5 Steps towards a Research Internship for Students with No Experience


Applying for an internship can be quite nerve-wracking, especially when you have never had one before. You have so many questions in your mind. How to apply? When to apply? Where to apply?

Not to worry! I have been in your shoes and through the struggles of applying for my first internship. After surfing through various websites to get some information on application procedures or email formats, I was surprised that many did not have what I was looking for. I wanted to share my experience with you all who are facing such a situation. When I was applying for internships I could not find many posts which answered a lot of my internship-related questions.

I have thus come up with some steps to help you towards the process of your first internship which I feel can help you with your internship. Quite a few people suggest that one should start with internships in their 2nd or 3rd year of college; from my experience, I say otherwise. You should start as soon as you can. If you have any questions post a comment below or just send me a message.

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How will an internship help you?

For many students (as it was for me at least) as they start with their college lives, they are either unsure of this important ‘life choice’ they have made or they are ‘too sure’ of their choice. Either way, I know of many who started in my field of study (I am a recent aerospace engineering graduate) as a passion and now work in another field (which isn’t a bad thing…you should do whatever you want to. You have that choice.)

What I want to convey is that not many are sure of whether they want to stay in that particular field or maybe try something else. Either way, he/she should definitely try for an internship as this will help make this decision simpler. You get the exposure as well as experience you need for making this important decision.

But how will one help you? I was unsure of this initially. I had a few people to guide me to do otherwise and I tried my hand at my first internship and fell in love with the field of Aerospace Engineering instantly (after a whole lot of I-don’t-know-how-to-solve-it fits of anger). In a few words, an internship basically helps one to understand if the field they have selected is the one for them or not.

That is why I have also built you a one-of-a-kind Research internship tracker that is perfect for staying ahead of your internship game. If I had this tracker when I was applying for internships, my process would have been 100 times more efficient and smoother.

This tracker is made using all aspects of the application process in mind. You can learn more about it on Etsy.com. Don’t forget to subscribe to the email list to get 20% off your purchase.

Now considering that we have covered some of the reasons why you should get an internship…these are the steps towards getting one:

Step 1: Start early and keep your options open

Start as early as you can. If you are planning for a summer internship (June-August) you should start your internship research during your winter-break (December). You can subscribe to the form at the end of the post to get a free timeline for applying for internships. No day is too early to start doing your research about the field of study you want to apply in, the place you want to apply to, the professor you want to work under e.t.c..

That being said, do not limit your area of study within your field. You might think you have an idea on what you want to study within your field, you might just be wrong as I was. Before even knowing what aerospace engineering truly meant, I made a huge error in selecting my branch of study within the field. I had entered aerospace engineering thinking that I will mostly be working on the design aspect, turns out I am better at aerodynamics and I am in love with this field. So, you never know, what might be your right path. So keep your options open!


Step 2: Prepare a basic CV

Making a Professional looking CV is one of the most important and tiring tasks. Although a colourful CV feels like a good way to go, professors do not have the time to go through the teeniest details. Simplicity is a virtue in this case. I personally like to use some of the LaTeX formats. (Don’t know what latex is? Read A Simple Guide to Understanding LaTeX for All) They are simple yet elegant and you can find a whole lot of templates to chose from! LaTeX being opensource is easily accessible and the format remains the same no matter what operating system you use. You can also go on to a few online choices such as Sharelatex or Openleaf which are free to join!

Check out the article on How to Write Undergraduate CV for Internships to get a step-by-step process of writing a CV. You can also subscribe at the end of the CV post to get a free template of a CV you could use!

While writing your cover letter and CV, don’t forget to use Grammarly as a tool for making sure you have the best formulated sentences which will help you crack the internship. It is my go to each time for any article writing. Check out Grammarly Today!


Step 3: Do thorough research on professors whose research interests you.

Step 1, 2 and 3 go hand in hand but, this particular step is time-consuming! You cannot just look at the profile of professors, check the topmost papers and think you are done. Firstly, prepare a list of the professors. Use a notebook or make an electronic copy, your pick. This not only helps you keep a record of professors you are going to or have already applied to but also will you prioritise your choices and help you with better internships for the years to come in your college life. No matter how good of a memory you have, as the list grows, you will tend to forget. Subscribe to the form at the end of the post if you want a free copy of the list format that you should follow.

