Internship at Abbott, Southern California

I chose to use my STEP Project toward a six-month co-op with Abbott Laboratories (formerly St. Jude Medical). There, I served as an Electrical Engineering Co-op within the R&D MRI Safety division group. I was responsible for both hardware and software engineering, where I helped build a system to monitor the activity of pacemakers and defibrillators.

Over the course of my co-op, I grew and learned not just as an engineer, but as an individual. My work environment was based in southern California, which meant the opposite side of the country from where I have grown up. I worked in Los Angeles, surrounded by diverse groups of people pursuing all different kinds of dreams. I was exposed to a fusion of cultures, of people who were excited to not only share their history but wanted to learn about yours as well. After moving back to my hometown, I found myself craving the diversity and blending of ideas I had experienced over the course of my co-op.

In the workplace, I transformed from a hesitant and developing engineer, to one who became comfortable with knowing that even though I may not immediately know the answer to everything, I have the tools and capability to find them. I started out being afraid to ask questions, to make obvious the depth and lack of my technical knowledge. Encouragement from my managers and co-workers helped me gain the confidence to ask the questions I needed to, to help me become a better and more informed engineer.

My co-workers played a huge role in this development. There were approximately twenty co-ops in total, and we came from different universities across the country. Despite this, we all got along well and grew to encourage each other to grow both personally and professionally. If there was a topic or software that I was unfamiliar with, there was always a good chance that one of my co-workers had used it before and was willing to show me the ropes. Through presentations and projects, we always had each other’s backs. This made it that much easier to feel comfortable in my environment, so that I could have the best possible experience.

During my first month at Abbott, I received the opportunity to implant a pacemaker and leads into a pig’s heart. I have always had a passion for the intersection of biology and engineering, and I was able to witness firsthand the collaboration between engineers and physicians to make sure they were fitting a patient to provide the best therapy possible. That experience in holding an animal’s heart and implanting our medical devices was lifechanging because I was doing what I loved most, and I was able to see that a dream that combined my love for biology and technology was possible and relevant.

At the very end of my internship, I was finishing up a project that would be able to monitor that activity of pacemakers during an MRI scan and report back visual and computational results. As this development came to a close, I was invited to travel to the University of California – Los Angeles, to observe my project in action. I had the opportunity to see my project implanted in a system that mimics human heart tissue, and watch it do its job. This was perhaps the highest point of my co-op. Being able to look back on where I started, to what I had accomplished by that point seemed completely overwhelming and incredibly satisfying. Engineers would be using my system to evaluate new pacemaker designs to save and protect patients, and this knowledge fulfilled all the goals and dreams I had started out with.

I experienced so much in my six months working for Abbott. I grew as an individual and saw myself flourish in a diverse and colorful environment. At the same time, I was given work that challenged me as an engineer, but also allowed me to trust my skills and judgment. I was able to see my project come to life and be used to evaluate the next generation of high-tech cardio-rhythm management devices. In the end, it gave me the confidence and inspiration I needed to know that everything I had wanted in my dream career was out there, and that I have the ability to pursue and achieve it.