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Internship Insights: Marketing the Reinvented Toilet at RTI International

By: David Richards, MEM ’15

Eat something, you’ll need the energy,” my supervisor remarked.

The I-zone meeting room – short for innovation, inspiration, or really any positive word starting with an ‘i’ – was empty now, but soon it would be filled with a collection of executives, primed to hear our toilet market entry recommendation. I grabbed the closest boxed lunch and managed a few bites of my sandwich before their voices drifted inward…

RTI’s “RTT” Design

I may be getting a bit ahead of myself here. In 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a challenge: reinvent the toilet. Not just the porcelain object we all know and love, but the entire infrastructure around it.

Back in Research Triangle Park, RTI International applied their wide variety of capabilities in chemistry, materials science and international development to build a water-less, energy balanced system that also has the potential to fulfill RTI’s mission, “Improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice.” This process was documented in an awesome blog entitled “A Better Toilet”.

RTI’s project successfully caught The Gates Foundation’s attention. In 2014, RTI was awarded a substantial sum to create a working prototype and bring this revolutionary technology to market.

Enter me, an inexperienced Duke MEM candidate, ready to begin my role as an open innovation consulting intern! The first day, I was led into a room by my incredibly intelligent supervisor, and explained everything. RTI seeks to enter the India sanitation market, but we want you to develop and communicate the entry recommendation. Go.

With a few markets in mind and a rough outline of the story we were going to tell, I got to researching. And I researched. Hours and hours were spent pouring through publications and news articles. They discussed statistics about India’s state of sanitation: only 36% of the population has access, and of those that do, only 13% of their waste is treated. Because of a lack of toilets, girls do not attend school and women must trek to remote locations for privacy. I came to realize that, though this phenomenon isn’t publicized in the media much, it is an enormous problem – and not just in India.

Countries with <50% access to sanitation and projected water scarcity

There are dozens of countries that suffer from low access to sanitation and will have unprecedented water scarcity by 2025. India was chosen as the target location for three reasons:

  1. It has a large and growing economy
  2. It has a democratic and cooperative government
  3. RTI has both an office and several partnerships in the country

These three factors allowed for the possibility of not just making an initial dent in the problem, but a sustained impact.

As I collected more and more data, a market clearly presented itself and an entire deck was created with this recommendation in mind. My supervisor gave me the tremendous opportunity to present my work to six vice presidents and two senior directors in a capstone meeting.

Presenting at the 7th Annual RTI Internship Showcase

In the end, I realized that though my level of experience paled in comparison to my audience, what I learned over the last three months uniquely positioned me as an expert on this project. I knew where all the numbers came from, had a comprehensive understanding of why our recommendation presented the best opportunity, and understood the nuances of the engineering backstory for the toilet and the Gates Foundation’s stipulations. They listened as I spoke and I answered as they questioned. It was a remarkable experience that I will remember for the rest of my career.

More generally, having participated in 20+ projects over the last three months, I learned three important lessons about the process of working, especially juggling multiple tasks.

First, I realized it helps to carefully divide and conquer – whether you’re working on one project or five. You need to divide each task into manageable chunks and make sure you are working efficiently. This required not only planning but also giving yourself the confidence to say “no” to other projects when you are aware of how little time you have to spare.

Second, you must adapt to your supervisor’s working style as soon as you begin working with them. Since I was involved with so many projects, I collaborated with a large number of project managers – each one with a completely different style of working. Some liked for me to communicate in person, others via the phone and a few only over email. Questions must be asked early and effectively.

Third, and most importantly, you must strive to add your personal brand of value to every task you participate in. This means thinking critically about your assignment and going above and beyond what your supervisor asks you to do. It helps to come up with questions at the beginning of a task – some may be simple clarification questions; others may lead you to take the task in a completely different direction. Conscientiously adding value does not only differentiate yourself, but also gives you the chance to think creatively about your work.

RTI International’s Innovation Advisor’s group was a fantastic place to intern this summer and I hope that their relationship with the MEM program continues to strengthen.

Faculty Interviews with MEngagement Career Committee: Dr. Bob Barnes

Bob BarnesBy: Rajalekha Manjakuppam Rajamahendiran, MEng ’16

The MEngagment Career Committee interviews Dr. Bob Barnes, Professor of Biomedical Device Innovation and Project Management.

