A Beginner’s Guide to applying for Foreign University Internships

Apping, for many, is a process requiring heavy investment of time and effort, and can easily amount to spamming if not carried out correctly. However, with a systematic approach and honest introspection, one can significantly increase their chances of securing a good university internship, while also heavily streamlining and simplifying the process.

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How to begin?

Start by identifying your area(s) of interest. Although you might belong to a given department, your personal inclinations and past project experience can serve to widen the areas you can potentially apply for. Once identified, you can scour the web for universities which are listed as leaders in your area of interest. QS World Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Webometrics are some of the few places you can look up. Since every ranking agency employs its own methodology for allotting the ranks, its best to rely on them only as a rough indicator of the relative reputations of these universities. For instance, many European universities do not feature in the top hundred in the world, but can easily match, or even surpass their American counterparts in some areas of research. Wikipedia can also help provide an almost exhaustive list of universities in a given region/country.

Visit the department/research area and faculty homepages of each institute. Don’t forget to check out the summer projects or particular internship programs which you might be eligible for. Once the universities have been decided, enter their names (possibly in the order of their rankings) into the sheet. Shortlist faculty whose work interests you. Read up on their research groups, the kind of work they do and their recent publications. Look for faculty who generally have students from IITs as part of their research groups.

Making a comprehensive spreadsheet (sample given below), and updating it regularly, can go a long way in helping you keep things organized. This can include the names of universities you have decided to apply to, the professors’ names along with their interests in brief, and the status of your email application – sent/ response received (positive/neutral), and further course of action.

apping sample

While shortlisting universities and faculty, it is important to have some background in the subject or field you are applying to get a project in. Although not a necessary criterion, it certainly puts you in a position of advantage. Having worked on a project with a professor in the institute can not only give you incredible insight into the field, it can also help you secure a recommendation or word of appreciation that will certainly provide a major boost to your chances.

When should I start?

The timeframe for applying to foreign universities is pretty spread out. One can secure a foreign internship even in mid-April, after which visas become difficult to procure. The best time for sending out your applications would be after September. The months from December onwards should be utilized to the fullest extent possible, with a lot of time available during the vacations.

How to write the ideal Cover Letter?

The cover letter forms an important part of the entire application procedure, something which can make or break your opportunity. Hence, it is vital that one has knowledge about the nuances involved while writing the same. Some pointers for the same are as follows:

1. The cover letter should reflect the student’s genuine interest in the professor’s work. Reading the latter’s recent publications related to your field of interest is a good idea in this regard. Besides making you aware of their work in more detail, it can also help you form your own ideas on how that work can be taken ahead by employing your skills and past experience. This connect is very important, and serves to show the professor that you are serious. However, write about the professor’s research work only if you have read about it thoroughly.

This is also where a project in the same area of interest might come in handy. Add your project details briefly, and try to focus on their relevance to the professor’s field of interest. Also mention courses or software skills if they are extremely relevant, however, you must be prepared – for you might be interviewed on Skype regarding your projects and software skills.

2. Mention your CPI if you have a good Department Rank; also add impressive scholastic achievements. Otherwise, you might have to rely on your projects only. Mention of PoRs, being irrelevant to the matter at hand, should be avoided.

3. Most email accounts you will be sending mails to will reject the ones carrying attachments, therefore, create your own homepage on the IITB server. IIT Bombay’s academic team has now come up with their indigenous homepage generator, which can be very useful here. Append inline in the cover letter the most important points in your resume, and do mention any reputed universities/companies you might have interned with.

4. Avoid mentioning the need for funding in the initial mail. It can be reserved for once a positive reply is received.

5. The subject of the mail has to be thought out very carefully, since many professors have filters on keywords.

6. Lastly, DO NOT SPAM. IITs are notorious for spamming foreign university professors. Take care not to mail professors from the same department in an institute, since this could harm your reputation and that of the institute. Carefully going through the professors’ research details and publications can help you pinpoint and focus your efforts on sending fewer mails with higher chances of being taken seriously.

Other Important Pointers:

1. Apply for a passport as soon as possible, if you don’t have one. It usually takes a lot of time and involves a lot of red tape and bureaucratic hassle.

2. Carefully plan out the time for sending out your emails – both in terms of time of the year and time of the day. Generally, September through March is the period when offers are open. Moreover, emails sent on Fridays will likely be forgotten by Monday morning. You want to be the first to get noticed so think time-zone-wise. Mails received by the professor in the wee hours of the morning, on weekdays, will likely find themselves high up in the inbox, and this visibility might just increase your chances. Boomerang in GMail can also be used to set a time for sending out your mails.

3. Most professors are very liberal about financial situation. If they are satisfied with the work, they will most likely pay you a bonus. In general, even if the professor agrees to a partial funding, one should go ahead with it. Directly asking for more money at the onset itself, can be detrimental. Once fixed, writing a polite mail regarding accommodation et al should be okay. Asking for more money is not a very good idea; rather, ask for travel tickets or accommodation in dorms at the university, since the main expenditure is the cost of living there and the flight charges.

4. Your best resources are those who have done this before you and those you can speak with face to face. Speak with final year students, who’re heading for higher studies.

5. It would be a good idea to register with the PT cell for information about internship offers under their purview. Do not apply separately to such institutes, since it can harm both your and IIT Bombay’s reputation.

Several inputs were taken from the ‘Apping Guide’ created by Pratyush Nalla and Soovadeep Bakshi. Their version can be seen here.

You can also read experiences of IIT Bombay alumni who have been selected for Foreign University Internships in the past here.