Edited by: Ridha Shemil
Design by: Shyam
It is that time of the year again. The internship season for the academic year 2022-2023 is in full swing. As you scramble to add finishing touches to your oh-so-perfect resume, it’s time to answer that question that has always been there in the back of your mind. What kind of internship would best fit you – a research-based one or a corporate-based one? Which will make your profile stand out amongst hundreds of others that pop up yearly? Can you jump the ship if you don’t like what you end up doing? Oh, bother! Isn’t that just a handful? Well, fret not! We at T5E bring you a one-stop guide to help you make the right choice to pursue the internship of your dreams!
Before we delve deeper into the question it is essential to have a clear idea of what each of these internships entails:
A Research Internship, also referred to as the Summer undergraduate Research Program (SRP) is an 8–10-week science research experience designed to train undergraduate students in scientific research. Each program typically consists of research under a principal investigator, professional development workshops, and a research presentation at the end of the program.
A Corporate Internship, also known as Industrial Internship is an official program offered by a company wherein the interns work either part-time or full-time at a company for a specific time period. Students usually work between one to four months with the larger aim to gain practical work-related experience in industries to aid their professional development.
This brings us to the big question. Which internship is better for your resume, research or industrial internship? Clearly, both internships have different purposes and come with their own unique set of benefits. Therefore, the internship you should opt for entirely depends upon what you seek out of it.
Long-term Career Goals
Are you passionate about research and academia? Does the thought of contributing to developing knowledge in a novel field of study appeal to you? Is a master’s degree or PhD in the works for you in the future? A research internship is the best fit for you.
Most interviewees who had plans for pursuing higher education in the future unanimously agreed that a research-oriented internship looks stellar on your resume and can give your profile that extra flair when applying for grad school. The possibility of potential publications, good LoRs and a robust network with international faculty can be game-changers when applying for foreign programs. For those who wish to get international exposure during their undergrad, the chances of getting it through a research internship is higher compared to a corporate one. Also, research internships are generally more flexible compared to their corporate counterparts.
The primary motive was to explore and see where my loyalties truly lie. With the pandemic, it was quite difficult to obtain hands-on experience without the laboratory experience. Unless you experience something, let it be the corporate world or the research field; you can’t be sure about either of them because the words of seniors are absolutely from their perspective.Prashanth
For those who are on the fence about whether to pursue a PhD or sit for placements, a research internship provides a glimpse of what grad school life would be like. This can help you figure out early on whether pursuing a career in academia is your cup of tea.
On the other hand, a corporate internship is best-suited for the go-getters, the ones who would like to link theory with practice and gain real-world experience outside of the classroom to put on a professional resume. You gain exposure to your field of interest by working in various organizations to explore career possibilities. Through the assignment of tasks and mentoring of the internship program, there is immense skill development which can help you in the rest of your college life or in future jobs.
Some interviewees were of the opinion that getting corporate internships is much easier than research since it involves a lot of work cold mailing profs. Corporate internships can be super helpful if you are eyeing a role in the industry.
I prefer roles with quick feedback cycles: something that gets deployed quickly and you can get feedback right away. All my interns were not R&D, instead they were deployed immediately: dealing with real life in nature.Pranav
For both kinds of internships, interviewees mostly had positive feedback on their experiences.
The lab mentors have been really supportive, and it feels great to see a very active involvement of the PI as well. I got to hone a lot of skills in my field as well, and it has been a great experience. I believe I’ve learned much more than the research work I’ve done here, both on the professional and personal front.Shashank
I have learnt a lot about how research works and even more about what works for me specifically. The journey so far has been a very educational experience.Vishnu
Some of the corporate internships were online while others took up offline ones. The ones who did online internships learnt a lot about corporate set-ups. However, they believed there was a glaring lack of people skills development as everything transpired from behind a screen. The ones who had offline internships got to work with real hardware to solve real problems, which is quite a different experience from what you learn in theory. The work you do during an internship represents what you would do if you accepted a full-time offer. Some added that the professional friendships you build and the colleagues you meet during your internship can sometimes be more valuable than the experience itself. They felt that the working environment was friendly and the senior employees were helpful in guiding the juniors.
The working environment has a college vibe, with senior employees guiding junior folks and newer employees (like profs). They do a lot of cutting-edge work.Pranav
Many students wish to move out abroad upon graduation. Research internships, in general, give you a better chance of going abroad. The brand value of the prestigious international internship, the more robust contacts of the prof and the excellent network you build during your stay enables more accessible opportunities to apply for foreign roles. As an added advantage, you can experience the country’s culture and visit places while working with a world-class team. International exposure in undergrad is often glamorized and the experience of living on your own also prepares you for grad school life.
Impact on Placements
Many corporates appreciate the intellectual capacity needed for research. The fact that you’re putting effort to contribute to a niche field plays in their favour. Most interviewees agreed that switching from research to corporate is easier than vice-versa. Doing a corporate internship, especially a non-core one, maybe a limiting factor for PhDs as they expect undergraduate research. But if the field of the corporate internship is the same as the program you are applying for, or if you worked in R&D; it is easier to make the switch.
One of the advantages of doing a corporate internship is that you can bypass placements if you get a PPO, giving you the option to do something worthwhile in that time.