Dr. Barnes brings his rich experience in project management to MEM, MEng and undergraduate students in his Biomedical Device Innovation and Project Management courses here at Duke. “At Duke, we have a very unique situation, and this is one of the things that all engineers should recognize, especially MEng and MEM. If you’re in biomedical engineering (BME), you’re in arguably the number 1, number 2 BME program in the country and perhaps in the world. But it’s very rare situation in which you can walk less than a mile and be at one of the top medical schools in the world, one of the top hospitals in the country, at the number 7 nursing school in the country, at one of the top business schools in the country, one of the best law schools in the world, one of the best public policy schools in the country, and have a great economics program. If you’re interested in being an entrepreneur, those are the things you need to have, and you can walk to every one of them. There are very few places in the world, where you can do that. To come here and not take advantage of these things, doesn’t make any sense”.

The MEngagement Career Committee sat down with Dr. Barnes to get his insight and advice to students regarding industry and the job search process.

Q: What made you pursue a career in project management? How did you get into teaching courses in project management and biomedical device innovation?

A: When I was in the 6th grade, I decided I wanted a PhD. I put a plan together to get the PhD by the spring of 1974, and missed that by 6 months. After that, I taught and was up for tenure a year earlier than I had thought. I’ve always been a project manager, it’s just natural for me. During this point of time, if you take a look at NASA, take a look at things that were happening in the U.S., it was the era of project management. I came along with a right attitude at the right time. I’m a civil engineer by training, not a biomedical engineer. Through a number of opportunities that were presented, I had a chance to work with Abbott, Pfizer, Guidant, Medtronic and Eli Lilly; all of those having to do with managing new product development, as a consultant. In 2010, I made a decision, I was tired of traveling. From 1990 until 2010, I would leave home Sunday night and come back home Friday night. Decided, I didn’t want to do that as much. Just happened to meet Barry Meyers, who introduced me to George Truskey. Dr. Truskey had a grant. He needed somebody to teach a course called Biomedical Devices, and that’s how I wound up doing this.

Q: During your experience, what are the qualities, skills or traits that stand out that enable engineers to be successful? What have you seen as a project manager in your team of engineers?

A: There are 2 things that drive engineers to be successful. The first one is necessary, but not sufficient, is you must be technically proficient. It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. The next thing you need to be a good engineer is to be able to define problems. What is sufficient is if you can’t define problems, then you will do 2 things: You will solve problems that are of no value to anyone. The second thing you will do is you will waste your life. A 30 – 40 year career. That’s all you have. I’m only going to work on those problems that are meaningful to me because if you can’t define the problems, you can’t get there. Identify: “Is this problem worth my time?”

Q: I saw part of your interview with the MEM PDC where you talked about technical proficiency. You mentioned how competency is an important trait in leaders. How does one prepare for the transition from an engineering role that requires technical proficiency to a managerial role that requires competency?

A: Well I think preparation is one issue, but the first step is desire. You have to recognize as an individual contributor you can recognize tremendous value in your life and tremendous rewards. That’s a decision as an engineer you need to make early on in your career: “Do I want to be an individual contributor?” Or “Do I want to be somebody that can leverage my skill set through others to accomplish far more that I could ever accomplish by myself?” So this becomes a very personal issue with people. It’s that “I did it” is a very different experience from “We or They did it”. I don’t get turned on by “They did it”, not even by “we did it”. It’s a mindset that’s difficult for engineers to attain. Because of the way we’re trained, and the way we’re attracted to the profession. And that’s okay because there are things that you as an individual can do that nobody else can do, and you should take pride in that. But if I can get 4 more people like you, and I can get you to work together, the five of you can accomplish things that nobody else can do. And that’s the reward you have to seek.

Q: Now shifting our discussion from career pathway to internship and job search process. What have you seen in the past work for students in terms of finding an internship or job, and what advice would you give to current students who are in the process right now?

A: There are 2 things that pop out now. Number 1 is to start early. The second thing is to ask “What contribution can I make?” not “What do I want?” I guess, the third part of this is doing your research to make sure that what you want is consistent with what the hiring organization needs. You have to start early, you have to identify a number of different opportunities, you have to do your research. If I’m the hiring organization, don’t come to me as if this is the first time you’re hearing of this organization. So do your homework, and you may discover that you may not need to talk to them as they may not be doing the work you want to do. That’s the reason you want to start early, as opposed to wait to start in the spring.

Q: For company research, you can look at the company website and attend information sessions. What are other ways to approach this?

