The first step to a PhD, or even figuring out if you want to do a PhD, is to get research experience. Through hands-on experience in a lab or in a computational or theoretical group, you can figure out what kind of research gets you excited, or what kind of research seems somewhat boring to you! You can get research experience through internships during your summer or winter breaks.
Outside of the list linked above, you can also try to build research experience in other ways.
Don’t feel afraid to cold email professors whose work interests you. Attach your CV, be concise, and email them asking if they can take on an intern. You may not always get paid in a position you get this way, but sometimes professors may have some funds. After COVID, professors are also more open to remote internships, which may be financially more feasible for you, if you want to stay at home and get some research experience.
Summer and winter schools
Summer and winter schools are usually introductory lectures in a certain area of research. They provide a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a new field and learn about the research landscape of the field. At these schools, you can meet peers and potential mentors, and build a network of researchers in the field. Funding to attend such schools may be limited, but after COVID, many are hybrid or virtual, making it possible to attend free of cost.
JRF (Junior Research Fellowship) Project Calls
JRF project calls usually require National Eligibility Test(NET)/JRF/Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering(GATE) qualification, however, sometimes these requirements may be relaxed. In case you do not have NET/JRF/GATE qualification, the stipend may be lower than the University Grants Commission (UGC) mandated salary per month. These positions usually have contracts that last between 1-3 years. While working on a project, you may have the option to join the host institution as a PhD student or continue on your contract. It’s a great way to build your research experience and try out a research field you are interested in.