How to Get Research Internships at IIMs?

Aditi Mulye
7 min readJun 9, 2021

A Little About Myself

Since this is my first blog on Medium, I’ll start with a brief introduction about myself. I have completed my undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Medi-Caps University Indore. Coming from a lesser-known college, it had always been a struggle to find decent internship opportunities as almost all the companies only hired through campuses and 95% of the online applications went unnoticed. I had studied Economics in class 12th and took a few more management courses during my college. This helped me in understanding what I wanted to do further.

Having minimal coding experience, I knew I wanted more of a non-technical internship than a technical one. I spent hours searching for internship opportunities at different places, but all in vain. I mean, let’s be serious. Who is going to hire a II-year B.Tech student for a management internship! However, I kept looking for opportunities and that's when I came across an internship experience by someone on Internshala who had interned at IIM Ahmedabad. That was when I got inspired! I knew I wanted to be someone who had interned at India’s best B-School. Being in the second year, I didn’t have any prior internship experiences as such. I knew that I had to make a strong cover letter to support my application.

Figuring out which professors to apply under

Now this one is the trickiest part. I knew that the online and offline courses I had done before would help me, and I was looking for something in a similar field. There were two main areas I sticked to, Marketing and Economics. I had taken a few extra-credit courses in my undergrad in Economics and had also studied it in my 11th and 12th. During my first year, I worked in a start-up in Marketing so decided to give it a shot as well. I applied to over 50 professors in various colleges of the country, sometimes 7–8 per college. You may have to increase or decrease the number based on how well-known your undergraduate college is, what other experiences you’ve had, etc.

How to Approach the Professors

So, one can find different professors on the faculty page of the various institutions. Example - HERE. Once you have decided the area you want to work in, the road becomes easier.

One cannot write a generalized email and use the same for a professor of Economics, Analytics as well as Marketing. I mean, you get it right! The professors from premier institutions get 100s of emails from students like us across the country. So we need to make sure that our email stands out from the others. How do we do that? It’s simple!

Read about the professor’s ongoing projects, past papers etc. thoroughly and the insights you got from it and mention them in your email. Your email should showcase a real passion for his subject and interest in his work. Your cover letter (email body) should not be a generalized one. Use the little tricks and tips to make it look more professional! For instance, instead of writing Dear/Respected Sir, prefer writing Dear/Respected Prof. XYZ. If you don’t have a previous relatable internship experience, you should also mention the relevant courses, if any, in the field of interest of the professor.

One thing to keep in mind is to strictly avoid writing the generalised qualities like hardworking, sincere, team work, competitive etc. Try to avoid copy pasting the general formats from the internet. The guy we’re mailing generally has 20+ years of experience in teaching at one of the best schools and he knows how to differentiate between a fake and a real interest of the person.

Regarding the CV, it doesn’t have to be anything special. Your usual professional CV would do. I made my CV on LaTex.

Receiving the replies and preparing for the interviews

Out of 50+ emails that I sent, only 7–8 of them replied. A lot of professors don’t reply, and it is okay, they’re generally traveling or busy with other non-academic, consulting work during summers. A few of them were kind and responded, saying that they were busy with something and weren’t looking for an intern.

Interview preparation varies from professor to professor. Some professors might give you a take-home assignment and others may schedule a call on zoom.

So, I got a positive reply ten days after sending the email, but it can vary in other cases. I had not sent a follow-up. It was such a happy moment. I screamed in the middle of one of my lectures. It read as follows:

How many rounds of interviews took place? What was I asked in them?

So basically, there was only one interview. I was given ten days before the meeting took place. It was a telephonic interview. The professor had sent me a very old and famous research paper by the Nobel Prize recipient, Richard Thaler. It was on Behavioral Science.

Now I had never studied this subject in my entire life, and here I was, about to explain the findings of this Nobel Prize Laureate! There were several terms in the paper that I wasn’t familiar with and Google wasn’t a great help in finding them either. However, I made notes and studied as much as I could. I knew I didn’t do well. However, the professor was kind enough and asked me to study appropriately and rescheduled another meeting. I used everything I could to get in-depth knowledge: YouTube videos, online study material, books, etc. I read this famous book by Daniel Kahneman: “Thinking, Fast and Slow” which was really helpful in understanding various concepts. This time I prepared harder with all the real-life examples etc. You know how it ended!

The culture and life at IIMA

I went for the internship during my summer break after the IV Semester. I was there for around two months. The ambiance was just mesmerizing, and I usually used to study and complete the research in the library. It was amazing. Air conditioners over every single table, so many books, papers, thesis, comfy sofas to rest (even sleep) if you get tired after working, everything about that place was just incredible.

I was accommodated near the campus in a PG, which was Vishwashanti Girls Hostel. During my two months there, I didn’t come across any cultural or technical fests at the campus because of the summer break. But by interacting with a few people who were there, I got an idea of the IIM-A culture. I found the staff, security vendors, etc. to be really helpful and friendly. They showed me around, told me where the mess was and helped me in every possible way.

Major Learnings from the Internship

I was asked to conduct a background study on the steel industry of India and then one company in particular. I referred to the Annual Reports, Bloomberg, Statista, and other websites for collecting the data. I also went on-field talking to executives, distributors, customers, and anyone who I thought could be helpful for my research report. Since this was my first professional work experience, I really came to understand what it is like to work under someone and meet my work deadlines. I became more organized, to follow someone was a new experience for me. Most importantly, I learned how to thoroughly research something. I was finally asked to give ideas of different case studies that could be made on the basis of the data collected. We selected one of the ideas and I presented my findings in the form of a case study.

About my work and how challenging it was

My mentor was quite supportive and gave me advice on how to improve my work. Being mostly busy and traveling, I got to meet him only 4–5 times during the entire internship. We were mostly in contact via emails. This was the first time I had ever done something so huge on my own. It was a fun learning experience for me. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own, and it was at least seven drafts before my work got finalized for submission.

Who should consider a Research Internship

If you’re someone who likes studying management subjects, wants to do an MBA, or wants to experience life at an IIM, this is it. This internship helped me come closer to what I want to achieve in life. The learning from this internship made me focused and driven, which helped me land another internship at the University of Cambridge. After all, an internship at IIM Ahmedabad can only be good for your profile!

A piece of advice

I would suggest being candid about yourself. More importantly, you should remember that it is you who needs the internship, not the professor, so keep a humble attitude all the time and don’t lose hope. You may get just one reply out of those 50, but that is what you need, right. And if you really want this, just keep hustling for it.

If you want to connect, please reach out to me on my LinkedIn profile.