A: Let me give you an example, there is a good group that meets at Research Triangle Park, Indus. It’s an international organization of Indians who are entrepreneurs. These are people that are entrepreneurs, that are really interested in young people, who are engineers that want to be entrepreneurs. There are different groups.

Start networking. And when you show up in your first semester, get to the know the people who are in their last semester. “Where did you work? Who did you work with?” Network through them. Because the best way to get a job with me is for somebody that has worked with me, that did well and says, “I’d like you to meet _____, would you mind if I left you her/his resume? I think she/he would do a good job for you”. There’s no better way.

Q: Since you’ve brought up entrepreneurship, some students are interested in working for a startup or even launching a start-up, but they feel the need to work for a larger corporation first. What do you suggest?

A: Most of you don’t know enough to make significant contribution to an entrepreneurial firm. Let me bring up the example of Indus again. One of the officers this past year is a former chief financial officer of RedHat. If you happen to have coffee or tea with them and they’re retired, and they discover that you’d be interested in working in software development, why shouldn’t you ask, “Who’s hiring?” SAS Institute is in the Park, Quintiles is in the Park. The story is: it’s here. Start networking, and start asking “Who can connect with me?” The best connection is with somebody who has worked there. So start with the MEng and MEM students this semester. Start now.

Q: My final question is apart from the career services on campus, what is the best resource that students can use to leverage their chances of securing their dream job or internship?

A: The real problem with dream jobs is that they don’t exist. Most of us wind up from going place to place, and we wind up at some place that fits for us. One of the things that I wish our students would do, for example, the American Society of Civil Society has a chapter, the IEEE has a chapter, BMES has a chapter, these are professional chapters not student chapters. They all meet between Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, they’re all in that area. If you want a job, find out about the professional societies. Find out when they meet, get a friend to go with you and go. Most of them have student fees too. The best way I know is to put yourself out there, be bold, and get to know people. Let them know when you show up in the professional engineering society of North Carolina, in the American Society of Quality etc., you’re going to be the youngest person there. So when you check in, say “I’m a student, is there someone here I can talk to just to get acquainted with the organization.” What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t talk to you at all, but at least you get to eat something. Even if you don’t meet anybody, you expand your cultural experience. You have to put yourself out there.


Internship Insights: Stanback Internship Program with National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)


Camera 360By: Javikorn Chantanasuksilp MEng ’15

As I have a background in engineering, having a chance to intern with an organization like National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) was something idealistic. The Stanback Internship Program allowed me to make it concrete. I served as a Transportation and Maintenance Backlog Intern for NPCA, based in Washington, D.C. This internship would be my first time working in the U.S. after being a graduate student here for almost a year. It was one of my dreams I had been looking for since I am an international student who aims to broaden my horizons and meet new people. I was so excited and could not wait for this internship to begin after I set up my start date with my supervisors, Laura Loomis and Pamela Goddard (Pam).Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

On the first day of my internship, I got very warm welcome from people in NPCA, especially my supervisors who took me out for lunch! Pam asked me after showing me around if was it okay that I sit in 3 meetings on my first day. I innocently replied “No problem” since I was more than ready to learn things as soon as possible. After I attended 2 meetings in the morning, I understood just a little from them. I asked myself, was it because I had communication problems or because the content of the meetings were too difficult for me to understand? (Things got better after I attended several meetings and got used to the context). This situation showed me that I must work very hard in order to blend in and become a good asset for NPCA.

As a conservation association, NPCA advocates for national parks, upholds the laws that protect the parks, supports new legislation to address threats to the parks, and fights attempts to weaken these laws in the courts. My main responsibility was to compile statistical data regarding national parks towards states and maintenance backlog in each park to make state fact sheets. The primary objective of these fact sheets was to get funding from congressional members by showing how much impact national parks have on state economy and what would be the benefits if the parks were funded properly. The minor projects were collecting specific data on business sectors along the rivers in Maryland to be used in the future.

250482_872747076096414_7121492006509840370_nWhile working on my projects, I had opportunities to go to hearings and markups in the House of Representatives and Senate. I gained exposure to aspects of the U.S. legal system that I had never known before. Moreover, I also met with congressional members in person and got the chance to take a picture with Secretary Sally Jewell when listening to her announcement in Baltimore. Nevertheless, the most memorable moment for me was at the Supreme Court. I was cheering and waving a flag with the crowd on the day the court ruled in favor of Gay Marriage nationwide. I will never forget how awesome the atmosphere was that day and how lucky I was to be a witness of that significant announcement!

