Anish Sukumar – University of Michigan

Should I take up a company internship or try for a university? How will this affect my future decisions? This is a question I asked many people at the end of my second year and one that I am being asked by juniors right now. Looking back, I think I might have been trying to outsource my decision to other people, which doesn’t seem like a great idea now. I will be writing about my internship journey, hopefully from which you can take away something meaningful. 

Hi! I am Anish Sukumar, a fourth-year undergraduate in the Department of Chemical Engineering. I currently live in Chennai, and I have been interning at the University of Michigan under Professor H. Scott Fogler for the past couple of months. Apart from academics, I spent my time playing sports (mainly squash and cricket) and umm….  I should’ve thought this through. Anyway, onto my internship journey! 

During the second year, I liked most of the courses that we were studying and had even worked on a project with a professor in our department. This was all before COVID though. With our summer vacations preponed, I decided to explore my interests further and started working on another project related to soft matter. The work involved performing molecular dynamics simulations to create a model for an experimental system and really made me understand how research works. At the same time, I had also started apping in my third semester (which wasn’t quite how I expected it to be) and was in touch with a professor at the University of Auckland. He was also kind enough to offer me a work-from-home project, and my second-year summers went largely in working on these two things.

Coming to the start of the internship season, I was pretty sure I wanted to do something related to Chemical Engineering. But I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do an industrial intern or a university intern. With COVID still around, apping seemed like a daunting task, and I thought I’d keep my options open. There were some Day 1 companies that opened for ChemE but barring one, none of them had anything to do with RnD. I still applied to a couple of companies, partly because it had something I wanted to do and partly because of FOMO (this wasn’t the best idea). I had applied for HUL RnD and ITC. Talking about HUL, this was something that I was seriously considering and even got selected for the interview. I eventually got rejected, which would probably have been attributed to my lack of preparation. I applied to ITC because my friends were – I didn’t even like the work described in the JAF. I sincerely hoped I wouldn’t get selected for the interview, but as luck would have it, I was. Ten minutes into the interview, the interviewers realized I wasn’t looking for that type of a role, and we ended up mutually rejecting each other. Prior to the interview, I was really nervous, and the only thing I could think of was how to decline the role. It made me realize that I shouldn’t fill JAFs just for the sake of it (seriously, don’t attempt such a stunt in the interview xD).

Now that I had decided to focus solely on a university intern, I started apping and regularly contacting the IC to check the status of universities. I was really hoping to get an intern through the PT cell since my luck with apping wasn’t the best. Professor Fogler had been taking interns from here for the past few years, and this was something I kept thinking of to pacify myself. It’s difficult not to compare yourself to other people, and the various “intern craxxx” Facebook posts did get to me at times (especially since I wouldn’t even be applying to anything that came). The best thing that worked for me at that time was focusing on what I could control, rather than worrying about what others are doing. Around October, however, I got a message from my IC saying that the university had decided to come, and things started to look up. The process was pretty straightforward – we were just asked to submit our resume, and to my joy, I was told I had been selected! 

In early 2021, things were looking good with the cases decreasing and we were able to start with the visa process, and looking for housing, flights, etc. But, as luck would have it, it all started to fall apart around the end of March. Cases began to rise again, and India had encountered the second wave. We were advised to start off with the intern as a wfh one, and soon enough, many countries banned flights from India. There was never any worry of the intern getting canceled since we had been assured that it would go on in a wfh mode. 

Our intern started right after the endsems and the work was related to safety in chemical engineering. Prof. Fogler has been working on a safety website for a while now, and has various modules related to many different incidents in it. Our main task was to do a Hazard and Operability Analysis (known as HAZOP) wherein we’d study the facility’s working, analyze the potential hazards, consequences, safeguards present, and even give some recommendations. The work that we had to do was the same as that mentioned in the JAF. Even though this was a university intern, it gave us a lot of insight into how real-world facilities work and emphasized how we as chemical engineers can contribute towards the safety of a plant. We’d also done a course on process control and chemical process in the 6th sem, both of which were useful for the project. 

As part of this project, there were four of us apart from the professor. The four of us used to meet quite often (maybe twice or thrice a week) to review our work and we usually met Professor Fogler once a week. Having done chemical reaction engineering and then meeting the  professor was pretty special (for non-chemical people, we refer to a book that he wrote), and the meets were always fun. There were no problems in coordinating in the online mode, and everything worked out seamlessly. Unlike many other interns, the work was not too hectic and allowed us to relax a bit, which was much needed after the online sem. 

So that was all about my intern. The internship season can be a tense time, but my main advice is not to worry about what other people are doing. Try exploring whatever you want to – that’s the whole point of an internship. Personally, I feel like the whole thing is really overhyped, especially since it isn’t even compulsory to do an intern. A lot of people want to get selected in a Day 1 company, but due to obvious reasons, many deserving candidates get rejected too. Don’t be too hard on yourself and just keep sticking with the process, things will eventually work out. As I mentioned earlier, work on what you can control rather than thinking about what you can’t. We are exposed to a plethora of opportunities and try and make the most of it. Try to create your own story and not follow other people blindly. Anyway, this seems to have become a bit too preachy. Just have fun with whatever you’re doing. 

Thanks for reading! 

6 months ago