I am Abhimanyu, a Y19 MTH student. During my second-year summers, I split my time between working at the National Blockchain Project as an R&D intern and at a deep tech startup, Elucidata as a data science intern. Here’s my journey through the process
Prologue: My Background
At the end of my third semester, I got into this process with no research experience, no competitive programming experience and no ML/Data Science experience. All I had was a 9+ CPI and some course projects and PClub projects, mainly focussed on blockchains and cryptography.
Going for a corporate intern over a research intern was a natural choice for me. Not only because of the lack of any research project on my resume (and thereby no Profs to give LoRs) but also because I did not have any particular academic interests.
Step 1: Finding Opportunities
I didn’t have a specific role or job profile in mind but was looking for an exciting job description and a reputable company. Thanks to my previous experience, I was inclined towards working in blockchains and allied domains. But soon after, I realised that niche areas like these have very few corporate opportunities for second year UG students.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a formula for finding the perfect opportunity for *you*. And so, I highly recommend talking to seniors- they have done their research on internships and possibly made some connections as well to refer you! Around the end of September, I started figuring out with my seniors what opportunities fit in with my interests, skills and long-term career plans. That is how I discovered the R&D internship at the National Blockchain Project, and it seemed like the very internship I was looking for.
However, corporate recruitments are infamous for being unpredictable and non-transparent. Hence, you should always have backup plans. For this, I registered for E-Cell’s Startup Internship Programme (SIP) in January. SIP gives many great opportunities at budding startups; however, not all of them are equally good. Therefore, do your due diligence before applying. Generally, at any place you’d want to work at, you’ll find some IITK alumnus via Linkedin who have worked there or are working there. Talk to them, find out about the company, about the job profile and if that fits in with your plans. Does the stipend matter? In general, no, but you might consider it a litmus test of how serious the company is about its interns.
Step 2: Making a Resume
Resume making is a long and iterative process- make sure you do not leave it for just before the application deadline. In the first iteration, I compiled all the content I had, including some useless details (which I eventually omitted). Then in every iteration, I would cut unimportant information and rephrase each point to make it more crisp, impactful and readable.
I’ve gathered and learnt (sometimes the hard way :p) some helpful advice on making a good resume over the last year, so here you go. Firstly, avoid the colourful/fancy templates that most custom resume-making websites have. Instead, use one of the professional/conventional LaTeX templates which you can find on Overleaf or Github (text me if you can’t find one). Secondly, remember that most corporate recruiters will spend only a couple of seconds reading your resume. Hence, be
extremely crisp and resist the urge to write every detail of your project or internship. Thirdly, do not mention stuff you don’t know or haven’t done. It is a massive red flag if your interviewer finds out that you are bragging or lying on your resume.
Lastly, make sure you get your resume reviewed by seniors. I have often annoyed the heck out of my seniors for reviewing my resume. But I am glad to have received some of the most vital suggestions from them. Be a bit shameless in texting and following up, even with seniors you don’t know.
I finalised my resume after about 15 such iterations. The process often gets tedious as eventually, an iteration would boil down to just shifting a word here and there. However, hang on! These small changes will go a long way in getting you selected.
Step 3: Tests and Interviews
In SIP, most companies conduct a shortlisting test consisting of competitive programming questions and usual preparation resources like GeeksForGeeks, Interviewbit and Leetcode work well for these. However, I have little experience with them since I got selected in only the second job I had applied to, i.e. Data Science Intern at Elucidata.
Elucidata works on making ML pipelines for solving drug-discovery problems. After a resume-based shortlisting, they scheduled a data science assignment for the next morning. We were told that the assignment will have a submission deadline of 2 hours and will need pandas, numpy and matplotlib libraries.
Since I had no experience with data science, I stayed up the entire night and did as many tutorials on pandas as I could. The assignment turned out to be quite challenging for a beginner like me. Moreover, I couldn’t debug my code in those 2 hours and submitted my buggy code. But I was curious to fix it. So I spent another hour debugging it and finally sent the HR another email, an hour after the deadline, with the debugged, working version of my code.
I had lost all hope, but I was one of the two students shortlisted for interviews to my greatest surprise. Later on, when I asked my manager why they had shortlisted me, I got to know that the HR had sent them both my submissions, and they liked how I was persistent in fixing my code even after the deadline.
We often try to rationalise recruitment, but I have learnt that corporate recruitment is an extremely random process, and sometimes the most ridiculous things will get you in. So, the takeaway is always take your shot- you never know what will work out!
After that, I went through three rounds of interviews. The first one was a discussion on the code I had submitted and some more questions on data processing. The second one was a case study on a drug discovery problem, and I was asked to draw conclusions from lots of graphs and biological data shown to me. I have no understanding of bioinformatics, but with tonnes of clarifications and questions, I could draw some commonsensical conclusions. The third one was a cultural check about where I come from, my ambitions and my plans.
I think being conversant and articulate is the key to cracking interviews. Also, ask for clarifications shamelessly if you do not know something, instead of faking it. Often the interviewer will reflect positively on you for asking good questions.
Soon after, I received an offer from Elucidata. However, I was still to hear from National Blockchain Project (NBP). Around March, almost when I had lost any hope of hearing back from NBP, I got their email for an interview the next day. They took only one interview, which majorly consisted of a
discussion on the blockchain projects on my resume, followed by some generic questions on cryptographic primitives and systems. Unlike Elucidata, I knew most answers this time, so it went well. Finally, I got both offers and couldn’t decide on dropping one since both the opportunities seemed extremely attractive.
Step 4: At the Internship
I thankfully had a wonderful though remote experience at both places.
At Elucidata, I worked in a team trying to find target drugs against Covid19. I spent my initial days just learning the basics of bioinformatics, reading some elementary papers and absorbing the terminology since I didn’t have a biology background. Once I was comfortable with the basic concepts, I read more advanced papers on similarity measures between genes and then implemented them in code. Since I was working in a startup with a small team, I got ample opportunities to network and know what other people beyond my vertical are doing. I also cherish their weekly all-team meetings, where I learned about their business model and developments across the company.
In contrast, the National Blockchain Project worked almost like a research lab. We were allotted a project and had 3-4 meetings every week to share updates with the mentor and project team. I worked on a decentralised consent management system. My work included doing a literature review, then designing the architecture for a consent management system using blockchains and finally, coding the smart contracts. I was required to do a lot of inventive thinking and got a lot of flexibility. However, I didn’t get much opportunity to look outside my project at NBP.
In conclusion, I’ll strongly suggest you to get some real-world (beyond IITK) exposure in second year summers, instead of sitting back at home or devoting the entire summer to third-year intern prep. Use this time to explore interests and get clarity on what you want to do after college. Lastly, always ask helpful seniors for whatever you need. Feel free to ping me as well on Messenger or Whatsapp with any doubts or a random rant!
Abhimanyu (sethia@iitk / fb.com/abhimanyusethia12)
Edited By:- Tanushree Jalewa