My enjoyable moments at NPCA did not stop there. I volunteered for the “Find Your Voice” event partly held by NPCA to help clean up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, one of the national park units. I met and talked to a lot of people who shared the same objective and saw the importance of conserving the park. Besides, NPCA also held many kayaking events. One of them I participated in was along the Potomac River between Washington, D.C. and Maryland. It was my first experience kayaking and the scenery was so beautiful. I never imagined that I was going to do things like this after work, but it was very easy if you were npcain the Washington, D.C. area.

I could not have expected more from this internship experience. NPCA was not only a place of work for me, but it was my family. I got very good feedback from my supervisors, buddy, and my colleagues. I learned not only from my projects, but also from people I worked and talked with. Every moment at NPCA was so meaningful and happy that I wish to work in an organization like this in the future.

Advice for Preparing for a Job in Software Engineering


By: Tara Gu (MEng ’15)

I’m Tara Gu. I studied Biomedical Engineering at Duke for my undergrad, and am currently a MEng ECE student. I have failed many times at job interviews, but I started to have more and more positive results, and finally a software engineering internship offer from Google, after I started doing the following activities:


Last year, I went to my first hackathon—HackDuke, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. There were more than 500 students from colleges all over the States (University of Illinois, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, etc). I met students, mentors (software engineers from sponsoring companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, EBay, etc), and even medical school students who have no experience in programming, but want to collaborate with software engineers.

There was an expo of all the sponsoring companies, which was essentially a career fair. Engineers, not recruiters, accepted resumes and answered students’ questions, and gave out their contact information. After the hackathon, I requested an informational interview with an engineer from EBay, and he gave me useful advice.

During the HackDuke weekend, I slept for 20 minutes in 30 hours. The hackathon was draining, and I needed to go right back to my projects and study for exams after taking a nap. However, it reminded me that I chose to become software engineers because I love programming. In one of my Google interviews, I asked my interviewer what was one thing he recommended current students to do. His answer was hackathons. Software engineering requires dedication, because there will always be times when we run into difficult problems we can’t solve, and we tackle them relentlessly all days and nights. Hackathons give us similar experience while in school.

You can even continue working on your hackathon project as a side project after the event, and show it to recruiters/engineers at career fairs. I was asked numerous times by recruiters and engineers about my HackDuke project. Moreover, it you develop something portable (phone app or web app), you can do a mini demo at career fairs. As a side note, a student I know developed 2 iPhone apps during summer. Even though he did not have a summer internship, he snagged 12 next-day interviews after showing his apps to companies at TechConnect.

I encourage everyone to participate in hackathons before you graduate. There are many hackathons happening every weekend (Major League Hacking). I recommend selecting hackathons that have a good number of participants and mentors, and sponsoring companies in which you have interested.


Confidence is one of the most important tools in coding interviews. Companies want to hire people that are SOLID, which entails both how well you can solve coding problems, and how well you deliver your answers. In classes, I notice that there are students who answer questions in a way that they are sure and certain, even though their answers may not be correct. Many of them are international students.

Even though they aren’t native speakers, their confidence overcomes any language barrier. This also applies in coding interviews: one should be sure of what he/she knows. Even though your answer may not be 100% correct or has the best space and time complexity, it is important to stay grounded and assertive while working with your interviewer to come up with solutions.

If you think you are not assertive or confident, I recommend talking to a professor you know about ways you’re displaying a lack of confidence, then work out a way to improve them. If you think you have always has a lack of confidence, or certain events undermined your confidence, such as Duke CAPS confidence workshops for international students, as well as weekly support groups. If you have a coding interview coming up, this video will give a quick fix.

Internship Insights: My Internship Search Process

Hong XuBy: Hong Xu MEMP ’15

Yesterday, August 7, marks the end of my summer internship as a data scientist in McKinsey Digital Labs (MDL). This summer in New York City has been a humbling, challenging and a life enriching experience. In retrospect, many things that once looked so daunting and mysterious now seem clearer and more manageable. I think it would be great to write down some of my thoughts and lessons learned here.

First, start early: Compared to most MEMers, I started pretty late – I began actively seeking internships at the start of the spring semester. Like most of us, I attended career fairs, networking events and coaching seminars held by career services. One key takeaway is that you should prepare for interviews even before you eventually get one. In my case, I didn’t hear from any companies regarding interviews until early March. And before I knew it, the interview invitations started flooding in and I remember I had about nine interviews in two consecutive weeks, including interviews with McKinsey that finally got me there. I cannot imagine myself capable of handling all those interviews in such short period of time had I not been consistently practicing.

