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Summer 2019

Summer Diaries:Deutsche Sport Hochschule

August 3, 2019
- Utkarsh Mujumdar

My summer internship was in the capacity of a research associate at the Department of Exercise Training, Computer Science & Informatics at the Deutsche Sporthochschule (German Sport University), Köln. My main task was to assist a Ph.D. student with his main research project, but I was open to contributing my time towards any other project that I liked. I ended up working on two projects during my time at the university, one in football and the other in basketball.

Getting There

I know it might sound a bit surprising as to how a metallurgy undergrad ended up at a sports research institute, so I feel that some background is necessary before I go into the specifics of getting there. I have been exploring the field of sports analytics for the past year now and it involves using statistical and computational techniques to make sense out of data collected in a sports context. The insights gained can be useful for performance analysis, monetization policies in the betting markets, marketing, and fan management. Being an avid football fan, the performance analysis side fascinated me the most and I was lucky enough to get two relevant opportunities gaining experience in the performance analysis of football using data prior to this internship.

After the completion of my second internship in the month of January of this year, I started applying to various universities and companies dealing with sports data. This included sports science departments, computer science/informatics departments with a sports focussed research group as well as sports-specific research universities like the German Sport University and Loughborough University. I went with the standard method of emailing professors with customized emails highlighting my experience and the kind of projects I could contribute to as part of the internship. Since I was looking for a very specific interdisciplinary branch of research, I could only find about 30-odd opportunities to apply for. I was lucky enough to get a response from the German Sport University in March. I had received no replies from other places that I had applied to which is usually the case when you are applying for a foreign internship. Luck plays its part in such scenarios. One has to keep in mind that professors and research labs receive a lot of emails around this time period, so you have to keep your patience and keep trying.

The project that was offered to me seemed really exciting and was way better than what I had expected while applying. But the University let me know from the start that the internship will be unpaid as they had a policy of only paying Master’s/Ph.D. students. I was left with a tough choice because despite the considerable finances involved in a self-funded intern, working on such a project was probably going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fortunately, my parents agreed to fund my stay in Germany and I was all set.

Workplace & Culture

The working hours were very relaxed with people coming in around 10 in the morning and leaving around 4. As everyone is working on long-term projects with no stress of short term deadlines, one is allowed the freedom to work at their own pace. Everyone at the department joins for lunch in the day and the culture is very warm and inclusive for new people. Due to the presence of a fair number of international students at the department, the operative language is English which worked out well for me.

The University

Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln is the only sport-specific university in Germany. They have various educational offerings at the bachelors and masters level. But the most important aspect is the research that is done in the 9 different ‘Institutes’ or departments at the University, ranging from physiology, psychology to biomechanics and informatics in sports. The University has a plethora of training areas covering a range of sports. There are special training grounds intended for the collection of training data for research studies as well. There are highly sophisticated technical pieces of equipment being used to record data, which was really interesting to see.


The Work

As mentioned before, I was designated to help a Ph.D. student with their research work. The main aim of the research project was to quantify exploratory behavior in football players to determine the tactical creativity being exhibited by them. I was tasked with the handling of spatio-temporal tracking data obtained from training matches and then modeling the data based on a known equation from previous literature. So my first week comprised of going through the literature and understanding the different theoretical aspects of the research question at hand. After two weeks, I found myself intrigued by another project which was based on the aspect of free-throw accuracy in professional basketball. A co-intern of mine came up with the idea of the project and we started working on it together. The results from preliminary tests seemed to be very promising and after reporting them to the head of the department, we were told to start working on a manuscript describing our findings. This was the first time that I was involved in the process of writing a paper, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. By the end of my internship, we had the final manuscript sent for review to a reputed Sports Science Journal and the review process is ongoing right now. All aspects of my work presented themselves with different kinds of exposure. I ended up working with big data, helped conduct a data collection session in football, learned how to write a research paper and a lot more. Although my internship lasted only 8 weeks, I believe I learned a lot more than what I expected in this short time.

The City

Located in the west of Germany in the North Rhine-Westphalia state, Köln is the fourth most populous city in the country. The Rhine river flows through the heart of the city with the Köln Dom Cathedral overlooking it. I spent a lot of evenings watching the sunset by the river, with the area being lively and happening during summer evenings. One has to try the bread at the local bakeries, locally brewed Kölsch and döner kebabs while in Köln. The weather during my stay was really pleasant apart from a few days when there was a heatwave going through Europe. The city is bustling with students because of the presence of the biggest university in the whole country, along with multiple other colleges. The location of the city helps in the fact that many prominent tourist locations in Western Europe are just an overnight bus ride away. I ended up visiting multiple cities in and around the area including Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome.


Many universities in Germany don’t have their own hostels as there are in our college. All students have to look for their own place to stay. I was lucky enough to get a room at one of the government-operated student hostels in the city. This helped me save a significant amount of money and also put me in touch with some of the students who helped me with any problems I faced during my stay. Getting to the University was a convenient 20 mins tram ride for me, with the tram station being 5 mins away from my hostel.


A foreign internship presents you with the opportunity of delving into a different culture and experiencing life in a different country, apart from the whole academic/professional experience. My professional experience was thoroughly fruitful and I gained good exposure, as this was my first foray into the world of applied research. It also provided me the opportunity of traveling around and seeing places that I had only seen in movies or read about in books, in many ways an exhilarating experience. For all these reasons, I would strongly recommend anyone to try out a foreign internship because of the added element of cultural exposure.

I would also suggest people use internships as opportunities to explore new avenues and not put too much onus on the trivial aspects of stipend and monetary benefits. It is the perfect way to gauge your likings or dislikings towards a certain profession or field of work. Utilizing these chances judiciously might help you with the bigger decisions to be made in your final years and even further ahead.