When I was six and growing up in Mexico my mom asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“A doctor!” I replied.
“That’s a very difficult job,” she said.
“No, I just have to give the people pills and they get better!”
Seven years later I was in Portland at the Benson Polytechnic High School Open House for future students. I wanted to check out Benson’s Health Occupations Program, so I went into a classroom full of curious students and countless diagrams of the human anatomy. I spotted a solitary scalpel on a table in the corner. I toyed with it for the few seconds, then I shivered and the hairs on my arms stood straight as I imagined what it would be like to operate on a human being.
I turned around to find a guy in scrubs and white blood-stained gloves standing behind a table. On the table was a pig head. He placed one hand on the pig head and removed the top of the skull in the same manner that a fine chef would remove the lid from a boiling pot.
“You wanna see a pig brain?” he asked.
And that was the last time I held a scalpel.
Why am I telling you this story? Because many students think that they have a good understanding of what holding a job in their field of study will be like based on the classes they’ve taken and whatever knowledge they’ve acquired online or from speaking to others. And while these are good ways to learn about a career, you will not truly understand what everyday life in your chosen field will be like until you get out there and do the job yourself. The best way to really understand a career is through hands-on experiences such as part-time jobs, summer jobs, internships, or even volunteering. The best way to figure out what a professional in your desired field of study does on a daily basis is to do it yourself.
Last year through the MECOP program, I had the opportunity to go on a six-month internship with Daimler Trucks North America. DTNA is the largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America and it is known for its leading brands Freightliner and Western Star. Being a mechanical engineering student with a main interest in the automotive industry, I was very excited to have received this opportunity. However, I was also nervous because I was afraid I would find out that engineering, like medicine before, was not really something I’d enjoy doing for the rest of my life.
I worked on several projects during my time at Daimler, and through each I gained experience in doing the tasks that mechanical engineers do on a regular basis. Some of these tasks I had done in school before, such as sketching my design ideas, performing engineering calculations, and creating technical drawings of the concept using computer software. Others however, were new to me: I made regular trips to the manufacturing plant to speak with the workers about the feasibility of my designs, worked with finance to create the required report needed to get the money to create prototypes (long, ugly process…), communicated with manufacturing development on a regular basis to ensure that my designs were being manufactured correctly, contacted vendors, consulted other engineers, attended meetings . . . I could keep going but I think you get the point. Through my internship with DTNA I experienced some of the aspects of engineering that can only be learned by actually doing the job. And once I finished my internship the nervousness was gone, because I had enjoyed the entire ride and was more sure than ever that mechanical engineering was the right field for me.
So my advice to you is this: There are certain things that you cannot learn from books, so make the effort to get a summer job or internship that will allow you to experience first-hand what it is like to work in your field of study. I assure you it’ll be worth it.
Posted by Fernando Ramirez, Career Services Assistant