Niti Aayog or the National Institution for Transforming India is a Government of India policy think-tank established by the BJP government to replace the Planning Commission. It is a body dedicated to developing policies for the government. Poojan Patel from the Department of Civil Engineering, Batch of 2018, says he was always interested in doing things that gave him insights upon development policies, decisions taken within the government and important decisions that affect a large number of people. He did an internship in Niti Aayog focusing on infrastructure policies. After doing a 2nd and 3rd-year internship he realized that what he wanted to do was different from the kind of exposure the companies he interned at provided. Niti Aayog gave him the opportunity to pursue to explore infrastructure policies and actually understand how it is implemented. He actually wanted to take the internship up after the 3rd year, in the summer but the results of the internship were announced pretty late so he moved on to another internship at Nadhi Infotech. The results were announced late in June. In NITI Aayog you cannot apply for the internship for another year if you have been selected and you decide to drop the offer, thus he had to make a special request to his advisor to let him join in the winter. Thus he spends his winter interning at Niti Aayog. You need to do a minimum 6-week project to complete your internship hence the winter vacation provides the perfect duration, though the summertime gives you more time to dwell deep on the particular subject. At Niti Aayog you had to give in preferences as to which project you would want to work on and then you were allotted a project accordingly. There were people working on projects related to some recent reforms in the country like demonetization and digital India. Every student has an advisor who guided the students working on the project. Poojan was much more interested in infrastructure policies and was working with the Public Private Partnership (PPP) project approval unit. Each of the major government ministries has representation in NITI Aayog, an advisor who also a prominent person in that area heads the particular subject.
Infrastructure is a very big necessity or a Country and the government. Public-Private Partnerships are needed because the Infrastructure that needs to be built generally costs a humungous amount and the government doesn’t have enough money to fund the project at once hence they ask companies to start the project using their resources, in return the companies get a share of the toll taxes collected from the people using the particular infrastructure for a finite amount of time. The Government is responsible to get approvals and ensure no administrative problems cause hindrance. The company is responsible for completion of the project efficiently, the technicalities of the project and resources fall under their domain. These partnerships are decided by aggressive bidding that is the lowest bidder has to be given the project. After the Company gets the projects it increases the costs which lead to problems like increased taxation and loss of government funds. Hence this project provided the government’s perspective and the challenges faced by the government in the execution of a PPP. Generally, in classes or textbooks, we learn about how the private sector looks upon PPPs, little or no light is thrown on the issues faced by the government. Poojan had to study the past negotiations in PPP, find out the loopholes and suggest ideas or solutions avoid such mistakes in the future.
The Niti Aayog portal is open throughout the year from the 1st – 10th of every month. You are required to be a college student for this. To get a confirmation you have to apply a month before. The selection process is very simple, it is based on boards’ marks and the Statement of Purpose. There is no formal interview for the same. Every student is assigned an advisor who they have to work with. The internship is based in Delhi. The perks of the internship include meeting a lot of people who develop the policies for the government. Access to a lot of government information. It is a great opportunity to work with very intelligent people, especially your advisor who is generally very friendly and knowledgeable. Discuss things as frequently as possible. Interaction is the core essence of working at NITI Aayog. You might not be able to derive the same insight by looking at articles or certain data as you would be meeting people concerned with the particular field. Talking to people will also help you understand the practicality of the solutions you come up with. Ultimately, to convince the topmost ministers you need to have a convincing practical solution for it to be implemented.
You can also apply after the 1-2nd year. You can work in an open area or government initiatives. For this internship all is need is enthusiasm for working with a government organization and relevant projects which can impact lives. This internship helps you understand the real situation. Poojan wanted to go for higher studies in infrastructure policies, his minor was development policies and hence working with the government was one of the best opportunities available. He also changed from B-tech(4-year course) to Dual Degree to study further in the particular area hence wanted to explore and experiment further. The internship is worth doing if you are interested in knowing the government’s perspective, insights on how government functions and have ideas that you want the government to implement as this is very different from working for a private company.
After his fourth year, Poojan did a research intern at Cornell. Cornell is an Ivy League university. It is one of the best universities in the world. Cornell located in the city of Ithaca, New York. Ithaca is basically a college town with a few residences around it. Cornell has a lot of diversity and provides exposure to a lot of things, you get to meet people and work with people with different people from various backgrounds. The most striking thing about Cornell was its work culture and research culture. Poojan’s advisor was the professor he was working under. He paid a lot of attention to what Poojan’s interests were. He made sure the project was designed and led by Poojan himself. He was extremely supportive and provided every help possible. The project was based on Infrastructure policies under the department of policy analysis and management. The Professor he worked under was an economist with a lot of background in infrastructure policies and was pushing for PPP projects in the States. The professor had a good working group and contacts in other universities as well.
