The MIT-India program matches students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with internships and research opportunities at leading companies and organizations in India.
Every year, for the last three decades, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been offering its students the opportunity to do internships and conduct research in India. The MIT-India program has grown rapidly in recent years and is now one of the largest of its kind in the U.S. higher education landscape. In 2018, it sent over 900 students to India.
Most students take up internships with a wide variety of organizations, including large companies, small technology start-ups, nongovernmental organizations, government agencies and international organizations. Others work at research labs or participate with Indian students in “maker labs” or “entrepreneur boot camps” to experiment with new products or businesses to meet India’s burgeoning needs.
MIT students who take part in the program get valuable overseas experience in a country with world-class schools and a huge, dynamic economy. But what motivates Indian companies and universities to participate?
“Many Indian entrepreneurs have been internationally educated,’ says Melanie Mala Ghosh, managing director of the MIT-India Program at the time of the interview. She has recently joined Tufts University as the senior director for Study Abroad and Global Education. “At MIT, our students learn hands-on technology and can do rapid prototyping, whereas India has traditionally had a more theoretical approach. So they complement each other.”
The program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students of MIT. Most spend three summer months in India, though stays can last for two weeks to 12 months. Serena Le, MIT intern at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in 2017, is credited with developing a low-cost, 3D-printed medical device. Other interns have worked on pressing issues like improving road safety and drinking water quality. Some advanced students teach. For instance, during one such program, 10 MIT graduate students led a one-month intensive robotics class at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur.
MIT faculty members bring students to India, teach short courses, run workshops and participate in symposia and conferences. Some have developed research partnerships with colleagues at leading Indian institutions.
“Our faculty work a lot with faculty in India to identify needs in India,” says Ghosh, the daughter of an Indian father and an American mother. “Many of the interests of our faculty and students are pressing interests for India, too, so they mesh together well.”
These include energy, the environment and climate; health care, medical engineering and bio-pharmaceuticals; food, agriculture and water management; and urban planning.
The program is part of a broader scheme promoting global experiences and collaborations for faculty and students. The MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) operates in more than 24 countries and regions in the world.
The MIT-India program was established in 1998, but it follows on a longer history of collaboration. In the 1960’s, MIT played a central role in the founding of IIT Kanpur, the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. Today, MIT boasts of a large population of faculty, students and alumni of Indian origin.
The program pre-selects candidates based on their level of academic performance, motivation and faculty recommendations. To participate, MIT students need to have high grades. Undergraduate students need to attend one class on South Asian politics, culture, history and business. All students need to submit documents like their résumé, letter of motivation, unofficial transcript and letters of recommendation. The program pays for all expenses, including airfare, visa and a stipend to cover food and accommodation. “We have more students and faculty demand than we can finance,” says Ghosh.
In recent years, more of the program’s internship and research opportunities have involved an interdisciplinary approach. For example, a collaboration with IIT Kharagpur involves water science, urban planning, property rights as well as urban conservation.
Another trend is a growing interest in developing low-cost, affordable technologies. “Our faculty is going to India to not only teach,” says Ghosh, “but also to learn how Indian researchers, companies and government agencies are developing low-cost solutions and scaling them to a vast scale.”
Burton Bollag is a freelance journalist living in Washington, D.C.