What I did this summer...
October 28, 2010
This summer, I traveled around Ohio to observe Ohio State engineering students on co-ops and internships. Through this experience, I saw firsthand what students actually do once they start working.
Here are some insights that will help you in preparing for your next co-op or internship experience.
My observation: Just because two companies hire your major doesn't mean that the work environment will be the same. A student might be working on the floor of a metals plant LITERALLY getting their hands dirty - it's fast, exciting, and really cool work, but it's definitely not for the timid! With a different company, that same student might be sitting behind a computer and making careful observations throughout the day. Though the student may be applying the same technical skills, these are very different environments.
Lesson learned: Do your research! As a job seeker, understand what companies actually do... AND how they do it! Before accepting a job, do your homework and ask the right questions to help you understand the job. One good question might be, "Can you describe a typical day or week on the job?" Check out past students' evaluations of their jobs (available for your review in ECS). Also, consider the ECS Engineering Job Shadow Program to help you with this part!
My observation: Students are never working in isolation from other parts of the business, even as interns or co-ops. Often, projects require students to work with vendors, union workers, suppliers, accountants, and customer service reps to get what they need.
Lesson learned: Diversify your skills set. Participate in activities or student organizations that allow you to utilize your "softer" skills. Try out different classes that can help you to build technical writing, communication, business, or public speaking abilities. These skills will not go to waste!
My observation: Some experience with statistics and Microsoft Excel is necessary for success in many work assignments. Students reported that they wished had paid more attention in stats courses or spent more time learning how to manipulate data in Excel.
Lesson learned: Brush up on these topics before starting a co-op or internship, especially if it's been awhile since you used these skills. You don't have to be an expert, but you should have the basic tools needed to perform the tasks that are asked of you. Review the job description for your co-op or internship, or talk over the job with your employer before starting so that you can get a sense of what will be expected of you.
My observation: Safety training and following safety protocols are critical to engineering jobs - ESPECIALLY for co-ops and interns. Engineers' work is often dangerous and has serious consequences if mistakes are made. Not following the rules can lead to injury for you or your fellow employees. There are other consequences as well, the least of which are losing your job, and costing the company time and money.
Lesson learned: Follow all safety guidelines at all times! Even if the full-time engineers are bending the rules, don't pick up their bad habits. Though you might feel like an expert, remember that you are not (but you will be someday). Breaking the rules in an engineering environment is extremely dangerous and can cost you your job (or worse). The "nobody follows the safety rules anyways" mentality is not acceptable for Ohio State engineering students. PERIOD.
For more inside advice regarding co-ops and internships, be sure to stop in our offices to read the student evaluations of their work experiences. You can also make an appointment with the ECIP advising staff.
"The best vision is insight."
-Malcolm S. Forbes
Authored by Rachel Ligman.