A waiting game: But I have to admit, before I got to this exciting and intense interviewing phase, there was a long period of nerve-racking waiting, anxious mailbox refreshing and relentless resume submitting. I realized I needed to find myself some “other things” to do during that time. This means sharpening your tools – learning the materials you are going to use in interviews and down the road in your future job. From January to March, I made it routine for me to study data science and prepare for both technical and behavioral interview questions.

The value of research: Understanding the industry you hope to get into is another important task but somehow it is always overlooked. It is not something you can learn intuitively and it requires a lot of proactivity. I studied the company profiles and job descriptions on websites like Glassdoor and Quora. There are also numerous experienced people you can find on LinkedIn, who are working in the roles you are seeking. I was lucky enough to find two of them who were willing to talk to me. They gave me insights into the data scientist/analyst role and the outlook of the industry.

Interviewing preparation: As for the interview experience, I found it more of a natural representation of your personality and knowledge rather than a rehearsed performance. This, of course, is given that the position you interview for is a right match and you know how to master your nerves and tame the butterflies. As for the latter, I learned that there is no magic trick for coming off as confident. It is just practice after practice after practice. Mock interviews definitely help. Talk to your interviewers and ask what they think of your performance. Trust me, you will be surprised by their feedback! I had no clue that my hand gestures were very distracting for the interviewer until after my first mock interview. Learning from actual interviews, no matter how bad they turn out, are of course more important. I finally found myself comfortable talking to people about my relevant experience after I botched several interviews in the beginning.

Making the most of your internship: You have an internship offer and you decide to go with it. Now what? For technical roles, talk to your team, if possible, and learn the tools/environments/stacks you will be working with. Go to career service and seek advice. They hold a pre-internship panel discussion Ready, Set, Intern! as well. Don’t forget about setting expectations and action plans. I set three goals for myself before this summer: get to know the consulting industry and find out if it fits me; understand the applications and impacts of data analytics in different industries; meeting people and establishing lasting relationships. I found I had to remind myself of those goals constantly during the internship.

Internships might not be the most important part of our career, however it is such an invaluable opportunity where you can learn a great amount of knowledge, explore your true passion, and enjoy the early establishment of your career or the freedom to change to another path. The first day at my internship, people told me that being an intern was the best position in the firm. I think I now understand what they meant.

Hong photoSushi making class at McKinsey


Alumni Spotlight: Engagement during and after MEng

2ec24c8By: Rachel Fleming, MEng ’13

I am a “double Dukie” as some people would say. The 4+1 MEng Program was the perfect opportunity for me to spend one more year on a beautiful campus, earn my Master’s degree and share my alma mater with MEng peers from around the world. The Civil MEng program allowed me to take my structural engineering education to the next level while gaining an introduction to the business side of the industry. To this day when I speak to prospective Pratt students, I highlight the unique MEng program that Duke has to offer. Everything from graduate student campout to MEMP seminars enhanced my overall Duke experience.

After graduation – the second time – I began working full time for Gilbane Building Company in Durham. As a project engineer, my role was to assist with the management of a construction site where I coordinated the updating and distribution of construction drawings, tracked and resolved on-site issues, compiled subcontractor invoices and much more. I was very grateful for the MEng internship requirement that helped me gain real-world structural engineering experience that continues to help me as a construction manager. Now, I am about halfway through a two year Gilbane management rotational program where I am gaining experience with estimating, purchasing, marketing and business development in addition to many more facets of the company.


I am thankful that working at Gilbane has allowed me to continue to stay engaged with Duke and specifically with MEng and MEMP. I enjoy seeing the students at TechConnect and other industry events. The highlight so far has been working with a great group of MEMP practicum students mentored by John Nicholson. They fostered a wonderful collaboration with DiVE Director Regis Kopper and Research and Development Engineer David Zielinski. The team took on a challenging project that looked at how to bring a construction BIM model into the DiVE to allow clients and end users to virtually walk through their future space and inform early design decisions. The group took the project a step further and explored the ability to move objects in a room while standing in the DiVE. Culminating in a DiVE open house presentation, the students demonstrated their project to Duke faculty, staff and local Architects by leading live demonstrations of the virtual reality experience. Through practica, career fairs and events I look forward to engaging with future MEng and MEMP students as an alumna.


