Carnegie Mellon University
Practical Internships for Senior Chemical Engineering Students

Practical Internships for Senior Chemical Engineering Students: PISCES

Coordinator: Professor Michael Domach

The Chemical Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University offers to facilitate extended industrial internships for undergraduates of chemical engineering. Called PISCES, the program provides one-year of professional experience in a company. The model experience is that students finish their junior year and go to a company for up to 14 months of employment as a professional. The students do not pay tuition to CMU, but their student status is protected by registering for a zero-credit course designed to keep their file active. They are full time employees of the company. The students return to their senior year in the autumn a year later. PISCES is an option, not a 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. There are two key words for that, variety and teamwork. A minimum of two different experiences, each involving both individual effort and teamwork is desirable in a PISCES position. Some companies with well-developed co-op programs put their PISCES students through a normal three or four position rotation (e.g. Safety, operations, design). Other companies have indicated that they will assign the students to projects and make sure that they participate in more than one. 

Is PISCES for you?

Experience since the inception of PISCES in 1997 has shown that the benefits of doing a PISCES internship are enormous. Students return for their senior year much more mature and ready for the capstone coursework awaiting them. Also, a PISCES experience makes for interesting conversation at industrial interviews. Finally, students are often pleasantly surprised at how much companies are willing to pay them. Experience has also shown that our undergraduate students bond with each other so tightly (also a good thing) that many students are reluctant to "lose" a year and graduate with the class behind them. Thus the PISCES program is not for everyone; you decide.


Contact the PISCES advisor, Professor Michael Domach, early in the junior year for more information. The process consists of filling out an application, writing a statement of objectives, providing a transcript, and getting letters of recommendation. If the student has industrial contacts or a preferred company, so much the better. Professor Domach will facilitate the contacts and negotiations when needed, but the companies usually communicate directly with the student. If there is a willing company and a willing student at the end of this process, a new PISCES student begins a yearlong journey of growth and development, returning to CMU a year later ready for the senior year.