Summer Internship Difficulties
If you are anything like me and have previously completed an internship, then you would probably understand my rationale. If not, then I might simply be perceived as a complainer or someone who refuses to accept responsibility. Nevertheless, I ask that you read what I have to say and make a conscious effort to put yourself in my shoes before my experience is disregarded.
Why Do I Do Internships?
As an aspiring scientist and engineer, I have always had a challenging time applying the concepts learned in the classroom to real world applications. This skill is extremely important because as engineers, we accept tons of responsibility and incorrect application of the conceptual ideas can put not only the environment but also the lives of many at risk. While having a firm theoretical understanding is important, innovation is limited if you cannot apply it. Internships provide the perfect opportunities not only to develop key skills, they also strengthen technical abilities, and can build overall confidence.
In regards to building confidence, depending on your work conditions, internships also have the opposite effect; but only if you accept defeat. This summer I interned in the chemical engineering field. Having just finished my junior year, I was a bit intimidated to work with knowledgable engineers. I always feared that my nerves would leave an impression that I simply just did not get engineering. Nevertheless, you typically overcome any insecurities after the first week.
Meet My Mentor
Alright so initially, I am as eager as a young pup waiting for its milk soaked puppy chow. I am accepting and applying corrections, asking questions, and trying to mimic how the engineers that work in my department think. My eagerness did not last long however, as I began to lose confidence regarding my work situation. Have you ever worked under someone who was so eager to be in a authoritative position that they try their best to show you who is B.O.S.S? That’s how I felt about my mentor.
I tried my best to appreciate his knowledge but over time, I began to question if he was really being genuine. Obviously, he is technically knowledgeable since he has been working at one of the large oil and gas companies in the world for several years. Nevertheless, there came a point when I would think to myself, “Is he purposefully trying to confuse me? Is everything I say really that obscured?” After this happened several times, I was completely dejected; nevertheless, I continue to follow his directions and plastered a grin on my face. Just to help you paint a picture, my mentor was a pretty young guy. He actually graduated three years ago. While the other new hires admired and glorified him, I found him to be very arrogant; but hey, that’s my personal problem. This perception stemmed from one of our initial interactions. I remember not having clear work directions so I tried to speak to ask my supervisor for clarification. My mentor then told me, “ You need to speak to me first before anyone else; there is a hierarchy in industry that needs to be followed.” Hmmmm… I am sure there is, but summer interns are encouraged to speak with their supervisors. I am not saying what he said was inappropriate but he tone was often very condescending.
During my evaluations, I accepted the criticism with an open mind. However, I realized that my superior was actually ridiculing me, or at least that is how I felt. He told me that “they” were all surprised that someone who was majoring in applied math was using linear regression. I was using regression because that is what I understood the instructions to be an also recommended by another scientist. It was the fact that he said “they were all surprised” that made me really feel like these people were gathering around and talking about me, which was probably not the case. He also told me I made myself seem greater than I actually was! I was taken back by this, as I was always very forthcoming with what I did not know. How do you respond to this without making seeming defensive? How do you not let this affect the rest of your experience?
What Do You Do?
After much deliberation, I spoke to my supervisor because I was under the impression that he also said these things. While I expressed that I thought some of the things said were very unprofessional and unjustified, he later told me I was very defensive! I simply expressed my surprise at the comment. I remember working nights trying to make sense of my assignment, asking for help and not really receiving any until our backs were against the wall. In the end, it was a very valuable experience and I was actually exposed to real engineering applications for the first time, which is what I’ve always wanted.
What would you have done if you were in my position?
What do you think I should have done differently?
Have you ever had a similar experience?
I look forward to hearing from you!