Philadelphia Water Department Coop Internship

My very first internship was in the spring-summer terms of 2010 with the City of Philadelphia. I worked for the Water Department under the Aquatic Biology lab. What I did at the water lab was far from what I wanted to do with my future career. At the time I had my heart and soul set to be a doctor and nothing less. It was after this job that I realized I needed to expand my narrow mind of thinking (and have some fun with life and stop being so grave & serious about school).

Now, I won’t lie, when I first signed up for Drexel coops, I really thought I was going to be doing fancy stuff like synthesizing my own medicines and running my own experiments. But the naivety came with my young age, and I am not ashamed of it.

What I did At My Internship

The actually internship was pretty repetitive with the same daily tasks. My main duty was to run 2 (later 3) lab tests on drinking water from different water treatment plants across the Philadelphia area. We received about 60 to 75 samples on a daily basis and ran every day (including weekends, though I was not required to come in). Each sample was marked with a particular code which was associated with a certain area. The experiments I ran were specifically targeted to detect fecal colonies growing in the water (which would cause unhealthy living conditions if consumed by the good citizens of Philly).

One test had me filter the water through a thin membrane and culture it in broth. Another assay had me mix the water with agar which allowed for heterotrophic colonies to grow on it. The newer test we did a parallel study for simply put a tablet of chemicals in the sample and a color change & peak under fluorescent microscope would be indicative of a positive test. I never analyzed the results; my lab supervisors did all the counting of colonies and evaluations.

As my lab team warned me on my first day that by the time I got the hang of things, it only would only take me half the day to get my tasks done daily. Prep for assays early morning, wait for samples, run samples, clean up, basic lab sanitary maintenance & chemical restock work, throw out trash. That’s a straightforward run- down of a day in a life for a PWD coop. I got easily bored once my tasks were done, so I took 2 night classes (one per term) to keep my mind occupied on something.

Now if I sound like I hated my old job, that’s not true! I loved it so much and I could not have asked for a greater first coop.

Reason#1 I loved my 1st Internship: I LOVED MY LAB PEOPLE!

First of all, I really loved all the people I worked with at my old job. They were smart, witty, and funny. True sharped tongued and sarcastic city people. I really miss them. We would talk about random stories and facts, and I really felt like I learned a lot of about many things just listening to them. Also, they loved to eat like me! We would go out to cool places like the Navy Yard to have long lunches. Even the people I didn’t work directly with were awesome, too! I can’t remember one person who was not kind to me.

One of my most favorite supervisors reminded me of my dad. He told great stories, and he had such a great variety of jobs he used to do in the past. For example, he used to work as a microbiologist in a burn unit of a hospital trauma. He explained to me API tests for microoganisms and advised me to take Microbio (which I will be in this winter) because he found it to be the basis of a lot of medical things.  My lab team really made me feel like I was one of guys in the group, and I will never ever forget them for that.

On a more personal note, they were also there for me emotionally when my mother got sick. They gave me a private spot in the lab to cry & recollect my thoughts. They let me leave work right the day I found out she was in the hospital, no questions asked when I would get back.

Reason#2 I loved my 1st Internship: It Wasn’t a Hard Student to Worker Transition

Secondly, for a first internship, the job was relatively easy for me to pick up and learn how to do. I wasn’t losing sleep because I was overly stressed at work, and my lab technique improved with the months because my supervisors were there every step of the way whenever I needed to be trained. I also got a glimpse on how sterile and strict proper lab technique is in an industry job. It was a great way to “ease” me into the concept of the working world.

Also, this job taught me that if I am bored or have finished something, I should ALWAYS ask how I can help or do more. I got to do so much more than my job scope described because I would always assist my supervisors with their tasks. I didn’t just get to play with drinking water, but also industrial and waste water! I got to learn a lot more about algae identification, water treatment, and how exactly the water system worked because I always tried to be involved in work, even if my own tasks were done. This tidbit of wisdom helped me tremendously in my second internship.

Reason#3 I loved my 1st Internship: It Was Fun & the Commute Was Awesome

Of course I can’t ignore the fact that I genuinely had a crap load of fun during this internship. I was under a lot of stress from my personal life at the time (between my family, myself, my feelings, ect.), but I will always associate this job with happy memories. From playing video games during my breaks (portable gaming systems FTW!) to funny stories my supervisors told me and hanging out in the lab. The job had its tough moments (omg sample overload or mistakes I made), but for the most part it was a chill job. I got to train a high school student and met another Drexel coop. After conquering my anti-social complex I became friends with both of them.  During the later portion of my internship, the three of us would hang out and grab pizza or have lunch together every day. Sometimes I would try to sneak outside when the guys took their second break.

Another bonus was that because I worked for the city, I got a paid lunch and only had to work exactly 8 hours. I got in early and left early. This was fantastic because it was summer! The commute was short (I would say 45 minutes on a bad day) so I got to take classes on campus (thus leading to a slightly earlier graduation). Not having to work on the weekends meant I could hang out with my friends and play video games a lot. This also gave me my chance to fulfill one of my dreams & start volunteering at a museum!

Conclusion (What I learned besides how to test drinking water)

So overall it was a great coop and amazing people were met that I was fortunate enough have entered my life. Strangely, I realized how much I love school. After 6 months of only taking a few classes, I was itching in September to hit the books (which lead to the 2 strongest academic terms I have completed to date. Ironic because before this coop, I was sick of school because I kept performing horribly in classes >.<). Suffice to say, I wasn’t ready to jump into the everyday life of a working person just yet.

I also found out that I would not fare well working in a lab doing repetitive tasks, which was great because sometimes knowing what you DON’T want to do helps you figure out what you DO want to do with your life. I would never call any of my jobs a “waste of my time” because everything you do, even if it doesn’t seem relevant at the time, does contribute to the bigger picture that is your future. Skills can be obtained, but more importantly wisdom can be, too.


2 comments on “Philadelphia Water Department Coop Internship

  1. improperintegirl says:

    were you testing drinking water for fecal matter because drinking water is truly filtered from what we flush?? and can you say if NY’s tap water is really the best in the country as many claim it to be??

    Sorry to hear about your mother being sick, I hope she’s doing better now.

    • AHAHA. I think they made me test for fecal matter as a precautionary test. In my 6 months of working, I think it we may have had one “violation” which was a special case where a pipe burst at a construction site XD

      I remember I got a presentation at school when I was younger that NY’s tap water is the best in the country. I still believe that, but only from personal opinion (not from working at the lab XD)

      yea my mom’s okay now, thanks for your wishes 🙂

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