What did you learn at your engineering internship this summer?

It’s time to reflect…

Believe it or not, most internships are winding down at this stage of the summer. Before you wrap up, it’s truly important to reflect on the experience, and this is doubly important for engineers. Here’s why:


Engineering degrees, by their very nature, are professional degrees. This means that unlike, say, something in the social sciences like psychology, the engineering curriculum is designed to prepare students for a specific career path. In this way, engineering has much in common with accounting, nursing, and actuarial science.


Where professional degrees might propel you along a certain path – such as mechanical engineering – they cannot tell you much about the context of your career…and that’s where internships and active reflections upon internships will help you.


Continuing with mechanical engineering as our example, let’s consider what you might have learned about yourself and your career preferences over the summer. Depending on your internship, you may be able to weigh your experience versus your expectations:

  • Design or manufacturing?
  • Hands-on or mostly CAD?
  • Independent work, teamwork, or a mix?
  • Industrial or consumer products?
  • Big company or small company?
  • Long commute or walk to work?


And these are just the most basic questions. Rather than only worrying about getting a job when you graduate, start thinking about getting the right job. Engineering students tend to have more options in this regard than those in other majors, and these options can allow you to target specific types of employers. Don’t focus on just landing any job, but rather on getting a job you enjoy. It’s not just a matter of pay, but also of location, work environment, and a million other factors. But here’s the thing: Unless you actively reflect on your summer, you’re not likely to come to any meaningful conclusions beyond, “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that”.


If you’re earning credit for your internship, you’ve probably completed some reflection papers that require this sort of intentional work – but most engineering students don’t fall into this category. So, now and independently, ask yourself some of the same sorts of questions the CCD asks of students in our summer course:

  • Can you describe the culture of your summer workplace? Why did you like or dislike it?
  • What was your relationship with your manager this summer? Were you mentored?   Ignored?
  • What skills did you improve in your position? Would you like to work in the same manner when you graduate?


These just scratch the surface, but you get the idea. Don’t just cash your paychecks and move on. Give yourself the time and space for some active reflection. Unplug from digital media. No headphones, no screens. And reflect. It might be during your commute, or maybe on a sunny Saturday near the water – but wherever it is, be sure to give yourself time to consider what you’ve learned this summer. This sort of active reflection can help you down the road when it’s time to decide between taking just any job and landing The Job.


images from Wikipedia Commons

By John Bau
John Bau Career Consultant, School of Engineering