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Student Welfare Group

University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus Research Internship

 

Arna Ghosh

Applying to the Universities

I would suggest following some good sites like internshala. But keeping track of where your seniors have been to is the best way to get an intern.

Applying for a summer research project to a foreign university in the 2nd year is challenge that many students face. There are a couple of dos and don’ts for the same. However, the procedure is not objective and varies from person to person and from institute to institute. The main aim is to establish a good point of contact between you and the professor you are interested to pursue a project under. I personally applied to a couple of institute programs like OIST, UARE, MPI-SWS. But being a sophomore, I found it rather hard to qualify for any of those. The application process can begin as early as October or November. But I would advise those aiming for a good research experience to not get disheartened if they don’t get a prompt reply. The process could continue as late as March and even early April if you are lucky. In the end all you need time is to apply for a VISA and get started with your project by the mid of May.

To know about prospective programs, I would suggest following some good sites like internshala. But keeping track of where your seniors have been to is the best way to get an intern. Being a sophomore, the selection procedure is normally not very stringent and might just include a short Skype interview. The interview is just to ensure that you can communicate well and are motivated enough to do the project. The questions asked are not very challenging on the technical front but are aimed to judge your ability to think at the time and express yourself.

I don’t think any course out of your curriculum is necessary for the internship but a prior experience in the field you are applying gives you a fair shot. It just doesn’t make sense to apply for a project in a field you have no clue about or have no considerable proof to show the professor regarding your knowledge of the same.

Mailing

Basically the mail should consist of your introduction, why you are interested in the field and the work of the professor, what have you done to get an insight into his work(mention his papers) and finally requesting if he has open positions for interns in the summer.

Another subjective issue in the workflow of a foreign intern. Varies from person to person and I would say it as a try-it-out-yourself kind of an exercise. A couple of things you need to absolutely keep in mind is to be polite and “request” for an internship opportunity rather than demand for one. Be sure to specify your year and course enrolled in. Mention any specialisations or minors you have or plan to complete. Basically the mail should consist of your introduction, why you are interested in the field and the work of the professor, what have you done to get an insight into his work(mention his papers) and finally requesting if he has open positions for interns in the summer. It is advisable to attach your CV and grade card or you can add links of dropbox or github repositories. A good CG always helps as that acts as a clear criteria for the professor to judge a student’s seriousness towards his curriculum.

It is advisable to look into the professor’s work and then mail rather than mention papers you don’t have an idea of. Rather than mailing too many professors arbitrarily, I believe mailing a handful with the right spirit serves the purpose. Again it is better to target institutions which is known to provide opportunities to the previous batches. Avoid making spelling errors and/or grammatical errors as it creates a bad impression upfront.

 

My experience

I chose the field of Image processing as I have a prior experience of working in the field having been a part of Autonomous Ground Vehicle Research Group prior to that. I was pretty clear as to why I wanted to work on such a project and how I could contribute to it. My project was basically to create a portable microscope by scanning a large area using a setup composed of cheap lens assembly taken out from Blu-ray readers. It included making a software architecture based on image processing and basic hardware level knowledge of working on Arduino and some idea of control systems.

I was lucky to have another guy working along with me on the same project. He was a student of the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, the same place where I did my intern. It was always easier working with him and the work soon turned into fun. The lab was also full of exciting people who would appreciate our work and give valuable inputs. Since my lab had international students as well, it was easier getting along and knowing the local area. The best part was the discussion sessions at the end of the day when people would discuss what problems each of them are facing in their respective projects or what roadmap have they planned for the future and everyone gets a say in the same. I felt my professor was very friendly and that allowed us to work independently, thus bringing out the best results. By the time I was about to leave, we had successfully saved the project from its deathbed and brought it to a marvel of the lab. I think the biggest achievement was not the things or skills I learned while working on the project, but the insight I gained from others talking about how the project could be approached in the near future.

British Columbia is regarded as the most beautiful province of Canada. So, most of the weekends fly by as we would go on short tours to nearby places. I was lucky to have company of a handful of Indians there and we would go out rather frequently to check out different places. There were few people from Bangladesh who were very cordial and would organise football/cricket matches. It was real fun to hang out with them. Although I did face some trouble initially accommodating to the food and the biological clock there as most of the food outlets had their closing time by 9 PM, some as early as 6 PM. But eventually I learned to live off pre-cooked food. Since I was a novice at cooking, it was difficult for me in the initial days. So I would advise anyone getting an opportunity to learn to cook at least some basic stuff.

Long term goals

I would like to pursue research as a career option in the near future. So, such an experience is very valuable to boost my chances to getting into a good graduate university. This opportunity not only helped me get a better insight into the field of research and the prospect of research as a career option, but it also helped me connect with a large group of people already involved in this line. Understanding their mindset and meeting a large pool of talented people coming from various backgrounds will surely help me in taking an informed decision about my near future.

Conclusion

Landing up an opportunity to work with a professor from a reputed foreign university is more of luck rather than just following a particular flowchart. To all aspiring candidates, I would suggest exploring their own way of establishing contact and consolidating an opportunity. But the catch is not getting the opportunity, but also to live up to the expectations of your professor. When you are there, you represent your institute and country. It’s important to make sure that if a junior applies to the same professor next year, the professor is eager to take him in based on his previous experience.

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