Alumni Spotlight: How I Landed a Job in Consulting

By: Amine Bounoughaz MEMP ’14Amine

My name is Amine Bounoughaz, and I was in your shoes two years ago when I first started the MEM program. In the fall of 2013, I was fortunate to receive an offer from McKinsey & Company.

In this short article, I would like to share with you all some thoughts on what I believe were the most essential things that really made the difference in getting the job.

1) Mindset:

As MEMers, you might be feeling that you do not have an advantage in the job market, stuck between undergrads and MBA’s, especially if you don’t have a significant work experience.

This is just a mindset. The truth is: the moment you step into an interview room, people don’t care what degree you have or where you come from. It becomes about how good you are, and how much they like you. Don’t worry about titles and degrees, focus on getting good at case interviews.

2) Getting an Interview:

There are two ways to get an interview in consulting:

Through Online Applications: This is personally how I got my interview. I worked intensively with Jenny Johnson during the first weeks of the MEM program to craft my resume.

Through Networking: This is about getting someone in McKinsey to recommend you for an interview. Ideally if you know a partner/AP/EM, your life will be much easier as they can recommend you for an interview if they think you are good.

3) Preparation and Hard Work: 

There is no shortcut to success, no magical formula. I was casing every single day, at least twice, for 5 weeks. I skipped going out on weekends and traveling on fall break just to focus on getting better at it.

I went through Victor Cheng’s Look Over My Shoulder at least 5 times, both written and audio recordings. I got to the point where I was dreaming about solving a case!!!!

Also, preparation does not start when you get an interview call. It starts months before applying to a position.You should be already familiar with the industry and type of interview months in advance.

4) Knowing When to Stop: 

Even though I was casing every single day, I was terrible at it. I would get the structure off, the math wrong, and my recommendations were weak. I was a disaster. In fact, in all 60-70 cases I did, I screwed up in 90% of them.

It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to do cases, it was because I was making the same mistakes over and over and over again. I was stuck in a hole. Luckily for me, my roommate gave me the best advice at that time: “Dude, you are in a hole: STOP.”

So in my last week before the interview, I actually stopped casing. I didn’t do a single case and just let it all sink in. I relaxed, went out and also focused on my midterms.

5) Balancing Intellect with Personality: 

During my interviews, I focused on having a great time with the interviewer and making the most out of my time there. I smiled, laughed sometimes, had conversations and genuinely enjoyed every single moment in the case.

By the end of my last interview, I had just completed three 1-hour long cases and the only thing I could think of was: I want another case!!! I didn’t force anything. I was myself and the partners just loved me.

In fact, they loved me to the extent that they didn’t even wait to call me on the phone. One of the partners came to me right after my last interview and said: “Amine, you have impressed all of us, you have a bright future ahead of you. We all loved you here: When can you start?”

Go out there and crack the case,






Victor Cheng Case Interview Secrets

Victor Cheng Look Over My Shoulder



Finding an Internship/Job: From Start to Finish

Prof PhotoBy: Elizabeth Neely MEng ’15

It’s simple: Getting an internship/job is not easy. Unfortunately, I don’t hold the secret to finding an internship or job with great speed and no pain. However, I can offer a few pieces of advice that have helped me in the past. The key is starting early.

In an ideal world, we would all follow the schedule below, but we all know that timing never plays out the way we want.

(Let’s assume you’ve been admitted into Duke’s MEM or MEng program as of March 2014):

April 2014: Email your professors and any industry contacts (current/past supervisors) to inform them of your next step…going to Duke!

May 2014: Start working on your “ideal list.” Ideal list = the companies that you would love to work for (and don’t forget to look at their competitors – you’ll most likely want to work for them as well, as they will have a similar mission).

June 2014: Finalize your “ideal list” (consult your family, friends, professors, and anyone that you have developed a professional relationship with to ask their opinion or other suggestions).

July 2014: Go back to the emails you sent in April and resend each of them an email. Let them know that you have taken the time to dig deep and think through your goals for graduate school and the years to come after (I would even use part of your admission essay and send it their way – let them see your passion). Finish the email by explaining your “ideal job” and the possible companies that might offer that job/internship. Hopefully you have a strong relationship with each of the people you are emailing and can ask them to brainstorm ways to get in touch with people at this company.

August 2014: If any leads came out of the emails sent in July 2014, follow up with them first. The goal is that you already have a contact at one or more of the companies you want to work for – but if you haven’t developed contacts yet – devote all your effort to networking. What this means is: sift through LinkedIn, the career service sites (that you already have access to!), talk to friends/family, etc.

