Karan Patel is a 5th-year Dual Degree student in the Dept. of Electrical Engineering and is minoring in Operations Management. He did his summer research internship at the end of his 4th-year at the Operations Research Center, MIT Sloan School of Management. Chennai 36 got an opportunity to talk to him. The gist of the interview is as follows:

Hello Karan! Can you tell us about your internship experience and about the topic that you worked on? 

My internship at the ORC, MIT Sloan was focused on improving the design of E-NAM ( E-National Agriculture Market) and making the agricultural markets more efficient and accessible. In specific, I worked on two projects over my  2.5 months stay at MIT. My first project was to refine the auction strategy to forge competition among bidders and improve the selling price of products for the benefit of farmers. The second project was about making a recommendation system using Temporal Collaborative Filtering to accurately predict the future prices of agricultural products. The projects involved concepts from economics, machine-learning and some parts of operations management as well. As expected, it had hectic work hours but one could easily set aside time during the weekend to explore places!

An internship at MIT is beyond the project work!

During my stay at MIT, I got an opportunity to visit famous labs at MIT and Harvard and meet the renowned professors whom I always admired. I also attended a couple of Frat parties in the summer xD

Apart from work, during my free time, I participated in several recreational activities like sailing and wind-surfing on the Charles River, tango dance workshops, rock climbing outings and a lot more.

This MIT (pun intended :P) was the best internship experience I have ever had and the exposure helped me get more clarity on what I want to pursue in the future!

How did you find the internship opportunity? 

In my case, the internship wasn’t through a structured program, but by mailing the professors directly. So, I would like to briefly explain the process I went through and the thought process behind the same.

It was around July end that I decided that I wanted to do a research internship and not opt for institute corporate internship. Understanding that I have a LOW CGPA, getting through programs did not make sense and hence, I chose to apply independently. Based on my interest in Operations, the scope abroad and my curiosity to visit top B.Schools across the globe, I chose to apply in the field of Operations Management.
By August end, I shortlisted the universities’ labs that I wanted to work in. Then I created a list of professors along with information like their research specifics, how I can contribute, openings, etc., around September end. I believe this helped me better understand the research on a global scale and also customize emails that I sent.

Then, I started preparing my SoP and cover letter for emailing. The SoP was focused more on my journey at IIT and how the research internship would play a crucial role in my future endeavors. On the other hand, the cover letter was made to crisply present my work and create a good first impression using info-graphics. This process took around a month and I started sending the emails around November 1st week.

It was around November end that I started to get confirmations and eventually professors from 3 universities – MIT Sloan, Harvard Business School, and HEC Paris agreed to host me for summer 2019!

How was the selection process?

The selection process was slightly different for each university. However, broadly, they checked my acumen through basic tests followed by a technical interview. The tests involved analyzing data sets and providing actionable recommendations, going through research papers and submitting the proofs or summarizing the research paper. I would say it was a test to check my skill-sets before deciding whether I should be interviewed or not. The interviews were straight forward wherein they asked me stuff written on my resume and a few questions on the topics I might be working on during my internship. From my experience, I would say, if you are selected for the interview, there is a good chance you will be offered an internship unless you screw the interview up horribly.

Can you elaborate on the financial aspects of your internship at MIT? 

My financial assistance comprised of professors at MIT, International and Alumni Relations cell, IITM and personal funds. Yes, Boston is an expensive city, however, I was fortunate to find an affordable accommodation through an insti alum at MIT who was sub-leasing the apartment for the summer.
Note: For an internship at MIT, it is mandatory to pay 1000$ for starting the visa procedure and 1350$ as a summer course fee (for access to basic facilities at MIT). I was fortunate that my professor paid the same but this could vary.

Why did you choose research over corporate internship?

In my institute life, I did my internship at IIM Ahmedabad in Business Policy and at Qualcomm in Core Electrical Engineering. I wanted to try something new for the summer and gaining international exposure was always on my bucket list. It was a dream to work at prestigious universities like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, and I was just chasing it!
This was enough motivation for me to choose a research internship abroad over the corporate internships offered by the Institute.

What would be your advice to students who wish to pursue this type of research internship?

Honestly, I am not the right person to advise on this matter as I consider myself an outlier. However, based on my understanding of research internships, having a good CGPA (9+) and a couple of good projects backed up with good letter of recommendations should maximize your odds!

For someone like me, without a conventional research profile, my advice is that there is no harm in trying. If you are really passionate about something, you should give at least one try before assuming that you would fail! Never underestimate the power of a great mail!

Few tips though:
US Universities will love you if you show social work/ community service in your resume
PoRs’ don’t matter (Reason being they can’t relate with our fests – try putting sub-initiatives from PoRs that they can easily relate and appreciate)

Try not to use the standard insti CV format. Customize it for your profile and make it more appealing

What would be your advice for the students who are confused in making a choice between industrial and research internship?

My advice is from the way I make choices and might not be generalized to all individuals.

I bombard myself with questions to find answers to “WHY” I am doing something. If the answers to the whys justify the objective I have in mind, I go ahead with the execution. I believe always asking questions that matter to you, help you self-evaluate and get more clarity. The answers to whys could be derived from your personal understanding, talking to seniors or peers, seeking guidance from parents and professors, and what not.

In a nutshell, do well in your academics to stand a chance in the first place, ask questions (that matters to you) on why you want to do research/ corporate internship and get more clarity by talking to people!

Author – Vallabhi, HS’23

This article is part of the series – InternGuru. To get regular updates on all our articles, follow us on Facebook at /chennai36 and Instagram at chennai36_iitm