A Summary of My Project:
I spent my summer interning at Tosoh SMD in Grove City, OH as an engineering intern within their New Project Development team. I worked to improve the material properties of metal sputtering targets utilized in creating microchips.
How My Initial Understandings and Assumptions Were Altered:
When I accepted the position as a summer intern at Tosoh, I had a hunch that I was not cut out for metallurgical engineering. Yet I wanted to explore different areas of my field in order to fully determine what career could be right for me. After four months of employment, I became very certain I would not become a metallurgical engineer so my assumptions were not particularly altered in this respect. However, this experience made me realize how much I had enjoyed my research position during the previous school semester. My internship was lacking the creativity and loose structure that research innately has and the harsh factory atmosphere of my internship seemed even worse when compared to the pristine and well-lit lab I had worked in during the school year. While I wasn’t particularly fond of conducting research at the time, my internship made me realize that I really enjoyed my time in the lab.
Not only did my internship show me how fun and exciting research can be, it also made me seriously consider going to graduate school. Before the summer, I had assumed that I would look for a job in engineering right out of college and that I would prefer working up the corporate ladder to staying in school. Grad school had always seemed silly to me; why stay in school and rack up my debt when I could get out in the world and make a decent amount of money? But after seeing the positions in Tosoh that new college grads held, I decided that I could do better. I would rather stay in the world of academia a little longer and further explore what I’d like to do as a career, because after my internship I have become certain that I do not know what career I want.
Events and Relationships that Led to My Transformations:
While working as an intern at Tosoh, I noticed three key factors that were drastically different between conducting research and day-to-day life at my internship. These three factors contributed to my realization that I should remain a student with a biomaterials focus and conduct research instead of becoming a metallurgical engineer. The three factors are: 1. The way I am treated as a woman in each environment, 2. The work environment itself, and 3. The ultimate purpose of each occupation.
As a woman in engineering, I am particularly receptive to when and how I am being treated differently from my peers. While awareness of sexism within STEM fields has improved, it unfortunately still exists. As an undergraduate assistant for biomaterials research at Ohio State, I am not treated any differently from other students. It is very common for women to participate in research as well as for women to be in the medical field. However, my internship was a very different environment that was almost entirely populated by older males. Not only did I battle against agism along with the other interns, I was additionally battling against sexism. As a feminine woman working in a male-dominated factory environment, my competency was questioned much more often than the other interns’. Rarely did I feel respected or comfortable in such large groups of men who made a point to comment on my shoes or hair, where my shoes were work boots identical to everyone else’s and my hair was tied back as required. I was often ignored when asking for help and talked over in conversations. Each day was a battle for respect, which every individual should be given automatically. Needless to say, this aspect of my internship was the most difficult.
The way I was treated by the people in each position is closely related to the different environments in which I have worked. In the lab conducting research, I am with well-educated people in a school environment. The lab was clean, well-managed, well-lit, and not frequented by many people. I am trusted to complete the work I am given, and when it is complete I am able to leave for the day. At Tosoh working in a factory environment, I worked with people ranging from only middle-school education to bachelor’s degrees in college. Working in a factory was dark, dirty, and truthfully depressing. The employees are not happy and their resentment against the company is very obvious. I would not choose to work in a similar environment again.
Last, the true difference in positions was their overall purpose and goals. At Tosoh, the goal was to produce a high quality, clean metal to be passed on for sputtering in microchips. Conducting research has much more revolutionary, moral, and exciting goals such as improving medication administration in household pets or engineering tissues to be used for burn victims. I feel a sense of importance and purpose when conducting research that maybe my work will truly change someone’s life for the better, and manufacturing metals does not give me this same feeling of achieving a higher good. It is very important to me to help other people in whatever career path I choose, and this principle is not met as a metallurgical intern.
The Significance of My Transformation:
My summer internship gave me a much better idea of what I’d like to do with my life, and the types of goals I wish to achieve. I cannot morally agree to using my engineering degree in a position where it is not helping to improve our society and the lives of others. I also refuse to remain in a work environment that does not grant me basic respect. While I had a feeling I would not emerge from this internship wanting to be a metallurgical engineer, I had no idea I would want to pursue graduate school. I am now very confident in my decision as a biomaterials focus and am grateful for the experience working at Tosoh for teaching me more about myself and my goals as an engineer.