September 2014: Take the opportunity (that they offer many times to us!) and meet with Career Services. Schedule a 1:1 appointment with them, rather than drop-in hours. And most importantly, come prepared! Come to the meeting with your “ideal list,” a progress update from the past few months, and current leads. (This is assuming you’ve already put in the effort to beef up your resume and you’re ready to send out). People are willing to help you if you have first put in the work for yourself. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m sure that career services would be more than willing to assist you with furthering your networking – put you in touch with recent alums, recruiters and more.

October 2014: Reach out to everyone on your most updated “job/internship” contact list (including personal contacts, alumni contacts, career service contacts, etc.) – if this is your first time to contact – it’s great to introduce yourself and ask if they have a few minutes to walk you through how they ended up where they are today (especially if they went to Duke- ask them to lead you from their departure from Duke to their current position). If it’s someone you have reached out to before, make another “touch” (someone once told me to make as many “touches” as possible when networking. This just means to make sure to reach out to as many people as possible – a touch can be an email, a LinkedIn message, coffee, meeting, phone call, etc.) This is the time to let your consistent contacts know that you are currently looking for an internship or job (and let them know your timeline, i.e. your ideal start date). If you have made the effort to develop the relationship, by starting to reach out in April, and continue to reach out, they are going to be willing to help. People want to help each other- it’s in our nature- but they also want to know you have put in the effort.

November 2014: This should be listed in October as well, but apply to internships online, via career fair, etc. and get some practice! If given the opportunity to interview, this is a great chance to gain experience interviewing and talking about your background and your goals. It might not be your ideal job/company, but practice makes perfect. And when you’re off to your dream job interview, you’ll feel even more confident.

December 2014: If you’ve had great progress over the last few months, this is the month where you’ll see this effort come to fruition. Aim to have 5 interviews (phone interview, informational interview, behavioral interviews, etc.) by the end of December. The holiday season creates a delay in the recruiting process and its important to get your face (or voice) out there before the season.

January 2014: Continue interviewing. Hopefully, you’ve reached some 2nd round interviews. Set goals for yourself, i.e. 3 informational interviews by the end of October, 5 interviews by the end of December, 3 second round interviews by the end of January, 1 offer by the end of January, and 2 offers by the end of February. The goals might seem unrealistic, but if you set these goals in advance, you might just hit them.

February 2014: Continue interviewing and following up with contacts. Meet with Career Services if you are finding yourself in a rough patch and need new ideas.

March – April 2014: Job offers! Now it’s your chance to make the decisions. Make sure to have thoughtful conversations about your offers (ask all the right questions) and leverage your offers. Career Services can offer some great language for conversations about offers.

May – June 2014: Start your job/internship!

As we all know, graduation dates are across the board, so please know these months can be applied to any month, just know it can be more than a year process! Make sure to give yourself that time. And also note that this timeline is something that has worked for me in the past and doesn’t necessarily mean will work for everyone or take this long.

Attend: Go to TechConnect Night, go to all the Career Fairs and don’t miss out on any industry events that appeal to your interests. This is a game of quantity – the more companies you talk to, the better you’ll understand your passion/interests, and the more likely you’ll find the right fit for yourself.

Remember: Even though you are trying to find a company that wants you, don’t forget that the company wants to find the right person for them. This needs to be a mutual fit – so always remind yourself that you are interviewing them as well!

I’ve listed a lot of steps here, with not a great deal of detail. If you want help with appropriate “language” to use in the emails or need help brainstorming your “ideal list” or anything else, please consult with a Career Advisor. As I keep saying, they are very helpful!

*To see another guideline on what do each month, take a look a the Student Checklist: 2 and 3 semester options 


4 Ways to Find a Fantastic Mentor

By: La Tondra Murray, Director of Professional Masters Programs

One of the best things that you can do in any industry is to work with a good mentor. In my experience, people often underestimate the degree to which a mentor can help you learn the landscape, build relationships and manage challenges in the workplace.  The search for a strong mentor, however, can be daunting at first thought.

Any approach can ultimately work if you can collaborate with a mentor who is willing to share his or her experiences while simultaneously getting to know you. Trust, honesty and vulnerability all play a role in strongest of mentor-protégé pairings.

