Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting to iHub: The Letter

So yesterday (9.4.14), I put up a post that began to describe how I got an internship opportunity at iHub Research. In this post I'll be putting up sections of the original cover letter I wrote. I've only edited it to remove some sensitive information.
[My name and introduction were here talking about where I'm from and where I live]
I was reading your quarterly report for the end of the last quarter and something that jumped at me as really interesting was the Umati project on monitoring the internets for inflammatory speech that could help spark violence offline. Umati found that online speech did not directly lead to violence offline but did offer useful insight into what issues need to be addressed to head of violence on the ground
In Umati II you plan to improve the monitoring methods by automating them, test ways to counter such speech – recognising, I assume, that it is impossible to control or even have authorities take down every single instance of such speech, and testing it in the 2015 Nigerian elections.
This you plan to achieve within 2 years.
I’m particularly interested in the first part of this project; improving the monitoring methods by automation. I’m interested because to this you’ll have to do a lot of work in machine learning and natural language processing and therefore you’ll be working with experts in these fields.
I have an acute interesting in all things to do with artificial intelligence. While I don’t have much formal training on NLP or ML I am doing a project on facial recognition and going through an online course on machine learning.
What I was wondering was if it would possible for me to help in the Umati project. I’m currently searching for internship as part of the requirements for my last semester and degree so perhaps it can be that capacity. I’m willing to do anything to be a part of the project, even if it’s just doing coffee runs to Pete’s upstairs. I should be done with this semester in April so can start soon after that.
Of course if this isn’t possible to join in such a formal way as an intern then maybe I can be join as a volunteer or something, doing something like reading and checking the documentation that the project produces.
I am also interested in the other aspects of the project, though to a lesser extent. Finding effective ways to counter inflammatory speech online would be a major achievement for the project and it’ll be interesting to see which methods, or combination of methods, you use, which work and how you measure their effectiveness and scale them.
As the Umati project was first deployed in Kenya for use in our elections so I’m also curious to see how it works in Nigeria next year. Will there have to be some localisation of particular methods for a country that not only differs in ours in location but also in culture? I was recently reading a book on the Biafra-Nigeria war and that makes me feel that your work will be even more cut out for you there than here at home not even mentioning the religious tensions.
I hope to hear back from you soon on my request. Even if I can’t join the team working on this I’d still like to hear about the project, which ML and NLP experts you’re working with, the research you use to develop the counter inflammatory measures and how you plan to deploy them.
Keep up the good work and success with all your other projects and research.
Yours sincerely.
Yeah, this is a rather embarrassing cover letter. Don't write something like this. Luckily for me I had a friend, a PhD student called Duncan, who was helping me with my project, and he offered me some advice when I emailed it to him.
I've read your letter. I think, that while I know you, and understand your enthusiasm,
I don't think the letter strikes the correct note.
It should be shorter, to the point and say more about your *strengths* rather than interests.
The employer will not care about whether you are interested in their work but rather, whether
you can offer them competence etc. In general, in writing these types of applications, your feelings may not be the best guide.I would even start with a title:
"Enquiry regarding internship." (allows them to know why you are writing.)
I think details about your skills are more important than your home town etc.
So you could say:
"I am a fourth year computer science student at Maseno uni. with proficiency in C++, Java, operating systems and experience in ML, NLP" etc.
*Don't* say anything of the sort "I only have some experience in ML ...". This sounds weak.
Then go on to expand on your experience in relation to their work.
Finally don't grovel, and offer to make coffee for them. If they need an intern to make coffee
they may well ask you to do this, but you don't need to offer.
So after my ego recovered from this blow to my ego after what I thought that was a brilliant letter I sat down and did some research to condense my letter into a couple of paragraphs and make full use of my friend's advice and that gave me something like this.
Mrs A___ O____,
Reading the iHub quarterly report brought the Umati project to my attention. The second phase of the project will deal with automated monitoring methods, machine language and NLP, and project implementation in Nigeria. I thought I might be useful to the project as an intern.
Being a fourth year student at Maseno University I have experience coding in Visual Basic, Java, C and C++. I also have experience in multimedia and web design and in artificial intelligence and machine learning. My current project is designing a facial recognition system using Eigenfaces.
Further, I consulted in the development of a couple of smaller websites and guided in the creation of their content strategy.
As President of the university’s premier creative club, Spoken Heart, I lead the team that organised several events, I’m particularly proud of Biscuits and Juice, and brought the club funds in to the black for the first time in its history. I’ve written for a number of blogs and I’m editor at Gigzcampo. I hosted, for one and a half years, a radio show called Source Code, a concept that I designed, that informed the community on trends in technology and how those trends may affect their lives.
I believe I would be a valuable addition to the team working on Umati II as an intern.
I look forward to hearing from you.
He thought this one was much better and it was the one I sent. Come back soon to see what happened next. Peace!!!

Continue the series: part 1(The Search), part 3(the Pitch), part 4(the Interview) and the conclusion(Lessons learned)


  1. Proud of Biscuits and Juice, want a cup of tea with that?

  2. This is part where I tell you to go fuck yourself:)