»Don’t Let the Math Put You Off!«

Interview with Max Burr about his Internship at the Fraunhofer ITWM

Max Burr has been an intern in the »System Analysis, Prognosis and Control« department since January 1, 2024. The 24-year-old electrical engineering student will be with us at the institute until the end of March 2024 and talks about his time and experiences so far in this interview.

How did you decide to complete your mandatory internship with us at the Fraunhofer ITWM?

I study at the university here in Kaiserslautern and live in the university residential area. I often walk past the imposing buildings of the Fraunhofer Center and often think how impressive the premises alone are. I also know a few people at the institute. In addition, »Fraunhofer« as a company naturally says something to you. You associate it directly with applied research. It was already a goal of mine to do the internship here.

You've been here for almost two months now. Could you please tell us something about your typical working day as an intern? What tasks have you had to deal with so far?

My day usually starts between 8 and 9 am. We are flexible because we have flexitime. With my first coffee in hand, I then go to my colleagues in the team and ask them what tasks need to be done that day, if I don't have to finish any from the previous day. So far, the tasks have been very varied – attaching sensors, connecting control boxes, but also some more complex programming. I've also been in the metal workshop in the image processing department. So far, there hasn't been any dry math or physics, but very practical tasks. My degree course in electrical engineering is a great fit. I ended up here at a good time, because the department needed someone who could provide support in this area at the moment. Of course, as an intern, you don't have the project pressure in the background like the academic staff. You can make time for it. At the moment, for example, I'm helping to prepare the next trade fair events.

Messestand E-World 2023
© Fraunhofer ITWM
This is what the stand looked like at E-World 2023. There was also a demonstrator with the colleagues in Essen.
Max Burr preparing the trade fair demonstrator.
© Fraunhofer ITWM
Max Burr preparing the trade fair demonstrator.

Good keyword, your colleagues are going to two events in the next few days to present their research: the E-World trade fair in Essen, a meeting place for the European energy industry, and "Maintenance" in Dortmund, a trade fair for industrial maintenance. How were you able to help with the preparations?

Two major topics in particular will be presented at the two events, and demonstrators are a must, which I am currently focusing on. At the E-world the focus is on how we can control systems so that they operate as energy-efficiently as possible. On the »Maintenance« the question is rather: How can we monitor systems and determine whether there is a defect somewhere? In other words, maintenance monitoring, automated detection of wear and tear and timely maintenance. The demonstrator for the trade fair shows, for example, how sensors can monitor the vibration of a system and then react accordingly if the software or the deflection shows that something is broken. 

Over the last few days and weeks, I have been making sure that the two devices are running properly, are well adjusted and that the software is connected. It's important to have something at the event stand that attracts attention and not only looks nice, but is carefully prepared for work. If it also lights up and moves, then it's ideal for attracting people to our stand and then getting into conversation.

That sounds exciting. Did you know anything about these topics beforehand?

Not much, actually. The topics »Maintenance and Monitoring of Machines« or »System Control« were very new to me, I hadn't dealt with them before. I hadn't done things like connecting switch boxes or metalworking before either. But I got into it quickly and had good guidance from the team.

It's motivating to see what you're doing it for, what theory is needed for. It's great when, for example, a script that I've written can be put into practice and actually works. It gives you a direct sense of achievement.

Did you imagine the work like this beforehand? Did you have any ideas at all?

I knew from a friend that the department needed a student with a background in electrical engineering. But I had no concrete idea what that meant in terms of day-to-day work. I also knew roughly what the department does, but no details. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised at what I was allowed to do. I'd also been looking for an internship for a while, so it was even better that it was such a good fit. 

What have you particularly liked so far?

There are a few things I can list: the working atmosphere, the impressive building and workplace, the relaxed team and cooperation. The many exciting projects at the institute. It's the opposite of dark industrial halls, which is the image you have of an electrical engineering position. It's relaxed work, but I'm still very independent and can work on my own tasks. It's not an internship where I'm just following someone around all the time. A lot of trust is placed in me to work on tasks independently, at my own pace. The work is not monotonous.

What did you perhaps like less?

Actually, I can't really think of anything to say. The last few days have been a bit more stressful in the department, partly because of the event preparations, and at the same time there are a lot of projects to work on in the team. As an intern, you don't always dare to ask a lot of questions in between, but of course you can still do that. You shouldn't let yourself be intimidated. So far, all expectations have been met or even exceeded. I am super relieved and surprised that I like so much about the internship.

What happens after your internship?

I'm now in my fifth semester and if I stay within the standard period of study, I'll be writing my Bachelor's thesis in two semesters. Ideally, maybe even in a company like the Fraunhofer ITWM. That would be ideal if the thesis also had something to do with applied research reality – preferably even thematically in the direction I'm working in now. At the moment I'm planning to do a Master's degree in electrical engineering afterwards, but for now I'm concentrating on completing my Bachelor's degree.

What would be your dream job after graduation? Can you imagine working at a research institute later on?

I can imagine that very well. I don't have a specific dream job or wish, but if I could choose, I would rather be in applied research than directly in industry. I really like what I've experienced here so far.

What advice would You give to future interns?

Don't be afraid of math. Sure, the Fraunhofer ITWM is a mathematical institute, but there are also many jobs where it is more important to be able to tackle tasks independently and acquire the know-how first. You don't have to start out here with blatant math skills or know exactly how to implement the math. Don't be put off by the name Fraunhofer and the math!