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How to Make the Most Out of Your Engineering Internship

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McMaster chapter.

If you are a female-identifying person who is currently studying engineering, first off, GO GIRL! Second, I feel your pain. Being a young woman in a male-dominated field is trying sometimes. It can be jarring to finish your undergrad and immediately dive into the workforce. You’ll inevitably have to work closely with previous generations of engineers (i.e., a fleet of old white men). That’s why I recommend adding an internship to your undergraduate experience! They give you the opportunity to explore possible career paths and work environments (while getting paid). I’m in my 4th year of Mechanical Engineering and am currently 11 months into my first co-op as a Process Engineering Intern at a global manufacturer of motion and control technologies. I joined the Co-op program at Mac mainly because the world was in a pandemic, and I would not endure yet another year of Zoom university. I needed a change of pace. So, I started networking (shameless plug for the Annual Women in Engineering Industry Night, the event where I sparked the connection that led to my internship!), and eventually landed a job (Learn how to ace your job interviews in Catherine Yu’s latest HC article). I’ve learned a lot about myself and the working world that I would like to share with you! Here’s how to make the most out of your engineering internship:

Immerse yourself in the company culture

There are LOTS of engineering companies out there. There must be at least one reason you choose to work for one company over another. For my internship, it was the people. Prior to accepting the job, I chatted with employees from the company who’d started out as interns and learned why they chose to return to work there full-time after graduation. The conversations boiled down to the company culture. After just a few weeks into my internship, I could see that there was a community that enjoyed working together. The more you can connect with the people you work with, the easier it will be to determine whether the environment is one you can see yourself growing in as you develop your career.

value variety

There’s nothing worse than falling into a slump at work. Imagine an internship where all the work you do is the same, day in day out. Maybe you enjoy it; fantastic! But what if you’re months into your internship and realize that the work you’re doing isn’t meant for you? I gravitated towards my current co-op due to its fluidity. I’ve filtered through several work areas within the company: Quality, Manufacturing Support and Lean Manufacturing. When I tire of one thing, I can jump over to other projects and explore my passions. You can’t figure out what you want if you only try one thing!   

protect your energy

As young professionals making our way in the world, it can be TIRING. There have been days when I come home from work, and I’m absolutely spent. It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. Early on, I took on all these projects and said ‘yes’ to everything without considering how much time I needed to complete the work. Learn to say ‘no’ when you start to feel overloaded. Older coworkers may think that we can multitask and do everything because we’re young interns, but we’re only human! Enforce healthy boundaries with confidence.

seek out female mentors

Establishing a solid support system of other women in engineering can be difficult when there aren’t many of us out there to begin with! I know that more women are pursuing a career in engineering every year, but the staggering imbalance between men and women remains. It takes a certain fearlessness to pave your own path as a female engineer, a trait that women alone possess. We overcome gender biases, imposter syndrome, microaggressions and mansplaining, all in the pursuit of our passion: engineering. So why not reach out to the women on your team for career advice! How did they end up in their current position? Did they face any struggles throughout their careers? Here’s a list of questions to ask your female coworkers over a lunch or coffee date.  

I wish my fellow female engineers all the success and recognition you deserve as you establish your careers! Be fearless and have fun! Feel free to connect with me via email marrj3@mcmaster.ca or DM me on Instagram @j_marr.vellous if you want to chat!

Julianna is a final year Mechanical Engineering Student at McMaster. She is a struggling student by day and a singer/writer/foodie by night. If she had it her way she would be laying on a beach on Lake Huron, soaking up some rays and reading a good book. In her spare time, you may find Julianna daydreaming about bread, obsessing over the new F1 season, or absolutely destroying her glutes at the gym.