Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Weirdest Request to Work With Me

I get a lot of requests from students who want to work with me - often Indian students who want to do "summer internships". But here is the weirdest one I've gotten so far:

I, A****** P*****, am a fourth year undergraduate student enrolled for the Dual Degree Course (5 year B.Tech + M.Tech) in the Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, the leading engineering university of the country.

I am currently in pursuit of an internship/project for a period of 8 weeks during May 2010 to July 2010, which would be of help to me in gaining experience and required knowledge in the field of structural engineering.I have been regularly following your articles in the journal of Finite Elements in Analysis and Design. I have gone through your article Finite element formulation for geometric and material nonlinear analysis of beams prestressed with external slipping tendons which was intellectually very stimulating. I then checked your website and am happy to be genuinely excited about any fortunate opportunities of working under your esteemed guidance. I am very interested in the field of structural engineering and am in the idea of pursuing my doctoral degree in the same field.

Needless to say, I don't work in "structural engineering", and I never have published in Finite Elements in Analysis and Design.


Gareth McCaughan said...

Looks like the reference is to this paper none of whose authors has a name at all like Shallit or works in the same place as you. I wonder whether one of {Zona, Ragni, Dall'Asta} has had a mystifying email from an Indian student who is very keen to work with them on automata theory.

Filipe Calvario (from Brazil) said...

As I've said before, I'm a Brazilian student of Chemical Engingeering and Mathematics, and an appreciator of your blog. Recently I have been following your articles in Journal of Modern Geocentrism and Not-that-Intelligent Design Research Institute, and would love to work in the area of Proofs of the Swiss Skilled Watchmaker under your esteemed guidance. Waiting for your answer.

Vince said...

There must be something more to this. A month ago I received the email below.

Respected Dr. Vincent,

I, R**** A****, am a 2nd year student of the Mathematics Department at the Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T) Delhi which is one of the top Engineering Colleges in the world (was recently ranked no. 3 by THES after MIT and Caltech). I am in an Inter-Disciplinary Integrated M.Tech Programme in Mathematics and Computing currently in my 4th Semester .

I have a keen interest in analysis and design of Algorithms and especially algorithms related to discrete mathematics. Since, I want to pursue a doctoral in discrete mathematics, I am willing to take my deep interest forward to doing something concrete in the field right from the very first opportunity I get in the coming summer break. A background of courses drawn from pure mathematics, Computer science and Electronics make me more confident about my analytical skills in a diverse range of subjects.

The areas in which you are working especially algorithms related to graphs and other applications of discrete maths and related algorithms is something I'm passionately interested in. I am highly enthusiastic about working on projects related to the same.

Joel Noche said...

I used to teach microelectronics at an electrical engineering department. Last 2001, I received the following e-mail:

Dear sir,

I'm an electrical engineering student at the Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), Madras, India and am doing my third year of undergraduation there with a specialisation in Microelectronics and VLSI design.

I was going through your university website and found your work on Microelectronics interesting.

Is it possible for me to do some work under you the coming May-July when we have our summer vacations? I have done some research work before, its written in my resume' which I've sent as an attachment with this mail.

Thank you for taking the time to read this mail.

Expecting to hear your response, sir.

Yours faithfully,


At least in my case the e-mailer got my specialty correctly.

Joel Noche said...

I also got the following e-mail last 2005:


I’m a fourth-year student of Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-D), pursuing Dual Degree Programme in the department of Electrical Engineering (B.Tech. degree in electrical engineering with specialisation being an M.Tech. degree in the field of Information and Communication Technology).

In order to enhance my skills & knowledge-base and to work in a dynamic, challenging and research-oriented environment to accomplish my incessant desire to gain more-and-more knowledge about my chosen area of study, I’m trying to seek an Internship in your esteemed institution during the period of December 9, 2005 to January 10, 2005.

I’m a diligent & dedicated individual with innovative thinking, having good learning capabilities coupled with leadership qualities, and possessing excellent communication and managerial skills.

I think you can certainly provide me this valuable opportunity.

Enclosed, herein, is my CV for your kind consideration.

With due regards,
M**** K****** K****.

P.S. - In case you could not provide me the desired opportunity, I will be very grateful if you could guide me to the concerned organization or person for this purpose.

Anonymous said...

