InStep is Infosys' global internship program. On the Voices @ InStep blog, interns, mentors and professors from the world’s best universities blog on careers and cultural assimilation in the Flat World, and the significance of an internship at a global company.

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Interning with a purpose - commerce or research?

For an undergraduate student who has decided to go to graduate school to pursue an advanced degree, it can be a tough choice to make whether he wants to go for a Ph.D. as well after an M.S. degree. While some have a very clear line of thinking - doing a Ph.D., spending 5 years at graduate school is not something they wish to do; for the majority this decision is quite difficult to make. The dilemma is simple: while starting salaries for a fresh Ph.D. are higher than someone who just stepped out of graduate school with an M.S., the quest for attaining a doctoral degree is indeed long and arduous and this difference in starting salaries may not be big enough to make up for the income a doctoral student would lose staying in school for at least three more years. Several analyses have time and again shown that the M.S. degree holder is ahead in the race for making money in private company jobs.

As with most things in life, this one too does not seem to have a single correct answer. Looking from the student's perspective several things would count. Many students pursuing an M.S. degree would have accumulated substantial amount of debt to deal with (especially true for international students); with a general funding crunch at universities, majority of M.S. programs do not give financial assistance to students these days. For them getting a high-paying job sooner would definitely seem a more attractive option to pay off their loans or recover their family's savings. Staying in graduate school with a meager stipend during a Ph.D. would be economically unattractive. On the other hand - for some students the immense joy and satisfaction of doing and achieving the unknown through research, the pleasure of extending their field of study or joining academia and teaching and guiding future generations of students is paramount.  The subsequent respect one commands as a Ph.D. helps them in making their mind up towards a Ph.D. and also sees them through these difficult times. Undoubtedly, for those who are undecided, it is not an enviable position to be in.

An M.S. is more job-oriented and perhaps solely gears one for the industry, while a Ph.D. is more research oriented and prepares one for a career in academia or a research position in the industry. In these situations doing an internship (while one is still in the middle of an M.S. program or even at the undergrad level) in a premier company is one of the best things you can do to help you in making an informed choice. You have still not made that decision as to which way you want to go, you can have a sneak peek at what life in the industry would be and whether this is something you wanted to do or if going the other way and doing a Ph.D. is the way forward for you. And of course, you see the link between academia and industry -are they in sync? Is education imparted at graduate school relevant in the business context?  Alternatively, one can take up an internship with a research organization to test the waters on the other side too! This would help you find out if you are kind of a 'research oriented' individual and what is in store for you in the world of technology research.

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