Industry Insights: Sam Stephens

This is an installment in a series called “Industry Insights” where we hear from a current student who is working at an internship, co-op, or full-time job and learn about their experiences. Today’s writer is Sam Stephens. She is a senior co-op student at Purdue in Chemical Engineering.

Hello my SWEple! My name is Sam Stephens and I am a senior in Chemical Engineering!  I’m currently on a Co-Op rotation at the Houston Refinery (LyondellBasell) in Houston, TX, and my story today is to share with you how dead wrong I was about what I thought I knew about myself.

IMG_9445Let me break the timeline down for you: All of last semester up to the day before I was supposed to start work, I was trying to figure out any way that I could find another job and do anything other than work a manufacturing role again. I did not like specialty chemicals working at a small plant whatsoever, so I was bound and determined to hate the refinery. I mean, I absolutely hated the demanding hours and working with a bunch of dads (no one my age). I want work – life balance. I want to enjoy the big city that I live in. I want to enjoy my job. From the past co-op and internship terms that I’ve had, it was seeming more and more impossible after each passing day.

Fast forward to January 18, 2016: Day 1. Here I was, despite my best efforts. But…what was this? People my age??? I couldn’t believe it, I was working in a process role once again, but this time, all of the process engineers are 23-26 years old. My boss is only 38 – not old enough to be my mom! Now I know, it seems like this is really important to me, but it is! When you’re considering a workplace, the environment is so crucial. This is starting off well…

Day 3: My mentor – a brilliant young engineer – meets with me to discuss my projects about catalysts, pumps, reactors, etc. Hold up, SWE, I think I just heard a chorus of angels – I’m actually interested in every single project!

The first month passed by in a breeze. In the process of learning everything there is to know about the units I was supporting, I found out that I really like catalysts. Like I spent my lunches and my free time learning about it. I set up meetings with our catalyst expert to ask all of the questions I had. I roped the other co-ops in. I was hooked on it. I couldn’t believe it, I loved what I was doing. I loved coming into work at 6:15 am. I loved my projects. I loved the refinery.

Ok, back to present day. I’m four months into my role and leagues of knowledge beyond where I started, and guess what: I still love refining. I took everything in me to step through the door back in January and now you couldn’t pull me away if you tried.

The moral of my story is to take full advantage of any opportunity that you’re given – even if you’re sure that you’re going to hate it. Give it a try. Just. Try. It. It might be that you hate it, but so what, it was 3 or 4 months of your life to find out that it’s something that you definitely don’t want to do. If Edison can make 1,000 unsuccessful attempts to make a light bulb, you can make 1 potentially unsuccessful attempt to find your future job. And what if it turns out that it’s actually not that bad? What if it turns out that you love it? Doesn’t that make it worth the try?

TL;DR: Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it – I thought I would hate working at a refinery and it turns out I absolutely love it.”

-Catie Cowden


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