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Participant Info

Company
Agfa Graphics
Location
Antwerp, Belgium
Position
Assistant Project Leader
Work Term
Sept 2014-August 2015
What are your daily responsibilities?
It varies from day to day, but in general I'm the student lead on an innovative research and development project, so project management is a big part. I have a great mix between lab work and office work. I get to work on patents for the company, conduct lab and industrial scale experiments, write reports, and I frequently have presentations for the heads of the R&D and Analytical departments updating them on how the project is progressing. Depending on your position/job, you may work more closely with other co-workers on projects. In my position, I work mostly independently and report directly to my boss. I also have a wide range of analytical equipment and tools at my disposal so I frequently have the opportunity to go and learn how to use a new piece of equipment or analytical technique (Infrared lasers, Microscopy, etc). Agfa sees the internship as an industrial traineeship agreement, so I get to get trained in equipment or analytical techniques that I am interested in.
What were some projects you were involved in?
As I mentioned, I am the student lead on a new R&D project at the company. My work is confidential but involves the development of innovative technologies, from printing plates to flexible electronics. My job involves a lot of polymer chemistry, analytical chemistry, material science, and inorganic chemistry. Though it does require a general chemistry background, the project itself is engineering oriented since I am building product prototypes from scratch and optimizing their functionality. The great part is that I get to see the project from beginning to end, since by the end of my internship I will have developed multiple products and have written reports so that the products can be further developed in the Applications Department.
What were strong points of your interview? Did grades matter?
Grades did not matter, at least not after the preliminary processing step. The HR department first sorts through the applications, selects the finalists and then contacts you and you have a phone call with the HR representatives first. They ask you general interest questions first and just gauge who you are and what you like. They really like well-rounded students, students who have a life outside of the classroom whether it be sports, arts, student government or clubs. Since it is a job in a different country, being an effective communicator is important. They want to see if you are responsible and organized enough to help lead a project. From here, your application gets passed to the project leaders who are looking to take interns. My project leader said that from ten applications he received at this stage that he cut it down to two. From what I was told, I got my job for a small part because of my past work experience and skills, but for the most part because in my interview I was able to highlight that I do a lot outside of the classroom and still manage to do well in school. This showed that I had the necessary skills to manage an independent project. It also helped that my boss and I shared interests in the arts and we talked about it during the interview. Overall: They want interns who are social and fun to work with along with being responsible and having a strong work ethic.
Which skill sets/courses were most relevant to your position?
Having research experience is beneficial but isn’t necessary for all the positions. Some interns work more on the client/applications side rather than in research and development. For my position, you have to be comfortable to work in lab, office and plant settings. Organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, materials science, and general lab knowledge is useful but you can always learn what you need on the job. Strong time management and communication skills are a must. You will have to communicate in many different forms here: I am constantly talking to co-workers at my job, responding to e-mails, giving presentations and making phone calls. Since this is the company headquarters, it’s a huge site and you work in many different buildings. Therefore you get a company phone to carry around to communicate with co-workers. Phoning someone/receiving phone calls are a daily occurrence so developing good phone etiquette is important.
What did your company expect from you as a 2nd/3rd year co-op student?
U of T interns are held in high regard here. There are 30 interns in total from many different countries and universities, but the employees always praise the U of T students as being the most well prepared to work even though we are the youngest of the interns (other interns are in Masters or PhD programs). The most important thing is having the ability to lead a project independently and successfully. Luckily, we have a lot of experience working on projects at school so you will be well prepared for this. All the extra chemistry knowledge they will teach you, but as long as you have strong project management skills, a positive attitude and a strong work ethic, you are set. They also like for you to be friendly and social.
Did you like your overall PEY experience? Why or why not?
I LOVE it. Definitely the best decision I’ve ever made. I was a bit hesitant in coming at first since it is a whole year in a different country, the pay is smaller than other jobs and there are obviously so many unknowns when moving to a new country. However, it is the most fulfilling and fun way to spend your PEY in my opinion. It’s truly a once in a life time opportunity to move to Europe, have an apartment already set up and paid for you, meet 20+ other interns from around the world around your age, travel a lot, and in general just enjoy life. And on top of that, I have an amazing job and an amazing boss. I genuinely love my job and work is actually exciting and interesting. I definitely recommend to anyone who is considering it to apply!
One fun fact about your job?
I get a lot of vacation days and I get to travel very frequently and for very cheap.
Salary Range
Monthly Allowance of 580 Euros plus reimbursement of registration fees, an all expenses paid appartment (utilities, internet, etc),
Other Comments
If you are looking to have a fun year off of school as well as work at a cool company, apply!