I am Kartikeya Gupta, currently a junior undergrad majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I did the SURGE Summer Internship 2021 in the Department of Aerospace Engineering.
So, foremost, I'll probably talk about why I chose to pursue SURGE, or more specifically, a research project under an IITK professor, instead of an industrial internship or some professor outside IITK (fancy keyword: foreign research intern)
1) In my third and fourth semesters, I had "some" good mechanical courses, and a few of them urged me to explore my majors. In my opinion, SURGE is an excellent opportunity for sophomores to explore their core branches before they start their DSA journey. Generally, professors of your department will be willing to offer you projects, irrespective of any prior experience. If you want to explore a research field introduced to you through one of your courses, mail the course instructor asking them for any open project positions.
2) The entire process took place around March, the time when we had a little hope of returning to campus for Fall 2021 (the second wave smiling in the corner). Based on this little expectation, I approached IITK professors, asking them for some long-term projects to probably get the feel of an offline project and gain some lab exposure. More than one year of online learning had left zero motivation inside me to pursue a project that would operate in a remote setup for its entire duration.
Until that point, my prior experience was mainly in generic programming stuff, not related to my problem statement for the project. And that was probably the best part, that I got to explore a different domain of engineering.
Mailing and Application process
Talking about the mailing process, I mailed three specific professors, out of which one wasn't taking any students for online projects, and one had already accepted a lot of students as summer mentees. So, it's better for sophomore internships if you start the entire mailing process a bit early (mid-January). Also, specifically for people planning to go for SURGE, it's advised to get the reviews of professors from any of your seniors before mailing them; else, you might not have a great experience with your internship.
I didn't approach the professors with some fancy cover letter. It was pretty generic and straight to the point, with my resume attached. You can mention your research interests and maybe flex about an A/A* grade you got in a related course in your emails.
The project was pretty much a new experience for me. I was involved in designing a small subset of a huge project, which led to discussions with postgrads (this was honestly the best part). The project was more of an interdisciplinary thing, which had components from both ME and EE. The first few weeks were spent doing literature review, going through several research papers, and somehow trying our best to connect the dots from innumerable papers and journals. The next few weeks were spent in designing the initial prototype and applying all the theories that we had explored through different papers and books. I had the luxury of visiting the lab and performing some experimentations. One great thing about this project was the constant brainstorming that it required, and its complexity which forced us to keep on modifying our approach and build a new theoretical model right from scratch. All in all, this was a good enough project for me to have some clarity on what I wanted to pursue in the next summers.
1) If you're planning to go for a research internship later in your third year summers, make sure you work decently enough so that your advisor will be willing enough to write you a Letter of Recommendation(LoR). These would be needed to apply for research scholarship programs(MITACS, DAAD, etc.) and would be much better than the generic LoR you'll probably get from one of your course instructors. Getting a strong LoR should be your motive from such sophomore internships.
2) Professors are much more willing to offer you long-term research projects, which usually span for six months or more—a three-month-long project won't give any considerable research output. If you're ready to commit yourself to this one, mention this in your cover letter.
3) If your department has a "physical" lab for you to work in, prioritize projects involving a lab component. Experimental results can destroy your theoretical analysis of months within seconds. In this post-pandemic era, it would be great if you're able to boast your lab experience for future opportunities that come your way.