One of the worst experiences I’ve had this year is looking for internships. I have spent many hours scrolling Seek, Student Job Search and LinkedIn to try and find a role over summer that will fill those pesky 800 hours of practical work. I learnt the hard way that putting this extra work in early is so so important, no matter how far away summer may seem. Full disclosure, I don’t have an internship yet. It is a combination of both my perpetual procrastination of anything not immediate, and some questionable job applications I have sent out. Considering that, here are some tidbits I have heard and learnt throughout the year as a sort of cautionary tale to put in time, effort but also a reminder that not getting an internship straight away doesn’t make you any less valuable.
Because Biomedical Engineering students do ENGSCI 233 and 331 (computational techniques), this opens up a whole load of internship opportunities. You’re not bound to working at a biomedical engineering firm, the skills we learn are transferrable into data analysis at many firms. I attended the BESA (Biomedical and Engineering Science Student Association) internship evening and one of the Engineering Science students had done an internship and is now working at Deloitte. I have been able to apply to so many more internships because I can say I know how to code Python and Matlab rather proficiently. Of course, if that’s not really your thing (wouldn’t blame you), there are opportunities to work in more hands-on settings such as laboratories assisting researchers on any number of projects.
Fisher and Paykel Healthcare are obviously probably the most popular internship employers among Biomedical Engineering students, but also Electrical and Mechanical. Every year they offer a wide range of internships, from research and development of infant respiratory care to mathematically modelling lungs to the design and manufacturing process. They opened early in the year and closed early August this year, so make sure to start the application process early. F&PHC had a really long application form asking all sorts of background questions and typing answers for why you wanted the role in that specific area, and there is nothing worse than trying to fill out a load of information the day before it shuts. At the BESA talk, one student said they had to do a video interview and undergo a sort of critical thinking, personality test before they got an in-person interview, but different teams have different methods. The interview I did was really theoretical, which I wasn’t expecting but found really fun. The two members from the clinical research team asked a bunch of questions about what I knew about the lungs function and how they worked, as well as how to carry out research projects. I was lucky we had just done the respiratory module in Medsci but was a reminder to always do some research about the company and what they do beforehand to come as prepared as possible.
Of course, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare isn’t the only option. Have a look at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute early in the year, they have a number of student positions over summer helping lecturers and grad students carry out their research. Unfortunately, I did not realise this was an option, and so I cannot tell you what was on offer this year. Another option is local councils. My hometown council, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, has almost 30 summer programmes in a range of different areas of the council. They had positions going in water care, data collection, building regulation, science department help, data analysis and even legal compliance this year, and it is a great opportunity to get involved with your local council.
Alternatively, you could cold email companies. At the BESA internship evening, this was a common piece of advice. Look up “biomedical engineering firms”, find an email address and just attach your CV and a brief cover letter to as many as you can. While this hasn’t worked that well for anyone I’ve talked to this year, one of the students at the internship evening had found herself a position for the summer working for a company that looked at cow sperm. There are so many firms out there doing weird and wonderful things and working at a smaller start-up gives you a whole lot more responsibility in a role.
If you’re not really down for emailing randoms asking for a job over summer, apply to as many listed internships as soon as possible. I know it’s a pain, I personally despise writing cover letters and having to fill out my details so many times, but the longer you put it off, the bigger risk you take. Also, there have been times where I’ve applied a few days before the due date just to find out the positions already been filled. In terms of cover letters, there are a number of student help services at uni that can help you craft one up. Once you’ve got a basic outline and some great phrases, it’s not hard to google a firm’s values and recent activity so you can tailor your letter towards them. This makes the whole process easier, and easy is welcome when you apply for so many.
An advisor at uni once told me “Apply for 30, hear back from half, interview at 5, offers from 2”, and while it really scared me, it’s mostly been true. I certainly feel like I’ve applied for 30 internships and haven’t heard any further correspondence from a fair few. The few places I interviewed at were looking for someone with more experience. While this is hard and weakens morale, remind yourself it’s not personal. You’re also not alone. Quite a few of my cohort members are also struggling to secure internships, but there is heaps of time.
While I recommend applying as early as possible, not all is lost if you miss that first wave of applications due by August. There are still a few openings coming up in October. Keep an eye on sites like Seek, Student Job Search and LinkedIn for new internships popping up and apply for these as early as possible. If you don’t end up getting one over summer at the end of second year, there is still time before you graduate to pick up even a part time job somewhere to help you fill those hours up.
I’ll finish quickly with some cover letter and interview tips I’ve stumbled across. There are heaps of great resources out there to help with this, and BESA runs an interview night to help you hone these skills. In your cover letter, try bringing through your personality by including a personal story, it will help you stand out more. This is also true for interviews. When they inevitably ask, “tell me more about yourself”, don’t rattle off your CV. This is your opportunity to tell them who you are, where you’re from, if you’ve got any siblings or pets you like to hang out with, what you get up to on the weekend. A co-president of the Investment Club I talked to said he started playing golf at uni and always mentions it in interviews to bring up another talking point and shared interest with the interviewer. While you don’t have to pick up golf, anything that makes you seem more human and relatable will help you out. No one yet has asked me yet what my strengths and weaknesses are, but I have some stored in my head to whip out at the opportunity. With these strengths and weaknesses, I have little stories to go with them to exemplify how I use my strengths or how I’m working on my weaknesses. These stories can be anything from problems with my sisters, to encouraging my team at high school sports. Anything that can again help the interviewer to build a picture of you. Another super common question in interviews is “do you have any questions for me?”. Do some brief research before the interview about recent projects the firm has done and formulate some questions to ask the interviewer. Ask about what a day as an intern for them would look like. If you’re still struggling, ask them what they are most excited to be working on now, what their favourite project has been or what has kept them at the firm for however long they’ve been there (insert the actual number of years). If all else fails, you can revert to a classic “You’ve answered all my questions already”.
I hope this is helpful and grants you some more success than I have had. Don’t stress to much and be yourself. Best of luck for exams, summer job hunting and decision-making x