I recently got one of these sent to "undisclosed recipients". It included a sentence to the effect of "I am interested in [long list including every sub-discipline of computer science]".

I had one addressed "Dear Ma'am". I'm a man, as the picture on my web page clearly attests. The oddest thing about this is that my female colleagues tell me that these kinds of letters are almost always addressed to "Sir".

As you say, they almost always come from students in India. I wonder if this is something they're advised to do?

diff.operator said...

Not really. Most of the email soliciting these internships come from students who are looking for a free vacation in a foreign land, to make a bit of money and to get laid. The trend was started a few years ago, when some actually talented individuals were invited to universities abroad. Since then, these IITians seem to think that they are entitled to free lunches. My advice to you would be to install a spam filter that identifies these types of mail. If not, you can write a mail to the director of the institute or the dean of UG studies at "" requesting them to forward a circular banning students from spamming international academicians.
However keep in mind that some of the students are actually very talented, so to weed out the hacks, you can post some instructions that applicants must follow (many professors in major US universities have already done so).
I hope these emails do not create a bad impression of IIT grads in your mind.
I should hope so, considering I am one myself :)

vabz said...

this is an Indian student of the college in discussion. We Indians are basically opportunists who have little to do with research when we say 'we study in premier institutes of India'

Mass mailing is a fad amongst iit students, most of whom look for a paid vacation in your project. But iitians provide economic labor and some of them work above expectations(some...mind you). Next time, try negotiating with the guys, and i am pretty sure you would save by outsourcing to the brown :D

Pratyush said...

I too am a student in the mentioned institute, and like the guy who sent this mail, I have been applying to various professors in my field of interest.

Of course, the sad truth is that most of us write a template mail and send it to a group of 100 odd professors. These are generally the ones who want to have a "free lunch".

There are, though, certain very talented applicants who actually read your papers and are interested in working with you.

It is very sad that these students are screwed because of the spammers, but such is the reality.

Shyam said...

IITians spamming is old news.. even phd comics is aware of this since 2007..surprised that more and more people are noticing it now..

rohitjaini said...

Intern Mail Spamming has always been a nettling issue for the Professors of foreign universities.

It is agreed that most students mail for the sake of getting an internship rather than having a keen and genuine interest towards the work. Yet, its a perpetuating fact that the Indian Institutes of Technolgy produce the best academicians.

Thus, its a request to all the Professors o kindly keep their mind casual in this regard as they can be assured of really talented students whose mails are on the way.

Unknown said...

Weird phenomenon. Got around three or four of these recently. The first one i answered to saying that the student in question would be welcome in case he brings his own funds. Never got an answer. So the next emails of the kind went into the spam folder.

Message to all IIT spam students reading this: Just because a lab is somewhere in a country that you consider to be richer than your own country doesn't automatically make it able to pay for your internship. Here it's the same as in your own country, you have to work hard to earn your money and you normally don't get things for free. Please adjust your attitude! It's not about writing tons of emails. It's about having a specific target and following this target. Writing mass emails disqualifies you immediately.


Anonymous said...

Respected people,

It would be great if anyone if you could point out what is weird in this application .I have seen similar requests which were also termed weird but I couldn't
understand what is weird about it. Sadly no one I know of is literate enough of has spent some time in such an intellectual environment so as to be able to explain me the weirdness of this text.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The explanation is right there in the main text. He says he has read my "articles in the journal of Finite Elements in Analysis and Design" but I have written no such articles.

He says he read my "article Finite element formulation for geometric and material nonlinear analysis of beams prestressed with external slipping tendons" but I wrote no such article.

He says he wants to work on "structural engineering" but I don't work in anything even remotely close to that.

Jason Bricks said...

That mail is not intended for you obviously, other than that i don't find it weird , and everyone else who said "such students" and "free lunches", really don't have a basis for their argument. Maybe there is a lot of such mails, because people from same places(classes and branches in this case) have similar interests and one cannot say that they are just spamming or dumb you until you have worked with a reasonable sampling.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing weird about this mail. This is not a generalised mail, it is meant to be for a specific person and by fault it had been sent to you. The student sending this is not a fool who will write anything and send it to anybody. If he wanted to mail to mass he would have used some general language.
Moreover, rather being judging by mails you should test the student's capability and also setup a criteria for applicants to apply.

A student from IIT Kgp said...

