This post is mainly me ranting about things which I have no control over. I use some strong and sharp words, and many memes, so if I offend someone, I apologize in advance.
I am currently in the pre-final year of my undergraduate studies and for my summer vacation after this, I have to do an internship (compulsory, or else I won’t get my degree). My college actually helps in getting us internships but that is only in companies and mainly for software development profiles. Tests consist of typical coding questions (completely unrelated to the work), scrutinizing your grades and analyzing your gender. If you match in any of the above three properties (extra points for the latter two), you’ll get a good internship. Anyways, I decided to not take part in this exercise as the work the companies were gonna give did not interest me (and I definitely wouldn’t have scored high on the last two criteria) and as my aim is to do research, I wanted to do a research internship and work with a professor. So, here I am, 6 months into the hunt, lost count of the number of emails I have sent and so far the number of replies I have gotten can be counted on the fingers on my left hand (not counting the thumb)!
Now, one thing I would like to clarify is that I don’t send generic emails to every single professor. I’m not a fool! Each email can take me anywhere from half a day to even a couple of days. Not sure if a good thing or a bad thing, but I only send emails to professors whos work I really like and have spent a considerable amount reading on their research. This results in the number of emails sent by me considerably less than that by many others around me.
One thing that I do, which is probably bad, is that my emails are on the longer side. I try to provide as much information as I can in that first email because of the fear they won’t reply asking for more information and the lack of it will make them not consider my application.
A research internship at a company is not even an option. The minimum requirement they have is . . . a Ph.D.! Your knowledge, skills, and abilities don’t matter much (at least that’s not a primary requirement). All they want is for you to have invested your time and money in some institution or else your brain wouldn’t have evolved enough and you’re still a caveman who hasn’t discovered fire. There goes my dream of working at OpenAI or DeepMind!
One “advise” I keep getting from many people is: “Take a chill pill. Nobody expects anything from an undergraduate. Don’t be so specific in emailing and just email everyone.” Now, I have trouble following this. The whole idea just doesn’t sit well with me. If I am working on something, I try to contribute same as, if not more, than those around me. Meaning, I want to be a meaningful member of the lab and not be there like an ignoramus with an undergraduate label stuck to my forehead (my OCD kicking in, I’d say).
I understand that professors are busy and that they’ve got a lot going on. I know that they’re humans but so are undergrads (or any student for that matter). But apparently we undergrads are the freest beings on this planet with so much time on our hand that EVERYONE just parties 24/7. Slight exaggeration, I admit, but not too far from the mindset.
A couple of suggestions to professors from an insignificant undergraduate:
- If you don’t want interns, etc. Just mention that on your website clearly. This doesn’t mean writing something like, “. . . it would be difficult for us to provide an internship . . .” Being decisive would really help everyone.
- If you are not mentioning anything like that on your website then please just reply if it looks like the student has put in in some effort writing it to you. If you aren’t interested in working with the student the least you could do is reply “No”. (I know it’s too much asking to treat the student as a human and address the reply to them or giving a reason).
- Specify a format the student can send you an email in. You’ll be satisfied that the student looked through your profile and isn’t just spamming you.
- If you do reply and show interest it would be nice if you can give an ultimatum quickly and not after months. Ambiguity is very painful and stressful.
- If you are busy currently, you’re smart enough (hopefully) to create automated replies advising them to contact you after a particular date, etc. (or you could just mention that on your website).
If you made it all the way to the end of my rant, you must have really high resistance! Writing really helps me relieve some pressure off. Now back to the hunt!