Secondly, once you are done skimming through their web pages, be sure to check out their google scholar profile. This will provide you with a good picture of the professors’ field of study even if it is not clearly mentioned in their web pages. I have been through quite a few web pages of professors which are not updated and found out their research with this method.

Thirdly, you do not need to go through the entire length of research papers. One way of finding the gist of research papers which I found during my research internship was to read the abstract properly, skim through the introduction and the rest of the paper and thoroughly read the conclusion. This way you will get a good idea of the topic the paper is trying to explain.

When you just start in the field it becomes difficult to understand some research papers owing to their complicated language, unfamiliar terms, unknown equations and much more. When this happens do not lose hope, you will get the hang of it eventually.

Through the research tracker, this step becomes as smooth as butter. It has a special feature where when a professor does not reply to you, you get a reminder to resend a follow-up email a month after the previous one. This ensures that you never miss out on an opportunity!!


Step 4: Write a basic Cover letter

Once you are done with the first two steps, you are ready to write a cover letter. Now, do not rush through this process. It took me weeks to write a good cover letter (article coming soon, subscribe at the end of the post to know when). You need to do a good research in this area as well, as this is the first piece of information that would compel the recipient of your email to go through your CV. Look up a few sample cover letters to get an idea. You can read how to write internship cover letters for a better understanding and get the free cover letter formats as well.

You have to present your best and most valuable aspects within 300-400 words. DO NOT write huge paragraphs! No one has the time go through large emails. Do not make the cover letter your brief CV. You have to write about the things you might have missed out on in the CV and only a few of the very important points from the CV.


Step 5: Start Applying!

The first point of interest, getting an internship is not a piece of cake. It takes time, effort and a whole lot of energy. It just does not happen in a day. Many get discouraged after a few negative or no replies and stop trying. But remember this, even if you do not get one this time around, you will know where you went wrong the next time you try.

The main point to remember is DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE! One doesn’t get replies in a day or two (and not always positive ones), you need a lot of time and patience. I know a lot of students (including myself) who have gotten just a few replies to every 50 emails sent. You will have to send maybe 100-200 emails to different professors to land on few who are looking for interns who fit your profile.

Also, remember, DO NOT SPAM THE PROFESSORS. At times professors are too busy to check their emails or they have received so many that they just missed yours. That does not mean that you go about and start sending emails to them every other day until they read it. That is not only off-putting but might actually cost you the internship that they would have instead offered if you had given them the time to work it out. You could instead wait a week or two before resending the email. But do this once or twice and never more. If they do not reply, maybe they do not need an intern.

Which is the best time of the day to apply?

Now, the question might arise, at what time and day of the week should you apply? The answer is, the first day of the week and in the early hours, around 8AM-9AM. The reason being that this is the time professors usually check their emails when they first go to their office and are likely to come across the email you have sent and hence likely to reply. That being said, it isn’t necessary that if you miss this time slot you should wait for another week. You can send it at the same time slot the next day or even at a different time the same day. However, avoid sending emails during the weekend as it is unlikely that they will check their emails at that time. Or even if they do, they might not respond. ( Well, you wouldn’t want to work either during holidays.) If they do not check their emails they might just end up on the lower side of their inbox, something which is not in your favour.

A small tip that I noticed during my internship process: 

Many professors have a repetition system. If they accepted students the previous years from your college, they are likely to do that again. Have your eyes and ears open out for such opportunities!

Thanks a lot for reading this post! Although not guaranteeing one, it will surely provide a path for you to work on and thus enhance your chances! Do subscribe to the list below if you want a free timeline for internship application preparation. Also, do comment on the post below if you have any questions or send me a message. I will reply to you as soon as I can!

Do share this post with your friends to help them with the process as well!

 If you want to know how to excel in academic writing (essays, cover letters etc) ‘A Simple Guide to Understanding LaTeX for All’ where I take you through a step by step process of making your academic writings easy. Or you can check out how to excel in academic writing (essays, CVs etc) Latex and a cover letter. It will definitely help you out!

Happy applications 🙂

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12 thoughts on “5 Steps towards a Research Internship for Students with No Experience”

  1. Thanks for sharing this information. Can you give your personal email to contact you regarding some guidance from you?

  2. I’ve followed tehese intructions and now I’ve been invited to an online interview. Thanks Nupur for your work but It would be very beneficila if you add something for summer job online interviews!
    Best regards!

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