The Internship: 2013 Edition

Friday, August 02, 2013

Welcome to another edition of “What Did Stephanie Do This Summer?”! Since I’ve blogged about my working experiences over the past 3 summers, two volunteer English teaching experiences with the AID program and one research internship with the TTT program, I thought why not talk about what I’ve done this summer as well. It’s a great way for me to reflect on what I’ve learned, what I liked and disliked about the work, and hopefully those who read or stumble upon my blog posts can learn something from what I’ve done to apply to their lives.

The Monday right after I arrived home from California, my life was on full speed again. Although this time it wasn't for school; it was for a real internship (I’ll explain the “real” part later). My first week? Hectic and confusing. Here I was, a small fish in the vast ocean, interning at a company responsible for indirectly providing energy for customers throughout the to the world. I walked in on the first day knowing next to nothing about what the company creates, mainly because the information is propriety. The first few weeks were a blur. I spent every minute learning production part names, occupational roles at the company, attending meetings, how the area I work in impacts the rest of the company, etc etc. There were exciting times, when I thought I'd never be able to finish my long list of things to do. And then there were boring times, when I only had a few minor projects to work on.

I internship was a quality engineer in manufacturing. However I also did a few major projects that involved working with non-engineers. The difference between manufacturing and engineering at a company is that the former is more hands-on while the latter is a desk job. I love being in manufacturing. Everything means so much more when you can go see and touch the production parts, learn the ins and outs of everything in your production area, and see the impact you make on production right away. Half the time is spent at my desk, the other half on the production floor with the machine operators and welders. In comparison, from what I've heard, engineers are at their desk all day creating drawings, writing dispositions for part defects, and using engineering programs for simulations. There are engineers who actually own a part. As in they know EVERYTHING about it because they designed it. But they live in their cubicles and don't necessarily know how much labor and time goes into making it. While that sounds cool, I'm a hands-on girl. Maybe one day I'll end up sitting at my desk all day as an engineer, but right now I really want to see what I can do working as an engineer in manufacturing!

Here's the catch - my internship had nothing to do with major.

That's right. 

Well, not directly. Yes, the HR Manager at my school's career fair told me about ChE internship opportunities for me at her company, and when I accepted this internship, I even spoke to my future manager who reached out to me and discussed about having me workin his area in a ChE role. Well, that occurred two months before my internship start date. When I met him in person, I heart fell when I learned that he needed me more in another area instead. Therefore I've learned more about industrial engineering and mechanical engineering then I ever cared to know. At least I can say that I'm now a well-rounded person. Everyone I worked with, even the operators, knew what my major was. All I could do is shrug and tell them my manager needed my assistance somewhere else more.

Would I do this internship again? Probably not. (Actually, my heart tell me "No".) If I really wanted to take on this type of role at the company's power division, I might as well be a ME or IE major. But with all that being said, I was lucky enough to network with a few people on possible ChE internship roles at the company and ones in companies that I probably would've never thought of. Yep, I'm already starting to search for next summer's internships and this one isn't over for another two weeks!

For anyone who read my blog posts about last my previous summers, you might be thinking, "Your internship has nothing to do with your major again?!" Well, what can I say? Given my career aspirations, I'll be using knowledge from my research internship in cosmetics science and in manufacturing one day. No offense to anyone who loves research, but unless you are supervising a team of researchers, it's too boring especially if it's biology related. Yes, even in high school I loved the chemistry experiments but was bored with the biology experiments. Last year was just a lot of waiting - waiting for materials to finish mixing in a beaker, waiting for the mix to freeze at subzero temperatures, waiting for stuff to lyophilize, waiting for other stuff to mix in the product created after lyophilization, waiting waiting waiting. One trip up in anything - mixing, timing, measurements - will cause setback to my research schedule.

  • At the beginning of the day, create a list on a sticky note of every single thing that needs to be done, down to each email. With my first "real" internship, it brings me into the world of how engineers work and think. One of the best things I've learned this summer is time management. At any point, I have more than three projects to work on at one time, and that's on a slow, boring day. When it gets to be five projects, it's important to allot to proper time for each and push yourself to do as much as possible in a set amount of time.
  • Quality over Quantity.  I don't get paid overtime (and neither does anyone else at the company), but it doesn't matter how many hours you work over the minimum of 8 hours. At the end of the day, if you can proudly say to yourself that you've accomplished as much as you expected to, then there's no need for overtime. If you work overtime but never progress in any of your projects, than your company is wasting it's time and money on you. Of course everyone has their off days, but it's really important to keep in mind that in order to be successful, how you make use of your time is more important than the hours you get paid.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. No one expects a newcomer to know anything. 
  • Be modest. This is a no brainer, but it's something that a recent college grad engineering there told me when I asked her for internship tips on my first day. Let your skills and achievements speak for themselves. No need to be verbal about it, no need to tell long winded explanations.
  • Don't be a workaholic. Because I found myself being a workaholic. At a big company though, work is never done. If you aren't paid overtime, don't force yourself to stay overtime. Spend some more quality time on your family, friends, and especially yourself. Don't tear apart your relationships because of work.

Everyone has heard that engineering is a great job for introverts, right? Well, my internship buddies and I were discussing this over lunch one day, and we quickly came to the conclusion that it's not possible to be an introvert if you ever want to reach your career ambitions. Even if you are happy with your job position, there's no way you can stay a true introvert so as long as you're at work. It's so important to network, have a positive attitude when talking to people, speak up and say your opinions (in an appropriate manner), and develop a good reputation in terms of your personality so that you have no enemies. I say this because I'm a very shy person if I'm around people I don't know. Even my boss has noticed that I've grown to be more open as the internship progressed. I really wish I was an extrovert or social introvert (is that an oxymoron?), but over the years I've quickly learned and forced myself to become an introvert with an extrovert personality. But there's so much from this internship I've learned about myself and about stepping out of my comfort zone. I don't want my introvert personality to be a setback in my career. Probably the only time a person can be a true introvert is if they hire someone to do the communicating for them (ie you're a startup company program developer) or work as a researcher. Don't start negating what I said; I don't actually work in those field, it's just my assumption. But honestly, social skills are a necessity, and I wish it was a requirement for engineering majors to take communications or public speaking classes.

And lastly, I just want to say that I love the work culture at my company. People who walk by each other acknowledges the other's presence with a smile and a nod. Sometimes a friendly wave, too, even if I've never met that person. If only everyone around the rest of America was that friendly when you walk down the streets.

That's all for today. I'll just go ahead and apologize for any grammar mistakes I made. It's been a very long week. Plus I have so much ahead of me in terms of preparation for school. Two more weeks until my internship is over :( Two more weeks until I fly out of Greenville! And three more weeks until school starts again.

P.S. The shoes in the photo are my steel toe shoes, boat shoes style! I wear them to work everyday, with a pair of jeans and a polo or cardigan. Unfortunately, little fashion leeway in a manufacturing plant, especially in the male dominated engineering world, but it is what it is.

P.P.S. Anyone interested in applying for AID or TTT - application is open to Taiwanese decent only, meaning that at least one of your parents must be Taiwanese. Just a heads up.

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  1. Really interesting! I agree that bio research is boring. While I wait on my electrophoresis results, I usually have my laptop ready to work on other things haha. I'm glad you at least enjoyed your experience there even though it has nothing to do w your major!