School is winding down, and finals are on the horizon…which means summer internships are right around the corner!
Are you ready?
Whether it’s your first AEC internship, you’re trying out a new company, or you’re headed back to where you worked last summer, transitioning from school into an engineering summer internship can be a little nerve-wracking.
There are a few things you’ll want to prepare for, but mostly, we just hope you’re excited! At Wallace, we believe internships shouldn’t primarily be about you providing us with productive work, but about us helping you explore opportunities and discover what suits you best.
We asked our Wallace mentors to share some thoughts on how they like to see their interns approach their summer jobs. Here are five insights to help prepare your mindset for your upcoming engineering internship:
Take a Breath
We’re going to let you in on a little secret…
We don’t expect you to know how to do complicated engineering work.
Sure, if you’ve already had a few semesters of engineering-specific courses or a prior internship, definitely flex your knowledge and show us what you know when you can. But the reality is that school prepares you for a fraction of what you use in your profession…except you don’t actually learn that until you’ve been in the industry for a few years.
So yes, we’ve all been there. Fresh out of school. Ready to conquer the world. Thinking we got this…until we run up against something we don’t know on our very first day and instantly start sweating.
“Uh oh, should I know this?” Or, “I know we went over something like this in class once, but how did we do it again?”
But like the rest of us, you’ll eventually be able to look back and realize that there’s a whole litany of things you’re not expected to know when you’re in school or just starting out.
So when you hit that first panic-inducing hurdle, don’t stress. At the end of the day, you’re here to learn – and your mentors know that.
2. Be Curious
This is your chance to see how things are done in the real world. So ask thoughtful questions! Seek opportunities! Be proactive!
Mentors can tell who’s engaged and who’s not. They’re well aware of which interns are coming by asking questions or actively seeking out work versus which ones are more likely to be found chatting in the kitchen or surfing the web.
Even if you’re finding out that what you’re doing may not be what you thought you were signing up for, look around for other opportunities. Talk to interns in different departments to see if what they’re doing interests you more. Ask your mentors about what other kinds of projects they’re working on or have worked on the past. Just absorb whatever you can and see what you’re drawn to the most.
Also, jump at every opportunity to get out on site! Seeing plans become reality is one of the most eye-opening ways to learn in the AEC world. Wallace does a pretty good job of getting interns on site, but don’t be afraid to inquire about tagging along to a project.
An internship is a chance to discover what opportunities are out there and which ones motivate you. If you get nothing else out of your engineering summer internship, we hope you go in with open curiosity and explore as many different aspects as you can. Your experiences will help guide the rest of your coursework and future career.
3. Be Professional
Internships are tryouts for real world jobs, and being professional is a big part of it. For potential employers, punctuality and communication are two primary indicators of professionalism.
Consistently showing up on time with a positive attitude is an easy way to make a strong, favorable impression. On the flip side, coming in late, leaving early, and dropping in and out during the day – especially without communicating – will raise red flags.
Start paying attention to the professional nuances of the emails you receive. For instance, notice how instead of jumping right into an issue, starting off with a goodwill gesture like “Happy Monday!” or “Hope your week is going well.” can set a more pleasant tone and help build relationships.
Also, get comfortable picking up the phone. Being able to professionally communicate over the phone is a learned skill and can be somewhat scary initially. Recognize when a phone call is needed or appropriate and just do it. It may seem awkward and you might trip over words at first, but it will get easier. Try listening in on your mentors or quad mates to hear how they handle phone calls. Yes, you will have to take out your earbud or headphones, but it’s a great learning opportunity.
4. Ask Questions
Internships are weird. You’re in this spot where you want to try to tackle things on your own to prove that you’re smart and self-sufficient, yet you’re also working on projects that are unfamiliar and maybe a little over your head. And these tasks have real world consequences…
So just ask.
Give it maybe 10-20 minutes on your own, but then go ask for guidance or at least check in with your mentor to see you’re on the right track. As noted in #1, we don’t expect you to remember everything you’re taught in school or to know how to efficiently approach real world applications. We’re here to answer questions and help you learn. So, even if it looks like your mentor is busy, you’re not being a bother. Come ask.
5. And When in doubt, ask more questions
If your mentor is explaining something, but you still don’t quite follow, keep asking questions. Don’t end the conversation until you have a firm understanding of what they’re saying and where you’re headed.
We won’t be judging. As long as you show a sincere desire to listen and learn, we’ll be happy to talk through whatever you need. Because again, we’ve been there. We remember how much (or little!) we actually knew when we were in your shoes.
Plus, this is the real world, not school. If you misunderstand an assignment in class, the worst that happens is you get a bad grade. If you misunderstand a task at a real job…well, it probably won’t be the end of the world since we’ll be closely reviewing your work. But at the very least, going in the wrong direction will cost your time and your mentor’s time when you have to go fix it. So just ask and keep asking until you get to the bottom of it.
Wallace Design Collective wishes you well on your summer internship! Whether it’s here or somewhere else, we hope your summer is filled with lots of learning and opportunities.
Looking for a few more words of wisdom before your first day? Here are some last minute tips from a few of our Wallace mentors:
“I like when interns are curious and want to make sure they're doing things as it would be done in the real world, so they ask you questions to gain more insight on the project they are working on.”
Mili Angier, PE | Civil Engineer | Oklahoma City
“If your mentor is explaining something, don’t pretend it makes sense if it doesn’t. Just tell us you didn’t quite understand and keep talking through it. Don’t leave until you actually understand.”
Kyle Haskett, PE | Structural Engineer | Associate | Tulsa
“It is always better to ask the question instead of guessing and risking spending time going the wrong direction.”
Carrie Johnson, PE | Structural Engineer | Principal | Tulsa
“An intern that shows up every day with a positive attitude and desire to learn can leave a very great impression.”
Grant Phillips, PE | Civil Engineer | Tulsa
“Tackle work head on no matter how much paper is involved.”
“Get there on time, be cheerful and helpful.”
Rachel Wanzer | Legal | Tulsa
“Take each day in stride, and just show up ready to learn what you can. You will probably expect more from yourself than we expect from you.”
Billy Wiginton, PE | Structural Engineer | Associate | Oklahoma City
Plus, check out more internship tips from Heidi Wallace, PE here.