Five advices to future research interns

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Welcome to the jungle

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During undergraduate school, I completed 4 research internships and one research project. I learned a lot during those, especially how to reason in order to resolve a science problem. Most of my friends are continuing in PhD. I don’t. Not because I’m fed up but unfortunately for personal motives.

Research projects are great for major things like: diversity, creativity, no pressure to develop a working prototype, to be part of the dynamic and awesome scientist community…
Really guys, research is awesome.

BUT, a research internship can be really hard, and this one can revolt you with research for a long time.

I propose 5 questions you have to ask yourself before to search or accept a research proposal, based on my personal experience.

Is the research proposal interesting me ?

You just received a research proposal!
4 months in Nuuk to study quantum mecanics and properties of a thing you never heard it before…
Are you REALLY sure that it interests you?

The research proposal is the first thing to check, and you have to ask yourself those questions:

  • What is the research structure which proposes you this opportunity ?
  • Is this research subject up your alley ?
  • Is this research domain totally new, the “new sexy” or already closed ?
  • Am I interesting in working on a problem and, maybe, not found a solution in resolving it ?

If the research internship is in a foreign country, don’t forget it can be difficult to be far away from your family and your friends.
You can ask also if you have to work with an other intern on this project - teamwork can be cool, but also very painfull and can break your concentration and your motivation (trust me).
Oh, and don’t trust some research teams that can tell you during the internship interview: “Come on, you can be the next Steve Jobs!”. You will not improve your commercial skills ;-)

Do I have a good english level ?

If you are afraid to read english papers, or if you find that read research papers is boring, STOP NOW!
Research is not for you.

If your english is not so good but you are interesting in reading papers about interesting subjects or new fields, you can practice and improve yourself during this one.
My english is poor, but I am persistent in improving myself everyday!

Reading papers and new proposals takes part of our (research people) daily life, and it has to be a pleasure to discover new things and make your own critical analysis of a subject.
Also, be warned about the possibility to write yourself a research paper. Glory and suffering

Am I interesting in working hard, harder and harder again… ?

I remember the time that I worked 12 to 14 hours a day during the 3 last weeks of an internship to finish a research paper, collaborating with a PhD on it.
It was really hard, but I didn’t give up, especially because the subject was really interesting and the research team I worked with was cool!

You have to be persistent and not be satisfied with the first best explanation!

Am I fearless ?

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake and to propose your ideas! Some important historical discoveries have been made by mistake.
Also, don’t be afraid to discuss with some research people, especially in english to improve yourself in listening and speaking the language.

Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything”.

Am I interesting in solving problems ?

The last but not the least

Personally, I like solving problems and, when I just resolved it and have some results, I discuss about them and I make sure that I don’t made any mistakes.
You just have some good results and made sure that there is no bugs in your program? So, your results can be interesting, but they are fully truth (except if you can strongly prove it).
To re-evaluate your results and your way to do something is essential, don’t forget it!

Don’t forget that focusing on your subject in your project is the most important thing you will have to do during your internship.
For me, focusing on just one thing is my principle weakness.

Finally, if you’re still interesting in working in research, I recommend you to read the following posts, wrote by two members of Inria’s SPIRALS research group: