Carnegie Mellon University

Practical Internships for Senior Chemical Engineering Students (PISCES)


In the 97/98 academic year, the Chemical Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University launched a pilot program of industrial internships for undergraduates of chemical engineering.  Christened PISCES, the program provided for one year of professional experience in a company.  The first model of the PISCES program was that students would finish their junior year and go to a company for up to 14 months of employment as a professional.  The students would then return to their senior year in the autumn a year later.  There was no minimum QPA requirement.

Industrial members of the Chemical Engineering Advisory Board have been uniformly and strongly positive about the program; some members said that their company only hired co-ops. They see a real advantage in having a fairly advanced student for such a long continuous time. Perhaps the most frequently asked question is about what kind of experience the students should have.  I believe that there are two key words for that, variety and teamwork.  A minimum of two different experiences, each of them involving both individual effort and teamwork is desirable in a PISCES position.  Some companies with well-developed co-op programs intend to put their PISCES students through a normal three or four position rotation (e.g. safety, operations, and design).  Other companies have indicated that they will assign the students to projects and make sure that they participate in more than one.

We have had about 12 students do this.  Their experience has been uniformly positive.  All have urged that more people participate.  However, participation has never been high because our students bond with their classmates and want to graduate on time with them. 

One year we did an experiment where a student left CMU after the fall semester of the junior year and went to IBM during the spring semester and summer.  During the spring semester he took the Unit Operations course remotely.  We sent videos of the lectures; all the course materials were available online.  The student kept up with the class, did the homework, and took the same exams while working a full time job.  He worked also in the summer and returned to complete his senior year.  This obviously required considerable self-discipline, but the rewards were great: eight months of experience in a company while keeping up with his class.

The steps are:

Identify industrial participants who will "commit" to the program.  By commitment, I mean an expression of the interest of the company (or division, or group) in PISCES and a willingness to take a student if an appropriate match can be found. 

Present the program to entering junior students and identify interested students.  The students fill out an application and make up a resume.

Send out student packages to the participating companies.

The matching process begins after this. This process can proceed in different ways.  One company reviewed the applications and sent a list of students in order of preference.  I made the assignment.  Other companies contacted the students themselves, and kept me informed of their progress.  I work individually with companies and students to make matches.

We will be continuing this program for the foreseeable future.  PISCES is an option, not a requirement.  For further information, please call or email me.

Good luck in your studies and

Best Regards,

Paul Sides