An internship is meant to give students industry experience to help them transition from a classroom environment to a professional career. Because so much responsibility rests on the shoulders of an intern to get as much as possible from the internship, it’s important to find an internship that fosters growth and builds an intern’s network. At Megagon Labs, we see bringing on interns as more than just hiring a short-term helping hand. As we welcome spring and summer interns, we’d like to share with you how we foster an environment of growth and career development for both mentors and interns.
We asked Nikita Bhutani, former intern and now Research Manager at Megagon Labs, about the mentor and intern experience at our lab:
What is the day-to-day interaction between mentors and mentees? How does it impact the work?
At Megagon, we see an internship as a two-way street: the interns are typically interested in growing professionally and publishing, while the mentors want to explore something new and acquire a new perspective. To foster that relationship, mentors take the initiative to make their interns feel supported from day one. Mentors touch base with the interns on a regular basis. They encourage them to bring ideas to the table, make them feel heard, review their code, and provide useful feedback in an effective way. Most collaborations aim to publish the outcomes at top-tier conferences, and many mentors give the interns an opportunity to present their work, if accepted.
How are projects defined? How do mentors take candidate’s background and interests into consideration when defining projects?
Our intern projects mostly emerge from ongoing research endeavors, but are sometimes quite exploratory in nature (e.g. to gain experience at a specific technique/model). In order to have successful collaborations, mentors take great care to align the projects to the general research interests and skill set of the candidates. The projects are typically defined iteratively. Before the candidates are interviewed, a few research areas are identified for the projects. The candidates are then selected based on their skills and fit to the selected research areas. The final projects are then scoped out once the selected candidates are finalized.
Give us your perspective as a former intern and now as a mentor. What was your experience as an intern? How does it impact the way you mentor now?
I had a very positive experience as an intern at the lab. I was given a lot of creative freedom to come up with the solution to the research problem, but at the same time I received great support from my mentor. We would have regular informal meetings that helped me open up and express my ideas clearly. He also helped me connect with other members of the team. At the time I wasn’t very experienced in training neural models. My mentor very patiently guided me and enabled me to learn on my own. I learned a lot that summer and published a paper based on my internship work.
I feel my internship experience has greatly influenced how I am as a mentor. It has made me more compassionate, inclusive, and understanding as a mentor. I let my interns drive the project, and I support them in every way I can. I also maintain a good work ethic so the interns stay motivated and productive.
What are lessons learned from having mentored? How do you motivate your interns?
Every mentorship experience has been different, mostly because every intern has a different personality and working style. While some are proactive and like to drive their projects, others need more guidance and support. So often, I have to tune my mentorship style to bring out the best in the individual interns. The most successful internships were the ones where the projects were crisply defined and the expectations were clearly communicated. In general, I have found that being a role model is an effective way to motivate interns. This provides interns insights into how to manage their tasks and expectations effectively. Personally for me, this means showing empathy, commitment, respect, and optimism.
What advice do you give to students looking for internships? To the interns coming to us this Spring/Summer term?
I think the best advice I was given in graduate school was to be willing to learn. Oftentimes, I have seen students get too fixated on their research topics. Those students then become reluctant to explore newer problems. Young researchers should instead focus on building the ability to quickly learn and adapt. This becomes crucial as we step into the era of fast-paced research.
We take responsibility for creating a fruitful research ecosystem that inspires growth for everyone involved. This model has helped our team grow in experience and size. Many interns have returned to work with us, and many mentors have learned and explored new areas with them. We thank our interns for trusting us as partners in their blossoming careers. We thank our mentors for being supportive role models and staying aware that no matter how young or experienced, we never stop learning.
Written by Nikita Bhutani and Megagon Labs