With the summer "intern season" approaching, I'd love to hear about your internship experience. No matter whether your internship was last year or 40 years ago, I think it would be a valuable read for both those that will be hosting interns and those that will be in an internship.
What was the most valuable thing you learned as an intern?
My most valuable lesson as an intern was how the transition from classes to work would focus on projects. While working as a Student Utilities Assistant, I was entrusted with various projects, like setting up light sensors around the office, and co-predicting energy usage for a year. Although I had weekly responsibilities in this role, it was the projects that mandated getting out of my seat, and getting to know people and places around me. It was also in these projects where I was using more software I learned in classes, like Microsoft Excel.
About 10 years ago, I emailed a person on my city council asking about trash truck routes for an environmental engineering class project. The council person responded via their work email, which happened to be an engineering company. I followed up and asked if they could use an intern for the summer. Initially they told me that they had all the help they needed, but a few months later, reached back out and asked me if I would still be interested in a summer internship.
For the next 3 months, I was essentially an entry level engineer at a geotechnical engineering company. My responsibilities included driving to various construction sites around NJ and PA. I performed a lot of inspection work on these sites, ranging from concrete cylinder making to asphalt and soil compaction testing via nuclear density gage.
I think field work can be very valuable for new engineers. Seeing things in the field makes it a lot more real and can help us understand the bigger picture. It can also help you find out if the field is where you want to be or if you would prefer a desk job, or a mix of both. Interns also get more leeway from a lot of people. People are more willing to answer your questions and teach you what they know. The flipside is that if you need to assert your authority depending on your role (such as an inspector in the field), people are also less likely to take you seriously .
The biggest thing my internship might have taught me was the value of communication. Communication and curiosity was what got me the internship, and there were many cases where a lack of communication or being proactive about communicating changes at a job site made big differences in terms of how smoothly a project would go.