Tamajit Banerjee - Max Planck Institute
Tamajit Banerjee, CS1
Interned at: Max Planck Research Intern
My main idea was to explore the area of research. I was not sure whether I wanted to go for a job in the corporate world or research after graduating, so I felt an internship in the research domain would give me a great experience and help me a lot in making these decisions. I was also quite sure that I would go for a corporate internship in my third year; hence, I decided to try something different in my second year and explore research. Computer Science has always been something that I find very interesting, so choosing the internship area was a no-brainer for me.
After deciding that I wanted to pursue a research internship, I first talked to many seniors who had done foreign internships in the previous year. I got mixed suggestions where some told me that I should cold mail many professors, and others told me to apply for internships through separate programs, so I decided to do both. My priority was to do an internship in a good institute that matches my interests. My main interest was in algorithms and theoretical Computer Science. I started cold mailing many professors in Singapore-based Universities like NUS, NTU, NYU and tried matching my interests.
I secured my internship at Max Planck not from cold mailing but from applying through programs. So, a lot of these institutes have separate internship programs. People who have already interned in the university are the first ones to get notifications regarding these programs. One of our seniors had interned at Max Planck, so he got the news and informed us about it. I applied for another program, NTU India connect, and got selected there but had to reject it as I was already chosen in MPI. One of the essential things in applying for these programs was that they needed a letter of recommendation from one of our professors to confirm that you are a good student and don't have any disciplinary actions against you. Getting this was not easy because everything was online, but I managed to get it from my economics professor at IITD.
Cold-mailing vs. Internship Programs
The cold mailing process is a bit luck-dependent and is a better option if you start early, and the professor has accepted some interns in the previous years. Applying through programs is different because each university offers a lot of projects/areas of interest out of which you have to choose for which to apply. So, if you select a project/areas of interest that not many people have applied for and have a decent enough profile, you are more likely to get chosen and vice versa. In MPI, you also had to choose the professor's name under which you wanted to work, and some of my friends chose very well-known and high-profile professors, which was the reason they had to go through a more competitive selection process. I applied to a professor who was not very well known but still had been in the university for 5-6 years, and I feel that is one of the factors that contributed to my selection. Luckily, the head of the group in which the professor worked was the scientific director at MPI, and both of them ended up guiding me through the internship, so I benefited a lot.
CV and Cover Letter
First of all, when I applied, I had a CGPA of just below 10. I don't think CG plays a massive role in the selection process, but it did stand out in my case. Another thing is that I do a lot of competitive coding, so I wrote about some of the competitions I have been a part of in my CV. In the interview, I talked about how I am a regular programmer and good at C++. I think this also made a difference as it showcased my programming skills. In my SOP, I mentioned some of the academic computer books I had read in the lockdown. The interview was pretty chill, and they just asked me some basic questions in C++ and asked me to explain my CV. In the projects section, I wrote about the projects I had done in COL106 as well as the ones I did in the previous year. I believe that you should not write lies on your CV and be honest to explain it adequately or else it can get problematic.
My internship was on symbolic algorithms on omega regular games. One of the benefits of applying through a program is that the professor already knows that an intern is coming many days before. They already assign a few jobs beforehand, so it becomes very smooth after that as you know exactly what to do, and the internship proceeds in a very structured manner. The internship was on a new algorithm that the prof had come up with, and my work was to improve on that algorithm by reading research papers and then implementing the whole algorithm. I was able to complete my internship half a month early and so was able to utilize the time left to write a research paper on it and get it published. Overall, it was an excellent experience, and the people there were accommodating. The resources they provided me with were also very accurate, and I only had to go through 6-7 research papers and not hundreds of them. The internship was work-heavy, and I had to spend a minimum of 7 hours a day on it. This is why I feel it's crucial to intern in something you are interested in. I would not have completed the internship early if I wasn't interested in the topic.
Key Takeaways and Suggestions
Firstly, I got to know a lot of great people and made many new connections. I'm still not 100% sure if I will go for M.S or a job, but this internship played a significant role in clearing a lot of stuff, giving me hands-on experience on research, and will ultimately help make the decision. If I decide to apply for M.S and Ph.D., this research internship will definitely help because the people I made contacts with are pretty influential. Some of the things I learned in this internship also helped me in the interviews of my corporate intern.
My main advice is to find your interests or possible interests and explore them in a foreign internship. I would have never learned about the program if it were not for my seniors, so it's essential to stay in touch with your seniors during this time. I would also suggest that you should not lie on your CV about your skills like many seniors say, but instead, be honest about what you know and what you have done. Following all this helped me get my research internship, and I hope it does the same for you!
Interviewed by: Parth Singhal