What I’d expect is that any internship is valuable for either role. The work you do is more important than the type of intern.Abhishek
Surprisingly, most interviewees seemed to agree that money received in exchange for work performed was not really a significant consideration when choosing between the two types of internships. They gave far more significance to the kind of work that they did. However, the money required to travel and obtain other essentials was necessary, especially for international programs.
For an international internship especially, you must be absolutely sure you can spend your time peacefully. Either you have to ensure this from the stipend, or you should have financial support from your parents.Prashanth
From what I’ve seen my friends go through, research interns don’t generally help you with your accommodation or travel unless you go through a specialised program. On the other hand, most corporate interns in India will help in this aspect.Pranav
Travel and accommodation assistance was not a significant concern for domestic internships, but was helpful when received.
The consensus was that the stipend would be competitive with all but the most well-paying corporate internships if the research internship were obtained through a scholarship or program.
If the monetary aspect is a major concern, it is advisable to check whether this information is applicable to the specific programs or companies you wish to apply for.
Preparation strategies for the two types of internships are vastly different. For research internships, preparation is protracted and involves putting in effort over a longer duration. On the other hand, the process for corporate internships is more streamlined but may involve intensive effort for a short period of time for certain roles.
Research internship-specific preparation
- A good CGPA is desirable.
- Letters of recommendation are necessary for research internship programs, preferably from professors with whom you have worked on a project. If that is not possible, then professors who provided guidance for course projects can be approached instead.
- Previous research experience shall be helpful.
- Deadlines for each research internship program must be tracked.
- Many programmes require a written statement of purpose (SOP).
- If you are applying outside of internship programmes, you need to find professors who believe you will be a valuable asset to their research group.
Corporate internship-specific preparation
- Look for courses that cover topics relevant to your target field and take them before the test and interviews begin.
- Supplement learnings with online courses.
- Try to perform projects or assignments similar to the profile you wish to apply for: they are especially useful for interviews.
- The process varies from role to role. Find information about the preparation needed for the role(s) you wish to apply for.
- Off-campus internships are also a good choice for certain roles
Trying to get an off campus intern is not as scary as I’ve thought! The IIT tag is quite helpful. My original role in my summer intern was not my first choice, if I’d known this earlier, I might have tried off campus in a role that better suited my interests.Suraj
One significant advantage of the institute internship drive highlighted by multiple interviewees was the highly reduced administrative burden on the student: companies are brought to the college and information is disseminated systematically. Those who chose corporate over research set-ups were frustrated by the lack of easily accessible information on research internships.
Half the work for corporate, if you’re sitting through insti interns, is done by the intern team. Your only concern is prepping for the field you want an intern in.Abhishek
Regrets of and Advice from Your Seniors
A widely held regret was that not enough time was spent looking for other opportunities and more information. There are a lot of scholarships available for research interns and off-campus opportunities for corporate interns, and looking into all opportunities would be very beneficial.
Several interviewees wish they had approached more seniors earlier in their college life because their suggestions were very helpful in the later stages. Another recurring pearl of wisdom was to keep multiple options open and to avoid closing open doors (for example by turning down an open offer) unless doing so deprives someone of an opportunity.
Time management was considered a very important skill for research internships. Any department-mandated activities (such as compulsory core internships) would best be completed as early as possible so that there is the freedom to manoeuvre later on.
Do not wait till the last moment. There could be tons of issues at the last moment, including bugs with the application portal, internet connections, etc. and the deadlines would most likely not be extended.Shashank
Another valuable piece of advice was that research, in general, is a meandering process, where focusing just on results might be detrimental. Keeping this in mind during your work would be helpful. Also, awareness about the importance of a high CGPA and impressive LoRs for a research career would have been useful in choosing either option.
Research is demanding and it may feel like it drags on with no real progress. Patience is key and while it is not important during the preparation, it will be very valuable to keep it in mind during the internship itself.Vishnu
For those who pursued corporate internships, more than one regretted not pursuing research internships more seriously, especially early in their college life. They believed that transitioning from a research focus to a corporate focus was easier than making the opposite switch.
Final Pearls of Wisdom
The most crucial step in making the choice between a research and a corporate internship seems to be obtaining information on each route. It is also vital to make a choice that suits your interests and preferences. To this end, the interviewees suggest talking to as many seniors as possible and going through information curated by the internship, placement and international relations teams.
From all the interviews, an unspoken rule seems to be to make a choice is that it is very closely related to your temperament and work ethic. The best way to understand this would be to experience a variety of different work settings and pick that which fascinates you about each.
However, most interviewees agreed that neither type of internship completely locks you into a career path, but the kind of work you do should ideally be closely related to what you would want to perform for the foreseeable future. If you are struggling to make the choice, sit down and brainstorm on the kind of work and setting in which you would like to see yourself and consider the above-mentioned factors. Ultimately, follow your heart and prioritize your preferences before making a decision!
T5E would like to thank the following students for being wonderfully patient and helping us out with this article:
Pranav Hari, CE17
Abhishek Sekhar, EE18
Anish Kumar, EP18
Suraj Rathi, ME19
Shashank Nag, EE19
Gautham Govind A, EE19
Prashanth S, ME19
Vishnu Vinod, CS19