By the end of last fall semester, I knew I needed a serious recharge. It started fairly well and carried on as well as semesters can go, but after retrospect (which most realizations are apt to stem from), I had a delayed realization as to why that post-finals, drained feeling was hanging a bit heavier over my shoulders. 

After the collective last-minute struggle of abruptly adapting and transitioning to virtual learning last spring, as well as my choice to take a class over the summer, I realized that this past fall was the first fully virtual semester, stacked credits and all. Sure, it may have been a not-so-sharp realization, but knowledge is power, and this definitely had an impact on me. Last fall was neither the hybrid mix of the spring nor a single class over June. It was a set of core courses, heavy with foundational curriculum, and for some of them, the additional rigorous standards and expectations of my Honors sections—all of which were taken while I wrapped myself in a blanket at my desk at home. 

So yes, suffice it to say that the build-up of Zoom fatigue from last fall more than definitely garnered some much needed R&R and winter break was a welcome reprieve. However, I knew I shouldn’t stay idle for too long, lest I mentally regress and sink into the Lauren-shaped mold in my couch for the next four weeks. Despite the extremely valid need for rest, I knew I wanted to be productive over winter session, especially considering I didn’t do very much during this time the previous year. (Hindsight at its finest once again.)

Therefore, this past January I was fortunate enough to participate in a virtual international engineering internship, which not only kept me from withdrawing into a weighted blanket-induced hibernation but more significantly helped me gain great work experience in a really unique way. I was placed in a group with other UD engineers and paired off with the medical device company Renerve Ltd. based in Melbourne, Australia. Our task was to design and formulate a surgical implant product that met a desired function and applications and to provide a full-scale proposal for the product rationale, research and development, regulatory pathways, manufacturing, and marketing strategies—all within four weeks. 

Managing time was the cornerstone of the completion and success of this project. The short timeframe of this experience definitely was the biggest challenge to navigate. It served as a (lovingly ever-present) motivator to be productive during group meetings and efficient in our decision-making to overall benefit the trajectory of our progress. Quite frankly, I don’t recall the last time I skimmed through so many journal articles and papers in such a short window of time. Another factor with regards to time was navigating the time difference between us and our supervisor. As Melbourne is sixteen hours ahead of the East Coast, we learned to quickly organize meetings with our supervisor and plan ahead with debriefs and questions to get as much feedback as possible. 

During this internship, I also learned a lot about collaboration, communication, and networking. Our group mainly consisted of biomedical and chemical engineers to best complement ReNerve and the project, and as I often love to find niche intersections or crossovers between different fields and subjects, I really enjoyed bouncing off ideas with my team members and discussing our individual research with each other. It was definitely difficult to leaf through a mountain of papers and extract incredibly specific data, but it was satisfying to watch all the pieces fall into place at the end. Check-in sessions with our UD faculty advisor  also helped keep us organized, realistic, and focused on our end goal. The virtual nature of this experience really emphasized the importance of clear communication, on all scales. Zoom, which we are all dearly familiar with at this point, was critical for meetings not only within the group, but also with our faculty advisor and supervisor, as both of the latter were truly wealths of knowledge in fields we were unfamiliar with, like biomaterials and market analysis. And with great communication comes effective networking, which can only open more doors and shed light on many more career paths and opportunities to be explored down the line. 

I am incredibly grateful for this internship and was overall really satisfied with the outcome of our project. It was really engaging to simulate and perceive the mechanics of the medical device industry on a holistic scale: from brainstorming and R&D, to regulation and manufacturing, to marketing and distribution. I definitely feel I have enhanced and developed my skill set in a number of areas that will only continue to help me in pursuing my career. To anyone who ever sees an opportunity such as this present itself to you, I would highly recommend pursuing that chance and making the most of it; you’ll more than likely be all the better for it on the other side.

When all’s said and done, Zoom fatigue is no joke, but I am proud of myself for finding a balance between getting adequate rest and being proactive over winter break through such a unique and enriching experience—which allowed me to both avoid unhealthy overworking and burnout, as well as stave off my dissolution into the couch to a later date. (But for now, if you need me, I’ll just be curled up under a weighted blanket over here…)

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