Here I explain how I will select five candidates for an interview for the DAAD RISE program internship position for summer 2020 that I am supervising. This post will be mostly useful for applicants, and my future application-evaluating self. I also wrote a post with a Q&A about the internship based on the questions here if you are interested to learn a little more about the actual science.

Selection for interview

This time, I am using a number of indicators to define a candidate that will fit the position best regarding the success of the project outcome, their insights into astronomy, and their personal development, among the applicants. They broadly fall into three categories. First, there are thresholds that a candidate must pass in order to be considered. I expect 80-90% of candidates to check the necessary marks. Second, the remaining applications are screened for the main indicators for selection. They are not all equally important, but each can be met to a greater or lesser degree. Third, if there are more than five candidates left after this screening I will add bonus points for skills that are not absolutely necessary but increase the chances that the student will benefit more than other candidates from the opportunity.

For the second and third criteria I added weights to the indicators that reflect how important each of them are to me.


  • I do not accept obvious “template” applications.
  • I do not accept applications that include obvious lies in the CV (e.g. published papers that don’t exist).
  • I expect the student to present sufficient English skills (I can understand the message you are trying to convey).
  • The student should demonstrate a professional writing style (necessary to navigate a professional environment).
  • The student passed most of their exams, perhaps with good grades even (this signals discipline to me, not your talent as a researcher).

Main indicators for selection

  • [35%] A well-structured, personal letter with clear cut thoughts is a clear indication that the applicant reflected on their choice.
  • [25%] The applicant shows interest in astronomy, and/or attended introductory courses: This will greatly help with getting acquainted with the topic.
  • [20%] They have some experience in Python: 95% sure we will end up coding a lot.
  • [20%] They show basic statistics skills: also 95% required.

Bonus criteria

  • [45%] They asked questions prior to application that indicate involvement and interest with the topic and the internship in general.
  • [20%] They noted extracurricular activities that indicate interest in cultural exchange, base research, engagement with charitable causes (this is discouraged in certain countries and I account for that).
  • [15%] The candidate has worked in a research group as an assistant or intern before, or some other acquaintance with academic working environment.
  • [10%] They have some experience navigating a Unix based OS (institute IT).
  • [10%] They expressed interest in learning about the culture and engage with the research group.


If you are selected for an interview, you will receive an email around January 22. The interviews will take place the week after via Skype.

You can prepare for the interview: Review the offer, browse the linked websites, do some research on the surroundings. Be prepared to be asked about your personal goals, and your goals for the collaboration with me. Most importantly, however, reflect on your choice: If you are ranked first on more than one of your applications you will have to choose one, so take your chance to ask me anything that you want to factor into your final decision.


The RISE program rules oblige me to accept any of the three top ranked candidates, whoever takes the offered position. The program organizers take care of informing the selected candidates.

Final remarks

I consulted and will continue to consult senior researchers I know with more experience selecting students for internships than I have. My considerations in this post are partly based on their advice. Advice I was given does not appear here is that I should listen to my gut feeling regarding whether or not the student and I will get along. This is a difficult criterion to apply, prone to bias in favor of candidates who are similar to myself on multiple axes like character, communication style, gender, ethnicity. Some of these like communication style are certainly beneficial to fruitful collaboration, but it is just as hard to disentangle them from traits that are of no import to the success of the internship. It is not part of my selection funnel but it will certainly unconsciously affect my choice in a close call and there is nothing I or any candidate can do about this except for being aware that there is a degree of randomness.

Not being selected does not necessarily mean that you are an objectively worse candidate, and certainly it does not mean that you are not suited for any other similar position. If you made it onto the short list, it is a clear evidence that you are heading into a direction where you may become successful.