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How do I know I’m learning enough at my internship?

By Heidi Wallace posted 05-21-2021 04:32 PM


This question was recently posed by one of our student members, and it is a topic that impacts a lot of engineering students.

I want to take a few minutes to share my insights as someone who’s had valuable intern experience and who hopes to help those coming into the industry make the most of their experience.

What are the goals of an internship?

  • Applying the knowledge you’re learning in class to real situations and projects.
  • Picking up skills and knowledge that are difficult to learn in a classroom (client interaction, office standards, project processes, etc.).
  • Forming a relationship with a company you’re interested in working for after graduation.

What steps can an intern take to maximize their experience?

  • Discuss expectations with your supervisor to see what skills they expect you to learn during your time with them. (If they don’t have any specifics, this conversation may kickstart their thinking about how to better invest in their interns.)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Frame them in a way that will help you understand the “why” behind the answer to your question.
  • Pay attention to conversations between other engineers about their projects. Listening to more experienced engineers brainstorming together can give you some insight into how they approach problems.
  • See if you can attend a meeting on a project you are familiar with. Meetings are a great way to start understanding client interactions and other important soft skills.

What do you do when you don’t have anything to work on?

  • If you find yourself without a task to work on, ask others if there is something you can help them with.
  • If there are no available tasks at your competence level, see if you can observe what someone else is working on to get an idea of what you have to look forward to in the future.
  • See if there are any completed projects you can look through to get a better idea of what goes into the final deliverables.

I’ll close by sharing something I was told in college: Sometimes what you learn at an internship is the kind of company you don’t want to work for in the future. Or you might change the area of civil you’re interested in after your internship. In other words, no internship is a waste of time if you have the right perspective.

Heidi Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE, is a site development civil engineer with about six years of collective workplace experience. She passed the P.E. in Spring 2019 and recently became a PE. Unlike many of her counterparts, she is extroverted and rarely seeks out alone time. She loves meeting new people and hearing their stories. 

Aside from engineering she spends a lot of her time volunteering with kids. One of her passions is childhood literacy, and she looks forward to her weekly sessions with her Reading Partners little kindergarten buddy.  When we help those coming up behind us (whether in kindergarten or a young engineer), we grow each other and our communities.

Read her blog on Wallace Engineering