The first step, however, is to find the right, willing candidate. As you search for and ultimately ask someone to serve as a mentor, here are a few things that you can do from the start:

  1. Develop clear goals for the interaction. What is it that you want to get out of a mentor-protégé relationship? Are you interested in growing your technical expertise? Do you want to learn more about the organization’s product lines? Would you like to create better strategies for work-life integration? If you give some serious thought to what you’d like to glean from your mentor upfront, you’ll be able to: 1) make a stronger case for who you specifically want to work with as well as why and 2) gain a clearer view of how you want to progress over time. You should also think about how you want to contribute as the best partnerships are mutually beneficial.
  2. Think beyond your immediate team. Sometimes is it helpful to get the perspective of someone who isn’t aligned with your department, business unit, or even your company. Mentors can certainly be internal to your organization, but consider the possibilities outside the realm of your employer as well. At the end of the day, mentors can often provide a unique vantage point based on their experience and knowledge. If you can look beyond the people you have access to on a daily basis anyway, you may be able to engage with someone else with surprising results.
  3.  Be prepared to work with more than one person. Mentors can serve different purposes in your professional life, so you don’t need to have an exclusive arrangement with a single person. As I tell my own mentees, ‘we can see other people.’ While you don’t want to have so many mentors that you can’t create a quality relationship with any of them, I do think that there is value is establishing a small ‘board of directors’ that can help you flourish in the areas that are important to you. An open mindset will release you from the expectations that one individual can help you with everything.
  4. Choose someone who is different from you. While it is often comforting to align ourselves with a mentor who shares our gender, race, educational background, etc., we may miss out on an opportunity to leverage diversity in our favor. A mentor with a background that varies from yours can provide you with unique insight. Don’t be afraid to venture beyond your comfort zone to connect with someone different. You stand to make tremendous gains if you can broaden your horizons.

Most people will be more than willing to help, but you need to take the initial step.  Figure out who you would like to learn from and reach out!

What other strategies would you suggest when it comes to finding a mentor? Leave a comment to let us know!


Dr. La Tondra Murray and her fantastic mentor of 20+ years Dr. Mary Carol Day

Pre-Arrival Programming in China – Duke MEM Shares Best Practices at WISE

BridgetBy: Bridget Fletcher, Associate Director of Academic and Student Services

The Duke MEM program has been visiting China each May for the past three years. Our visits are with admitted students, so the focus is on pre-arrival programing, rather than recruitment. We typically meet with 10-15 students in Beijing and 15-20 students in Shanghai. We hold one-on-one conversations with each student to give them an opportunity to ask us questions about MEM, Duke, Durham, the US, the job market, really anything! Some common questions are about whether to complete the program in 2 or 3 semesters, how to stay safe on campus, how to avoid bed bugs, how to navigate the US party culture, and whether or not they will need a car. These are not questions we would expect to get my email, so the in-person visits allow students to ask about things that might be worrying them, but they wouldn’t otherwise ask.

Bridget 2We also hold group sessions in each city, which typically feature a couple of current students as well as alumni. These sessions allow the incoming students to get a student’s perspective on the program and an alumni perspective on how the program has impacted their career. We also provide the students with suggestions and materials for summer preparation. We encourage the students to be thinking about preparing to use English on a daily basis, practicing networking, getting their resume and LinkedIn profiles ready, and sorting out some general moving logistics.

These trips have proven to be very helpful for us. We have found that students are generally more comfortable when they arrive and, in many cases, seemingly more open to new experiences. We have also seen a marked improvement in English communication skills and classroom participation. Additionally, the students are more willing to speak up when they have a question or concern, which means it’s easier for us to help them. Another HUGE benefit is that we get to better understand Chinese culture by being immersed in it for a few weeks. By doing this we become better at serving the needs of our Chinese student population.

10444777_10152458032496950_5526634359830460157_nSince we have had such a positive response to our pre-arrival programs, Jenny Johnson (Associate Director for Career Services) and I decided to put together a workshop for other universities to learn about our model. We were able to present our workshop at the WISE (Workshop on Intercultural Skills Enhancement) Conference at Wake Forest University this past November. We focused on how our pre-arrival trips to China came to be, the improvements we have experienced since implementing these trips, and helping other universities determine if this type of investment would be beneficial for them. The session was met with a great response and a lot of positive feedback from universities all over the US (and even one on Australia!).

MEM staffers Jenny Johnson and Staci Thornton (Academic Coordinator) will be headed to Beijing and Shanghai this May for our fourth Pre-arrival programming trip to China. They are very excited to meet the incoming Chinese MEMers and to spend some time with alumni (all while eating delicious xiao long bao).