Priyal Jain (MT6)
Interned at NUS, Singapore
My aim was to explore, travel and get exposure. I had always wanted to go into tech/quant, but ruling out research as an option without trying it wasn't a good idea. I wanted to experience what research offers to make a wise decision.
Mailing and Application:
I talked to many seniors and assimilated their experiences before joining the process. I also looked at as many cover letters as I could, so that I could get a hang of how to make one myself. Due to exams and quizzes, I could not mail in October and November. However, I prepared my CV during those months. It was a very lengthy process. I started mailing in early December and targeted Europe and Australia. Since I didn't believe in mass mailing, I personalised the emails by changing the professor's name, the topic of the project, the title of their research paper and a little abstract of their work. I also drew parallels between what their research has been about and what I had been taught in my courses at college. For example, I mentioned a few of my COL106 projects, which were similar to the internship, giving the professor an idea of my knowledge. I wrote critical points in my Cover Letter and CV in bold and scheduled the emails for early morning, around 8 to 9 a.m., in the professor's time zone, as it increases the chances of them reading your emails. However, December is a bit late to start the mailing process, and because of this, I didn't get many positive responses.
However, there was a meeting on the subject of research internships at the beginning of January for Kailash and Himadri students wherein seniors put forth their learnings and advised us. I then learned that universities in Singapore easily accept research interns. I was disheartened by then and decided to give it my last shot. I sent out four emails in January after that and luckily got an affirmative response from one of the four professors. He interviewed me with some questions related to the COL106 assignments I had mentioned in my CV. He also asked about my interest in research and later briefed me about the project.
The Internship: Experience and Learning
My internship was in Blockchain. I was working with a PhD student on certain mathematical concepts of the project which involved a literature review on the same. I had to read papers and theses and discuss and review them. I also had to read a book on zero knowledge, and my research revolved around the concept of a supernova. It was a two-month-long onsite internship. The professor held 3-hour meetings on Wednesday each week with the entire lot, and one person had to present. They used to write and discuss content for hours and hours without getting tired. I loved those meetings, interacted with PhD groups and learnt a lot. The entire course was flexible because there were no deadlines or strict working hours.
It was my first time in a foreign country and it was a wonderful experience. The accommodation there was quite expensive, so I stayed at a friend's relative's place, which was quite affordable and fully furnished. I travelled a lot on weekends and met some brilliant people, I learnt a lot about Chinese culture, and I also went to Bali, where I did scuba diving and rafting for the first time. One thing I loved the most about Singapore was how organised the country was and how kind and helpful its people were. However, I had some hard times there as well. I struggled with opening a bank account, finding vegetarian food and adjusting to their pan-Asian flavours. Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun. Overall, it was a good learning experience.
Start the mailing process early. It hurts to learn that the professor liked your application but can't accept you because he has already hired the interns.
Don't be demotivated if you have an unimpressive CV. For hiring research interns, professors want students who are interested and willing to learn. They see how enthusiastic you are and are not very selective.
Refrain from repeating stuff in the cover letter. Don't explain your courses because it looks like you think that the professor needs to learn more. Explain only the personalised part, keeping other things concise.
Bolden important points in the cover letter and the CV to ensure that those points stand out.
It is better to make a personalised cover letter. It is my belief that people hardly get in from mass mailing.