“I think it’s really important if you are given the opportunity to enter a company for a short period of time to see as much as the company as possible, and not just the little sector where you are working, so that you can have a better feel of how companies, in general, work.”

Madeleine Steer_photoMadeleine Steer is an engineering undergraduate at University of Cambridge. In Cambridge, all engineering undergraduate students are required to complete a total of 8 weeks of internship experience during summer. However, although being compulsory for her degree, Madeleine also wanted to do internships in order to explore which field of engineering she wanted to specialise in the future. These internships allowed Madeleine to actually experience the work of different companies, and gain a wider perspective of what to expect in different engineering sectors.

Tell us how did you find your placement

I needed two more weeks as part of the requirement of my degree, as I have done six weeks in the year before. I then decided to go on a five weeks’ placement, during summer, at the company. There is a database in Cambridge, from the university’s Engineering Department, which you can search through and specify where in the UK, what kind of sector, etc., all different parameters. I was looking for Structures companies near where I lived, and decided to do a placement in a big company that had a site relatively close to my home.

I already went through this process in the year before, so I knew how to go about applying to different companies. I did use a book called “CV’s and cover letters” which was provided by the Careers Services at the university, to help formulate my letters. The Engineering Careers section is really good in Cambridge and they were always very helpful.

What did you enjoy the most and the least in your placement?

I went to the placement wanting to know whether I wanted to work in Structures once I graduated. So for me it was kind of a learning experience, trying to get to know the sector, knowing what the work was like, and experiencing the day to day business of working in a Structures company. It was really valuable for me to actually be able to experience it. However, besides this very interesting experience, I reckon that I would probably prefer to be in something else once I graduated.

I think the things I enjoyed the most were the creative side of things. There was one thing where we had to design a particular cover to a building, which was kind of a more creative activity. In contrast, the rest of the stuff that I did was more analytical and calculatory, involving regulations, which was more repetitive and regimented than I expected. This was, probably, the stuff that I enjoyed the least. But overall, this experience definitely did teach me a lot about how the sector works, what people do day to day when you actually work in a Structures company, and what kind of work you can be expected to have. It [the internship] also allowed me to work with a supportive and friendly group of people, and let me feel what it was like to work within a larger team.

What do you consider to be the 3 most important features of a quality placement?

First of all, being able to experience any part of the company which you are curious about. I think it’s really important if you are given the opportunity to enter a company for a short period of time to see as much as the company as possible, and not just the little sector where you are working, so that you can have a better feel of how companies in general work. You can’t experience that without actually being in a job.

And then, a part from that, I think being given some autonomy as an internship student is extremely valuable. Being given a project which you can complete, or some kind of task which you are then given a bit of freedom as to how you complete it, because it gives you a chance to experiment and then also be guided by your supervisor.

And number three would be having really involved and enthusiastic supervisors. My supervisor for this internship was really friendly and lovely, and I felt like I could go and ask him anything without feeling stupid, which was great because it meant I could learn as much as possible from the internship.

To what extent has this experience benefited your professional and educational life?

A lot! Specially because I thought this might be something I would be really interested once I graduated, and I think that doing it made me realise that maybe this wasn’t quite what I was expecting. So, without doing it, perhaps I would have graduated and gone in to a Structures job and disliked it in comparison to something else. For me it was unbelievably valuable to experience it for a short period of time before actually deciding whether I wanted to do this later on.

What 3 key pieces of advice would you like to share with fellow students?

Definitely have this experience, if you can. I would advise to do one every summer, even if just for a few weeks, because having a lot of different internships in your CV is really beneficial when looking for a job once you graduated. You will have so much more experience of different jobs and different sectors, and a more balanced view about what you might want to do in the future. And it is also a good way to earn money throughout the summer as well!

And do send lots and lots of applications. Don’t give up if you don’t get any replies. Just send out as many as possible to the companies that you think you might be interested in and then, hopefully, you will get some back.

Also, if you are worried about travel expenses to get to interviews for internships, make sure that you enquire about travel expenses before going to the interview. In many cases the companies reimburse your travel expenses. So, be sure that travel costs are not an obstacle to go to the interview for the internship you really want to get.