A Holistic Guide to Research Internships — Domestic and International

Note: The entire content of this blog is based on my experience, understanding and the information collected from multiple students of IIT KGP (senior to me), who have previously secured a research internship. I have tried my best to outline every single detail so that it benefits you. Please let me know your views on this.

Introduction

A research experience along with a 3–4 month stay in a different country sounds fascinating to almost everyone. At an undergraduate level, one of the few ways to visit a different country can be via these academic internships.

Getting an internship abroad or in India for that matter is a function of multiple things including your research experience, academic background, and an attractive resume. Apart from these aesthetics, you need to work hard and most importantly, you need to be extremely patient. It seems easy in the initial stages but as time passes by, people tend to become restless.
The process is more or less similar for domestic and international internships. However, it must be noted that the latter might be a little bit extensive and time-consuming.
Even if you aren’t able to secure an internship, you will have gained a lot of knowledge and professional etiquette at the end of the application process.

I have concluded this blog with my experience of the entire procedure and what was the reward that I received at the end ;)

General information

  1. The application process for research internships can be broadly classified into 3 types — Research internship programs, Personal mailing, and International Relations Cell’s Foreign Training Portal (FTP).
    For programs, you can visit their website, check the eligibility criteria, and go ahead with the application procedure as directed by the portal.
    Personal mailing has a different process and I have described this as well.
    Lastly, the FTP is similar to the internship programs’ portals wherein you’ll have to create an account using your institute’s email ID. You’ll get notifications about new projects and their application deadlines on IR Cell’s social media pages.
  2. Curriculum Vitae / Resume: For research, the professors/scientists are relatively more interested in your projects, internships, skills and coursework, research interests, publications (if any), and academic scores. Unlike corporate internships, positions of responsibility don’t have a significant effect on your profile. However, you should mention everything which you believe is relevant to your profile.
    Academic CVs should be around 1–2 pages long at max. It should be noted that if you are extending your CV to the 2nd page, then you should fill at least 40% of the 2nd page. Otherwise, you’ll have to wrap everything within the 1st page itself.
    Needless to say, you shouldn’t include random, irrelevant, and deceitful facts in your CV because you might be exposed easily in the interviews which will ultimately lead to the rejection of your application.
    You can use Overleaf to make your CV with readily available templates online. Here’s my resume for your reference.
    Lastly, you should try to avoid having extensive white spaces and a single point in multiple lines. You don’t need to include every minute detail associated with the project/internship. You’ll get the chance to explain your contribution to the project in the interviews. Get your CV verified by seniors before sending it to the professors.
  3. Email Template / Cover Letter: This is one of the key things when you are trying to get an internship by emailing the professor/scientist. A casually written email might not receive a reply from the recipient and hence even if you have an excellent profile, it won’t help you. Therefore, it's extremely important to have a customized email template. Here’s a sample one that I modified as per my requirement:-

Respected Dr. ABC,
1. I, *your name*, am a third/second year undergraduate student of the *your department*, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. I am looking for an undergraduate research assistantship opportunity of 2–3 months.

2. I have worked on multiple projects related to *your project experience in brief*. Primarily, my interests lie in the field of *your research interests*. Some of my projects are:-
*Mention some of your projects*

3. I came to know about your work and research interests from your publication Publication Name. I found it to be extremely interesting and insightful. Based on this, I identified that my research interests align with that of yours.

4. I am thankful to you for your valuable time for going through my application. I would be obliged if you can let me know about any such vacancy under your guidance.

  1. 1st paragraph should contain your introduction. You should also mention that you’re looking for a research opportunity for a given time period.
    IMPORTANT: Never ever mention the word “internship” in the entire email content. This will trigger the spam filter and your email won’t reach the recipient. Along with this, all the emails that you’ll send in the future will also be marked as “spam”.
  2. 2nd paragraph comprises your research interests and projects. You should briefly mention the details in this section.
  3. In my opinion, this is a crucial section of the entire email content. If you mention a publication authored by the professor, it shows that you are genuinely interested in his/her research and also, you have gone through his/her work. You can be more descriptive than what I have mentioned like, “I really liked your approach of handling this issue with this method.”, “You could have tried this for solving the issue”, etc.
  4. Lastly, it's very important to thank him/her because the professors are very busy with their activities and despite this, they have considered your application.
  5. You should always send the documents like a resume, SOP, academic transcripts, etc. as a Google Drive or OneDrive link instead of PDFs. This is because of the fact that PDFs from unknown sources can once again trigger the spam filter.

Follow-up emails and replies

It's very common to see your emails getting ignored by the recipients and hence you’ll have to send follow-up emails. In this, you can simply ask whether they have any updates regarding your application or not. Ideally, you should send a follow-up email if your initial email has not been read or you haven’t received any reply within 4 days. And you should send 2 follow-up emails per professor at max.
However, if you do receive their response stating that they won’t be able to offer any position to you for some reason, then you should reply saying that you are thankful to him/her for their time.

3. List of professors/scientists: This helped me a lot in keeping track of the emails sent to the professors, their universities and contact details, etc. You can prepare this anytime you want since the only thing you need to do this is the internet. Search for professors/labs/scientists/universities according to your field of interest, check the professors’ profiles and if they seem favorable to you, then enter the info in your sheet. Look at the image below for reference.

