Updated: Jan 8
Dhruv Gupta, CS1
Interned at Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research, Germany
Choosing and Applying for Internships through OCS
My first year ended in August 2020 because the pandemic delayed it. So, I was still in the second semester, and about a month was left when the OCS internship process started. People had told me that it is majorly for third-year students only and that there are very few companies for second-year students. But at the last moment, I decided to apply for an internship through OCS. The primary metric for me was that I wanted to do an international internship. I knew there were three ways to have a foreign experience - second-year internship, third-year internship, or a foreign exchange program. But I wanted to secure this first and think about the third-year internship and forex later. So I decided to apply to foreign universities and companies in my second year.
There were only four options for second-year students – Sony Japan, Bending Spoons Italy, Max Planck Germany, and MIT Labs. I applied to Sony and was shortlisted for the interview along with nine seniors. Unfortunately, Sony couldn’t get any interns that year due to some issues with the management. I also made it to the final stage of Bending Spoons. Max Planck was the one I finally got into. Max Planck is an institute that primarily has researchers and no professors. I managed to land that because I did well in the interview round as well. I have previous experience in the field of astronomy, and that was helpful in the interview.
Many people are of the opinion that OCS only lands you corporate internships, and that is wrong. They have research internships, and the number is increasing every year. Look out for those because the third-year students generally don't go for research.
Initially, I wasn’t going to apply through OCS because I had been told that it’s mostly for third-year students. On the very last day of CV submission, I decided to apply through OCS and drafted my CV in a hurry. I did not have anything groundbreaking to add in the CV. So, I decided just to write the achievements and projects I had in an interesting way. I ensured that the CV looks beautiful and the page does not look empty. So, I did not use the standard sizes people go for. I made small changes like having square bullet points rather than circular ones to stand out a bit. My JEE rank and CGPA were the only things I had that made me stand out. Most of my achievements were scholastic achievements from school, such as NTSE, KVPY, and Olympiads. Half of the page just contained school achievements. Apart from that, I mentioned a project I had done under the chemical department and a course I did from Coursera about computer architecture.
The interviews are not just focused on coding or AI/ML but they also do ask a lot of things about your CV. For example, there were multiple interviewers in the Max Planck interview, and each had a different department. One of them was from the field of Simulation, another from Physics, one from ML, etc. Everyone asked their questions in their own way, and they talked about the things I had mentioned in my CV, which were related to their field. The interviewer from the physics department asked me a JEE-type question. He asked me what would happen to a charged particle when placed in a magnetic field because he saw PYL101, the electromagnetics course, in my CV. Since this was only my second-year internship, I did not have much experience in AI/ML. The Sony interview was an ML interview. So, I told the interviewers that I do not know those things but am willing to learn. I asked them to ask me anything from what I have on the CV. Also, I have a habit of thinking of answers as I speak. In the Bending Spoons interview, the interviewers did not like it when I was thinking in the wrong direction before getting to the correct answer. They advised me to think before answering.
The project’s goal was to gather spectral observations from Venus, look manually at the data and predict the velocity distribution across the atmosphere at a given height. As you move from the center of the planet towards the corners, the height increases. The difference of these heights can be used to calculate the velocity distribution or the concentration of any species in the atmosphere. At the time, they were using exact physical methods. But they wanted to apply ML to the model so that we could give it observations and it learns on its own. The internship research project was starting with me. So my work was centered around the initial stages. My work was data cleaning and researching what spectrometers could be used for this project, considering things like their features, cost, etc. It was a simple Principal Component Analysis (PCA).
Research vs. Corporate Internships
I wanted to experience both research and corporate at least once, and that is the general idea most people have. In the third year, most people prefer to do corporate internships because they are a significant turning point as you can get PPOs. Initially, I wanted to pursue a corporate internship, which is why I had applied to corporate firms, but along the way, I realized that if I landed one of those internships, I would never be able to experience research. So, I did not take the corporate opportunities and continued with research.
Well, the process of applying for internships was undoubtedly a tremendous experience. It gave me a lot of exposure as I spoke to many people from all over the world. One especially important thing was that I could gain an insight into their way of thinking. The internship itself was not very enriching because it was online, and I had to carry out my research from home. The interaction was also only with the professor, so there wasn’t any networking.
Final message for readers
Do not miss any opportunities because someone else comments that it isn’t for you or isn’t right. There is this opinion that it isn’t worth it to apply through OCS because you won’t get anything in the second year. There is also the opinion that you need to send 500 emails to land an internship. Don’t think about these things. OCS has research opportunities as well. It would be best if you experienced stuff on your own. Talk to seniors but don’t completely go along with anything they say.
Interviewed by: Arush Utkarsh