I am pretty sure this mail was meant for Alessandro Zona ( refer to (

Must be a wrongly sent mail...

Sabareesh Nikhil C said...

I am a student of one of the universities that have been accused of generating so much spam, but that Indians resort to spamming may simply be alluded to the fact that many possess talent, but lack opportunities.
For instance, many possibilities are lost to us simply because we hail from a nation that is still developing.
It's a sad state of affairs, no doubt, though, and one that many of us actively attempt to counter from the inside !

Pranay Ranjan said...

I agree that mindless spamming has become quite a trend in the IITs. I myself have applied to professors ( strictly the ones working in my areas of interest!! ) in the last two years for internships and I also know quite a few people who pretty much consider internships as an all expenses paid foreign tour. The sad part is that many of us, who sincerely look for an opportunity to gain exposure and experience, are defamed due to such asinine instances, like the one Prof Shallit experienced. It is my humble request to professors to kindly overlook such examples and I am pretty sure that it's easy for one to judge when a student is actually interested and competent.

Anonymous said...

Well,I don't think anything is weird here since the mail was wrongly sent apart from your desperation to post something new on your blog!

Anonymous said...

Dear esteemed academicians,

It is true that IITians fight hard to get an internship but I can definitely attest to the fact that a good number of them are genuinely interested to get exposure to your research work.

We are motivated to go for internship in reputed universities to know their research environment, research projects and the countries culture. This helps us later in applying for higher studies. Of course, knowing the education system of a country before applying there will help us make a conscious decision.

I myself had written a few mails before realizing that many of my colleagues all over the country(and world) are doing the same and hence, the professors might take my mail to be a spam. So, I stopped trying after some 10 mails even though I was writing to researchers after reading their papers in the journals of my area of interest.

I wished to be interviewed by them at least. I sincerely request to you not to discard all those emails but to archive it and interview some of them if you may be looking for hiring interns.

We are always advised students not to spam professors but, there are a lots of IITians too and hence a huge number of mails going around the world.

I really don't know what else shall a genuinely interested student write in the mail. Or shall they rather stop looking for internships!

In the end, I want to add that I had "earned" two internships during my undergraduate in reputed European universities and finally I applied for higher studies in Europe itself. In fact, my hosting prof hires interns most of the time to evaluate their work and interest so as to hire them for phd in her lab subsequently. Now, if you do not want a motivated student from IIT to do ph.d. under you later or rather you are really not interested in getting students for research in your lab, i truly apologize on behalf of my fellow colleagues.

Have a nice day!

Anonymous said...

True sir,
your article is going viral again

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeffrey,

I came across this article and strongly agree with you that this fad of mass mailing especially from IITians is truly disconcerting. Hailing from a top IIT myself, I have seen this trend especially among 2nd year students and 3rd year students with no freaking idea of their field or knowledge regarding what they want to do and mass mailing in hope to increase their probability of being accepted somewhere not realizing that their actions are just decreasing the overall probability of anyone being accepted. I myself faced the consequences of this when I applied for a research internship in machine learning and statistical modeling, and despite knowing very well the research groups I wanted to work in and detailing in mail whatever small amount I understood of their recent work and spending good time to compose a decent mail indicating that I am not just looking for an internship, I got no replies to my mails and finally went for a company internship. So while there are people who really want to pursue a research career and want to work in your labs just for the good exposure and gaining more perspective on how to do good research, the actions of the miscreants end up screwing up with the genuine ones as well. So instead of stereotyping, I think both you and students can benefit if you report the matter to their university(by easily identifying the department and university from their mail), if you think you are being mass mailed. Penalties are imposed on such students and this also prevents future students from repeating these mistakes. And this way you don't lose out on potentially good PhD students who genuinely care about doing good research

Vishal said...

I believe it’s astonishing how no one has attempted to propose a solution to this fiasco. After reading more than a few blogs regarding this, I think it’s our responsibility to push a fix to the issue. I am working with a firm, named Youth4Work, and we are a talent assessment and a hiring platform. You could read more about us in our media releases - .
Till now we were focusing on companies for recruitment, and are now expanding our platform for research internship hiring. I believe we have the perfect product named custom assessment, which could blow the entire problem out of the water. I would love to give a demo to the interested professors. Kindly drop a mail at or at or give a call at +91-8504 005425. I am sure our discussion would help the entire academic community take a step forward.