4. Email tracking and scheduling: It's not a professional method to track the status of the email you have sent to someone. But, it helps you to plan your follow-up emails accordingly. There are many such extensions for Gmail like Mailtrack, Sortd, etc.
Secondly, no matter where in the entire world, you are planning to send an email, you should always schedule your email such that it is delivered to the concerned person at around 9:30–10:30 AM on Tuesdays-Fridays. You can even try to send the emails on Mondays as well, but since it's just after the weekend, they might already have a lot of emails to deal with, which will lead to your email getting ignored unintentionally.
If you schedule an email at the above time, it's very likely that the professor will read the email, since this is the duration when they generally check their inbox at the beginning of the day. Out of all the emails that I have sent, almost 80–90% of them were read by the concerned professors.

5. Interviews: Generally, Ph.D. scholars of the concerned professor/scientist conduct the interviews. In some cases, the professor may be the host as well. Nevertheless, these interviews aren’t as stringent as corporate ones. They allow you to explain your ideas, your experience, and interests, etc. If you aren’t confident enough, then you can watch a couple of videos on youtube and that should suffice. There are a few cases in which the candidates weren’t interviewed and they were selected directly, but it doesn’t occur frequently. As a part of this interview, they also explain the project that you may get the chance to work on and sometimes they collect your views on this as well.

6. Statement of Purpose (SOP): You don’t have to send the SOP along with the email. Although, they may explicitly ask you to send one. SOPs are mostly required in internship programs wherein there are multiple applicants and they want to have an understanding of why do you want to apply for this internship, how would it benefit you, etc.
You can easily find templates online by searching for “SOP templates for masters”, “SOP templates for Ph.D.”, and “SOP templates for research internships”.
I have a couple of templates that I can share with you if required. You must be aware of the fact that SOPs have a very significant weightage in your application and therefore, do get them verified by seniors beforehand.

7. Letter of Recommendation (LoR): LoRs are required for programs. You can contact your project supervisor, a course professor if you have received a good grade in the concerned subject, and in some cases, your faculty advisors as well. However, it is highly recommended that you approach the professors in the first 2 categories. Contact the concerned professor at least 45 days before the application deadline. This will give them enough time to prepare the LoR and hence you won’t face any issues.

Research Internship programs

  1. Mitacs Globalink Research Internship, Canada
  2. DAAD, Germany
  3. University of Alberta Research Experience (UARE), Canada
  4. Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Research Internship program, Japan
  5. Honda YES, Japan
  6. University of Tokyo (UTokyo) Summer Internship Program, Japan
  7. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) India Connect Research Internship Programme, Singapore
  8. Robotics Institute Summer Scholar (RISS), Carnegie Mellon University, USA
  9. CERN Summer Student Program, Switzerland
  10. CHARPAK, France
  11. EPFL, Switzerland
  12. Visiting Student Researcher Program, University of Ottawa, Canada
  13. Max Planck Institute of Software Systems, Germany
  14. Internship in Global Engineering & Advanced Research, Michigan State University, USA

My Experience

  1. I started emailing professors from the 2nd week of Sep’20. And this continued till the last week of Dec’20. The total number of emails that I had sent in this period is 872!!!!! This is more than what people do to get such internships, nevertheless, I did it.
    As I mentioned above, I scheduled my emails such that they reached the prof’s inbox at the most favorable time.
    However, due to the pandemic, more than 75% of the responses that I got mentioned that they are uncertain about the summer activities. So, either they asked me to contact them later or they rejected my application for this reason.
  2. I had applied for a couple of programs as well. I was interviewed for a few of ’em, but as it turned out, they insisted on remote internships, and I didn’t want a remote interaction this summer. As a result, I wasn’t selected for any of the programs.
  3. Finally, around the 1st week of Jan’21, I decided to contact professors for remote projects starting at their earliest convenience. For this, I received 3 replies from RWTH Aachen University, The Ohio State University, and Carnegie Mellon University.
    The latter offered an offline internship in the summers’21 initially, but due to VISA issues, they finally decided not to go ahead with this. As for RWTH Aachen, they were insisting on summer projects remotely. Hence I rejected this offer.
    Finally, after a few meetings with the Research Scientist and the Ph.D. scholar from the CAR, The Ohio State University, I was selected!!
  4. For the summers, I had a backup offer and hence, I didn’t have a stressful situation in general. This might not be the case with everyone but you have to keep going until you get what you want.

Misconceptions

  1. I have a decent/relatively lower CGPA. I don’t think I should apply as I won’t be selected anyways.

Ans. There’s no denying the fact that a good CGPA is required for such internships. But it isn’t always the case. I know a lot of guys who managed to get internships at various universities despite having a lower CGPA. You have to understand that they are interested in your profile as well, and not just academics.

2. “I don’t have any publication. Can I get selected?

Ans. Having a research paper with your initials will surely make you stand out but once again, the profs don’t function as a god damn filter wherein they reject the applications without any publication. Frankly speaking, I don’t have a publication as of now, still, I got the opportunity;)
They are interested in your profile and they go through your application completely before rejecting it. However, it should be noted that due to a large number of applications, there is some peculiar filtering technique that might be based on CGPA, experience relevant to the planned project, academic background, etc.

Lastly, I would like to mention that getting a research internship is like a marathon, unlike corporate internships which are essentially a sprint race. You’ll have to consider the bigger picture before giving up due to negative or unfavorable responses to your emails/applications. Patience and perseverance are the attributes that you must have (or develop) over time.

Feel free to contact me, in case of any doubts. I’ll be happy to assist you :)

Thank you for reading! Hope you enjoyed it.

My personal website — Keshav Bagri

Good Luck!!!

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IIT Kharagpur’22 | Mechanical Engineering | Hungry and foolish soul | Website: keshavbagri.live

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Keshav Bagri

Keshav Bagri

IIT Kharagpur’22 | Mechanical Engineering | Hungry and foolish soul | Website: keshavbagri.live

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