Taj El-Khalili (Engineering Intern and InBaltimore Cohort 2022)
My First Ever Internship as a College Student
I wanted to intern at a place where I would be accepted and trusted to do important work. But was this scene illusory for a college freshman?
Leaving my hometown in Indiana and setting up shop as a student at Johns Hopkins University was exciting and nerve-wracking. Yet, something was missing – an internship.
The pandemic hit and we were advised to go home. And while there is no place like home, finding something important to fill my time seemed out of reach; so, I created my own volunteer “internship” by sewing masks and giving them away. At first this gave me the sensation of being needed and doing something important, but I soon realized that many others got on the mask-making bandwagon, diminishing the value of my efforts.
My Journey into the World of Prosthetics
During one of my regular Zoom advising sessions with faculty at Hopkins, I blurted out my disappointment and boredom in my unfulfilled, self-directed volunteer post of sewing facemasks where I had no opportunity to verify whether they were medical grade.
My professor knew I had an interest in prosthetics and suggested I apply to Infinite Biomedical Technologies (IBT), an upper limb prosthetics company specializing in myoelectric control systems.
I jumped at the opportunity and filled out all the paperwork while wondering how this was all going to work out during a pandemic. Luckily, for me, things went smoothly and the folks at IBT had it all figured out. I went through a series of Zoom interviews and was offered the position starting in Spring of 2021.
From Self-Directed Volunteer to Professionally Directed
Now comes the real test. Would this internship consist of menial tasks or would I have the opportunity to learn and use my hands to actually create and develop technology for the greater good? Or am I expecting too much?
My first two weeks were completely remote. On my first day I logged into Microsoft Teams, introduced myself at a company-wide meeting and got assigned my first task – designing a printed circuit board (PCB). I love building circuits on breadboards, but designing a PCB using sophisticated software is unlike anything I’ve done before.
The product development team was incredibly welcoming and encouraged me to ask them questions anytime, but this isn’t like school. There are no office hours for me to attend and spill off a list of questions, and I wanted to seem competent and not ask silly questions.
After a couple of weeks researching tutorials, reading the documentation, and working up the courage to ask questions, not only did I become well-versed in the PCB software but I was comfortable enough with the team to approach them concern-free when I needed help. One tip I have for asking people for help during an internship is to start out the question with what you have tried/researched. It shows that you are comfortable exploring other avenues to obtain information and that you don’t immediately come crying for help the second a problem arises.
I learned so much from this first project that I felt confident enough to make an even more complex PCB. With permission from IBT I used their software to create the following PCB for my Design Team.
With Power Comes Great Responsibility
Nothing says power more than getting permission to publish records that if found fallible could lead to serious consequences. Now I wouldn’t say I personally work on anything too serious but whenever I inspect material, build control systems, or run verification tests my results need to be documented and published via a quality management system.
If I want to publish a record, it’s my responsibility to ensure mistakes do not make it through the final review. It’s a lot of responsibility but having the ability to publish records means I get to leave my mark on the company. When I’m given a task, I get to influence the final result or design and my name will always be attached, it’s highly rewarding.
Fast forward to this summer and I’m happy to say I am still at IBT and loving it even more! We were recently inspected as part of the routine FDA inspection for a Class II medical device facility. During that time any record I published was fair game for review and scrutiny, and it emphasized even more to me how much responsibility I am trusted with. It can be scary at times, but it always motivates me to do my best work and makes every experience here even more fulfilling.
I’ve learned so much more since my first PCB project. I’m currently working on designing a 3D printed jig for securing enclosures (image below) using the drill press. Honestly, I’m not as experienced with design in SolidWorks but I have confidence my skills will improve with guidance from the IBT family!
I came to this internship looking for fulfillment and IBT has more than delivered, teaching me lifelong practical skills, allowing me to contribute my ideas to new products and materializing in real time the effect my work has on patients. While I am forever grateful for these experiences, nothing is more fulfilling than waking up every day this summer excited to work at a rewarding job with people I love.
If you enjoyed this article and would like more information about IBT or me, visit, http://www.i-biomed.com/index.html or connect with me via firstname.lastname@example.org