Bowen L.: How I Found My International Internship

How I Found My International Internship

By Bowen L.

For my internship, I worked in Chengdu China on a research project led by Professor Edmund Seto of our department at UW Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. We worked with people from Sichuan Center of Disease Control and Prevention. The project mainly aimed to investigate personal exposure to air and noise pollution in Chengdu city over this summer and to assess the effectiveness of both the conventional and novel measurement instruments. In this blog, I am going to share the story of how I got this internship.

Bowen measures exposure by bicycle in Chengdu.

It was not easy at first when I started to apply for internships. I sent application materials to many companies, but I received few responses from them. At that time my resume was very weak. I had little experience and did not have many skills in writing a resume. So I turned to Hayley Leventhal, our career counselor. I began to arrange meetings with Hayley, and we had many great discussions. She taught me a lot of writing skills such as what should be emphasized and omitted. Then I started to revise my resume over and over. I sent my edited versions to Hayley, and she would point out strengths and weaknesses. I learned new things each time from her. Later, I began to receive interview requests from some corporations. I believed I had improved. However, interview skills were another challenge for me. I was rejected sometimes because there was another candidate who did better in the interview session. There is a saying that interview is a skill that can not be learned from book but from experience. I did not doubt that and believed I would need more interview experience.

Fortunately, it was by chance I heard that Professor Seto would carry out a research project in my hometown Chengdu, China over this summer. I was very excited to hear about this news. I reached out to Professor Seto and expressed my passion about joining this project. We arranged to meet several days later. Before I went to the meeting, I prepared myself by going over background knowledge that I had learned in class about air and noise pollution. I also looked up information about current air quality in Chengdu.

In the meeting, I think I left a good first impression on Professor Seto. I showed confidence in my knowledge of the urban road and green design and I also demonstrated my proficiency in instrument operation. Professor Seto thought it would be very helpful to have me contribute to this project, so I was selected to be involved in the project right after the meeting.

Overall, my words for new applicants are: keep digging, the one that is right for you will come to you.

Nick M.: My Experience as a Food Lab Intern

My Experience as a Food Lab Intern

By Nick M.

Nick M. in the lab.

This summer I interned at the Department of Health Public Health Laboratories working in the Food Lab. My main focus has been assisting with the Vibrio Project, which monitors levels of the bacterium Vibrio Parahaemolyticus during the summer when the water is warm enough for the bacteria to proliferate.

When I first started my internship, I was most excited about gaining practical knowledge/experience in my field of study. I had taken most of the related classes and felt that I had at least an idea of what was going on, but I had no hands-on experience outside of classroom labs. The internship program has really helped me to understand what working in a lab is like. I was able to observe work in other labs as well as in my own. The program also gave me the opportunity to apply my learning from class towards a tangible product. While this is just an example of the type of work I could do in the future, it was very useful for me to experience it for myself. I also appreciated talking to my coworkers and hearing about what the experiences that brought them to the lab.

While I do feel that I took away a lot of practical experience from this program, the takeaway that seems most valuable is the connections I made throughout. At work, it was almost like having a career panel that you went back to everyday. Everyone in the lab was very eager to share their career path and advice, which gave me free reign with all of my questions. I found it extremely helpful to hear all of this information and build these relationships so that I can continue to learn from them and ask questions in the future. After this experience, I feel more prepared, and at least a little more comfortable in finding a career path that best fits my goals in the near future.

Ikwon J: The Role of the Industrial Hygiene Intern

The Role of the Industrial Hygiene Intern

By Ikwon J.

Ikwon in his personal protective equipment (PPE)

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), industrial hygienists use monitoring and analytical methods to measure worker exposure from environmental hazards and apply strategies including engineering, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards. This description describes the exact tasks I am performing as the Industrial Hygiene (IH) intern for the City of Seattle.

Primary tasks as the IH intern include understanding the exposure of workers to environmental hazards such as noise, air, or dust. First, a goal of noise monitoring is to prevent hearing loss of workers because extensive exposure to loud noises can negatively affect hearing and may cause hearing loss. Therefore, IH personnel try to reduce the exposure to protect hearing of workers.

Second, air monitoring is conducted, mostly for office workers because they spend eight to ten hours in offices every day. Therefore, poor indoor air quality can be very hazardous. For example, the presence of molds, high concentration of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, and dust can be issues regarding indoor air quality. Thus, the industrial hygienist uses analytical methods to detect health hazards in air and applies methods to improve indoor air quality to promote health of office workers.

Lastly, dust sampling may be conducted for indoor air quality for office workers, but it is more focused on protecting construction workers. For instance, silica dust is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other materials and is classified as the human lung carcinogen. Because silica dust is very dangerous and commonly exists in many construction sites, IH personnel monitor silica exposure of workers, and they apply control methods to reduce health hazards.

