Research internships provide intensive exposure to reach academia. They may play a crucial role in making the tough decision of whether or not to pursue a career in research, particularly pursuing a Ph.D. degree. Looking back, I realize that my first internship at IIT Kharagpur for my Bachelor’s played a significant role.
The selection process and shifting to a new country as an international student may sound very intimidating, and it is actually, to some extent. You can find more details regarding my research associate position and the current projects I am working on the homepage of this website.
But from my experience, it is also worth it…
What will you get to know by the end of this article?
Through this article, I will share my experience of applying, interview preparation, and planning to come to Germany (right in the middle of the pandemic — January 2021), followed by some technical and administrative formalities before and after coming to Germany.
By the end of this article, I hope you will better understand this entire process and make a smoother transition plan.
To give more context, I was a first-year Ph.D. student at IIT Kharagpur, India, when I applied for the research associate or research assistant position. I got to know of this opportunity through my Ph.D. supervisor.
So, let’s start going through my memory lanes.
This article targets graduate international students coming to Germany on a short or long-term (more than 3 months) internship. I believe most of the administrative formalities will be almost similar to students from other disciplines or courses, but still, check whether it applies to your case to be sure.
The Search for Research Associate position in Germany
I assume you are already super-motivated, given that you are now reading it. So, you will not find a pep talk throughout this article.
Let’s start with the most pertinent question: Where to start looking?
Try to follow eminent researchers from your domain, they may retweet or post if some project positions are available. Follow Twitter handles like @jobRxiv.
Research programs in Germany
DAAD (quite famous) and Erasmus+ are the most famous ones. DAAD provides a very useful scholarship search tool, which you can use to filter based on your preferences. I think DAAD has programs for almost all education levels. Whether you are a Bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D., Postdoc student, or even faculty, and usually has no restriction on the country of origin. Erasmus, on the other hand, is limited to EU Member states and some more (see the following list of eligible countries)
Research experiences of past (Ph.D.) students
These two resources came to my mind that may help you — Demystifying ML Ph.D. Admissions to US Universities, Scholars Avenue IIT Kharagpur — Grad School Series. You can easily find several others on Youtube.
Complete the Application and Submit it!
This step involves preparing a cover letter and a CV (my CV can be found here). Please ensure that the CV contains the list of references that the institute may contact to give recommendations regarding you as a research student. A letter of recommendation is crucial, and do not hesitate to ask your professor if you have worked with him for a significant time.
Please have a personal website of your own
You can make it for free using Github Pages or Google Sites. There are standard templates also available that you can directly use. This page can be used to highlight your portfolio of projects.
Prepare a solid cover letter.
This may be optional, but I will personally recommend you to keep one ready. A standard storyline will be as follows:
Paragraph 1 — Who you are and what are you currently doing (2–3 sentences). Which projects or research areas are you interested in and why? This marks the end of the first paragraph.
Paragraph 2 — Provide details about your education and academic achievements. Remember to maintain a storyline and thematize to 2 or 3 special skills unique to you. For example, if you are a Ph.D. student, you can emphasize more how your Ph.D. work is related and how well it will be a learning experience for you.
Final paragraph — Describe specifics about the project you are interested in and mention some broad plans for future work that you think will be useful. Provide evidence or reasoning to defend your proposal.
For reference, you can find the template of my cover letter here.
Research Interview Preparation
I will break down the questions asked in my interview into 3 parts:
- Master’s coursework: List the courses in the order of relevance to the research position or the lab you are applying for. Given subject A, what was it about, and what did you like about it
- Master’s project or Thesis: Motivation and Problem statement of your Master thesis. What are the research challenges, and how did you solve them? Did you have any publications? ( I prepared a slide deck of 3 to 4 slides and took 4 to 5 minutes to explain it)
- Current work (in my case, Ph.D. work): Motivation, problem statement, and intuition behind currently methodology
Final Decision — Accept or Reject?
Notification of acceptance/rejection
Usually, you will be notified of the final decision within one month. If not, you can once ping, asking for an update. If rejected, do not lose hope and keep trying for different venues.
The remaining part of the document targets those who successfully clear the interview.
Internship confirmation from Germany
Once you receive the internship confirmation from Germany, they will also send a list of documents for you to complete. Please communicate with the contact person and clear all your queries. They are quite helpful, and the procedure will usually be quite smooth. So, you will now have an offer letter and visa application letter.
Good news! Congrats for making it so far
Now we will discuss the academic and administrative formalities that need to be completed. We will also discuss what else you need to plan as an international student moves to a new country.
It was quite intimidating for me, especially in the middle of the pandemic, January 2021. It was winter and right in the middle of the holidays (so a little deserted for the first two weeks)
Institute clearance from your parent institute
This part is the most crucial and maybe the most time-consuming. Please discuss the required regulations and documents with your supervisor and the academic section. Usually, they require the following set of documents:
1. Offer letter or Visa Application letter from the German institute
2. Plain-paper application requesting for No-Objection Certificate (NOC) directed to Dean, PGSRS (Dean of Academic Section of your institute). This application needs to be forwarded by your supervisor(s) and approved by the Head of Department (HOD).