He had also applied for Mitacs, they have a list of projects and professors but you don’t really have the freedom to create your own project. He was very focused on infrastructure and Cornell gave him the perfect opportunity. At IIT Madras, Poojan had already been in touch with Ashwin Mahalingam sir and was also working with him for his dual degree project. He approached Ashwin sir asking him could go for an intern abroad. He gave Poojan the contacts of two professors he could write to, one in Cornell the other in CMU. The professor in CMU was more focused on entrepreneurial work than policies, thus the Cornell was the only shot as he very clear that he only wanted to work on a particular project.
The first email he wrote was similar to a Statement of purpose and a shot at gazing the professor’s interest in working with him. He was very sure of the response so he did not attach a resume. He wanted to first gauge his response didn’t want to seem too pushy. He mentioned about the reference from Ashwin sir, his background in infrastructure policy, experience at NITI Aayog and the work he wanted to do. As this internship wasn’t undertaken through any university scheme or competition, there was no stipend involved. Most universities have a structured internship program for international students. The professor responded positively, there was no interview but a few internal background checks were done.
While applying for similar research internships your previous coursework is of utmost importance, the PoR’s have very little significance. Poojan had done 3 courses at IITM which were essential for this internship, they were Infrastructure planning and management, Infrastructure finance and Construction project modeling. He also did a few online MOOCs and other curriculum courses. He thought it was better, that he went after 4th year because it gave him more insights and clarity on the field he wanted to pursue. Until his 3rd year he hadn’t done any specific courses in infrastructure, he wanted exposure in the field and then wanted to do a project hence this time was appropriate.
The Project he is working on is based on the Impact of climate change on transportation infrastructure. His main job here is to collect and create a database of extreme climate events like hurricanes floods temperatures across the world and damages caused to transport infrastructure. Due to lack of available data, it was more focused in and around the USA. There were three people working on the project, the professor, a PhD student and Poojan himself. Poojan had a background in infrastructure policy. The PhD student had a financial expertise and was also a civil engineer and had knowledge of transport infrastructure. The professor was an economist and a policy expert. Everyone brought in a different perspective and skills to the table. The data collected is going to be useful for what was the impact of the disaster, the response of the government, money spent in repair, a source of the money etc. and hence further studying the trends.
During the stay at Cornell, Poojan went around New York City, Nigra falls, Atlantic city and many more places. Everything in the USA is spaced out and organized. It was delightful to see the way they created an entire economy around Nigra falls and have still preserved the nature. He also took part in alumni meetups happening in New Jersey and New York and got to know a lot of alumni from IITM.
Research is very rigorous, it is 1.5 times the responsibility of a normal job. the sole responsibility of your research work lies on you, you decide the decide the time you have to work, the project you want to work, the deadlines and everything else. In the 2nd 3rd year it is very difficult to decide as to what you want to do, you have no clear idea of the field you want to work in, at this stage Internships are the best way to figure out what you want to do and what you do not, they provide real-world experience and introduce to the actual scene in the particular field. Apart from internships do online courses to see if you are interested in a particular area. By the end of the 3rd year intern, you need to have some idea as to what you are interested in if you are interested in the particular field only then apply for the particular job or higher studies whatever the case might be. If you apply to random things you might end up doing something you don’t like. Try to figure out the things you like as soon as possible. If you apply for a research intern be very focused on what you intend to do and don’t mass mail, look at what each professor is doing and write to every professor separately. Don’t be part of a mob mentality and don’t go everywhere. Once you figure out what you like, you have done enough work for people to see value in you. Even if you write 3-4 emails they should all be personalized emails and should relate to your work to the professors’ work. You need to show the drive to work on the project you are taking up. While writing an email keep in mind that the professor would like to know you well, your background, interests, what you are willing to do so convey all that information well. At the same time don’t be very narrow, be flexible as you might not be aware of the other opportunities which your guide may be better aware of. Figure out your key focus when you go for an internship or an international experience when Poojan went for foreign exchange programme after his 1st year, his key focus was fun, for research internship, work was the main focus.
When you go abroad understanding the culture, finding ways to interact, meeting new people, learning from people from the various background is one of the most important things. Poojan says, “This research internship was one of the best experiences he has had. He got a clearer insight. on his field, met some really important people in the field, got insights as to how to apply for higher studies later, understood how his life would be if he decided to take up something similar in life.”
Author: Paridhi Khowala(BT-CH ’20)