Finding a job isn’t as easy as it used to be. Businesses facing our country’s slow economic revival are hiring full-time employees carefully and summer interns sparingly. But internships do exist. Companies rely on interns to do substantive work and look at them as potential future employees. Convincing a company that you are the perfect person to fill one of their few internship positions can be a challenge for undergraduate students. I’ve found that mindlessly participating in things for the sole purpose of landing a job doesn’t seem to work, but sinking your teeth into something you find engaging — and starting that early, even in high school — can result in another opportunity opening up down the road.
My own story began in the summer before my junior year of high school. I attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, but that summer I was in California to conduct research through a mentorship program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Our research goal was to make hydrogen fuel cells more affordable by decreasing the amount of the highly expensive platinum catalyst — required by the cell to produce electricity — while retaining or improving the performance of the fuel cell. Both my partner and I had found the topic fascinating, something we could sink our teeth into, and our findings from that summer had promising results. When we returned to our respective high schools, we entered our research findings into different science fairs, including the Siemens Competition — we already had done the work for fun, so why not compete? Our success in the competition made us Siemens Scholars.
This past spring, as I was applying to a number of summer internships and looking for the right fit, the Siemens Foundation contacted its Siemens Scholars. The foundation informed us how, if we were interested in working for Siemens in the summer, to apply. An opportunity was opened, and I applied.
Though I am no longer pursuing the same type of degree that my research in high school back in 2008 would have suggested, my interests are still aligned. As a business development intern for the Service division within Siemens Energy based out of Orlando, I am still focused on energy and specifically future energy technologies. The Service division manages the lifecycle of power generation equipment from the point of its initial sale to the end of its life. Within the division, there is a widespread initiative to look at how future trends in 2020 will impact the service business and determine what the business environment will be like, what new technologies will evolve, what major changes within the energy sector will occur, and so on. Once the future is forecasted, the initiative identifies the major changes needed today and along the road in time, in order to improve the business and better serve the customers.
Essentially, we predict different future scenarios and the cascading business impact that those scenarios might have. The internship this summer involved merging both the business side and technical side of the company. I was able to experience this blending and witness how business is conducted within a vast and global organization.
The Siemens Energy internship has helped me reaffirm that I am as interested in energy-related work as I was four years ago when I did my initial research. Equally valuable, the summer affirmed my decision to pursue an Operations Research and Financial Engineering degree at Princeton University. Rather than majoring in chemical engineering, this time around I became more interested in the business implications of technology than trying to define the technology in a laboratory. All of these aspects of the summer’s experience will keep me on track — following my personal interests and aspirations. Working at Siemens Energy has been an incredible experience, and there is no doubt that the company will remain on the top of my mind as my career plans begin to gel.
Advice to future interns: It is never too early to start engaging yourself in something you find captivating. Walk through the doors of opportunity when they present themselves. With each opportunity, don’t be afraid to shift direction in order to follow your interest — this not only helps you stand out among peers to potential employers, but it also should help you find the right career fit upon graduation.
AJ Swoboda is a current intern at Siemens Energy in Orlando, Florida, a junior at Princeton University, and a 2009 Siemens Competition National Finalist.