By WenDi Liu
For the past 10 months, I have been working as an intern at H.C. Starck, the high-tech producer of Refractory Metals & Advanced Ceramics as powder or fabricated products. Under the guidance of Prof. Apelian and through my work at H.C. Starck, I have learned more than what academics alone could have impressed upon me.
First, motivation of research is driven by a different purpose. At school, the focus is on academic publishing and scholarship. However, the goal of companies is to make a profit. Therefore, the opinions from the marketing and sales departments play an important role in project planning and estimation. I am currently working on a project to improve glass melting electrodes. This project was started in response to a new coating product introduced by a major competitor. The main objective is to develop a product that could successfully compete against this and other competitors. It is the job of an engineer to solve problems and improve process flow in order to reduce cost and produce a better product than competitors.
Second, working at the company site, an intern such as myself has available a more comprehensive equipment suite and technical support. Compared to a manual operation and process, the equipment available to me during my internship automates much of the process and therefore provides a faster, clearer, and more efficient uniform surface condition that saves time and produces a better result. Furthermore, getting a chance to use the actual industrial equipment in the plant instead of equipment in the school lab helps to develop a better understanding of real industrial problems and needs.
Last but not least, the most impressive difference to me is the working environment of enterprise. In industry, work is done on teams consisting of members from various functional departments. I learned about electrode deficiency from the sales team members through their customer feedback program; room for improvement with glass melting electrodes from marketing; and glass melting electrode background and development from R&D. I am able to look at and work on the project from different perspectives because of the opportunity to work with seasoned technicians, engineers, and managers. At school, most of the time students study by themselves and follow their advisor’s guidance. However, when working as an industrial intern you have to learn how to manage yourself and be on the top of the project.
Internships give students the opportunity to experience the real world of industry and to allow students and companies to learn about each other. In my opinion, industrial internships should be a prerequisite to starting a career.