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How important is an internship for a non-traditional student

  1. Mar 25, 2015 #1
    A bit more info. I am 30, went back to college at 27 for an Electrical Engineering Degree. I have one year left after this semester. I have a wife and a mortgage and a job (non technical, I work in the service industry) Getting an internship is a challenging endeavor for me. I have bills to pay, so I need steady paid work. I'll still need to come back to my normal job after a summer internship, so I would need to work both jobs at the same time so as not to lose my steady job. I also can't just up and leave my general area to go get an internship somewhere else in the country. I live in the southern US (Kentucky), so there aren't just tons of engineering internships within an hour drive. The number of engineering students significantly outnumber the local engineering internships.

    I hear professors and the like talk about how important getting a summer internship is, but they are talking to an audience of mostly 19 and 20 year old kids who have never had a job, or have only had part time jobs for the university. I've been in the workforce for over a decade, though not in technical fields. I've worked in Loss Prevention for a number of years for one company, and worked as a manager for years at an industrial cleaning company. I don't see how three months of interning somewhere could make that big of a difference to my over all work experience, but time and time again the universities industry partners emphasize how important it is to get an internship somewhere.

    I have a good 3.7 GPA, and am technically proficient in programming and various other programs and tools one learns as an engineering student. So am I screwed if I don't work two jobs over the summer or does the fact that I have work experience count for anything once I start actually looking for a job? Anybody who actually works as an engineer or has worked in hiring engineers have any insight?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 26, 2015 #2
    Internships, followed by research experience where you could potentially publish or showcase a project at a journal or conference are very import for engineering students. Your non-technical work experience may be looked upon as a measure of experience (especially your management work), but when it comes to engineering you won't have a way to stand out from all the other students with similar stats. The degree is generally a necessary but not sufficient precursor to getting a job, your GPA is good but if all you've done is coursework you will be at a serious disadvantage if you haven't done some sort of engineering outside the classroom and those 3 months of interning will be looked upon more highly than all your 10 years on non-engineering work if you're applying for an engineering position. At my school they had you do projects of various scales in electronics, controls, power, and of course senior design/capstone, and if you make a portfolio and document and showcase these well they can definitely serve as great resume boosters. However, lots of people have these along with interning at reputable companies like Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and the like. Not saying you need to work for the big boys like this but it is generally preferable to have outside the classroom technical experience even if you're applying to smaller companies to stand out.
  4. Mar 30, 2015 #3
    Let me approach this from a different angle. Upon thinking about my post, I realized what my real question is. What does one do to mitigate the weakness of not having had an internship?

    It is unlikely that I will get an internship for the summer for the aforementioned reasons. I haven't ruled it out, I am still looking for places and putting out resumes and applications. But like all good engineers, I would like to plan for the worst case scenario.

    I am not going to be trying to get jobs at Tesla, or Lockheed or high profile super competitive companies. I am just looking to get a good steady engineering job. In my area that means mostly either manufacturing or utilities. Is my best bet to emphasize my projects and experience I got on my projects? I still have a year to go, and that is when I will work on my big senior project, but right now I am working on generator power control using dSPACE and simulink for my junior project. Would it be appropriate and smart to list experience with programming dSPACE using simulink? Or is that the sort of thing that only students and academics care about, and industry could care less?
  5. Apr 18, 2015 #4


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    Can you find some kind of internship during the regular semester? There are often different research and internship programs on campus for science and engineering students. Summer internships have the advantage of allowing students to focus on them more completely, but the on campus type of internships are the ones that can often last longer. In either case, getting some kind of applied experience is very helpful. It's something that helps to round out future applications very nicely because it shows that you've done a bit more than just being a student.
  6. Apr 19, 2015 #5
    I spent 6 years in construction management before I went back to do my engineering degree (also at 27). Im entering my 3rd year now. I had the opportunity to do a four-month internship after my first year (I consider this a lucky break). It was an incredible learning experience, and I highly recommend it. A few notes:

    Aside from the senior engineers, many of my coworkers were junior engineers; EIT's who had only been in the field for a year or so. It is difficult being treated like you know nothing from young hot shot engineers. Some young grads are better at handling this type of situation than others. It can be a humbling experience, keep that in mind.

    Some internships involve very little or no actual work. Even the other interns hired at this particular company basically surfed the internet all day. It just happened that my division was overwhelmed with work, and I was able to do some real engineering. Again, I lucked out, but there was a chance that I could have spent the summer surfing the web in a cubical.

    I recommend you get an internship. But I think it is fair to be clear with your employer that you may be making a sacrifice to be there, and that your interested in getting real experience. Especially at your age, I think they would find this type of honesty completely sensible. Best of luck!
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