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Summer internship or summer job for Elect. Eng majors?

  1. Sep 4, 2011 #1
    I am a current sophomore (just started soph year) Electrical engineering major at a top state school
    So this last summer (end of frosh year) I worked in a research lab. I sort of want to go to grad school after my BS.

    But, just in case grad school does not work out for me, I want to keep the option of having a job open. In that case, should I spend my next summer doing an internship rather than working in a research lab?

    How important are internships for job applications?
    Like, would having research experience be any use when applying for jobs?

    Suggestions from other engineering majors who may have had this dilemma would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2011 #2
    When a company hires a new graduate, they are under no illusions that you have useful experience. You don't. Even a Master's degree doesn't confer all that much in a practical field such as engineering. However, listing your internships helps a great deal. It separates you from the pack of other graduates.

    Not listing such experience would leave a prospective employer wondering if you have any work experience or work ethic at all, versus someone who does list such experience with goals, achievements, or skills learned.

    Thus my short answer: List it, even if you think it is probably irrelevant.
  4. Sep 5, 2011 #3
    1234 polite onme?
  5. Sep 5, 2011 #4
    I don't understand this- every interview (a dozen or so) I've had, the feedback has been they liked me, think I have a strong math/physics background, etc, but that I simply do not have the specific experience they are looking for (i.e. you've done some finite element analysis, but never with fluid-flow equations and other applicants have, etc). Are companies more specific about the skills that they want from phd applicants? Or are they misleading me with their feedback?
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2011
  6. Sep 5, 2011 #5
    Knowing the technical side of the work is a starting point. But it's not enough. They're looking for someone who is sociable, easy to work with, and able to build consensus. They're looking for a (wait for it...) "team player." I know. I detest that term myself.

    In academia, they seek out different opinions. In business, they stick to what is already known as much as possible to as to limit risks. Their way may be far from ideal, but they're not usually willing to fund a different method because they have something with known qualities.

    There is also a very large dollop of who has the most business awareness. Where I work, we spend at least a year showing even experienced engineers where things are, who does what, how they work, and so on. Yes, much of it suffers from cranial-rectal inversions, but we don't usually get to choose how others do their work.

    They look for someone who can get along as well as someone who knows what s/he is doing. If you don't impress them for whatever reason, they're just as likely to use the Human Resources Bureaucracy to find a lacking key word to get rid of you.

    Sadly, I don't have a specific piece of advice for you. Sometimes people come off as arrogant, cocky, snooty, or even unambitious. Any of those things might sink an interview. I think the impression business is often worse for women because they have to tread a fine line to present a healthy business oriented attitude and whatever feminine stereotypes the interviewers may have.
  7. Sep 5, 2011 #6
    The feedback I'm getting makes me fear I don't know the technical side well enough. Its constantly "other applicants have more experience doing X", which will always be true, since my phd work was rather esoteric, and odds are I taught myself X in preparation for the interview. I'm starting to fear that a theoretical physics phd is a BAD degree to have for getting engineering work of any kind because while I have the phd, I don't have a lot of experience with the very specific technical skills they want. Is this a reasonable assessment?

    Is it generally true that when engineering companies hire a phd they want them for the very specific skills they have? (i.e. "you did finite element analysis of fluids for your phd, and we need someone to do fluid analysis, so we'll hire you"). Does anyone in traditional technical work (engineering/science) hire theory phds for the broad math and physics background? Or is it mostly a skill match? I feel like I keep trying to sell myself as being trainable, but everyone wants someone pre-trained, if that makes sense.

    I almost hope the feedback I get from interviews has been misleading and its a personality clash or something, it seems like that would be an easier fix.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2011
  8. Sep 5, 2011 #7
    This is not your disease. It is a business disease caused by a new layer of bureaucracy called "Human Resources". These are people who used to be called personnel clerks. They look for certain key words, and experiences in resumes. And then they pigeon hole people while hardly even knowing what the skills and education are. And then they develop policies and criteria that are guaranteed to filter out all the other resumes, even those that would otherwise be desirable.

    To counter this, job seekers spray resumes by the hundreds to these people on the vain hope that something will filter out in time to fit a new position. This of course re-enforces their self worth because it makes so much "work" for a mere manager to sort through.

    Now, to negotiate this self made bureaucracy, we have head hunting firms who will find an applicant for these people. I suggest reading what these head-hunters say. It's an eye opening experience.
  9. Sep 5, 2011 #8
    But for me, it doesn't matter whose disease it is- I want/need to work. Whats the work around for this? I talk to headhunters, forward my resumes to hiring managers when I can find them, occasionally I get lucky and can network my way to an interview, etc. But always at the end of the day I get a few interviews in, and then hear nothing. When I call back, I find out other candidates were trained, and I'm merely trainable. Has any company shed this "disease" enough to actually value flexibility and a broad background?

    I'm starting to think physics phds don't "sell out" and do finance- no other companies seem to want us!
  10. Sep 5, 2011 #9
    I hail from a very sedate, very parochial industry: a water utility. Take my advice with the knowledge that what I say comes from heavy industry that has been around for about a century. But for a very few areas, we are ossified.

    You should look for the fields that are still new and growing. If you go past an MS degree, your education will teach you how to do research. Look for bleeding edge companies. Seek those companies out and throw your resume at them. If they don't have an extensive HR department, you're likely to get in on the ground floor of something big.

    Your search should avoid the larger companies. They don't want the disruption of someone who really knows what they're doing. Either swallow your pride and pursue your interests outside work, or find a place where you can shine and be prepared to work really hard.
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