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Engineering Physics student going for engineering internships?

  1. Mar 1, 2017 #1
    I'm looking for summer internships and have been in touch with IASTE China who said they could probably find me positions in:

    - Industrial engineering
    - Mechanical engineering
    - Software engineering

    TL;DR: Looking for input from physics grads who've gone into these areas of industry. How did it happen? What was it like when starting out? What's it like now? Good job? Good decision?

    Long version:

    The problem is, I'm fairly sure each of these individual routes would have a huge knock-on effect with the way the rest of my life plays out, in that it would hopefully act as a foot in the door to the chosen industry, after which there'd be no easy way to go back and start afresh - specially since I'm already in the back end of my 20s.

    I've never been a person with highly specific aims or interests, so out of those three choices I'm really open to giving them all a go. However, I know that if I were to experience all three I'd probably have a favourite. For now though, all I can do is go off anecdotal evidence and the wisdom of others. I don't have any experience in any of these things, other than doing a data analysis project using Python in 2nd year, along with a reasonable amount of hobby coding in C++.

    Given the coding experience, some would say I should look into a software engineering internship, but I fear I may end up being ground down by a thing I currently only enjoy as a simple, occasional hobbyist. Plus I have no idea about industrial or mechanical engineering - maybe one of those is my undiscovered calling? Come to think of it, I have no idea about the way software programming works in industry either.

    I've found some loose descriptions of each job here - Industrial ... Mechanical ... Software - but wondered if anyone had any first-hand insights into each. (And yes, I know it may be culturally different in China where I'm wanting to go - but hey, tomayto tomahto)

    Also I wonder generally how physics grads cope going into these roles, which are arguably better suited to people with a more specific degree. Personally I don't think I'm educated correctly for the mechanical engineering role (I know the maths of things, but not the 'nuts and bolts'), but the other two seem like I'd make a reasonable candidate, as long as I start off at the very bottom.

    As well as this, I think future job security is an issue too.

    All thoughts, opinions, input or advice appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 1, 2017 #2


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    Do not overthink this issue. An internship is not a life commitment, in social terms it is only a date, not a marriage.

    The larger dimension, that the internship is with IASTE China, is really more important than the specific discipline you intern in. You meet a social structure and experience how comfortable the fit is. That is the principal benefit. If the people you work with really think well of you, they will try to recruit you on graduation. So you have to use your time there to see whether you might be adequately challenged there.
  4. Mar 1, 2017 #3
    Oh yeah I know it's not guaranteed employment afterwards. My point was more around the fact that it's my first and only real opportunity to do anything from a career/life advancement perspective. As in, depending on which internship I (possibly) get, that'll define the ease with which I can transition into finding related work, as opposed to doing the same as a fresh, late 20s, totally inexperienced physics grad.

    I see what you mean about an internship not necessarily needing to act as the foundation to forge a career path, but I think it's still a pretty useful thing to have in the bag, so I was just hoping to get as much information as possible on each choice, because I think each one would equip me with quite a different experience from which to go forward professionally.
  5. Mar 1, 2017 #4


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    Well, my $0.02 was mostly from the perspective that IASTE China is itself a major milestone connection. I doubt many Americans have had the opportunity.
    After that, speaking my own biases, I'd rank it industrial, mechanical and software, in that order.
    I think of good software as akin to good novels, very few have the grasp of the actual problem addressed in such an overarching way that they can write efficient and clean software. Mostly it is make shift, driven by unreasonable deadlines.
    Industrial engineering does not have much glamor, but it has the broadest reach of the entire sector. That should ensure a reasonably stimulating experience.
    Mechanical engineering is just beginning to adapt to the digital reality, so big transformations are inevitable. I think a lot of those specialties within the segment will stagnate and possibly dry up.
  6. Mar 2, 2017 #5
    Heh, I never knew IASTE was such a big thing - I just found it via a google search for internships!

    The IASTE China office may have been more willing to help me because I can speak intermediate Chinese. It's a weird bonus to have that skill over there, regardless of specialist/professional knowledge. However there's a strange silence in email correspondence now...

    If they do get back to me and I'm given the chance to go ahead with it, I'll take on board what you've said. Thanks :oldsmile:
  7. Mar 2, 2017 #6


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    Would you like to elaborate a little ?
  8. Mar 4, 2017 #7


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    Much of mechanical engineering revolves around precision control. That is getting transformed with the advent of cheap digital sensors and controls.

    Consider a car engine for instance, it is already dominated by its digital fuel management systems and could soon lose its valve lifting mechanicals.
    Ditto power delivery and suspension management, see an illustration here:
    Even the crankshaft may be going if some of the proposed electromagnetic power extraction schemes come to fruition.
    That is mirrored everywhere in the mechanical world, so it will be 'interesting times', as the Chinese proverb had it.
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