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I am third-year bachelor student currently seeking a research internship in Germany and I encounter many group websites that say something like: “We have positions for bachelor projects.” I am wondering whether this means that these projects are only intended for a thesis and suitable for final-year students about to graduate, or do they also welcome not-final-year undergrad students? (BTW, my discipline is physics, and I am not looking for position in my home institution).

I guess it’s gonna look stupid if I send an inquiry to the professor without figuring out this problem.

  • What is the difference between “students about to graduate” and “undergraduate students”? Or do both mean final year students ? Ie projects that are suitable for final year students... – Solar Mike Mar 5 at 4:46
  • The former one, I mean final year students. The latter one, I only mean ordinary undergraduate students. My point of question is: whether these projects also accept undergrads like e.g. junior year for internship? or they are only for final year students to do thesis? – ConwL Mar 5 at 5:54
  • I would guess some work regulation applies here. If this project is out of the university, a student who take the project as part of the study (required by Prüfungsordnung, i.e. bachelor thesis, mandatory internship), has different status than the student who does optional internship or side-job. If it is in university, a student can work as bachelor thesis without salary. But a voluntary research internship may require the institute (thus the state) having a working contract with the student. I agree it worth asking. – Shuangistan Mar 5 at 14:36
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In most cases professors will not be offended if an eager, and knowledgeable, undergraduate approaches them about working on a project. This doesn't mean they will have a position for you, but it does mean it is always worth asking. Reading their website and seeing what they are interested in is a great start.

  • I feel this doesn't quite answer the question, but the question indeed is not completely answerable without knowing the original wording. It's not about being offended per se. However, if the OP is too far off with their inquiry, the impression created may well be that they are alarmingly clueless about how their major works and rather than inform themselves the regular way, they aimlessly spam professors, hoping to stumble over the right spot at some point. In fact, strangers sending apparently random requests to work in one's department are IMHO a common enough nuisance for many people ... – O. R. Mapper Mar 17 at 17:34
  • ... working in academia that the OP does well to wonder first whether their inquiry is based on wrong assumptions about the possibly offered position. – O. R. Mapper Mar 17 at 17:34
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From my experience in German academia (CS/Math), "We have positions for bachelor projects" means just that. Final year students (of that department!) who want to do their bachelor thesis can write to the professor and get a project. Departments are usually obligated to offer several of these projects, so that every student of the department can have a shot at writing a bachelor thesis.

This notice is in my experience addressed to students of the department and does not imply anything about 'research internships' (My experience meaning, on our webpage we have a similar sentence and this is exactly what it means). From your question is it not clear to me if you are already a student of said university, this might be quite important here.

However, the professor might still be interested in offering a project to you (as discussed in Astronome's answer), unrelated to their bachelor projects, so just write a polite email and ask him.

  • I am not a student of that university.I am not even pursuing my degree in German XD. So, how significant would this factor be? – ConwL Mar 5 at 11:08
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    If you would write to our group, we would write back: "These are projects for our students, we currently do not offer any research internships for foreign students, our admissions for a masters degree are so and so and we recommend you to apply there." – mirrormere Mar 5 at 14:12
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If bachelor theses are a thing in your programme, the statement in question almost certainly is about thesis projects.

However, at least in my experience, most research produces side projects all the time, and a group may just have one that fits your requirements and abilities. If a group advertises specific projects and does not find a bachelor student, they may also be happy if you are willing to take on such a project (if you bring all the prerequisites).

A very crucial factor in this is whether they expect that your work is worth the resources they invest into you (probably mainly supervision time). For example, my personal, field-dependent rule of thumb is that the average bachelor project takes as much time to supervise as to do the respective work myself. Compared to this, you have the advantage that you do not need to supervision for writing and defending a thesis, however, you also have the disadvantage that there is less incentive to make you finish your project. Another factor playing into this is the kind of work you would do: Experimental projects tend to require more supervision that theoretical or computational ones, shifting the balance against you.

Thus, the most crucial aspect is that you can convince them that you are capable and willing to complete a small project with a certain degree of independence. Enthusiasm about what the group in question is actually researching certainly helps in that respect.

  • "If a group advertises specific projects and does not find a bachelor student, they may also be happy if you are willing to take on such a project (if you bring all the prerequisites)." - does that actually happen? I have a hard time imagining the departments I worked with would have accepted to supervise any project that was not a) a mandatory part of the student's major, or b) paid research assistant ("Hiwi") work. Typically, the tasks for a) and b) are quite different (because a) should result in something individual at least partly determined by the student, whereas b) is a lot ... – O. R. Mapper Mar 17 at 17:41
  • ... closer to imply doing what one gets told and getting money for it), but may be transferrable to one another. And of course, it's possible money for paid work is available, although I find it a bit odd if Bachelor theses were widely advertised, but open Hiwi positions are not. Of course, that's in my experience, and customs may differ between institutions. – O. R. Mapper Mar 17 at 17:42
  • @O.R.Mapper: I have seen it happen. At least in my academic vicinity, there is a trend towards students doing research internships (sometimes because they can get a few credit points for it). As hiwi positions require money, they may not always happen, and if somebody comes along wanting to do the work for free, it’s a win–win situation. – Wrzlprmft Mar 17 at 19:11
  • "if somebody comes along wanting to do the work for free, it’s a win–win situation." - not sure about that. At a time where academic working conditions are increasingly criticized, I have also seen a certain reluctance to accept any collaboration unless the collaborator gets something tangible (a concrete box ticked in the list of things to do for their major, money, or their name on a publication) for it. – O. R. Mapper Mar 17 at 19:34
  • @O.R.Mapper: Indeed, here they usually get credit points and the chance of authorship. – Wrzlprmft Mar 17 at 19:41
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It is definitely not bad to show initiative yourself but you have to motivate why you want to gain internship in the particular lab or topic :). You should also be ready to provide recommendations from your lecturers or Professors.

Also, a very good way in getting internship places is to ask your study advisor for help, or contact professors that you had lectures at. It is much easier to get a place when someone with more experience is guiding you. Moreover, you shall ask at your faculty if it is possible to get a student job, it very often includes some research, practical work for the chair.

In any way, you shall be ready to send some e-mails around with your CV and a good motivational letter. I got a post-bachelor internship in Berlin after 20-30 e-mails sent, which is considered pretty quick for a foreigner who does not speak German :). In general, scientific labs like free/cheap voluntary working force, so it should be quite possible to get a place for internship. Good luck!

  • By the way, may I ask what time in a year do you recommend start looking for position of the kind like post-bachelor internship you mentioned XD? – ConwL Mar 16 at 14:04

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