Looking Beyond the Orange Bubble

Attending workshops and events outside of class can give you a better perspective on your coursework. Think of academic enrichment events as learning experiences rather than as something that takes time away from classes and homework assignments.

It is easy to get caught up in everything going on on campus. Between classes, extracurriculars, and other activities, it feels as if there is no time for anything outside of Princeton. However, in a post at the end of last year, I mentioned the importance of attending outside academic conferences and other enrichment opportunities as a way to strengthen your academic experience. After a great learning opportunity at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) conference in April, I made it a goal for myself to attend more of these events this year. Thus, when I received an email from the Princeton University Mentorship Program (PUMP!) about attending the DISCOVER Summit in Philadelphia on September 13th, I immediately accepted. In this post, I will further expand on how the summit affirmed the importance of looking beyond the “orange bubble”.

The DISCOVER Summit is an annual event for students of underrepresented backgrounds to interact with professionals in the field of supply chain engineering and learn about opportunities and diversity initiatives at different companies. Engineers in this sector focus on the overall supply, logistics, and operations aspects of a company in order to maximize production efficiency. Although I did know a lot about supply chain engineering, and I am definitely leaning more towards research and academia rather than industry, I attended the event with hopes of learning as much as I did during the AIChE conference. 

Throughout the day, I attended different sessions that helped me understand the basics of supply chain engineering. My two highlights, however, were the career information fair and the networking lunch. 


Career Information Fair

As opposed to a traditional career fair, the DISCOVER Summit had a specialized session where students heard about what supply chains looks like at different companies. Representatives from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Bristol Myers, amongst others talked about the overlap of supply-chain with other divisions, such as research and development or manufacturing. After the information session was over, students had a chance to ask questions about opportunities at each company. Because a big focus of the session was on the intersection with other divisions, I was able to ask specific questions about what research at large companies looks like, and how that research ties in to the institutional research that many of the representatives had conducted in the past.  

Networking Lunch

During lunch, all of the students had a chance to sit with professionals and ask them questions about their experiences. For me, this was the most rewarding part of the day, as most of my interactions were with professionals with a wide background in research at universities. I asked questions about career paths and their transition into industry, which is something that will be helpful in the future as I consider the career paths that I might want to take. Likewise, I spoke with students from other universities that were in attendance. Listening to what they are involved in also gave me a new perspective about the wide range of research being conducted at other universities.

After listening to professionals speak about their educational and industry experiences, I felt more confident about the skills that I have been learning throughout my time at Princeton. The majority of professionals spoke about the importance of ‘general’ chemical engineering skills over ‘hard’ skills. For example, a recent chemical engineer graduate at Johnson & Johnson spoke about how it is more important to graduate from the department knowing how to be flexible than to graduate having mastered thermodynamics. Hearing this, I was more satisfied with the decision I made to take mostly interesting courses outside of CBE this semester.  

In addition, although the school year has just started, the trip to Philadelphia itself was a refreshing change. During the time I was there, I was not thinking about problem sets, independent work, or about the Korean class and mass transport precept I had missed to attend the summit. Instead, I focused on getting the most out of the event and enjoying my time with the other college students attending. 

Breaking the Orange Bubble can be quite challenging, especially when outside events and programs feel as if they interfere with our already time-consuming work at Princeton. But participating in outside academic enrichment events or in events that are just for fun can give you a new perspective for when you do return to your assignments. In addition, if you do decide to attend an outside event, the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) provides funding for off-campus academic conferences, so be sure to visit their page for additional resources. 

Saira Reyes, Engineering Correspondent