How Engineering Internships Count: Advice from Past Interns

If you’re a student in Australia, whether you grew up in Perth or Pokhara, Melbourne or Mumbai, Sydney or Seoul, Brisbane or Beijing, there’s one thing that can help you work on your career prospects as a future engineer: an internship.

Great for your CV but much more than a resume booster, an engineering internship can give you real-world experience, professional skills, and practical industry insight.

Here, we bring to you, as examples, the reshaping experiences of a few past CareerDC engineering interns and highlight to you the many benefits that internships gave them and can offer to you too.

Build Practical Skills

Internships offer a hands-on approach to learning that the classroom and lecture hall environments often lack. Take the experience of Chen, an electrical engineering intern from the University of Queensland, who told us that during his internship “I had the opportunity to engage in various tasks related to electrical engineering and use different software, which enabled me to know more about the electrical industry.”

This kind of practical exposure is significant when you want to prepare yourself for the professional working world, especially in technical fields, such as engineering, where theory is just one little part of the bigger picture.

During an internship, engineering students can find themselves working with the latest and industry-relevant tools and software, such as Autodesk Inventor, CAD or GIS. These hands-on skills definitely improve your technical abilities and make you a more marketable new graduate engineer to future employers.

Build a Network, Find a Mentor in the Engineering Industry

One of the perhaps underrated benefits of engineering internships is the opportunity to start building a professional network and making industry connections. Whether you're interning remotely or on-site, the relationships you form can give a boost to your career development. 

A civil engineering intern, Maggie from the University of Adelaide, noted how her internship “colleagues are all very approachable and friendly. We constantly exchange ideas and explore new things together.” These types of connections you make during your internship can provide mentorship, and practical knowledge, and may potentially lead to job offers or recommendations in the future. 

During an internship, you’ll intern in close collaboration with seasoned engineers. The chance to work directly with or under experienced professionals, as mechanical engineering intern Tony, from the Central Queensland University, did with a Managing Director, offers insights and guidance that can shape your professional development.

Gain Industry Insights

Internships place you in the industry environment, the real deal, providing learning experiences that you just cannot gain from textbooks. Tony, the mechanical engineering intern we introduced earlier, got to experience working on chemical injection pumps and said the whole experience taught him “new Excel skills, technical skills, and mechanical design.” 

This kind of hands-on experience exposes you to the day-to-day operations and challenges in the engineering industry, helping you understand the practical applications of your studies. Another engineering intern Fangzhao, from the University of Adelaide, shared how her first-hand experience with safety documents and on-site work gave her a comprehensive understanding of company operations.

Improve Your Soft Skills

While technical skills are absolutely important, soft skills are equally important in any career, including engineering. Internships help you develop a range of soft skills in a professional setting. From communication and teamwork to problem-solving and time management, the experiences you gain are extremely useful. 

Maggie, the civil engineering intern, came to understand the importance of communication skills, especially in an international setting. As advice to future interns, she said, “I encourage you to put more focus on your English speaking skills. When opportunity comes, ensure that you are ready to face it.” 

When you, as an intern, actively participate in meetings, fearlessly collaborate with diverse teams, and manage projects, you are working on and improving a skill set that employers seek in new graduates

Boost Confidence, Initiative and Independence

Taking on real responsibilities during an engineering internship will boost your confidence and initiative. For instance, the electrical engineering intern Chen got to present solutions, manage documentation, and complete design deliverables during his internship. He found the experience empowering, saying he “was able to learn how to stimulate power systems and gained proficiency in using various software.” 

When you are entrusted with such practical tasks it will help you learn to handle professional challenges, which is a confidence booster and an attractive trait to future employers.

Career Direction and Opportunities

An engineering internship is a great way to explore different career paths within the engineering industry and discover what truly excites you. Exploring industry and career paths during your internship can help clarify your career goals and open doors to new opportunities. 

Many interns find that their internship experience makes them more competitive candidates for full-time positions after graduation, as they have demonstrated their capability and enthusiasm in a real-world setting.

Real-Life Application of Knowledge

One of the most rewarding aspects of an internship is seeing how your academic knowledge applies in the real world. The civil engineering intern  Maggie, whom we introduced earlier and who worked on ES data management and GIS development said, “I was able to conceptualize the real-world applications of these experiences, which will definitely shape my future positively as a civil engineer.” This practical application not only reinforces your learning but also gives you a deeper appreciation of your field of study.

Adapting to Professional Environments

Understanding the dynamics of a professional environment is crucial for career success. Vy, a biomedical engineering intern from Swinburne University of Technology in  Melbourne, who worked with a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), noticed the importance of professional behaviour and said the internship taught her “how to work in a professional environment and present myself in a competent manner.” 

This kind of experience prepares you for the expectations and culture of a workplace, ensuring that you can transition smoothly from student life to a professional career.

Advice for Aspiring Engineering Interns

For those of you considering engineering internships, here are some tips from past interns:

  • Stay curious and keep a positive learning attitude. Don’t be shy about asking questions or engaging in discussions. This curiosity will help you maximise your learning experience.
  • Focus on communication skills. Especially if you’re an international engineering student in Australia, improving your English communication skills is crucial. Practice speaking and ensure you can articulate your ideas clearly.
  • Be proactive, take initiative in your tasks and look for ways to contribute beyond what is expected. This proactive approach can set you apart and show your dedication.
  • Learn from every experience as even the unexciting tasks can teach you something valuable. Approach every task with the mindset of learning and growing.

Conclusion

Internships are a great stepping stone to your professional future. They offer a good mix of practical skills, industry insights, professional connections, and personal growth. 

Whether you’re looking to gain hands-on experience and to fulfil your degree’s requirements, build your resume, or explore career paths, engineering internships offer invaluable opportunities that can shape your future. 

So, take the leap, seize the opportunities, and let your engineering internship be the launching pad for your future professional career. Wishing all current and future interns a fruitful and transformative experience!