The best research internships for this summer!

Are you interested in conducting research and analysis but don’t know where to begin? With the Research and Development sector increasingly gaining momentum, several public policy think tanks have cropped up in the last few years. Here are some notable institutes that offer research based internships to students in the social sciences over the summer:

  1. Centre for Civil Society: CCS is India’s leading liberal think tank with a global ranking of 50 in a survey conducted by the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program at the University of Pennsylvania. It offers a summer internship program (4th June-15th July, 2016) and accepts applications from all researchers, undergraduate and postgraduate students, recent graduates, and IB students in 11th and 12th standard. Both International and domestic students can apply for the program. The program’s specialty is its mixture of primary (field work) and secondary level research (through government data and academic papers), along with participation in various workshops and group discussions, which provides a wholesome research experience to students. After completion of the internship, CCS publishes your research paper in its journal, which is hugely advantageous for building a good CV. The deadline for the program is 1st May, 2016. Apply now!

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  1. NITI Aayog: Research internships are being offered to current undergraduate, postgraduate and research students in the summer, on an unpaid basis in various ministries of the Government of India. Please note that you must currently be enrolled in an academic program to be eligible for this internship. The deadline for applications is in two days, but do not fret! Just have your college marksheet at hand, and you can apply!

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  1. The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL): J-PAL is the premier institute that engages in quantitative economic analysis with extensive application of statistical software such as STATA, R Programming, SPSS and so on. It hires interns on a rolling basis for a variety of projects throughout the year. You can have a look at current vacancies here. In order to make your application stand out, it is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with basic knowledge of STATA (preferably) or other software like EViews or GRETL through courses available online or simply by picking up a data set and trying your hand at the software. You can also send your CV and a Cover Letter to individual professors, whose projects you are interested in and ask if they have any vacancies.

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  1. Observer Research Foundation: ORF is another leading policy think tank, which offers internships on a rolling basis in diverse research areas ranging from matters of national security to economic policy and climate change. Apply here!

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  1. Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability: This institute has a niche focus on budget and governance issues with regard to various government schemes and policies. It is renowned for some of the most advanced economic and finance oriented research on key budgeting issues in the country. While they do not offer structured internship programs, they routinely hire undergraduate and postgraduate interns to assist them in their research. You can directly email Dr. Subrat Das, Director, CBGA, and express your interest in interning with them. Send along a CV and highlight your specific areas of interest to make your application more impactful.

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  1. Centre for Equity Studies: CES is a policy think tank with a research focus on issues of social and economic justice including right to food, communal violence and urban homelessness. CES also does not offer an internship program but enthusiastically hires undergraduate and postgraduate students from the social sciences to conduct research on a host of issues. You can email Mr. Harsh Mander, Director, CES, and express interest in working under his guidance. Being a current intern at CES, I can vouch for the institute in terms of its credibility and research output. The people are extremely friendly, accommodating and highly independent. Within just 2 months of interning, I got the opportunity to attend national level government conferences, meet with UNDP members and interact with renowned economists including Jayati Ghosh and Pravin Jha. I would highly recommend this institute to students seeking research experience in the fields of Economics, Sociology, Anthropology and Law, as well as the other social science fields.

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Other research based organisations you can apply to for internships include the Centre for Policy Research, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, National Council of Applied Economic Research, the different organs of the United Nations (check out the Careers portal), Centre for Public Policy Research, Centre for Development Economics and NGOs like Pratham, Seva Mandir and a multitude of other organisations that have opened up in India. As mentioned above, simply write to individual Professors expressing your interest in working under their supervision, along with your CV and perhaps a Cover Letter. However, make sure you highlight specific areas of interest rather than simply stating that you want to conduct research. Have a look at their papers and projects they have been involved in earlier.

Good luck with the applications! 🙂

Preparing for the GRE

The Graduate Record Examination is an analytical exam that tests your verbal (English) and quantitative abilities, as would be required by a postgraduate student, in varied fields including the sciences and social sciences. Several top universities ask for GRE scores as part of your application for Master’s and PhD programs, if your native language isn’t English. In this post, I’ll give some tips on preparing for the GRE including different books and courses you can refer to, along with a brief overview of the different coaching centres available.