After the sampling, the industrial hygienist writes a report about findings from the samplings and recommendations to protect health of workers from environmental hazards in work sites. The recommendations may include an engineering control to remove a source of hazard or advising safer work practices.

In conclusion, the Industrial Hygiene tasks are a mixture of field work and office work. On some days, the industrial hygienist conducts sampling and monitoring in the field, but some days they need to stay at in their offices to write reports and perform office tasks as the industrial hygienist. Because the tasks are well balanced between field and office, the career of industrial hygienist is interesting and enjoyable.

Jamie O: About My Internship At The Hawaii Department of Health

About My Internship At The Hawaii Department of Health

By Jamie O.

When I first began my internship at the Environmental Microbiology Section, I spoke to my supervisor about the specific plans she had for me.  Now that I am at the end of my internship, I can say that I definitely had the opportunity not only to participate in the tasks she had prepared, but so much more.

For the Vibrio spp. validation studies, I prepared samples by first scrubbing away debris from the shellfish shells.

 

My supervisor’s primary plans for me involved learning how to process water and food samples with EPA- and FDA-approved standard operating procedures, and I have definitely gained a greater understanding of these procedures from being mentored throughout each step of each process.  I observed how media was made for the different analyses, and then saw how the media is used for each type of analysis.  Throughout the internship, I saw how the microbiologists in the lab receive the samples and process drinking water, beach water, dairy, and shellfish samples.  Not only did I observe, but also my supervisor and the microbiologists in the lab were so gracious to allow for me to get hands-on experience, like helping to set up for the analyses.  I even had the incredible opportunity to go to Hawaiian fishponds where the shellfish samples were obtained for the lab.  In addition, my supervisor allowed me to get involved with Vibrio spp. validation studies with shellfish samples by working hands-on with real-time PCR.

My advice to future environmental health interns is to be attentive and inquisitive throughout the length of the internship.

I then shucked mostly diploid and triploid oysters with bone cutters and shucking knife.

In order to successfully complete such tasks, I made sure to pay close attention when being taught to ensure that the tasks being entrusted to me were going to be carried out in the best way possible.  Also, in the lab it is imperative to observe carefully when watching lab techniques during the processing of samples in order to truly understand how those in the lab work so hard to ensure the quality of their test results for public safety.  By refining these skills, future interns will be able to make the most out of their experiences and truly learn and be of use to their coworkers.

I’m grateful to everyone I had the honor of working with for making my summer internship such an amazing experience.  They encouraged me to get as much hands-on experience as I could, and they were so patient in teaching me about what they do best.  Having the opportunity to intern at the SLD in the area of environmental health that I am passionate about with such a dynamic group of people made my summer more than worthwhile, and I am excited for future interns to have such an enriching summer as well.

After decanting away the shellfish liquor, I assisted with blending the shellfish meats prior to analysis.

Meet Our Interns: Ali E.

My Internship with the Indian Health Service

By Ali E.

This summer I’m completing my internship with the Office of Environmental Health and Engineering with the Indian Health Service. The Indian Health Service is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that supplies health care services to federally recognized tribes. I’m stationed in a field office in Parker, AZ, which is located in the western side of the state. Over the course of the summer, I’m going to assist two Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) in my office with everything that they have on their plate, as well as work on my personal project regarding pool inspections. Our field office covers a large geographical area that serves five different tribes scattered throughout western Arizona, eastern California, and southern Nevada. I also have the opportunity to travel to another field office and the district office to work with EHOs that have different specializations and work with different tribes.

I’m really excited for the work I’m going to do this summer because the Environmental Health department tackles almost everything that a standard health department would manage. Looking over my work plan for the summer, I’m going to be getting exposure to vector control, food safety, injury prevention, and institutional health. I know that I want to continue on to complete a master’s degree, but I’m unsure about what specific area of Environmental Health I want to specialize in. I’m hoping that this internship will help me determine what areas of Environmental Health I want to pursue, as well as give me a better idea of what I want in a long term career.

As with anything new, it’s hard to come in to a brand new setting not knowing what your role is going to be, how you’re going to fit into the existing dynamics, and if the knowledge you already have is going to be sufficient. But from my first week and a half I can attest that as long as you are enthusiastic, hardworking, and willing to put in effort and ask questions, that you can be successful in any new setting.

Meet Our Interns: Jamie E.

How I Found My Out-of-State Internship

By Jamie E.

Jame E calibrating the pH meter and taking the pH of media being used for analyses.

When I began to look at internships for over the summer, I made sure to look for opportunities that not only explored my area of interest within environmental health, but also were close to my home in Hawaii.  Since leaving home to go to school on the mainland, I wanted to take the opportunity to become more familiar with the public health issues that are concerning communities in Hawaii, while also exploring my interest in environmental microbiology.  After thinking of where to begin my search for Hawaii internships, I decided to try searching through the State of Hawaii Department of Health website.

