Ryan Koeppen ’19, was drawn to UPOP, MIT’s Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, because of its one-of-a-kind attention dedicated to sophomores—who are largely unnoticed by employers in top-industry fields.
“UPOP is unique in that it starts students off early in their college career. You don’t have a lot of experience in what you are doing, but you are interested in learning more about what you can do about that,” said the mechanical engineering major. Although the program is in the School of Engineering, Ryan emphasized that “many of the skills that UPOP teaches are not exclusive to engineering, which is another plus.”
He applied many of the UPOP techniques and skill sets during his internship at Covaris, Inc., a company headquartered in Woburn, Mass., that develops technology for processing biological samples.
Ryan, who is minoring in biomedical engineering, found the position through UPOP, which connects its hundreds of students to internship opportunities so that they can put into practice the skills they learn during their UPOP year.
At Covaris, Ryan experienced many of the different facets of working in a smaller team. Reflecting on the useful teamwork skills instilled throughout his time in UPOP, he said “Pretty much everything you do, everyone also knows, and what you do fuels what everyone else is doing.” He really enjoyed the smaller-team aspects of his internship, working with five or six others on a project full-time, and it became clear how important it was to stay on the same page. He was very involved in the day-to-day running of tests, and worked closely with the lead mechanical engineer on the project. His tests were used to guide the engineer and her design decisions, and he offered suggestions on how things could be improved. “I think it was also a really unique experience in that I was able to work with full-time engineers, and a great opportunity.”
Ryan says that one of his biggest takeaways during his time in the industry world that summer was learning when it was appropriate to ask questions. “Learning to distinguish what is worth escalating versus things that you already know and trying to solve the problem yourself. I think there is a clear distinction between my freshman and sophomore year internships because I’ve grown as an engineer and have learned to problem-solve. It was that summer at Covaris where I learned exactly what that meant. As an engineer, you want others’ opinions and ideas, but there is a lot to optimize—you don’t want to use everyone’s time to ask every little detail.”
Ryan found UPOP’s emphasis on presentation, communication and networking skills particularly important.
“At Covaris, pretty much every week my supervisor would have me present on the work I was doing that week, and that is where UPOP comes in—knowing how to present more broadly and interpersonally on a presentation and communicating my ideas to others. An aspect that extends beyond any job is effective communication. Even if you’re not interviewing or networking, there is always that opportunity to get to know other people and you never know what’s going to come out of those conversations. In that way networking is a very applicable skill to the ‘real world.’ Pretty much always being prepared to network is a useful skill.”
Ryan offers this advice to students contemplating joining UPOP: “The Team Training Workshops over IAP are a unique experience that you don’t find in other programs that are tailored toward developing your career. Even though the workshop is only a week there is a lot to take in. Even if in that moment you don’t necessarily see that what you are learning will become useful, I can almost promise that it will become useful in the future.”