First of all, take a full-length practice test to see where you stand and identify your weak areas. Also, familiarize yourself with the format of the test through the ETS website, the official institution that conducts the GRE exam. The test contains three main sections:

You can have a look at the detailed structure and some sample questions through the links posted above, on the ETS website.

With regard to taking coaching for the GRE, there are several centres available. These include The Princeton Review, Chopra’s, Jamboree, Career Launcher and so on. ‘The Princeton Review’ has become the most popular centre in recent years and the coaching classes do benefit you to some extent. They introduce you to the structure of the GRE and help you understand what it’s all about. They also provide a weekly routine that keeps you motivated to keep studying for it. However, the coaching is hardly sufficient to prepare you for the exam. The main defect in the program is that it is not competent to tackle all your doubts, challenge you and nurture your growth in progressing towards the GRE. I found their tests to be of a significantly lower level than the actual GRE test. I would score between 325-330 in the mock tests but in the actual GRE (the first time I took it), I got 318, and it is said that the actual score should not differ from your mock test scores by more than 5 points. I don’t have much experience with other coaching centres but after discussing with my colleagues who prepared through Chopra’s and Jamboree and took the exam, I didn’t find that much difference in the quality of preparation offered by these coaching centres. Hence, if you want to follow a structured program through a coaching centre, The Princeton Review is probably the best one on the market.

Since I was not happy with my first GRE score, I decided to take the exam a second time. This time, I took an online course offered by Magoosh, ($100 or around Rs. 6,700/-) which provides 1000 practice questions of the verbal and quantitative sections of varying difficulty levels, set by you. Moreover, they provide several videos teaching strategies and solutions to each and every question on the portal. This course significantly helped me improve my score. Initially I felt apprehensive of spending money on an online course but it was money well spent. My quantitative score shot up from 162 to 170. You can also check out other coaching centres that offer online courses. While I cannot comment since I did not try them, I can definitely recommend the Magoosh online course.

Oftentimes, a combination of an online course and 1-2 good books can be the best source of preparation for the GRE. Here is a brief review of books I referred to:

  • ETS Official Guide: This book is a must buy. This material is provided by the Educational Testing Service, the organisation that hosts the GRE exam. It contains detailed tips and sample questions on each section of the GRE including 2 computerised mock tests. These tests provided in this book are really the only reliable estimate of your predicted score on the actual GRE. The ETS also publishes separate books on Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning that might be helpful.
  • The Princeton Review: This book gives you access to six online practice tests. The difficulty level of the math and verbal sections is moderate and it is a very friendly book to start out. The biggest advantage of their tests is the reviews that the company’s US teachers provide you for the essays you submit in the tests. Getting good feedback is essential for the AWA section and if this book can help you with that then it’s a big advantage.
  • Kaplan’s: In terms of the difficulty level, this book is similar to Princeton’s and can act as a good alternative. It also contains 6 practice tests with online DVDs.
  • Barron’s: The advantage of Barron’s book is the 3,500 vocabulary list they provide along with 300 or so High Frequency Words (In my opinion, this High Frequency list is sufficient to clear the Verbal sections. The verbal section is more about judging your analytical and critical thinking skills rather than rote memorization of word meanings). Further, the quantitative section of this book is of a higher level than what the previous two books offer. I would recommend progressing to this book once you have completed Princeton/Kaplan and are looking for higher level questions.
  • Manhattan’s: This book or set of books rather, provides an all encompassing prep material. Both the math and verbal sections are of a higher difficulty level than th other books mentioned in this list. I felt that the math questions proved essential to improving my score. However, this book should only be attempted once you have practiced several questions and are scoring above 160 out of 170 in practice tests.

The quantitative section of the GRE test is all about practice and application. Get in the habit of solving tougher questions through the aforementioned books and you’ll be well prepared. Furthermore, scoring well in the verbal section depends on your ability to comprehend complex pieces of text and your score can only significantly improve once you inculcate a habit of reading varied texts. Economics journal articles, research papers, academic books and newspapers are critical reading material for scoring well on the verbal section. Further, the AWA section can only be improved over time, by writing more essays and learning to structure your thoughts but don’t take it lightly; you need a score of at least 4 out of 6 for a successful university application.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further queries you may have.

