Before starting a new week, I thought I would reflect on my spring internship so far. So, I sat down to share my experience as a Data Analyst intern at Covanta Energy.

Finding My Grad School Internship

Like a lot of other graduate students in the space of data science/analytics, I was having a hard time looking for an internship opportunity. A day before I was supposed to fly back to India for winter break in December, I received the confirmation letter for the Data Analyst and Business Intelligence internship.

What is Covanta Energy?

Covanta Energy (publicly traded on NYSE as Covanta Holding Corporation – CVA) is a waste management company that produces energy from waste. The company collects waste materials from townships and municipalities and recycles the waste to produce energy. The company has over 50 waste management plants across the world. Most of those plants are located in the U.S.

I am part of Covanta’s Data Services team at the company headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. My job involves analyzing the data from Covanta’s waste management plants. This includes identifying reasons behind downtimes, the smoke and heat generated by boilers and turbines, the total plant carbon footprint, tons of waste collected, types and percentage of materials in the waste, and key performance indicators.

I primarily work on Power B.I., a Microsoft tool that builds interactive data visualization dashboards. My internship falls in line with my major in Information Management and Certification of Advanced Study in Data Science.

A Day on The Job

In the very first week of my internship, I had a chance to visit Covanta’s Essex, New Jersey-based waste management plant to understand the ways the company collects the data and to get familiar with Covanta’s business channels. During the 6 weeks, my supervisor gave me live data to analyze the factors that are causing downtime, filtering of unscheduled downtimes by facilities, coordinate and support team members with data.

My supervisor is also leading the launch of the company’s new initiative called Data Central. The project management class (IST 645) that I took last year at the iSchool also inspired me to proactively volunteer to be a coordinator for the Data Central initiative.

I’m using Microsoft Project to create work breakdown structure, schedule meetings, record, and communicate minutes of meetings among other things. Besides this, my core role still revolves around data analytics and visualization. Recently, I have started building models to find the factors that result to causing downtimes in facilities. This includes any correlations, dependencies, and associations between the variables that cause unscheduled downtimes, the statistical significance of these variables, and how can our team can mitigate downtimes.

Your “student” title is a luxury that will not remain with you forever. Learn as much as you can and ask as many questions you would like. No one will judge you and you’ll only grow.

What I Have Learned So Far

My experience, so far, has been a blend of learning data analytics in the real-world and coordinating the new initiative. The projects at work have reinforced the fact that in the real world, getting clean data is very rare. As a data analyst, you have to spend a majority of time in cleaning and preparing the data. Once the data is prepared, the visualization and analytics parts are easy. In my opinion, this is analogous to the philosophy of spending more time in sharpening the axe than cutting the tree.

Never stop asking questions and be a good listener. The initial days of your internship might be overwhelming because there’s so much to learn but you don’t know where to start. Eventually, you get used to the procedures, processes, and the culture of a new workplace.

Before getting a new assignment, I must ensure I understand the requirements because I have to be a good listener. I have to be a good speaker and a writer to communicate my findings. Doing the actual technical work gets my hands dirty. The whole life cycle of getting a new assignment is helping me grow holistically.

Advice to iSchoolers

Your “student” title is a luxury that will not remain with you forever. Learn as much as you can and ask as many questions you would like. No one will judge you, and you’ll only grow. Your internship is where the rubber meets the road as you leverage your class room learnings.  Make the most of it, and most importantly, never stop enjoying!