While international travel continues to be limited in much of the world, MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) sought to capitalize on the increased digital connectivity brought about by the pandemic by developing cutting-edge virtual programs designed to allow students to be exposed to international education and build connections around the world.
MISTI is MIT's flagship international education program, with internship and research opportunities spanning more than 25 countries across six continents. In a typical year, MISTI facilitates over 1,200 in-person student placements around the world. While the pandemic paused travel, programs doubled down on their commitment to creating connections between MIT and the global community.
MIT-India Program Manager Nureen Das and MIT-UK Program Manager Stephen Barnes came together to create the MISTI Career Conversations Series, a weekly virtual lunch meeting between current MIT students and top executives from the industries of electric vehicles, the digital economy, and telecommunications. MIT-India's long-time intern host, the TATA Group, was a partner in the development of the series, and many of their executives attended as speakers for the sessions.
When it came to developing a virtual summer program, identifying an ideal host partner from one of MISTI's many programs was paramount. “TATA has traditionally been a very strong partner for the MIT-India program, but they also have lots of activity and work in the UK, so we thought this overlap would be a great way to engage students and constituents at TATA alike, as well as bringing in exciting UK partner organizations,” says Barnes.
“The goal was to provide students with an opportunity to engage with industry leaders and hear their insights on trends and career advice from their respective sectors,” continues Das. "It turned out that the perfect intersection of these industries lay with TATA and MISTI's UK partners.”
Students from across campus were eager to get involved. “Being able to speak to industry leaders from different countries about the unique social and political issues they confront while developing new technology allows me to gain a less American-centric view of innovation, which I strive to do,” said political science sophomore Leela Fredlund. “I would like to get their advice on my future career path so that I can make the best possible decisions given the opportunities presented to me,” said electrical engineering and computer science sophomore Anish Ravichandran.
Each session was facilitated by a different group of students who were responsible for connecting with that week's speakers and developing a question-and-answer session. The program allowed the speakers to present an overview of their work, along with their own personal advice on career tips in today's industry. Speakers from the TATA Group (including TATA Motors, TATA Digital, TATA Consultancy Services, and TATA Communications), Arrival, Perlego, Bethnal Green Ventures, Mobilus Labs, and BT all offered unique in-the-field insights on how to begin careers in their industries.
Translating one's passion into a career path was a common theme among speakers. “Find what you're passionate about; otherwise, you're not going to have fun, and that's a problem,” said G. Napo Montano, vice president of mobile robotics at Arrival. Ankur Jindal, vice president and global head corporate venturing and innovation at TATA Communications, echoed Montano's thought with a small caveat, urging students to be passionate about what they do, but remain flexible to the way their career may take shape. He warned against the old model of the 10-year plan, noting the rapidly changing market.
Another common theme in career tips was the importance of taking risks. “I'll say this very cliché, maybe 'Boomer statement,'” joked MIT alumnus Jordan McRae, now CEO and founder of Mobilus Labs. “Take as much risk as you can when you're young. I mean, you should always be taking risks throughout your life, but it's easier when you're younger and have less responsibility. So, take more.” Rajarshi Purkayastha, head of pre-sales at TATA Communications, added that if one doesn't take chances, their career will stall. Failure, he noted, is often something of which to be proud.
Speakers also offered advice and insight regarding networking. “Networking is awkward — everyone thinks so,” said Nelly Lavielle, portfolio manager at Bethnal Green Ventures. “But practice makes perfect,” she added. Honey Bajaj SM '17, head of customer experience and insights at Tata Digital, was optimistic. “Follow your heart, and just go to anybody. Everybody, I think, in the world is approachable,” said Bajaj.
Feedback from the students and speakers alike was overwhelmingly positive. “It helped me to develop a better picture of what different jobs look like,” said computation and cognition sophomore Simon Radhakrishnan. “Up until now, I basically only knew about research jobs and my parents' careers, and now I know more about the possibilities for me.”
“One of the biggest takeaways I had from this series on the sectors discussed is that innovation is driving all of them to change fundamentally and rapidly,” noted mechanical engineering junior Aljazzy Alahmadi.
Alumni were also in attendance at several of the sessions, and benefited from participating in the discussions. Bajaj, a graduate of the Integrated Design and Management program at the MIT Sloan School of Management, reflects upon how special it was to connect with current students at MIT. “It was nostalgic for me, from an alumni perspective. In the future, we could do a session with alumni and current student cohorts for specific industry areas.”
“As an alum working in finance, it was great to participate in the seminar series focused on ESG [environmental, social, and governance] innovations. Speakers and content were of uniformly high quality. Having students facilitate the sessions and asking thoughtful questions of industry leaders worked really well. The conversations were stimulating and engaging and provided excellent food for thought around the future of work,” reflects Archan Basu MBA '99. “Renewable energy and ESG investing are close to my heart and are rapidly gaining importance.”
“The MISTI Summer series was an excellent engagement between industry leaders and students at MIT,” adds Aparna Jain, talent and leadership general manager at Tata Group. “The speakers greatly enjoyed the interaction, incisive questions about innovation, ESG, and more. The students had done their research before the sessions, and it was a rich exchange. We look forward to many more throughout the year.”
As MISTI continues to straddle hybrid operations, programs remain committed to providing their students with enriching international experiences that allow them to explore academic and professional opportunities within an evolving global context.