I was 18 when I landed my first internship as a Field Engineer at Schlumberger – the world’s largest oilfield-service company. Their internship program is highly intensive and the engineers were expected to be available 24/7, including ungodly hours at 2am and also 12pm, when the scorching heat of the Sun is at its peak. In retrospect, the Schlumberger internship was quite an experience and one that has prepared me well for my other subsequent internships.
A year later, I found myself interning in Bangkok at Siam Cement Group (SCG). It was an eye-opening experience to work abroad and to dig deep into the field of chemical engineering. The program was well structured, allowing the interns to travel across different regions of Thailand, to be exposed to their culture as well as their corporate working environment.
Interestingly, working in SCG also led to my third internship earlier this year in their joint-venture plastic pipe factory in Myanmar. As a Quality Control Engineer, it demanded the most in-depth responsibilities and offered an overall picture of this career projection.
Internships can be viewed as an escape from the routine learning environment at university. Having gained an array of knowledge and experience from my 3 internship experiences, here are the 3 key lessons that I would like to share with you:
1. University degrees provide a great foundation, but it’s not enough to succeed in the industry
Engineering degrees are known to be extremely demanding, some may even say that universities attempt to fit in too much within a single semester. What’s worse is that not all of the information contained in your compulsory modules will be useful for real-world applications. However, it is important to note that university programs are designed to provide a holistic learning experience to their students with different career aspirations within the field of study. For example, even within the chemical engineering degree, some graduates may be interested to venture into the F&B industry or O&G field, while others may even opt for pursuing their post-graduate studies to research about the applications of nanotechnology.
With that being said, it’s also interesting to infer that the subjects that are taught in the syllabus are usually not enough to succeed in your technical career or even ace your final year project. Which is why, top students are usually proactive to visit the library or the university’s knowledge archive to develop more in-depth expertise in identified areas. In summary, what you learn in university is merely the foundation and it’s up to your own initiative to build up on your knowledge to keep up with the industry demands.
2. Don’t be completely independent – learn to be interdependent instead
Before I undertake my internships, I always had the impression that one has to be completely independent at the workplace and not bother your colleagues at work with petty questions and help requests. Boy I was wrong. On one of the first few days of my internship, my supervisor actually got worried because I didn’t ask him a single question all day – in fact, he was under the impression that I wasn’t able to follow.
The best companies in the industry treat their interns with respect and consider them as an integral part of the workforce, instead of looking at them as cheap short-term labour. Thus, it is important to be a team player and remain inquisitive throughout your tenure. Know that it is perfectly fine to admit if you do not know certain things, especially in the early stages of your internship. You should instead view it as a new learning experience and opportunity to bond with new people in the team.
I have personally come across several interns whom didn’t maintain regular communication with their supervisors and were obviously trying to be overly independent. While you may think it’s a great way to appear competent, it can sometimes be counterproductive for both the company and yourself. Know that your seniors at work are happy to guide you when required and usually always appreciate fresh inputs from young talents.
3. Sometimes, it’s the hours after work that helps you assess if the job is right for you
We spend over 8 hours per day at work, so it is important to have a sense of fulfillment at the end of the day after work – or at least on most days. As a rule of thumb, if you have more bad days than good during your internship programme, it might be a sign that the company (or even industry) may not be an ideal career option for you after graduation.
You should assess this not only based on your work scope, but also the organizational culture, the people, and the work environment. You don’t have to think about job 24 hours a day, but whenever you do, it should put a smile on your face.
Engineering internships often demand long working hours, and as an intern, you can define your own sense of accomplishment and choose the kind of people to surround yourself: all seem clear in the evenings after your job.
Engineering is still a highly lucrative career today and is certainly in high demand, especially in developing nations such as Myanmar and Vietnam. For those looking to pursue a career in the field of engineering, having one or more internship experience(s) in your resume can easily boost your employability and showcase a proven record of your technical skillsets. They can also help you filter your technical preferences and provide you with firsthand experience (simulation) of your career after graduation. Hopefully, these 3 key lessons will guide you to optimize your next internship experience and enable you to achieve greater heights.
Written by: Phyo Thura Htay
Phyo is a Content Curator at Aseanite and a Central Executive at Yangon Technological University Students’ Union. He studied political economy at the University of Hong Kong and is interested in ASEAN affairs. He has interned for Schlumberger and Siam Cement Group as a chemical engineering student, and is a 2017 fellow of Young Sustainable Impact, a startup incubator based in Oslo.
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