Undergraduate research internships part 3— profile

“CMS@CERN” by Domenico Salvagnin

In the previous part, we explored the paths you can take in your internship/thesis journey. Now that you have got that covered, you will have to start somewhere. A lot of people often struggle to start preparing their applications for these internships. Depending upon where you are applying, you will require to furnish a CV/Resume, essays or research proposals (if you’re applying to fellowship programs), transcripts, and recommendation letters. Since we decided that we would focus on the technique of cold mailing, I would address this article specifically in its context.

Disclaimer: The pointers mentioned here are things I have personally incorporated in my CVs and resume over the last two years. If you do find other tips that work for you, please go ahead with that. If they are worth sharing with others, please reach out to me, I will be more than happy to append them to this article.

Applying via cold emails is easier than the other forms out there, but receiving a positive reply may take time. While mailing, one attaches a CV/Resume at the least. There are people who attach their transcripts and recommendation letters in addition to their CV, but I expect them to only have a marginal benefit. With professors receiving hundreds of emails every day from prospective students, it is difficult for them to go through your transcripts and recommendation letters properly. They would usually take a fleeting glance at your CV/Resume and usually, that is the dealbreaker. Your profile should highlight important factors about your interests and past experiences, stuff that grabs the attention of anyone who’s reading it.

Know the difference: Usually used to job applications and the likes, a resume is a concise version of your profile, usually spanning a page or two, no more. It highlights the key pointers about your past experiences. A CV, on the other hand, is a longer document presenting your full academic history. However, for undergraduates, CVs and resume are interchangeable terms to a large extent because their academic history is not long enough to fill up a bigger document.

It is usually advised to keep resume to one single page so that the reader spends all their time-consuming information from the single page that summarises your profile.

Your first step should be to start working on a resume. While there are several formats in which you can present data in a resume, common practice is to start off with education, research interests, and skillsets, then continue onwards to work/research experience and publications, and top it off with any miscellaneous descriptions about positions of responsibilities held, awards received, etc.

Include only necessary information and keep it formal and simple. While you can use any resume maker of your choice, LaTeX editors like Overleaf provide increased control over your document. You can find various resume templates on Overleaf. If you plan to work on a one-page resume, make sure you fill the entire page properly. Fill in information such that there is no whitespace in the bottom half. Make sure to maintain proper margins, have decent font size and bold the most necessary parts of your resume points.

Example: The following description of a project is written as a paragraph. The important details are not highlighted, thus forcing the user to search for the keywords

While this on the other hand divides the description into bullet points and highlights important keywords associated with the project. This improves the visibility of the information you are presenting.

While listing work/research experience, index them in reverse chronological order. Try to avoid listing unnecessary information like hobbies, high-school education (if you are an undergraduate student), etc., unless you wish to fill extra space in your resume. Another thing that is usually supposed to be avoided in a resume is rating your skills. While it makes sense for the reader to understand how comfortable you are with a particular programming language or software, rating them as beginner, intermediate, or advanced is a very subjective categorisation. What seems intermediate for one person may be advanced for the other. It is thus best to simply list down your technical competencies and refrain from rating them. An example is shown below.

Once you are done with your first draft of the resume, show it to your peers or seniors, take feedback and improve. With a few iterative changes, you will have a formal resume and you will be ready for application.

The same rules apply to statements of purpose and other application materials that you might create for applying to different fellowship programs. Keep a formal tone, while maintaining a general flow in your essays. Once you come up with a draft, ask seniors to provide feedback and improve upon it. If you are applying to a specific fellowship program, make sure you contact people who were a part of the program in the previous years and obtain feedback from them.

While you would not be utilising transcripts or recommendation letters while cold mailing, they will come in handy if you are applying to research internship (fellowship) programs. Make sure you give your referees enough time to write a recommendation letter for you. Oftentimes, some professors may ask you to write a draft for your own recommendation letter and send it to them. In that case, consult people who received recommendation letters from the said professor in the past and come up with a draft.

These pointers should help you come up with a good resume. A good place to find examples would be LinkedIn, where you will find quite a few undergraduate and graduate student resume. To start off, you can find some CV templates listed here and here. The next article will deal with cover letters/cover emails and is probably the most important part of this series. A cover letter along with your resume makes up the bulk of the cold mail process. With that dealt with, you should be able to start emailing prospective professors.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss the content, you can reach out to me on Linkedin.

The content here is a reflection of my process of applying to research internships and my undergraduate thesis. I suggest you also converse with other people and get to know their process as well. If a technique different from the stuff mentioned here works for you, I suggest you stick to that. All the best!

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Undergraduate student majoring in Mechanical Engineering

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Nivedan Vishwanath

Nivedan Vishwanath

Undergraduate student majoring in Mechanical Engineering

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