Faculty Internships. But Why Not?

What stops the world from inviting teachers and professors to work for a while in industry?

We need to make education more relevant to the demands of the workplace – most people would be in complete agreement with this. The question is how to go about doing this. Sure, one could rejig the syllabi, and get feedback from alumni and industry – and this has been happening for years in many colleges and universities.

But how many industry professionals have spent a semester seeing what is taught to students? How many professors have spent a couple of months observing what work happens within a corporate set-up? Would the world be better off if more of this happened?

And if your answer to that question is yes (and this is very much true in my case), then why are we not trying to make more of such “internships” happen?


  • When a firm visits a campus for placements, also have the firm explore the option of asking professors if they would like to tag along for the duration of the internship
  • No money need change hands – the college will pay the professor their monthly salary (and if need be, an additional stipend to cover living expenses)
  • Students get a mentor on site, which means lesser work for the employees of that firm
  • The professor gets a peek into what is going on in the corporate world:
    • Which are the tools in use, versus the ones being taught in college?
    • What is the work pressure like, and are students being adequately prepared?
    • How important are the changes in the style of writing and speaking?
    • Is what is being taught in college relevant?
    • Are corporates missing out on tricks that the professor can help them out with?
  • And the firm gets an insight into how the professor has been teaching. Even better, while at this faculty internship, the professor can attend training sessions that have been organized in the workplace, meet with departmental heads across the firm, and perhaps even meet some of the clients.
  • If the professor can actually get involved in a project, nothing like it. Sure, you’ll need to sign NDA’s and all of that, and sure this might not be possible in all organizations for all projects – but surely some projects in some organizations should be possible?
  • And if a firm is willing to make the investment, why not have industry professionals spend a month in a university? Maybe conduct a course, or a part of a course – but really more like a scholar in residence. The ability to interact in a more relaxed environment with students, to guide them, to mentor them, maybe collaborate with them – surely there is merit in the idea?
  • I do not know if there are colleges/universities in India that already do this. If you know of any, please do let me know.
  • But especially if you don’t, please do one of these two things:
    • Help me understand the potential downsides to such a scheme
    • If you think there to be no potential downsides, help me try and get this off the ground? Bridging the gap between academic ideas and real world problems1 is a great problem to try and solve, and I think this idea has some serious merit.
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On Interning

It is hunt-for-an-internship season at our Institute, as I suppose is the case all over the country.

The process is trickier than usual, because of the pandemic, and for that reason I wanted to put up a small outline of my thoughts about internships.

  1. At the start of your career, optimize for learning, rather than branding. This means that in your internship, and your first job, you should optimize for firms where you are likely to learn a lot, rather than firms that are prestigious. Prestigious firms are likely to be more bureaucratic, and more about status. This means that the junior employees aren’t likely to get a lot of crucial, really important work. The pay will be better, the Friday parties will definitely be better, but the opportunity cost will be high as well.
  2. Learning how to document the work you’ve done is a very, very underrated skill, especially in internships. One way to be really and truly remembered at the end of your internship is by handing your mentor a docket of what you did, what you wish you had done, and a documentation of all the processes you learnt about.
  3. Best of all, include a section for the next intern in this team. Include stuff like who to meet in payroll, where is the best chai to be had, who in IT is especially helpful etc, along with the obvious stuff. Not only is paying it forward a good idea in and of itself, but that next intern is automatically a friend for life.
  4. Go for all the chai and sutta beaks that you are invited to, even if you don’t smoke or drink chai. Relaxed conversations with your mentors or seniors is invaluable, and soak in all the info you possibly can.
  5. Learn Excel. Here’s a laundry list to get you started: HLOOKUP, VLOOKUP, INDEX, MATCH, OFFSET, SUM, SUMPRODUCT, COUNTIF (and all the variants). Pivots, filters, data analysis add-in, solver add-in, charts, trace precedents, what-if analysis, data tables, goal seek, data validation. You must know all of this in and out, and be able to know what you can use when. YouTube videos, websites will help, but the best way to learn is to sit with a colleague and ask her to help you out. I cannot emphasize this enough – you need to know Excel. It doesn’t matter which role, which team, which department. You. Must. Know. Excel.
  6. Whatever productivity suite your organization is using, soak yourself in it. GSuite, MS Office or anything else. Know the ins and outs of the email system, the calendar tool and the internal messaging tool. Invest the time to make yourself a ninja in it. Trust me, it is worth the effort.
  7. Seek out a mentor in the organization if one isn’t allotted to you. Set up weekly lunch/tea meetings with the mentor, and have her tell you stories about stressful times in the office.
  8. Continue to learn whatever tools you got access to at the workplace. It could be Tableau, Crystal Ball, R, Jupyter notebooks or anything else. Again, soak yourself in the tool, and start on the path of becoming a ninja in it. This will take time, but it is worth your while.
  9. Learn the big picture. Ask your mentor how whatever project you are working on fits into the larger objectives of the workplace. My very first manager told me something I have never forgotten: every single thing you do in the workplace is either raising revenues for the firm, or is cutting costs for the firm, or is improving speed-to-market. If what you’re doing is achieving neither of these three, then it is a waste of time. Ask, until you are clear about the answer, how your project fits into this simple model.
  10. Lastly, about landing an internship. Do not send out blanket emails to contacts on LinkedIn, or elsewhere. Shortlist not less than ten, but not more than twenty people, and write them a personalized note. These folks should have skillsets you want to possess – it doesn’t matter where they work. The note should include a specific question about this skillset. If they answer – and to such specific notes they usually will – take their advice to heart. Incorporate it into a project you are working on. Send them this project, and ask for feedback. Then ask if they can help you land a gig. All the notes I get on LinkedIn just ask for a gig. That’s a waste of a potential networking opportunity.