Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Interned at MIT in the field of Computational Astrophysics
I am an undergraduate student in Engineering Physics. I had always been interested in Physics and its application using Computer Science concepts, which was also one of the reasons why I chose the mentioned branch. Research had always been on my mind, and the second year was the best time to explore if this was my path.
The fundamental step for me was to organize all the pointers in the CV in the best possible manner, which included sections like educational background, Scholastic Achievements, Projects, the relevant coursework till that time and extracurriculars. For astrophysics, PYL 101, COL 100, and some 2nd year EP courses were helpful, hence I explicitly mentioned them. Most students don't have a project, so an excellent way to stand out is to take up a project under a professor, and if that too is cumbersome, you can try for a self-project on online websites. It expresses that you are not just stuck to the coursework but instead trying to explore something out of the box. Though PORs and ECAs don't carry that much weight for a research/tech internship, the significant ones can be mentioned to reflect that your CV is well-rounded.
It is a multi-iterative process, and make sure you get your CV reviewed by multiple seniors. I mainly targeted US and European Universities as they have better QS Rankings. For the same, I used QS World rankings.org and made a list of the professors, mainly working in my area of interest.
The next major step for me was to draft a cover letter, which mainly consisted of three paragraphs. The first was my introduction and objective; the middle encompassed my research projects and the coursework I have done till date. The last one mainly talked about my field of interest and was slightly customized according to the professor. It is highly advised to include what incentive the professor gets by accepting you as an intern in the latter. Make sure to attach your resume as a hyperlink. Otherwise, it is highly likely to get buried in the spam folder.
I started mailing in mid-November, which was a bit late and made me anxious, but things turned out pretty well. The probability of getting back a reply is very less, out of which the chances of a favorable response is much lesser. I tried to materialize those positive responses into interviews/interactions.
Branch plays an important role and carries a lot of weight if it is related to the field in which you are applying. To apply in an area not related to your branch, it becomes essential to prove your understanding through some projects or stuff.
FYI, Professors are more genuinely interested in your enthusiasm, so CG becomes a less critical factor. One of the fundamental reasons for that is: Foreign Universities don't carry the belief that grades are a reflection of your intellect. But a good CG is always a feather in your cap.
The Internship Experience
My internship was in Computational Astrophysics, where my role was to estimate the sizes of high redshift galaxies and match them to the prediction using computational programming, mainly Python. For the same, I had to read up on cosmology, astrophysics, the Big Bang Theory and the era of reionization. Having an offline internship when most of the people around me had an online one, gave me an extra edge in having a wholesome experience. Face-to-face interactions with the professor, no doubt, add a new dimension to your exposure. Online internships get mundane and demotivating, and there is hardly any space for interaction.
You get a lot of freedom from foreign universities regarding the courses you can take. It is a very wholesome process, unlike how competitive it is at IIT Delhi.
Students, there were quite active in extracurriculars and generally followed a healthy lifestyle. The faculty I worked with was not very particular about deadlines and gave me proper time to understand the crux of the topic.
Key Experiences and Takeaways
This internship opened my mind about later perspectives and motivated me to choose research as my career path. As I said, it was a perfect combination of physics and computational astrophysics. Hence, it is the best time for you to explore your interests.
Regarding funding for the internship, I had gotten the Birla Dogra scholarship from IIT Delhi. Even if you don't get a funded internship, the learning you get is far more valuable and worth the investment. During the cold mass mailing season, don't get disheartened if you are not getting replies. There is definitely something exciting stored for you in future.
Interviewed by - Prisha Jain