This summer and fall I had the transformational opportunity to work virtually as a Research Intern with the Driving Simulation Lab where I led a large-scale joint literature review project for a team from Honda. This entailed gathering sources, summarizing information, organizing a team of students, and giving a final Power Point presentation related to autonomous driving.
This project enhanced the development of my leadership style and confidence as I was given a lot of flexibility, discretion, and responsibility within my team. Working remotely to accomplish this provided a new set of challenges that led to a deeper understanding of my own work style and ability to generate actionable solutions. These two qualities intersected in my learning of how to manage a large project through virtual means, a skill that will likely only continue to grow in necessity within the workplace. In adapting to an online world, I changed my wellness and working routines. I found that I need to create structure in my day, lean upon support networks, and take a conscientious approach to fitness.
This time transformed how I thought about myself, mental health, and social responsibility as well. In direct relation to my internship, I made sure to check in with teammates and see how I could better support them. It also appeared as a component of my STEP experience as I budgeted for my own apartment and living expenses during these challenging times. Work-life balance looked very different too. I am glad I addressed that issue so to know how to address these situations in the future. Thus, my internship touched all aspects of my life.
Giving the final project report to the team at Honda boosted my confidence. Receiving positive reviews and good constructive feedback was meaningful. In a lab that rarely gives students the lead on industry projects, I was able to prove to myself that I could succeed in such a capacity. I faced threats to the timeline by streamlining and delegating tasks, adding a directive dimension to my leadership style.
Although work needed to be conducted remotely, I was able to form meaningful bonds with my advisors. Dr. Kerwin and Mr. Wrabel were phenomenal role models for work ethic and personal character. They encouraged my taking an active leadership role in the lab and asking questions. This supported both my learning and my mental health as I was able to voice concerns I had about being a young adult in these tumultuous times. In turn, I also received their tips on conducting business online, such as practicing new software.
Part of our lab’s culture was to hold full team meetings at least once a week. It is here that some of my assumptions about the field were changed. For instance, I learned not to shy away from male-dominated spaces or fields. I also changed my assumptions about the automotive industry and what that research looks like. For instance, I came to see that research can encompass many forms, from literature reviews to in-person studies. In these meetings we could share what went good or bad, discuss ideas for improvement, ask for help, or read articles to talk about methodology. Often times tasks were directed at student improvement and learning as well. Thus, I came to see productivity as output and self-enhancement.
My time with the Driving Simulation Lab has made positive, significant impacts on my career outlook, view of myself, and professional relationships. I am confident that I will be noticing the benefits for years to come. First, I determined that I would like to continue working in the research industry. Second, I gained automotive industry specific knowledge. Third, through my internship I met some amazing people and made great connections. I was able to network with professionals from Honda and formed close ties with my supervisors that will provide life-long mentors and letters of recommendation.
The friendships I forged with my fellow interns have made a positive impact on my life as well. These people, through the supportive, egalitarian, and encouraging environment they created, helped me gain full confidence in my managerial capabilities. They highlighted my strengths, and we supported each other’s improvement upon our weaknesses. We adapted to the changes the pandemic brought to our work experience and I learned to be flexible in overcome project setbacks. These skills will be invaluable to my personal and professional life.