Students at the leading university MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) can find internships at just about any company almost anywhere in the world. Engineering intern Amber Velez wanted to work for a green energy company, and she wanted to work in Denmark. She chose this European country because Danes are known for their good work/life balance. What she found, more than met her expectations. By Jes Andersen.
An “interesting problem” in nuclear energy
Seaborg is a start-up company located in the heart of the Danish capital in the innovation district Copenhagen Science City. The company is developing what they hope will be the next generation of nuclear reactors. So-called Compact Molten Salt Reactors should provide CO2 free energy for a power grid based on climate friendly, but unreliable, solar and wind. To stretch Velez’ skills, her intern supervisor had prepared what he calls “an interesting problem”.
Seaborg wanted me to look at materials that might make a suitable heat shield around the reactor. When my supervisor presented the project, he told me, that if this one proved too easy for me, they had other ideas. I thought it might take a week. It ended up taking the entire two months of my internship”: Amber Velez, Engineering intern, MIT-MISTI
High quality interns… Even if they don’t realize it themselves
MIT-MISTI promises high quality interns to employers. Amber Velez is concerned that expectations can be hard to live up to: “We may be smart, but not all of us are likely to invent key components for the company during a two-month internship” she says with a grin. Her supervisor, Rowan Steyn, was pretty impressed just the same. Velez is studying to be a mechanical engineer and had no nuclear background when she arrived in Copenhagen.
I was amazed at how quickly she caught on. In just two months, she had to read up on nuclear energy, create a way to model materials behaviour, program it, produce data and present her findings. I wanted to throw her in at the deep end, and then be ready with a hand when she needed help. She hardly ever did”: Rowan Steyn, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Seaborg
An intimidating level of trust
The level of trust implicit in this approach is typical in Danish companies, and it sat very well with Velez… Though it did feel intimidating at first.
This was my first tech-internship. I wanted to do well and not make errors. The company trusted me to just do the work, so I was responsible for finding the motivation in myself. I came to appreciate this, but I wish I had had the courage to ask more questions earlier in the internship”: Amber Velez, Engineering intern, MIT-MISTI
A very Danish freedom
Seaborg not only trusted her to do the work and ask questions if she struggled. They also gave her the (very Danish) freedom to come and go as she pleased.
When Amber first arrived, she was very diligent about asking permission, when she had to come in late or leave early. Once she saw that everyone here is quite flexible, she started relaxing a bit too”: Rowan Steyn, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Seaborg
Ready for more
Since launching in 2014, the energy start-up has taken on interns from several other high-level universities. They found Velez through MIT’s international internship programme MIT-MISTI. According to Steyn this will not be their last MIT intern. Since the company launched, it has grown to over 100 staff, so next time they might want two or more.
The MISTI programme made the whole process very smooth. They sent us resumés and cover letters from potential interns and set up interviews the moment we expressed an interest. The only possible improvement would have been, if Amber had been able to stay longer”: Rowan Steyn, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Seaborg
The surprising thing about Danes
Amber Velez came to Denmark to experience good work/life balance. Though Seaborg is a very fast-moving start-up, she found great friends in a young, international company, where staff organize summer evening trips to the beach, to concerts and festivals and to the Danish mid-summer bonfire festival “Sankt Hans”. She was surprised by only one thing.
A lot of Danes would ask me why I chose to come to Denmark. That’s funny, because I think Denmark is really cool, and Copenhagen is a truly cosmopolitan city”: Amber Velez, Engineering intern, MIT-MISTI
Innovation district helping innovative companies
Copenhagen Science City is an innovation district featuring three leading research institutions, 40,000 researchers, students, and staff and 450+ innovation intensive companies. The organisation has been helping local companies connect with the MIT-MISTI programme since its launch in 2019.
The MIT-MISTI programme has been supported by the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) since September 2018.