Are remote internships worth it? These UM-Dearborn summer interns say ‘yes.’
We get some real talk from four UM-Dearborn students whose summer internships went remote due to the pandemic.
It’s totally understandable that the students we talked with were a little disappointed when they learned their summer internships were going remote. Some of them had some really exciting host venues to look forward to, like the renowned Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just outside of San Francisco. But the students also expressed a sense that the unexpected format change meant the experience was different, but not necessarily less meaningful. Some told us they even feel like they’re walking away with a whole new set of work-from-home skills that could prove valuable in a post-pandemic world. Here’s some of what they had to say about their summer experiences — and their advice about how to make the most of a remote internship.
Senior in Industrial Engineering
Internship: DTE Energy, Detroit
I started interning at DTE Energy in the summer of 2019, working with their Electric Field Operations department. My initial project focused on analyzing productivity metrics for their field reps. And more recently, I started working on a project that’s now my senior design project, where we’re improving how field reps can organize tools and equipment on their trucks to continuously improve their work’s efficiency. We had just started this vehicle standardization project in February 2020, and then the pandemic hit and we had to switch the whole project virtually. It was a big challenge because we were planning on going out in the field and observing some of the challenges field reps were having. So I started reaching out to people to figure out a different approach, and I discovered that one of their engineers had created a dashboard that included all the completed jobs for the past three months. This totally gave us insight into what the most common jobs were. Then we organized focus group interviews to determine which tools the workers were using on those most common jobs. This new approach actually ended up saving us a lot of time, and now we’re figuring out ways we can pilot our recommendations without actually working with the field reps in-person.
On how to get the most out of a remote internship:
I think the biggest thing is that you have to try to stick to your original plan, but then brainstorm as many creative solutions as you can that will help you reach your initial goal. And reach out to the other people on your team, the managers, anybody who might have good ideas — don’t just rely on yourself. The second thing I’d say is, during virtual meetings, turn your camera on. Just because you’re at home, you don’t want to lose that connection with the other people on your team. Honestly, I forget sometimes that I’m working from home; I feel like I’m really at the office.
Senior in Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering
Internship: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California
I was really looking for an internship that would allow me to design something on my own, from the ground up, and Lawrence Livermore was offering an internship where I could design diagnostic components at their National Ignition Facility. I was scheduled to start in the summer, but then of course, everything shifted. They were absolutely gracious in handling it. In fact, initially my project wasn’t able to be remote, but they found a different project for me within the same group that could be done remotely. Lawrence Livermore is known for lots of different things, but the National Ignition Facility is a government-funded project that’s working on nuclear fusion ignition. For the research we were involved with, there’s essentially a target with a diameter of about 5 millimeters filled with hydrogen that sits inside another giant 10-meter diameter ball called the target chamber. And then 192 of the world’s highest-energy lasers converge on that ball of hydrogen. The energy from the lasers causes the target to implode, and when its implosion creates more energy than what you put in from the lasers, that’s fusion ignition. We need to be able to diagnose how well that implosion is happening, and my job was working on a Neutron Imaging System, which is one of many diagnostics we use to measure that.
On whether remote internships are worth it:
The work definitely felt “real.” There were many days where I was very, very busy, so I never felt like I was missing out on work experience. The one thing I did miss out on: The National Ignition Facility is known for being one of the most remarkable engineering spectacles in the world, so I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to see the facility. But they actually extended my offer through next summer and I’ve already been asked multiple times if I’m planning on working here; I’ve been told they typically hire about 80% of their interns. So it kind of worked out because if I would have had an in-person internship, it would have been over at the end of the summer. But now, because they know I can work well remotely, I have this opportunity to work throughout the school year, which I’m super excited about. And I’ve already started talking with other people about how to frame this experience on my resume to show all the really high-level stuff I did while working online.
Junior in Health and Human Services, Pre-Health concentration
Internship: SAFE Coalition, western Wayne County
SAFE is essentially a program that assists people who are struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse issues. They have a variety of crisis services, including some really innovative programs like a mobile crisis service unit. This is a new up-and-coming idea in the mental health field, and it’s essentially a team of medical and social service professionals who go to an individual’s house when they’re having a crisis. My work was initially supposed to be going along with one of these mobile crisis teams and watching them work. But after the pandemic, we couldn’t do that so we focused more on research. Early on, I looked into factors that affect stigma around mental health services in our community. I did a survey of how SAFE’s services stack up against similar nonprofits. And we also took a look at how coronavirus was changing the kinds of services the community needed. For example, especially during those first few weeks of the pandemic, healthcare workers were experiencing a lot of crises themselves because they were so overwhelmed. And the isolation and lack of social interaction has really had an impact on people, so it’s important for our organization to understand those factors so we can figure out how to meet the community’s needs.
On the unexpected benefits of a remote internship:
In my case, I think an in-person experience would have been much more optimal. Working side-by-side with medical professionals, caring for individuals, seeing them deescalate conflicts — that’s an experience you can’t get except in person. But the remote experience was still beneficial, just in a different way. For one, I’m walking away with a much higher-level view of some of the issues that impact mental health services. And personally, I became a much better researcher. In particular, I see how you have to utilize all kinds of resources — reports, news articles, videos, interviews with experts — to dig deeply into an issue and come away with a complete understanding of it.
Graduate student in Health Information Technology
Internship: Authority Health, Wayne County
As everyone knows, Detroit was considered a coronavirus hotspot early in the United States outbreak period, and my project was to understand the public health factors that were contributing most to these hotspots. To do this, I analyzed data from the Census Bureau and discovered correlations with a number of factors, such as low income, education, unstable housing, unsafe neighborhoods, poor nutrition and low transportation rates. I also looked at health factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control, like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. From data analysis of HCUP— hospital inpatient data — and 500 Cities health data, I confirmed the chronic health conditions correlated positively with COVID-19 case rates in Detroit. Based on my findings, I made several recommendations for policies and programs that could help Detroit public health agencies and community organizations prepare for the next pandemic and improve residents’ health and quality of life.
On how the internship contributed to my career goals:
My ambition is to further my career where I can make a difference in the lives of the people that I assist. I have always felt the importance of health IT due to my attention to detail, passion for high standard health care, and interest in computer sciences. This internship gave me a new perspective on how my study in a health information technology program might look in a work environment. It also introduced me to software and business platforms and developed my research, data analysis and qualitative skills. Moreover, I learned how to evaluate the data and present the reports. This internship enabled me to attempt a career and helped me to make more informed decisions on data analytics, which is what I want to do with my life.