Theo Xenakis is completing an internship at Metabolic as part of his MSc degree. He shares his thoughts on the value of this experience and some tips for future interns.
An eye-opening study visit to De Ceuvel followed by an inspiring lecture from Metabolic at my University, Wageningen – a year and a half ago – was all it took. To me, Metabolic embodied the vision of building something truly sustainable and had the potential to aid the mission of materializing a circular economy. For a student of Urban Environmental Management, it seemed to be the perfect fit. When it was time for me to start my university internship, working for Metabolic became a ‘no-brainer’.
Part of the team
For five months now I have been part of this team. What I’ve realized is that everyone here has one dominant thing in common: being passionate about doing impactful work. Everyone offers their knowledge and skills to help each other grow and the company develop. The culture of openness and good communication are also aspects that make this place what it is.
One of my initial questions was along the lines of “how much can you really be involved, as an intern?” Metabolic has a very dynamic culture that encourages you to be proactive and allows you to operate in whatever way works for you. The truth is that, unless you have a very solid idea about what you want to do here, you are responsible to find your way into interesting projects. Your mentor will offer you guidance, but will not be holding your hand.
So, how’s work?
The diversity of the projects that the company gets involved with – from researching the global food system, to creating circular regional visions – provided me with a great opportunity to continue expanding my knowledge, investigating new value chains and finding my own ‘niche’ of topics in which I was most interested. In parallel to this learning process, there is also a requirement for excellence in regard to scientific research standards, communication with the team, and independent handling of one’s own work. Because there are so many interesting things going on, it’s tempting to get involved in everything, but then you may get overloaded and it becomes difficult to deliver high quality work. It is best to fully understand how much time a project demands before taking on too much, as it is important to be able to manage your work and time effectively. For me, someone who is enthusiastic and optimistic by nature, this was a valuable lesson.
Tops and tips
As my internship is concluding, I would like to share three ‘tops’ and three ‘tips’ that I have thought of regarding this job, as I experienced it at Metabolic.
- Knowledge gain: Being involved in diverse projects, investigating different supply chains, global and local environmental and societal issues offered me a great opportunity to learn so much more about a variety of topics, such as: food system impacts, manufacturing supply chains, regional circular economic models and closing resource cycles.
- Mentorship: Fortunately, this was a given by my internship supervisor (Matt Fraser, I am looking at you) but being able to work with several colleagues in different projects, allowed me to learn a great deal about the requirements that a consulting job entails and about managing consulting projects.
- Creativity at work: When your work and your colleagues are aligned with your vision and mission, creativity and inspiration inevitably follow. I just had to make sure that I participate in as many discussions and brainstorming sessions as I could.
- Don’t be tired: Tiredness is something that did prevent me from being as creative and as productive as I would like in my work. A good sleeping pattern and time for reflection is essential. On the other hand, writing your thesis at the same time as your internship is perhaps not recommended…
- Manage time and workload: I found it challenging to set strict time schedules and to assess how much time a task would take, which make it hard to delegate or organize all my tasks (including my thesis work) effectively. In addition, as I mentioned before, being able to resist participating in all kinds of ‘cool’ projects can be a challenge too, as there are unfortunately only 24 hours available per day AND you have to get some sleep too…(see Tip 1)
- Ask for feedback: I had the privilege to be in a team which embraced me as a person, while all my colleagues were willing to help me learn and grow into my job. What I realized though is that I have to ask for feedback, as this is the best way to adjust any ineffective working patterns into the ‘right way of things’ and do it fast. Telling my colleagues to not hold back with feedback and learning to take criticism was one of my most valuable lessons.
My time at Metabolic has not only helped me graduate from my MSc with some great working experience, but it has also helped me identify the direction that I want to take my career as a sustainability consultant – even though this position is quite often defined differently in each company’s ‘dictionary’. It does not seem like an easy or effortless job and it requires a lot of knowledge and skill; but through such a position I believe that I can have a significant impact towards the transition to sustainable paradigms and a circular economy. This is my motivation. After all, who doesn’t like a challenge?