A summer research internship is not just about quality research projects. It’s a lot about self-exploration. When your work takes you to places, you can explore new cultures and cuisines. Further, traveling brings in newer dimensions in you.
I would like to emphasize the fact that it is better to have some research experience before applying to any foreign research internship abroad. If you haven’t got any research experience, just get associated with a professor at your university. You can beg him/her for a project if needed. This gives you an edge to sort out various universities or labs.
However, funding is the most important factor when it comes to securing a foreign research internship.
What’s wrong with Foreign Internship Programmes?
If you are an Indian engineering undergraduate, there are several scholarship programs like DAAD, Charpak Research Internship, MITACS Global Link, NTU-India Connect, Khorana, etc. which support internships abroad. Beyond these popular programmes, there are over 25 such internships programmes which sponsor a student for an internship.
These programs are very competitive and the applicants must have good academic performance in terms of GPA, say above 8.50/10.0. Moreover, students from premier institutes are at an advantage in these programmes.
2. GPA is not the only metric
GPA cut-off has a trade-off in the selection of the right candidate. Usually, students from top-notch institutes end up with lower grades due to the scoring system, absolute grading or choosing tougher electives they are passionate about. So, often students with excellent research profiles fail to make the cut-off while students without competence or real interest in research get in just because of good grades.
3. Ineligibility of Sophomores
Further, in many of these internship programmes, there are two level of selection committees, primary selection in India and then the country of research. Sophomores are not eligible for most of these scholarship programmes.
However, if you are passionate about research and don’t meet the eligibility criteria of internship programmes, should you stop your foreign internship dream?
Here are hacks about finding labs and interning abroad without going through the scholarship application process, but with funding.
1.Minimum Wage Labour Law
One of the first things to look out for is the countries that have a minimum wage for internships.
France has a minimum wage of €546.01 (I received this amount although I read it to be around €554 before applying) per month for internships lasting between 2 to 6 months. However, there are some labs that pay for your accommodation as well. Some labs also pay you less than this or some may not pay you at all. So, just make sure about remunerations beforehand.
You can apply to a professor in a university or directly to a director in a CNRS lab in France. You can have a look at the CNRS labs here.
According to the Belgian legislation, internships must be paid, when not part of an education curriculum. The minimum wage is €751 net per month (for interns of 21 years and older; this includes possible grants). Belgium has some excellent universities in the world like KU Leuven and Ghent University.
Look out for educational institutions in Australia as it has high per hour rates. Further, there are several Australian Universities in the top 100 rankings in both Shanghai and QS World Rankings.
1.4. Other Countries
The United States and Luxembourg also offer per hour wages which would be sufficient to cover your living expenses.
2. Don’t ignore smaller universities
Bigger labs and universities often have insufficient funds for internships. Further, they may not have lab space.
So, never hesitate about finding professors in smaller universities like some state universities of the USA. One can find reputed professors in many lower ranked US universities. From my point of view, it’s better to pursue a project under a guide/mentor allowing you to contribute to some manuscripts of conferences/ journal publications and can write a letter of recommendation for you.
Often high-proline supervisors are extremely busy and will not be able to contribute a significant amount of time for your development as a researcher. The best professors are not only reputable in their fields, but also dedicate time to teach you appropriate reseach techniques. If you can come up with a research paper from a 3 months internship, this will be a big achievement. Often interns are left to explore topics from scratch and this takes a lot of weeks before you actually begin a work. Sometimes, interns are hired to validate the experimental results. Sometimes, interns are supposed to assist postgraduates. Hence, be selective about the nature of the work that suits you.
3. Research Institutes vs Universities
You can directly write to some professors affiliated to universities or you can mail to the director of the lab and ask him to assign you to a suitable research engineer. In France, some labs are independent while some have affiliations with universities. Research Institutes usually have funds. However, they are more selective and specific to your skills. In my case, they asked me to come up with a report and Powerpoint presentation.
Here are a few things to look out before selecting an internship.
- Professor/Mentor: Your core field of interest and the professor’s interest must have a match. Look out for some his/her latest publications. One can ask the professor to have a skype chat or interview before finally selecting him. Use Google Citations index to find out about the number of citations and other details about the professor. This actually works.
- University Reputation: Never ever shy away to apply to the top universities or professors even if you don’t have a stellar profile. You will learn about the latest research in your field of your interest and this will be helpful subsequently to sort out universities during MS or Ph.D. application. But remember that your project and the outcome matters more than the reputation when it comes to an internship. So, don’t be merely blinded by the brand although it helps to build a good network by becoming a part of a university ranked in top 50 universities of the world. All I can say is try, try and try. This was a mistake I committed as I had applied to only 18 labs mostly in France and Australia and got acceptance.
- Pursue if you see a faint hope: If you get an acceptance, then don’t stop until the administrative process is over. If you are going abroad without a scholarship, be mentally tough to complete the official procedures well in time. All I can say is ‘Don’t stop till you see through!!!’
Find out the effective way to write an e-mail to a professor for a summer research internship in my other post.