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Internships: A physics undergrad student in an engineering work placement

Internships and work placements are a vital part of earning a degree and of career development. For a short period of time, one is immersed in their field of study at a level that is irreplicable in a lecture theatre. Joining a working team of engineers and physicists at ENBIO for a 3 month internship provided me with an insight as to what lies beyond university. Through this I gained invaluable skills and experiences, as well as improving immensely on those which I already possessed. While I gained a myriad of practical knowledge relating to my degree, I also learned essential life skills needed for a successful workplace environment. My attitude towards my course and towards studying is more motivated due to the internship, as I can see, from experience, the possible benefits my degree will give me after I graduate. As a DCU Physics student, I was given the opportunity to partake in a work placement or INTRA (Integrated Training) in my third year of college.

Internships For a three month placement, I worked as a Research and Development intern in ENBIO. During this internship, I was involved in several varieties of work. On approaching a predominantly engineering-based company as a physics student, I was unsure if my current skills and knowledge would be relevant. However, I was given the opportunity to apply skills learned through my Physics degree, while also learning new ones throughout my time there. I gained an insight into the differences between physicists and engineers, and learned things that I perhaps never would have come across in college. I found that engineering involves more problem solving, whilst physics tends to look at the theories behind the problems. As Albert Einstein once said, “Scientists investigate that which already is; engineers create that which has never been”. Both are essential components of ENBIO and the workforce consists of those with backgrounds in both physics and engineering.

Internships Located on DCU’s Alpha Innovation Campus, the team use both an office space and a laboratory. Many internships give only the opportunity to witness either lab work or office work, whereas in ENBIO this was not the case. I was given the opportunity to apply practical skills such as those needed when working in a laboratory; i.e. proper usage of lab equipment, health and safety precautions and writing data reports. I also saw real-life applications of much of the theory learned in my course, like the concept of using light waves to measure the roughness or reflectivity of a surface, and the physics behind determining what makes a coating suitable for space flight. While the lab-based work is the foundation of the company, the office is where the results are analysed and brought to the forefront. Seeing both sides of the company gave me a well-rounded and varied experience.

Internships Something that is totally unique to an internship is the opportunity to learn what is necessary for a successful workplace environment. Teamwork, communication, decision making and time management are essential skills that are best experienced in real-life situations. For example, in university, if a student fails to meet a deadline, they solely deal with the consequences, whereas in a business, a missed deadline can have catastrophic effects on a number of people. Life skills such as these are required in every career path, regardless of field, and are best learned through experience.

Internships The office itself is open plan, meaning that the Managers, Engineers, Technicians, interns and even the CEO share the same space. This gave me a real sense of involvement, as the team are constantly working together, and updating each other on what’s going on in each department. This means that everyone knows how the company as a whole is developing and progressing, rather than just knowing about their respective field. In this environment I had a better understanding of how each role fit into the company as a whole, and how my own work was given direction. The work I was doing was never just a single task to complete, but an element of a larger effort and I always knew why I was doing what I was asked to do. I feel that this benefited me hugely during my internship, as although my placement was short, I experienced far more at ENBIO than I would have in a larger company.

 
Stephenie Brophy Lee

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