For my STEP Project, I completed a lab technician internship at Wacker Chemical Corporation, located in Adrian, MI, in the summer of 2019. My main project was to process nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra of important molecules and organize them into a library with ACD/Spectrus, a powerful software package designed by Advanced Chemistry Development (ACD) for analyzing and organizing chemical spectra. Meanwhile, I was also trained in a variety of essential analytical techniques such as 1H and 29Si NMR, ultraviolet-visible and infrared spectroscopies, high-performance liquid chromatography, and rheometry.
I had many first experiences during my internship. It was my first job. It was my first independent living experience. It was even my first time living outside of Ohio. Coming in on my first day, I had no expectations besides being paid for my work. In the end, I would say that, with all points considered, it was a good experience. There were so many great moments, but there were also many unpleasant issues that balanced the experience as a whole. What makes this good overall was that it has transformed me for the better. Over the summer, I gradually realized that I feel less insecure about several things compared to how I felt in the past. I now feel more confident in my talents, more open to my peers, and more relaxed when talking to those older than me. I doubt that these insecurities will completely disappear, but now, I can look past them to gain the confidence I need to accomplish more.
The first insecurity was with myself. In recent years, I realized that I had become a “perfectionist”. “Perfect” and excellent results became my standard, and anything less than that deserved reprehension. Even when I was being recognized for my achievements, I rarely thought about them, and it takes only one significant mistake for me to completely dismiss them. My perfect GPA was something I achieved under this mentality, so I had little motivation to change it. I first began to recognize my achievements when I created my resume. Taking the time to consider all that I had done was the first time I saw myself as a unique individual with achievements and privileges that not many others have. I realized this better during my internship. ACD/Spectrus is a software that has never been used at Wacker before, so I was taking the first steps to this project. I was teaching myself how to create libraries and process NMR spectra, and my best aid was a cumbersome electronic reference manual. I did not think very much about this, but I was creating a foundation for a global library that will be available in all sites of WACKER around the world. Upon reflection, I had accomplished many different things in the past, including more than a decade studying music and academic excellence, several scholarships, and now a successful and foundational internship project. I will always strive for excellence, maybe even perfection, but reflecting on all my experiences, I can be proud of myself for the achievements I have earned.
The second insecurity was with my friends. I had generally been quiet when in a group, sometimes quiet enough so that nobody heard me when I tried to comment. As a result, I felt it was always easier to stay in my room, and staying in a group without much involvement would only be awkward. Many of my extracurricular involvements do not last longer than a year, and most friends I had in the past are no longer associated with me. However, the other interns at this program were unexpectedly open and inviting. After a few missed opportunities (some involving making my own excuses, like not wanting to pay for ice cream), I joined them. I began participating in movie nights and card games with the other interns. These were some of the most fun moments of my stay. It was also reassuring that in such a group, we all casually swore and made provocative jokes at some point. This indicated that I did not have to be so polite and careful about what I say, which had become instinctive for me. In all my time with the other interns, despite still being generally quiet, not once did I feel awkward being there. I felt like I belonged in a group for once, even though it was only for a short time. What I did realize is that I can be brave in joining a group of friends and being with them can give me much better experiences.
The third insecurity was with people for whom I work. This included my teachers, advisors, and this summer specifically, my boss and mentor. Initially, I had expected that I would only be doing what my boss assigns me. I would seek as little help as possible, for my boss would be busy and I would not want to be seen as dependent. This mentality came as a student, where I would only be recognized by my teachers for my grade and class participation. I was perfectly satisfied with this, however, as my professors would usually reward me with an “A” on my transcript. What I never expected was to develop a professional, yet friendly relationship with my mentor. He is kind, funny, insightful, caring, and he worked hard for me to learn as much as possible from my time with him. While he taught me different techniques working in the lab, I found that simply talking to him in his office was much more satisfying and insightful. We conversed often, sometimes for more than an hour, about a large variety of topics. I learned about how businesses typically function, different ways to pursue my career, and sometimes morbidly humorous things about the world. Amongst all these discussions, I remember one idea. “Your time has value”, he told me without any hesitation. Over several years, I had unconsciously learned to dismiss compliments, perhaps due to my perfectionist nature or otherwise. However, this time with my mentor, I genuinely felt happy and respected. I still respect him as a boss, but I feel confident that I can call him a friend despite that. As the internship continued and I worked with different people, I realized that they were also friendly and empathetic like my mentor. Meanwhile, I dealt with waiting for upper management to purchase a ACD/Spectrus license for me to use, having major intern activities cancelled every few weeks, and paying twice as much in living expenses on my last week to stay in a hotel. My ultimate takeaway from both the highest and lowest points of this internship is that my bosses and the people in the organization I work for are human. They can care for me, and they are sometimes fallible. I should neither be afraid to converse with others or ask for help, nor should I thoughtlessly do what I am told.
On my first day, I had been tasked to pick a picture and explain why it was significant to me. I picked a crystalline snowflake, saying that if we look closely at something, we would see a beautiful structure that we could have easily dismissed as just a speck of dust. Surprisingly, I had closely observed several different things that I initially thought were once “snowflakes”. I critiqued my experience, gaining expectations the next time I find a job. I opened myself to my mentors and coworkers, finding myself in the care and respect of others that I never faced before. Lastly, I faced my insecurities directly, and despite every reason to give up, I became more confident in myself than ever before. By the end of my internship, I had a closer view of many different beautiful things, and I strongly intend to pursue more of them in the future.