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  • Writer's pictureCharley Orner

3 Lessons from an Intern Entering into the Water Sector

Six weeks ago I began an internship at a consulting firm in the water sector. Although these six weeks have flown by, I quickly learned 3 major lessons. Let’s break them down!

1. Time Management is Key!

Being a graduate student at Penn is not easy. Combining that with an internship,

extracurricular activities, a social life, and a personal life is even harder! I consider myself to be a good time manager who is able to work efficiently and get tasks done quickly. I probably learned this from being an “overscheduled” undergraduate student succumbing to the pressure of seeing everyone around me doing so many different things and taking on so much. If my undergraduate years being a double major and Division I athlete taught me anything, it’s to get into a routine! Set your alarm so you are getting up and going to bed every day at the same time. This will keep your schedule consistent. Keeping a planner with lists is also super helpful! It will allow you to plan out the day ahead of you, stay on track, and know what you need to get done when. Personally, at night I like to schedule out the day ahead. This allows me not only to stay on schedule, but also to set aside chunks of time for specific tasks and breaks. If you know what you need to finish in an explicit timeframe you are more likely to complete that task and have time set aside for yourself. This is where the idea of work life balance and boundaries comes into play. It can be very hard to set boundaries and take time out of the day for yourself. This can be especially hard as an intern when you are lowest on the chain of command. There can be pressure to complete requests from your superiors as soon as possible and to never power down your devices. This has been a struggle of mine in these six weeks. Currently I am working part time hours and going to school at night. I needed to set that boundary of turning off work so I could turn on school. This included sitting down with my bosses and providing a cutoff time for work and maximum hours I could work per week. While this can be a tough conversation it is needed to ensure a work life balance where you still have time to take care of yourself!

2. Steep Learning Curves Can be Good

I have never worked in consulting, or in the business world for that matter. Prior to starting this internship most of my experience has been in the environmental nonprofit sector. This gave me solid entry level work experience wearing a ton of hats on the job, as it usually goes with nonprofits. However, I was lacking in business experience, excel skills, market analytics, and more. I think it is important to be aware of your knowledge gaps and go after internships that offer you the opportunities to learn those skills. That is a lot of what Penn offers in our program, identifying skills you would like to acquire and giving you the opportunity to take classes or gain experiences where you will learn those skills. I knew it would be a steep learning curve when I started my internship. The first week consisted of me googling so many terms to figure out what they meant. Something I learned quickly was the importance of asking a lot of questions. It is easy to feel dumb or to feel like you might be asking a “stupid question”, but in reality, there are no “stupid questions”! As an intern you are not expected to know exactly how the company works or exactly how your boss might want things done. It is better to ask all your questions right when they pop into your head to get a direct answer. The same thing goes for asking for help. Interns may feel shy or intimidated in asking for help, but your coworkers are there to help you. Asking for help or asking a question can even start an important conversation that superiors may not have even considered. The final tip I have to overcome a learning curve is to be open to feedback and to seek it out. It was immensely helpful for me to ask what I should do differently in my first few weeks on the job. This allowed me to make fixes before they continued into my second or third month on the job. Keeping an open mindset in this process is needed. Your coworkers and bosses are not singling you out or being mean, most of the time they are just identifying places for you to improve!

3. Being a Women in Water

The water industry is largely male dominated and aging quickly. There is rapidly becoming a shortage of employees wanting to work in this sector as the current workforce ages into

retirement. Although I was aware of this before entering my internship, it was quite stark, as a young woman, to see this in person. Part of the project I am working on consists of interviewing industry experts that are either retired now or have recently started a new career path. I have done five interviews so far, and none were with women or people of color. Nearly all of the interviewees are estimated to be over the age of 65 too. When speaking with the client over Zoom or conducting important meetings in person there were no women and no people of color in the room. These discussions included people that were high up in leadership roles. The only women I had contact with over email worked in marketing and consumer research, a more “typical” role for women. The only time I worked with women or with people of color were the staff from my own company. This can make it very hard as a young woman to enter this industry. It can make it even harder once you are in the industry to have, largely older white males who have been in the industry for 20+ years and may not want to see change, critiquing your work. All of this is to be taken with a grain of salt, everyone I have worked with so far has been openminded and interested to hear what I brought to the table, but there certainly is a need for the water industry to pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion programs more heavily. As the current water workforce begins to retire though, there will be a lot of opportunities if you are coming out of school! Together we can provide fresh insight to the water industry while working on problems that affect all of us.

In total, working in the water industry has been great so far! I have learned so much in a short time and look forward to continuing my growth as my internship continues through the summer. Feel free to reach out to me with anything you have learned working in the water industry!

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