I Was One of The Few Women at My Internship

I was lucky enough to have an internship this past summer at an engineering company that did work for the military. I consider myself lucky because I am one of the few female engineers, and I was given the opportunity to pursue a dream of mine.           

Before going into it, I was a little afraid because I knew there wouldn’t be many girls working with me, especially in a male-dominated field like engineering. Here at UF, my major keeps me in a small bubble. For the specific type of engineering that I am pursuing, there is a better male-to-female ratio than other engineering disciplines. When I stepped foot into the office I would be working in, I was shocked to see that there were only about four girls working in the office – three of which were STEM interns, including me.     

I knew that this would take some adjusting.

There were about 13 interns in the office this summer, with the other 10 being men. All the full-time engineers were men. None of my bosses were women. This normally wouldn’t impact me, but it was something that took getting used to.

I was assigned a project that required me to interact with many full-time engineers. The work was serious so I was afraid that I would get reprimanded for any mistakes I made. When I had to talk to someone about the project, I was nervous to speak up and share my opinions. I was the minority that could easily be overpowered by words.Sometimes it felt like some of the men, including the other interns, could have doubted my knowledge because of the fact that I am a woman. I go to a great program for my major, so I definitely knew what I was talking about; however, this doubt was overwhelming me and was shining through to other people as well. It feels so silly when I look back at my experience to even think for a second that I was of a lesser intelligence level than anyone else I worked with. I was so afraid of being outcast if I did not fall in line with others.     

Sometimes while at work, I felt as if I had to suppress my emotions a lot to get along with the male engineers at my office. This suppression probably attributed to the anxiety attack I had. Usually, I’m a very outgoing person, but I had to try to hold back from showing my true personality because none of my male coworkers were like that. They didn’t like the high energy I brought so I had to tone it down many times. It felt unnatural to me to not be myself around the people I was working with. I was afraid that I would have to act like “one of the boys” to succeed at work. We hear stories, like this one by writer, director, and producer Nell Scovell, where she had to act like “one of the boys” while working in TV, but was left behind no matter how hard she tried. Thankfully I had room to grow, but I just wanted to be myself.

Despite my challenges, I did complete my internship. I gained the skills I need to survive in a male-dominated field. The phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them” applies here. If I want to help more women get an engineering job, I have to be “one of the boys” to move up in my field. However, I want to work to get more women in my field so that this doesn’t have to be a problem anymore. Hopefully the future of engineering consists of more women in it.