Tips and Advice from an Industry Mentor
Every year ABB Corporate research center in India provides opportunities and hosts several Masters and Doctoral students in Engineering from various academic institutions in India. The internship is normally for a duration of 5-6 months in which a student works as a research intern in a corporate R&D environment under the mentorship of a researcher or scientist in the center. I have an experience mentoring several research interns at ABB corporate research and this article contains advice and recommendations for potential interns based on my experience. While my experience is based on my work at ABB Corporate Research as a Principal Scientist, the advice can be generalized to students seeking opportunities in other corporate research centers also. Few companies offer short term internships ranging from 10-12 weeks but ABB corporate research in India prefers longer duration internship spanning across 5-6 months and gives preference to post-graduate students rather than undergraduate students. Companies normally provide benefits such as monthly stipend to cover living expenses, meal coupons and travel reimbursement for joining.
In this article my focus is on internships in a corporate research center which is not the same as a software development oriented work. Internship in a corporate research center is meant for students who have an aptitude for science and passion for R&D. A strong academic record, qualifications from a premier institute and evidences of scholarly contribution is required to be able to earn an internship position in a corporate research center. Internship is a very good opportunity for students to enhance their skills and learn as interns get access to real world problems, industry-scale data and also get to interact with experience scientists having several years of industry experience. Following are some points to keep in mind to make the most out of your (research intern) internship.
Combine Thesis and Internship: MTech and PhD is a research-oriented degree which requires students to write a thesis. Combining internship with thesis is beneficial and win-win for both the student and the research center as the student and the mentor can jointly work on a problem for a longer duration. For example, an MTech student can do six months internship in the company and then continue working towards extending the same problem for another six months while in his or her academic institute. A longer duration extending beyond the internship allows the student to investigate the problem in more detail and depth and also facilitates a collaboration between the student’s guide and industry mentor. The industry mentor can possibly serve as a co-adviser to the MTech thesis of the student.
Publish a Research Paper Based on Internship Work: Knowledge creation and dissemination, publishing research results in scholarly conferences and journals is integral to science and research. Writing a research paper is a long-term and time-consuming activity so you need to plan ahead. Being an early stage researcher, spend time in understanding the process of publication and express your intent to your guide in the university and industry mentor. Publishing papers based on industry research requires clearances from the company in-terms of intellectual property protection and confidentiality so make sure you discuss with your supervisor and initiate all the formal processes well in advance. Decide on the publication outlet (conference or journal in your area), set deadlines and mark it as one of the deliverables of your internship in addition to the technical report to be archived within the company electronic library.
Develop a Roadmap for Your Prototype: Internship in the field of engineering and technology will normally require you to engage in a hands-on activity developing or extending a research prototype. Create a road-map for your prototype displaying how your tool will grow and get it frequently validated by various stakeholders as you make progress and modify the road-map based on user feedback. Be goal-oriented and clearly mention on what date which feature will be completed. Marking releases as milestones on your prototype roadmap is a good way to make your progress measurable. I have always found creating and reviewing roadmaps as a good practice for keeping me and my interns focused in the right direction. A roadmap also helps in articulating and clarifying the vision as well as helps in brainstorming and getting feedback.
A Path to Full-Time Regular Employment: An internship is a good way for the student to develop professional relationship within the organization and demonstrate their work. Work towards turning your internship into a regular job offer from the company after your graduation. Talk to your internship supervisor during your internship period that you are interested in applying for a full-time job in the company after graduation. An internship is the best way to show your value to the company and for the company to attract you for employment. I have observed that several interns in ABB Corporate Research Center in India successfully converted their internship into a full-time job.
Be Positive, Work Hard and Have Fun Too: Be motivated and passionate about your work. Do what you like and like what you do. Be positive and work hard despite deadlines and highs and lows during your internship period. Collaborate and work with other interns and researchers within the organization. Share your ideas with your supervisor and discuss openly about any issues that you encounter. Be entrepreneurial, take risks and step outside your comfort zone. Be punctual and demonstrate excellence. In addition to working hard and being sincere, make sure you enjoy your time during internship and have fun too. Try to volunteer and participate in several technical (seminars, talks and hackathons) and non-technical events (such as cultural or sports events) during the internship.