Research, Germany and Travelling <3
I spent two months of summer’19 at the University of Tübingen, Germany. Let me share some insights into what was my motivation behind going for a research internship, how I went about finding one, and my experience there.
Before I begin I would like to disclose that this was my second research intern abroad, the first one being in summer’18 also in Germany(at a different university). So, I did have an idea about what a research internship feels like and the challenges that it brings along. I absolutely loved my experience during my first internship and had developed an interest in research. So, during my fourth year, I again had to make a decision whether to go for another research intern or broaden my experience by going for an industrial intern. I took the easy way out and fired shots both ways, planning to go the way it hit better. However, my preparation for the industrial internship was half-hearted. But soon I received a positive reply for the research intern and the choice was clear for me.
This was a great lesson for me in more than one way. You have to be clear about your goals in the short term. I was not, and almost ended up going nowhere had it not been for luck being on my side. Research is a big commitment, not something you can survive if you don’t have the passion for it. A research intern gives you a good idea about what you can expect further if you want to pursue a Ph.D.
Landing the Internship
The first step was to create a resume. This is the most important part if you have to increase your odds of landing positive replies from professors. I was told by my professor later on that I had a well laid out resume and that our research interests intersected and that’s why he had offered me a position. You have to clearly mention your fields of interest, the work you have already done, the courses you have undertaken, any other research experience. The resume has to be elaborate, explaining each and every aspect of your past efforts.
The next step was to write a cover letter. I cannot stress the importance of a well-written cover letter enough. This is a good opportunity to improve your writing skills as well, so it has double the benefit. One important part of the cover letter is to mention how you got to know about the professor and if there was a publication of his that caught your attention. Personalizing the cover letter for each professor is beneficial.
Lastly, I had made a list of the candidate professors to whom I would write to. And then, of course, I started writing to them. Now this stage is purely luck-based. This is not in your hands, so you should not distress over negative responses or lack of any responses at all. What you can actually do, is keep doing what you are supposed to do and be patient. I admit that I was showered with blessings and only in a few emails had I got a positive response. Eventually, I was offered a paid position and a role as a student assistant in a relatively newer field of economics. I was to get 750 euros for the two months. This was a bit low, but I was determined and made up my mind that I would live a frugal life and make myself proud. Later, in the last week of my internship, I found out that I would actually receive 1500 euros (Woohoo!)
The area of research was a very niche field of economics, which I had been introduced to for the first time. Lo! it was very intriguing and kept me engrossed. I had to deal with large amounts of data, some of which had to be web scraped, merged, and cleaned. This was then to be used for analysis to develop a model that relates alcohol drinking behavior with emotional cues. I had to go through a lot of research papers( when you go for research, a lot of reading of literature is constant), derive important results and conclusions, use them in a way that could be useful in our analysis.
It was interesting and gave a nice outlook on how a Ph.D. student goes about his/her research. Because of his schedule, my professor could only meet me weekly but was more than happy to take out time whenever I asked. Being able to work with a professor of such high caliber and intellect was really uplifting.
Lifestyle and Travel
Having already spent some months in Germany earlier, I had a good idea about the lifestyle there. Moreover, I had also completed an A1 level German language course taught as the foreign language program in college, which made it easier to interact with some of the locals there, navigate my way, buying at the supermarkets, and many other aspects. Living in Germany helped me test my limits. I followed a well laid out plan, woke up early, went to the gym, completed my tasks, and always made the most of my time. It is a great opportunity for networking. I shared my lab with one of the Ph.D. students there and we became the best friends.
Germans are very hardworking and punctual but one thing which they take very seriously is the holidays. So, my weekends were all fun-filled and most of them were spent traveling to new beautiful cities and making friends. People, in general, are more willing to help you than you think. Always remember, the easiest way to get something is to ask for it. I was always upfront about my problems in my project with my professor and he was ever ready to help me out. Europe is an exquisite continent, with beautiful cities. During the last week of my stay, I went on a solo trip to Prague which was a whole new experience in itself. Going on a research intern abroad opens you up to the best of both worlds, education, and travel.
Academics should be the priority and should never be overlooked. Once comfortable with the acads, you should also have a hobby or two in order for the overall development of your character and personality. I found mine to be bodybuilding and photography and you should find yours too. There is so much to do.
“The first step towards achieving greatness is to step out of your comfort zone.” This is my golden mantra. There is a whole new world waiting to be explored. Never aim for mediocrity. It was a revolutionizing experience for me. Being able to work under the guidance of an intellectual, making new friends from different backgrounds, developing an interest in research, and enjoying it.