Bryan Adams got his ‘first real six-string’ at the five-and-dime and played it ’til his fingers bled in the summer of ’69.
For Priyatharrshan, Abhimanyu, Nithish, Dev, Sanjana, Gautham, Navneeth and Sankalpa, the summer of ‘20 was spent thulping their Summer Research Internships despite the COVID-19 agony and so, T5E approached them in the good ol’ insti way- “pls to put fundaes saar.”
To put some context before we proceed with the fundaes:
- Priyatharrshan S K, Mechanical Engineering (4th year) interned at GIPSA Lab, Grenoble Alpes INP, France.
- Abhimanyu Swaroop, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering (4th Year) interned at University of Michigan.
- Nithish Venkatesh, Biotechnology, (3rd Year) interned at AstraZeneca Pharma and with IIM Kozhikode.
- Dev Yashpal Sheth, Computer Science, Dual (4th year) interned at New York University.
- Sanjana Prabhu, Electrical Engineering (4th year) interned at University of Michigan.
- Gautham Umasankar, Electrical Engineering (4th year) interned at Purdue University.
- Navneeth Srinivasan, Chemical Engineering, 4th year interned at Purdue University.
- Sankalpa Venkatraghavan, Biotechnology, 4th year interned at Harvard Medical School.
The Application Process
“The process of obtaining a research internship can be split into two parts. First- applying to scholarship programs and second- cold mailing professors, as a backup plan: in case you don’t make it through the programs.”
He added, “I started cold emailing professors around the last week of October. After cold mailing about 40-50 professors, I got my first acceptance at the University of Michigan.”
“I mailed various professors hoping for that one professor to check my mail and reply ‘Hmmm, seems interesting. Let’s talk’”
As Nithish eloquently put: all we need is a success rate of at least 1%; even if 99 of our proposals were rejected out of the 100 we aspired for, all we need is one acceptance for an intern. So, while it is understandable to get disheartened, we must keep persisting in our efforts.
His application process, unlike the rest, was a bit unconventional. As a second-year student (at that time) he felt like he had absolutely no skills, and yet has a keen desire to explore the corporate world. He realised that networking is the key to bagging an intern in this case:
“I had the chance to talk to AstraZeneca Chennai’s team during their visit to Shaastra 2020 and struck up a conversation with them. After sharing some insights and current scenarios about the industry and their roles in the company, I asked if I could interview for a role in their team for Data Analysis.”
He mentioned that after what seemed like infinite follow-ups and reminders, he finally got an interview and later, an offer. (The whole process itself took about two months for him.)
“CG relevance can be considered as the amount of fight you need to put to get a research internship and scales inversely with your CGPA. A CGPA > 9.5 translates to multiple offers from summer programs. CG < 9.0 translates to nearly 500 mails.”
They unanimously agreed that CGPA in general, does weigh in (if not heavily) for research interns while applying to highly competitive scholarship programmes. Unless of course, you have an extremely impressive resume – with say, a lot of varied research experiences, publications and projects, as explained by Navneeth.
Abhimanyu added that it might even offset the lack of research experience in rare cases. Having a good CG (say around close to 9) and decent research experience will help you move ahead of the curve.
Influence of previous experiences and PoRs
“I am part of the Raftar Formula racing team. Thus, the next statement follows – I didn’t have any other PoRs or Intern experience. In my case, whatever I pitched had to be based on the projects I worked on in Raftaar (related to Vehicle Dynamics). PoRs don’t help you as such in landing internships, and as with my case, the skills and knowledge gained being part of the team did play a crucial role.”
Nithish believed that online learning contributed to his skill set required in the internship.
Sankalpa felt that her research experience through iGEM, summer projects and other internships played a significant role in bagging the intern.
Expectation vs Reality moments
“My perception of a research internship was thrown out of the window.”
He added, “With research, you’re diving into an ocean, and it takes courage and perseverance to get to the bottom of it (the right results), even though you seem to be getting nowhere. Four months is never sufficient for even any small research work. Nonetheless, the learnings are huge and are only limited by your willingness to embrace them.”
Describing his expectation vs reality moments in the duration of his intern said, “I thought research work is more glamorous. But I spent most of the first few weeks reading lots and lots of research papers.”
“I expected some “aha” moments with some epic breakthrough where I solve the problem statement, and I become the hero of the day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Every day in the internship you learn and grow, you make mistakes and rectify them. I realised it’s a slow progress to the result and cannot be forced.”
The main takeaway from his intern was his understanding of the grind that is involved in research, “Though they are boring, work will never proceed at the scale at which it can, if we don’t do these supplementary tasks”, he explains.
An internship during the worldwide COVID pandemic undoubtedly brought in several hassles. Priyatharrshan said, “To start with, how about having your Charpak scholarship rescinded? Top it off with having to stay home while only months ago, you were dreaming of working in a research lab and living in France…”
Luckily, some of them had the opportunity to convert their internships to WFH amidst the pandemic. (although the scholarship(s) were rescinded)
Dev mentions that the general structure and hierarchy of projects was quite different from what we are familiar with in insti. The only time things move quickly in the US as an intern or project associate is when you are chasing deadlines.
Gautham shared that the field he pursued his internship in was tangential to his initial interests, and this was a consequence of the internship becoming virtual.
Abhimanyu explained that the major issue he faced during the intern was the difference in time zones:
“Whenever I reached a dead end (which often happened because I was working on a completely new research topic), I had to wait until it was morning in the US to get in touch with my advisor to look for a way forward. This made the work slower than what it should have been.”
Sanjana says, “The intern made me realise that research is a challenging and slow process, albeit very satisfying when your research yields results.”
Sanjana and Sankalpa both agree that despite not being able to be physically present in the research lab, the whole experience was very positive. They had regular meetings with their advisors and the other researchers in the laboratory, as was in Sanjana’s case. She felt that her advisor helped her recognise her strengths and weaknesses, and therefore this internship played a vital role in deciding the next step in her career.
Sankalpa felt that the mentorship she received was the highlight of her summer. “The lab”, she added, “had a focus on student growth and health. They believe that happy, content students are the most productive.”
The Competition Faced
“Competition is quite tough actually, in the CG sense there are obviously lots of people with enviable CG in IITM and other IITs in India.”
Gautham explained that the competitors applying and getting selected for the scholarship programmes would be our batchmates who are oriented towards research from a slightly early stage. They would have done projects in relevant areas, along with the experience and ability to pitch their interests clearly in their SoPs and CVs. Most of them would have a decent CG and would be good performers in the academic scene too.
Priyatharrshan added that even the expectations and requirements vary among the professors working in the same field.
“Almost all my seniors were selected for a scholarship program. This made me believe that getting into the programs was relatively easy, and almost everyone makes it.”
In conclusion to our tiny T5E version of a fundae-session, we leave you with something to brood on:
“How people perceive you, sometimes matters more than your academic prowess.”-Nithish
DISCLAIMER: All advice presented is sourced from current insti students who have done research internships. Please take this advice at your own discretion.
Special thanks to all those who contributed and agreed to share their wonderful experiences with us!