The third year internship – there is always a lot of hype about it. It is true – in a way it is an important summer – because it could (not necessarily) potentially shape what you will do after graduation. Some people apply for industrial internships, some people apply for research internships, and some people apply for both.
I was always a person who was more oriented towards academics, learning, and higher studies – hence, in my summer plans, I had decided that I would try for a coveted “foreign research intern” in my third year. I had decided this quite early on, I guess – but coming from a fairly good research internship at IUCAA, Pune in my second year summer, I had formally fixated my goal on getting a research internship in a foreign university.
I was doing fairly well in my courses as well – I was the branch topper at that time – which made me feel very confident that I would get a research opportunity at an esteemed university.
I was a person who never looked at secondary options first.
Thus, in September, I did not apply for any industrial internship opportunity that came to the campus – I only wanted a research intern! There were multiple opportunities for research internships – DAAD, S N Bose, MITACS, Charpak, IAS, etc. that I could apply to. Surely I would get into one of those.
I was a bit late in figuring out the application procedure for DAAD, so by the time October arrived I did not get enough time to email professors in German institutes about research opportunities. So, in my 5th semester, I only applied to MITACS and S N Bose, which came around the months of October and November. I applied to those opportunities, and eagerly waited for news over December.
But no news came.
The 6th semester started, and I started working on a research project with a professor in the Electrical Department at IITM. Thus, during the first two months of my 6th semester, I got busy in courses and project work, and the months flew by without me hearing back from any opportunity.
By March, I started to get a bit worried. I emailed a few professors at research institutes in France as well – but none responded positively. Towards late March, there was another opportunity to go to NTU – wherein a number of students from IITM were selected to work on research projects in NTU. I applied for that through the OIR office – and I did clear the initial screening! I was waiting for a final email of acceptance from NTU – and even though I had a few email correspondences with an NTU professor – that final acceptance email never came.
Meanwhile, research internships through IAS (Indian Academy of Sciences) were a possibility, but I was not selected among those. All this dragged onto mid-April. At that point, I was really worried. The semester was ending in a month and I still had not figured out what to do during the summer!
I frantically emailed a couple of IISc professors – just to see if I had an outside chance of getting a project to work on over there, but the responses were negative again – surely it was a bit too late. I felt really bad – all that confidence that I had earlier on about me getting an intern had degraded. It was definitely a low point.
During the last week of April, I came across a CFI email about an internship opportunity in a startup in Chennai by IITM students – it was about using image processing and vision techniques to detect milk adulteration – and it seemed like a good opportunity to take (Honestly, I would’ve grabbed any opportunity within my interests that came across, because I was not in a position to be selective). The people liked me, and I liked the opportunity, so I plunged for it, and spent my summer in IITM.
Just before the start of summer, I thought that – compared to what I had imagined about summer in my 5th semester – this was certainly not even close to that. I was really sad, and in general got a little disinterested in doing anything. It took a while, about a week, but I decided that there is no point in sulking.I had to move on, and work and give my best for what’s next.
In the end, I learnt a lot over the internship – I got more freedom to test out new methods, techniques, and also learn about what can be useful in the industry. It was a great learning experience, and this internship helped me in gaining more academic knowledge as well. Since I was staying at IITM itself – I did not need time settling down – and I used my time well to prepare for the GRE as well. Slowly, I felt better, I regained my confidence (but not over-confidence this time) in my abilities.
Since this was really the first time I had experienced failure on such a large magnitude, it had definitely hit me, and I learnt that things like these could happen, but one needs to pick themselves up from such situations.
By the end of summer, I started to feel confident about myself again, and started my B.Tech Project (BTP) with renewed enthusiasm. The fact that I did not have a foreign research internship on my resume did not deter me from applying for MS programs to universities. I obtained good GRE and TOEFL scores, and was enjoying the research that I was doing as part of my BTP.
By November, I had submitted a conference paper as part of my BTP. In the end, it all panned out well, and I was happy to receive MS admits from 5 out of 10 US universities I had applied to!
Looking back, I would say that I was a bit over-confident, a bit too complacent (in passing up opportunities like DAAD, or industry internships), maybe a bit too lax in my 3rd year research intern applications – so I would advise against being complacent! And even though one is careful doing all this – things might not work out unfortunately. But it is important to know that in such cases, all is not lost.
That’s the best thing about undergrad – you can mess up – but it seems to have lesser consequences in the long run. There is really nothing terrible about not getting that cool “foreign research intern”. In fact, IITM professors really do good research and one should also consider such opportunities. In the end, I’d like to say that one may definitely experience bad luck and failure at times, but it’s all about your mindset and your outlook towards whatever life throws at you.
About the author:
Bhargav Ghanekar, graduated with a BTech. Engg Physics in 2018. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, with computational imaging as a field of interest. An avid sports fan, he loves to play football and dabbles in math and music, among many other things.