more specialized classes will really help lay the groundwork for what your job will entail. Still, many of the processes and skills that I picked up during my internship would have been impossible to prepare for before I started working. For example, I read about manufacturing processes in one of my classes, but there was no way for me to know exactly how the company I worked for manufactured their products – even though I prepared ahead of time, I had to learn everything while I was there, and that proved to be such a valuable teaching tool.
…and it’s the most valuable experience you’ll ever get.
As students, we’ve all asked ourselves the age-old question: “When am I ever going to need this in the real world?”, most often during an exam cram session or a particularly difficult homework problem. This summer, I’ve found that we do need those things in the real world – just in a different capacity.
The cool thing about internships is that you’re given a fully immersive experience: if you’re working in manufacturing, instead of just reading about how a part is made, you can actually watch the part go from scrap metal to the finished product. If you’re working in research & development, you can actually create a drawing, print out a prototype, and test it out to see if it works.
It was a great reminder to me that what I am studying at school may actually make a difference in my work life one day. Even though I might not need to complete a test on it in the future, I might have to actually apply it in the capacity of improving someone’s life – if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is!
Your options after college are wide and varied!
It’s easy to get stuck in that one-track mind view of what you can pursue after college, especially when the basis of your decisions are rooted in your college lifestyle.
For example, I thought that research & development was the only field that I would be able to go into with my biomedical engineering degree, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to perform well in my role as a manufacturing engineering intern because my background was “training” me to be an R&D engineer. Furthermore, part of me was also terrified that I would have to stay in the same role for the rest of my professional career, and I wouldn’t have the chance to explore my options.
Working in industry showed me the exact opposite – so many of the people that I met while working switched into different teams and even professions (someone switched from engineering into marketing!), and I feel much more confident in pursuing my interests after college knowing that I’ll still have the chance to explore if I so choose.
Finally, there is so much to learn from the people around you.
If I’m being honest, much of the knowledge I gained during my internship was from the engineers I worked with, not just the work I completed! This is a total 180 for me, because at the beginning of my job I was terrified of the idea of networking.
After I got the hang of it, I realized that there is so much to be gained from just sitting down with someone and asking about their day & their career. Speaking to different engineers not only affirmed my belief that I was in the right field, but also gave me insight to what my life could potentially be like if I were able to move forward on this career path.
I met so many amazing people, and I am the most thankful for their leadership and guidance. During my time in college, I felt that it was particularly difficult to find good role models in the biomedical engineering industry, and my experience as an intern definitely made up for that lack of mentorship. On top of work experience, I gained real-life contacts and mentors that I will continue to be inspired by throughout my time at college.
My internship experience was out of this world, and I am so happy I was able to get a taste of what the “real world” is going to be like in two years’ time. I made so many amazing friends, completed challenging and fulfilling work, and got to do what I love every single day. If you’re an engineer thinking about doing an internship or co-op, take the opportunity. You won’t regret it, I promise!