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Making internships work

MEERA SRINIVASAN

Internships and projects are vital components of graduate studies. How relevant are these academic inputs to career-building?

Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar

EXPERT TIPS: Nandan Nilekani, CEO, Infosys Technologies, interacting with some interns in Bangalore.

Internships and projects seem to have become integral parts of most courses. Whether it is an institution of national repute or a leading city college, internships are increasingly being recommended, and in some cases, even made compulsory, for students pursuing different disciplines.

Do these projects exist in the curriculum as a superficial academic exercise? If that were the case, how is it that we hear of internships that translate to jobs?

Management consultant T.K. Pandiyan says, "While there are a few students who do their internships well enough to fetch them a job, others don't, as a systematic procedure to ensure industry-institution collaboration is lacking."

Speaking on engineering graduates' internships, he says, "Heads of departments could meet CEOs of top IT and core companies to get a better understanding of the industry. Companies, on their part, could formalise the procedure. Like campus recruitments, they could go to campuses and pick candidates whose profiles match their requirements. If they choose the right candidate, they might get solutions to various problems free of cost." Industry-institution collaboration would also make educational institutions accountable for the quality of projects done, he says. "The concept of reference should be abolished. Students, instead of choosing their uncles' or aunts' companies, should go for options that develop their skills," he adds.

V. S. Vikraman, a student of the dual degree programme of the EEE department at IIT-Madras did his project at General Electric, Bangalore , last year. "Our project was related to image processing. I worked on medical systems. I had to come up with better imaging techniques to help diagnose ailments better. We worked with their medical systems team," he says. He adds that the three-month project was a wonderful experience and it enhanced his understanding of the subject.

Karthik Ganeshan, Academic Affairs secretary, IIT-Madras, says that their placement cell informs every company that comes for recruitment about the internship needs of various departments. "Many companies have an organised internship programme and they are more than willing to take in interns. Some of them even offer stipends," he says.

"Over the years, many companies such as ITC, HLL, L&T, Microsoft, TVS Electronics and Texas Instruments have been offering internships. Last year, we even had Bloomberg, New York, and Lehman Brothers, Tokyo, coming in for internships," he adds. Besides these, alumni, who are in touch with the cell, help students find internships. "At the end of their 8-week stint, many students are offered what we call PPOs (pre-placement offers)," adds Karthik.

Industry perspective

Cognizant Technology Solutions primarily offers internships to management and engineering students. "For engineering students, we offer internships only to those who have been placed at Cognizant. For students of management, Cognizant specifically goes to the premier B-schools and selects students for summer internship," says Bhaskar Das, vice-president, HR, Cognizant. "Management students doing their summer internships are potential hires, and it gives the company an opportunity to observe them for a defined period to take a much closer look at their performance and potential," he adds.

However, there is an opinion that companies use graduates for mundane jobs. "B-school graduates take up challenging assignments primarily in the area of analysis and research, be it geographical expansion, solutions marketing or competitor landscape analysis. Engineering graduates work in centres of excellence, co-developing internal frameworks and tools, etc," adds Mr. Das.

He also feels that management students from premier institutions, by and large, are well equipped. Fresh engineers, however, may need some additional corporate training, and finishing school (behavioural and soft-skill) inputs.

Other streams

Most engineering students go for their projects post-sixth-semester. In several other streams, professionals find it difficult to give undergraduates suitable work. Many colleges expect their first and second years to take up internships. Since the first year of any course would give just a basic understanding, professionals find it difficult to fit them in their organisation.

Lata Menon, Ad filmmaker, Iris films, says most of the undergraduates who did their internship with her were not very sure of what they wanted to do. "They are quite enthusiastic but since they come at a stage when they haven't learnt much, we are forced to give them mundane jobs. Students end up getting fatigued at the end of two weeks. I don't encourage internships for longer than that," she says, adding, "Now I treat internships like jobs. I ask students for their resume and a statement of purpose. This will give them some focus."

Ms. Menon says institutions should contact professionals and tell them the kind of training they expect from them.

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