My Scores:

GRE (First Attempt): 156 (V), 162 (Q), 5.5 (AWA)

GRE (Second Attempt): 159 (V), 170 (Q), 5.5 (AWA)

 

 

THE CHECKLIST FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL APPLICATIONS

So you’re off to Graduate School eh? Well, here are some pointers for applying to a master’s program in the UK in economics, economic policy, political economy and the like:

  1. Academic Transcripts: The marks you’ve obtained in each of the semesters (I-V) have a significant impact on your overall application and low marks cannot be compensated for by a better profile, recommendations or any other part of the application. While the admissions committee looks at your application in totality, your academic grades have perhaps the biggest weight in your application. Based on what I experienced and found out from the universities, each university has a minimum threshold aggregate percentage that you need for a successful application. These are as follows:
  • University of Oxford: A minimum of 80% is required, as mandated by the offer letters.
  • LSE: The University claims that a minimum of 70% is required but that is only the eligibility criterion. Due to a large influx of applications, you should secure at least 75-80% to increase your chances of making a successful application. Competition is intense and even if all other parts of your application are extraordinary, nothing compensates for low grades.
  • UCL: A minimum of 70% is required, as mandated by the offer letters.
  • University of Warwick: Minimum of 60% is required but again, try scoring above 65% to increase your chances of securing a place.
  1. Graduate Record Examination (GRE): GRE scores form a crucial part of the application. The important thing to remember is that these scores are not sufficient to ensure selection but they are enough for universities to reject your application. Further, the quantitative and AWA sections are the most important. The minimum GRE requirements by each of the universities will typically be mentioned on their website, but try to ensure an overall score above 320 and you should be good to go. For detailed tips on Preparation for the GRE, refer to my blog post!
  1. Statement of Purpose: The Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement is your chance to communicate with the admissions committee at a personal level. Talk about what got you motivated to study your desired course, your academic interests and also why you think you’re suitable for the proposed course. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself! This is your only chance to sell yourself to the admissions committee and convince them of your passion for the course. Most of the key pointers of your SOP are delineated on the LSE website and these can well be applied to the other colleges as well. Try to get your SOP proofread by at least 2-3 people- college professors, peers, seniors (you can send them to me as well).
  1. Letters of Recommendation: Do not underestimate them. This is a standard part of applications to foreign universities and the admissions committee highly regards professors’ opinion of you! Also, you should be able to anticipate which teacher can write you a good, detailed letter based on your level of interaction with them as opposed to someone who can only talk about you superficially. Specific and personalized letters are always regarded more than a general piece of writing about a student. You should be able to display academic competence, interest and real passion for the subject to the teacher. You really have to earn references and make yourself stand out. Interact more in class, spend more time discussing the subject and your interests with the teachers and engage yourself in co-curricular activities.
  1. IELTS/TOEFL: These English test scores are important but for most universities, they only need to be submitted once you have been made an offer of a place. They will probably not require you to take them as part of the application process.
  1. Scholarships and Funding: Start preparing at least 6-7 months ahead of the submission of your application. Scholarships apart from the ones that universities provide (which aren’t a lot) such as the Commonwealth scholarship, Chevening scholarship, Rhodes, Inlaks etc. have deadlines by October-November of the year in which you are applying, (The Rhodes closes by 31st July and Inlaks, in April the following year). Research well in advance about the scholarship criteria and spend some time preparing for interviews and working on your profile. If you can demonstrate competence, your chances of getting a substantial scholarship are good.
  1. CV/Profile: All of the above is minimum criteria that need to be fulfilled but to actually ensure a seat for yourself you really need to build your profile academically. Carry out research projects, write economics articles for online journals like The Indian Economist, Economy Decoded etc. Publications of research papers are generally not expected at this stage but paper presentations make an impact on your profile. In fact, scholarship holders typically have one thing in common: they have all made paper presentations and hold some awards/prizes.

Getting a place at a good university takes quite a bit of preparation and ideally you should do your research at least a year in advance although even if you are a bit late you will still have a good chance as long as your grades are good. The aim is to do the best with what you’ve got and keep working on yourself in directions that you can. All the best!

Please feel free to contact me for any questions you may have.

My offers:

MSc Economics at University College London
Msc Economics at University of Warwick
Aggregate percentage in semester exams: 74%
GRE score: 170 (Q), 159 (V), 5.5 (AWA); IELTS Score: 8.5 (Overall)