How to Survive an Engineering Internship

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Internships: the tricky no-man’s land. They’re hard to get, they’re hard to prepare for and they’re even tougher to complete. Science and math classes teach you the material, but they don’t teach you how to get involved in a company project, how to overcome the social intricacies of an office or how to be the best engineering intern to ever breathe. Often times, internships are like pools; you hold your breath and figure out how to swim. Or using the tips from these University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering intern veterans, you can build yourself a raft and learn techniques to stay afloat.

 Be Observant of the Company Vibes

“Classes never warned me about how different companies have different atmospheres and that your experience can change based on how well you fit into the atmosphere of a company. I would advise people to set their standard higher than the company’s. Many companies will have different policies on things, and something that is fine at one may not be fine at another.” – Chris Lynch, 2-time Intern, Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises

 Practice the Basics

“Engineers presenting things is always fun to watch. Engineers are a pretty smart bunch. Why bother practicing when you’re an expert on what you’re going to talk about? Because you’ll jump all over the place in an incoherent, unorganized mess, leaving people more confused than before you opened your mouth. Practice! My technical communications class at UW-Madison tried to prep me, but I’m still not confident I would be a great presenter.” – Josh Graff, Computer Engineering Intern, UTC Aerospace Systems

 Engage Those with More Experience

“In my perspective, youth brings energy, creativity and new ways of doing things that may be better. Age brings wisdom and experience that can channel the energy and creativity young people bring to the work place. Talking with experienced people can help bridge the gap between young energy and wisdom, which is a powerful combo. It also allows you to take a look at other people’s stories, learn from them and also appreciate them more.” – Matthew Reagan, Quality Engineering Intern, Minnetronix

 Be a Person, Not a Robot

Don’t just sit at your desk and work through lunch. Get to know people in your office, find out about their experience in the company, what they like and dislike. Get to know them as people, and always go out to lunch if others are going. This helps you get to know your coworkers better and helps you with marketing in the future if you end up at a different company.” –Chris Lynch, 2-time Intern, Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises

“Build healthy relationships with coworkers. This means learning to be a listener – asking questions about their passions, experiences within the field, mistakes they’ve made, lessons learned and their lives outside of work. It makes work days much more enjoyable when I can share a story or laugh with a coworker passing by in the hallway or before beginning a work-specific conversation.” –Isaac Groshek, Graduate Student, Structural Engineering

 Talk Face to Face

“Don’t always use electronic communication. I’ve made this mistake. It’s easy to fire off an email about progress rather than going to speak with someone face to face. Email is great and is definitely the main way you’ll communicate with co-workers, but it makes conversation take a long time. Some of the people you work with are older and aren’t the fastest at typing.” –Josh Graff, Computer Engineering Intern, UTC Aerospace Systems

 Don’t Act Like You Know

“One of the worst things you can do is say you know something when you don’t. It’s a quick way to break trust in a relationship and make your word questionable. Let your pride down and let your coworkers know you need clarification. Sometimes people will try to see if you are willing to say ‘I don’t know’.” –Matthew Reagan, Quality Engineering Intern, Minnetronix

 Go the Extra Mile Because You Want to

“One of other things I tried to do – that I didn’t learn in the classroom – was to truly embody the mindset of a servant; be willing to do whatever was most needed for the company as long as it was within my capabilities. I found that this attitude was countercultural to the attitudes of many of my coworkers who often see work as a chance for themselves to be served and taken care of.” – Isaac Groshek, Graduate Student, Structural Engineering

I am a Senior at UW-Madison studying English, Comm Arts, and Digital Studies. I’m a media junky, especially for movies and video games. Kowabunga readers!

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