When I started my Ph.D. program at Northwestern, I never thought I would have the opportunity to spend a summer working in industry. Many students do not do internships during graduate school in science and engineering programs unless they have fellowships that have them automatically built in. As such, my path to finding an internship was somewhat different than the usual route. My research advisor heard about the position through a former NU student, who was looking specifically for a graduate student for his project at AbbVie, a company located in the Northern suburbs of Chicago.
I was surprised to learn that there were many positions at AbbVie, a pharmaceutical company, that were specifically catered to engineers, as opposed to chemists or biologists. In fact, positions for engineers are spread throughout many organizations in the company, and their roles vary greatly. My project this summer was focused on a therapeutic gel. I developed a computational model to predict the pressure as the gel flows through tubing during delivery to the patient. The best part of this project is that it allowed me to apply my skills and knowledge I have been developing over the past few years in graduate school to a problem that affects patients. The work I have done this summer will help to make patients’ lives better, and that makes me feel proud and made every day fulfilling.
The internship program at AbbVie was not just about working. The university relations group organized many intern events during the day and in the evenings. During lunch hours, there were seminars about different departments and programs within the company, as well as career development lectures about networking and social media. The most elaborate event was a scavenger hunt in downtown Chicago, with an architecture boat tour in the afternoon.
I also had many opportunities to meet with scientists and engineers in different departments to learn more about other parts of the company besides the part in which I was working. Everyone was excited to talk about their journey to where they are today, and gave a lot of great advice about job searching and opportunities. Many of them that had not done internships during graduate school expressed regret for not doing so, and recommended doing another one next summer if I can! Although I am not sure I would be able to do that, I know I am very glad I did this internship this summer. It has helped to give me direction for the next few years as I start to look for a job, and got me connected with new and interesting people in the field.
If you are a science or engineering graduate student and you think you might be interested in industry, or you’re not sure what you want to do after you graduate, I would highly recommend doing an internship. Even if not many people in your department are doing it, there are opportunities out there for graduate students. If you are interested, ask around; you might be surprised by your advisor’s answer if you bring up doing an internship.
Erica McCready is entering the fourth year of her Ph.D. in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department. She does research in the field of polymer rheology while at NU, and did a project on Non-Newtonian fluid flow while in the Manufacturing Science and Technology department at AbbVie this summer.
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