As I was exploring through the website I was so excited to see that there was a State Laboratories Division (SLD) on the island of Oahu, and that there was an Environmental Microbiology section.  Though I did not find internships listed, I emailed the supervisor of the Environmental Microbiology section inquiring if there were any undergraduate summer internships available.  I followed my internship advisor’s advice and had also looked at other internships in Washington, but in the back of my mind I knew that if there was an internship at the SLD that it would be my first choice.  I also knew that there was a slim chance of me having the opportunity to work specifically in my area of interest with communities back at home in Hawaii, but I still anxiously waited and hoped that there was a chance.  When I received a reply email, I was thrilled and incredibly grateful to find out that the SLD was willing to take me on as an intern for the summer.

My advice to future environmental health interns is to not be afraid to reach out to organizations conducting work in your area of interest, even if it may seem that there are no internship opportunities available.

State of Hawaii Department of Health State Laboratories Division

If I had not taken the initiative to ask about available internships, I would not have gained the abundance of knowledge and variety of experiences that I have had here at the SLD.  I also would not have been able to work with such a kind and supportive group of people that I did work with at the lab.  For these reasons and many more, I encourage future environmental health studies to take this risk, because it may lead to a truly unforgettable and enriching experience.

 

Natalia K: What I Learned as a Pool Inspector

What I Learned as a Pool Inspector

By: Kathleen Y.

Kathleen Y. inspecting a pool

This summer I have had the pleasure of working at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department as a Water Recreational Facilities Inspector. I visit pools, spas, and spray parks in Pierce county to look for health and safety hazards such as poor water chemistry, inadequate barriers, and damaged equipment. I write a report for each facility at the end of their inspection, and I give them notice of a re-inspection if they do not meet minimum requirements. I also have the power of issuing a fine if the facility fails to fix their violations.

I have had a really good time working as a pool inspector, and I learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a decent inspector along the way. For one, I learned how important it is to talk with the pool operator or facilities manager during -and after- the inspection. They are the ones taking care of the facilities, so they are usually the ones that will be fixing any issues that I find during the inspection. In many cases, the pool operators also have some insight into why the pool may be having certain issues and can often provide an estimate of how long it would take to fix said issues. Talking with someone directly and taking the time to explain concerns usually gets issues fixed and up to code much more quickly.

In addition to communicating with pool operators, I found that is was also really important to talk with my supervisors if I had any questions or concerns. I was trained for about three weeks before I began inspections on my own. There were times where I would jot down questions that I had while out doing inspections so I wouldn’t forget them by the time I was back at the office. My supervisors are nice and helpful folks, and they were always happy to answer my questions. I also had plenty of cases where I had to call a supervisor while I was out in the field, usually in a situation where there was a possible closure violation. In the beginning, I was hesitant to call them when I had a question, but I soon realized that it was the best way to get things done and to get them done right. As obvious as it may seem, the major thing that I learned from working in this position is the importance of good communication, and I know it is a skill that will be important in any future career that I decide to pursue.

 

Meet Our Interns: Natalia

The Skills I Use In My Environmental Health Internship

By Natalia K.

This summer I will be working as an Environmental Health Technician at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health department. My internship is in the Department of Environmental Health, and within the subdivision of Food, Community, and Safety program. For this internship, I will be inspecting pools, spas, and spray parks in the Tacoma-Pierce County area. I will inspect each facility in my assigned area a total of two times during the duration of my internship.

Natalia conducting a pool inspection at her summer internship.

Inspecting pools may sound like an easy job, but it’s no walk in the park. Some skills that are required for this internship are as follows:

  1. Staying organized

This job requires a person who has great organization skills. At each pool inspection, a pool inspector uses an online database provided by the health department to produce a paper inspection report, which states the time and date of inspection, water quality data, and any necessary violations. During the inspection, you have to be able to keep track of certain violations that were found during the inspection. Inspection may be very long, so keeping notes on complicated violations help me complete detailed inspection reports for each pool facility.

  1. Background in chemistry

A strong background in chemistry is a required skill for this internship, especially experience with lab chemistry and good lab technique. At each pool inspection, a set of water quality tests is conducted, which involved many different reagents and chemicals. These tests must be done with precision and accuracy, since the data is important and has the potential to shut down or close a pool.

  1. Being able to learn from your mentors

During inspections there are always new situations that can bring up questions. Having the ability to learn from mistakes and take criticism well is required for this internship, as it helps an inspector to become the best health inspector they can be by learning from their mistakes!

  1. Great communication skills

I would say that good communication skills are the most important skill to this internship. When walking into a pool facility, you need the ability to locate the right person, and introduce yourself and present yourself in a professional manner. You must be confident in your knowledge about pools and be able to ask questions to maintenance staff or pool operators.