This process may take some time, so please keep in constant contact with the Academic Section regarding any update on the status of the NOC (twice a week is appropriate, better try on Tuesdays and Thursdays)
Preparation for coming to Germany
I will provide a list of resources that I found quite useful. Then I will elaborate on them if necessary.
- Studentenwerk of where you are going (for Hannover, it is https://www.studentenwerk-hannover.de/index.php?id=en-international)
2. The International Students or Visiting Scholars page of the university you are going to (in my case, it is the Leibniz University Hannover has this page, https://www.uni-hannover.de/de/forschung/gastwissenschaftler/), https://www.uni-hannover.de/en/universitaet/internationales/wege-nach-hannover/
3. DAAD Website: Requirements: https://www.daad.de/en/study-and-research-in-germany/plan-your-studies/requirements/, Planning: https://www.daad.de/en/study-and-research-in-germany/plan-your-studies/
Guest Scientist Visa interview for coming to Germany
Usually, students pursuing a Master’s in Germany need to apply for a ‘Student Visa.’ However, Ph.D. and Post-Doc students or ones going for research internships or research associate positions like in my case requires a
Guest Scientist/Researcher Visa. You can find more information regarding the Schengen visa and other regulations regarding entry to Germany from the Germany Missions in India website. You can directly book an appointment with the German consulate, but I recommend using the VFS Global Service for a smoother experience.
I have used them for my visa and had a good experience and will recommend them to everyone.
1. If you are visiting the VFS Kolkata center, remember to take around Rs. 8000/- in cash; they sometimes have an issue with taking digital payment
2. Remember the passport-size photo should conform to the biometric requirements. This means it should have 35 mm x 45 mm dimensions and a white background (note: no grey, blue, or any other background will work). Please make around 5 to 10 copies because it will require different administrative formalities after you reach Germany. This is because it is quite costly to get passport photos here.
It was also quite quick. I received my visa by post within five days from the appointment date.
Finding accommodation is one of the hardest aspects for newcomers. This is quite true, and you must prepare for it as soon as you receive your offer letter from the German institution. I would two ways to get started:
1. If you are coming on a student visa, you can apply to the Studentenwerk in your city, for example, Studentenwerk Hannover. I have heard that they usually have a long waiting list, so try to apply as early as possible
2. If you are an international student, you can contact the International Office of your German university. Their websites are very informative and will help you to answer most of them.
They usually provide online or offline counseling sessions if you still have more queries. For example, this is the international students’ related section of the Leibniz University Hannover, and it was of great help to me. Specifically, they had a researcher accommodation help service where I had to provide my preferred accommodation details and my budget, and they connected me with a prospective landlord. This is how I got my first accommodation.
Believe me, this assurance from the university takes much of the pressure off you.
4. Facebook groups, Whatsapp groups: Try to find some connections who live there (relatives, friends), or find public Facebook groups. Many accommodation advertisements are also made there
Flight options: The most common flight choice is the Delhi-to-Frankfurt or Mumbai to Frankfurt Air India flight. It is a cheaper option, and the journey will most be at night-time. You can easily sleep through most of the journey, and you will reach Frankfurt in the morning. The timing is perfect if you plan to travel to other cities from there.
You can travel again by flight, but I advise using the ICE (Inter-City Express train). You can directly get on it from the airport, and the journey is quite comfortable.
Recently, I found out about Flixbus and use it always for inter-city travel (also have FlixTrain that are inter-city trains are good but is very budget-friendly. I have used them and had no complaints till date).
Monthly Salary or Remuneration for different research positions in Germany
If you are here for an internship, you will most likely get reimbursed (up to 1000 euros, which should be mentioned in your offer letter).
There is another “Scholarship Holder” position where you are paid a standard amount of around 1700–1800 euros.
If you are a university employee (like a Ph.D. or Post-doc student), you will be paid at TVL-13 or 14 scales, ranging from 50% to 100%, as mentioned in your contract. You can use the following salary calculator to know the exact amount. You will not receive any relocation reimbursement. But please clarify the same with your present point-of-contact with the university.
Please avoid mailing them on the weekends, and remember the time difference with your region during weekdays.
Daily and monthly expenses of living in Germany
Most of your salary will be for your room rent (350 to 500 euros for a shared flat, above 550 euros for a studio apartment). I have mentioned the rent breakup details under the ‘Accommodation’ point. Next will be your insurance which will be automatically deducted from your salary. Health insurance is mandatory; the most popular ones are TK or AOK.
For food, 125 to 150 euros per month is enough for a single student, and 50 to 100 euros for transport (based on the distance of your home or office). The total monthly expenses lead to a minimum of 550 euros for a moderately comfortable lifestyle. However, this will vary from city to city.
Cooking on your own is a great way to control expenses. The grocery materials are inexpensive compared to takeout food from restaurants (minimum of 5 euros for one meal). So, it will be a great advantage to learn how to cook basic dishes like making boiled rice, dal, and chicken curry. Please bring a multi-purpose pressure cooker (preferably from India), it will be crucial for daily cooking.
We covered quite a lot of breadth and dived deep into certain topics.
I hope to spread awareness regarding the research selection and shift to a new country as an international student. I hope it makes it a little less intimidating and would encourage others to take on this journey.
Stay safe, and I wish you all the best in your new journey.
If you have any more questions or comments, please let me know. I will get back to you as soon as possible (mostly on the weekends!)