  1. Driving skills

My assigned area is a very large portion of Pierce County, which requires me to drive around between each facility to do inspections! Good driving skills and habits are required for this internship.

  1. Passion for public health and loving the outdoors!
  2. Support!

No one is a perfect inspector without practice and help from mentors! This internship required support from my supervisors who taught me what I needed to know about pool maintenance and water chemistry. They also took me out in the field with them to learn the proper way to conduct pool inspections, as well as how to operate the inspection report database which creates the inspection reports to be given to pool operators. My supervisors were also always on call and were available to answer questions if I ever needed help when I was out on my own in the field.

Jueun O: About my Safety Internship

About my Safety Internship

By Jueun O.

In front of my desk at WA L&I

This summer, I have been working as an intern at the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). The Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act is administered by its Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). The purpose of this law is to ensure that Washington’s employers provide their workers with safe and healthy workplaces. L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs), who conduct inspections to help ensure that employers comply with workplace safety and health rules.  My job as an intern is to assist inspectors with opening and closing conferences, conducting employee interviews, sampling, identifying, and evaluating hazards.  Here in the Region 3 Tacoma office, we have 5 industrial hygienists and 7 safety inspectors. The safety inspectors are those who have specialized in physical hazards or procedural problems such as inadequate machine guards, stair railings, or equipment lockout procedures. Industrial hygienists are those who specialize in occupational health hazards, such as chemical vapors, asbestos, respirator issues, and noise. During these past ten weeks, I have accompanied Region 3 DOSH staff, including industrial hygienists and safety specialists, on field visits to discover any potential hazards within the work-place. I think that this internship is a good opportunity for students who major in environmental health because this position is closely related to the area of studies that we learned in our classes. Through this internship, I was able to learn about numerous sampling techniques, hazardous chemicals used in specific work places, and the skills, knowledge, and abilities necessary to ensure workplace safety.

What I enjoyed most about my internship is being able to complete each assignment in a unique way and having the opportunity to help people keep safe and satisfied with their work environments. I have participated in 8 compliance inspections and 2 samplings so far. It has been a great learning experience to actually put what I learned in class into practical and realistic applications! Working with a variety of different people has given me an opportunity to reflect about how I want to work in the future, which made this internship very helpful for me.

Nathan: My Role as an IH Intern

My Role as an IH Intern

By Nathan P.

Nathan at his work station at CertainTeed Gypsum

For my internship, I went to CertainTeed Gypsum, a drywall manufacturing facility located in South Seattle. I got this internship opportunity through a personal connect: my dad mentioned to his supervisor that I had to do an internship for the Environmental Health program, and at the time the Safety Engineer was completely overloaded with safety projects. CertainTeed Gypsum invited me to come on as a safety intern to help ease the load and improve the safety conditions in the plant.

My mentors are the plant’s safety engineer and safety lead.  Although his title is “Safety Engineer,” my mentor’s role is really more of a “Safety Manager. ” In essence, the Safety Manager oversees all the safety operations occurring in the plant and is in charge of handling accidents in the workplace, creating new safety protocols, and organizing meetings with workers to address safety concerns. The role of the Safety Lead”is to ensure that the plant is in compliance with all of OSHA’s regulations.  The Safety Lead does safety trainings with new workers and tries to find the most efficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that fits with not only OSHA’s regulations, but corporate’s safety decisions as well.

My role as a safety intern is risk identification and management regarding the chemical products used in the plant.  There are over 200 different chemicals used in the maintenance of all the machines and mobile equipment.  I will be going around areas of the plant and recording the name of each chemical product, its manufacturer, and the amount on site.  Afterwards, I will go onto their Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) database and determine if the SDS for the product is up to date. If it is not, then I would have to submit a chemical request form as well as the most recent SDS for the product to the safety and environmental departments in order for the most recent SDS to be uploaded onto the database.  For each product, I then make a one-page simplified version of the SDS that contains information most relevant to the workers: name of the product, health hazards, first-aid measures, appropriate storage, accidental spill protocol, and PPE required for handling the product.  I will also create PPE visual aids for the chemical products in each area so that workers don’t have to refer to simplified SDSs but instead look at a poster that gives hazard pictograms of each product and the appropriate PPE to wear.

What most excites me about this internship is the opportunity to observe environmental health and safety practices outside the classroom.  Usually in classes, people generally have the same attitudes when it comes to safety but in the real-world not everyone has a safety mindset.  Most people I think are more concerned with doing their job and doing it well, and don’t take kindly to all the safety “obstacles” that hinder their day.  I think it will be interesting to be part of the interplay between the management officials who are concerned with safety and enforce safety measures, and the workers who want to get the job done as efficiently as possible.  Of course I’m nervous, too.  This is my first time working a full-time job (or any job for that matter) and I will be working with people I haven’t met before. Personally, I hope to integrate into this work culture as smoothly as possible.