A Metallurgist's Voyage to Germany: Satyakam Kar
Norman Vincent Peale had rightly said, “All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be” and that’s exactly what Satyakam Kar, a final year BTech (Metallurgy and Materials Engineering) student who recently came back from his dream internship in Germany, believes in! Team MM got the opportunity of interacting with this person, who has a calm yet a subtly charming aura around him and here is a glimpse of his inspiring journey!
MM: Tell us about your early days of life; childhood and school days. How were you as a school-going boy?
SK: I spent my early childhood in Burla, a small town in Sambalpur District in Odisha. Later, my family moved to Talcher in Angul District. I completed my class 10th and class 12th there. I was not a prodigy, and honestly, I never excelled in all the school activities. However, I was academically strong. I wasn’t an extrovert. I had a small group of friends I got along well with. I had respect for my teachers. During my higher secondary education, I developed interests in the engineering and the medical fields. I had taken biology in Class 12th as well. However, I got good rank in JEE Mains and hence decided to pursue engineering.
MM: Coming to the NIT Rourkela chapter of your life, how did NITR and your branch, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering happen to you?
SK: After JEE Mains, I was hoping to get Civil Engineering in NIT Rourkela, but, as per my rank, I got Metallurgical and Materials Engineering. I could have got a better branch with my rank in other colleges; nevertheless, NIT Rourkela is one of the premier institutes of India. I had contacts in NIT Rourkela who advised me that the Department of Metallurgical Sciences is good and it has a bright future.
MM: You interned at IIT Bhubaneshwar for a month in your second year. What was that internship about?
SK: My first internship was in IIT Bhubaneshwar, which I did after my third semester. I applied to this internship through an official portal. At that time, it was the only IIT that was accepting 2nd-year students officially. I didn’t know much about my branch subjects then. I was interested in doing a summer internship at any of the old IITs after my second year. I knew I would be facing competition from the third year students while applying for the same as an internship is compulsory for them. I felt this winter internship could increase my chances of getting a summer internship; so I went for it. As IITBBS was a new IIT, they did not have much equipment. Technically, I didn’t learn much, but I did get a basic introduction to the field of research. During my time there, my research was on aluminium based syntactic foams containing cenospheres.
MM: You also interned at IIT Madras as a research intern from May 2016 to July 2016. What were the fields that you worked on?
SK: During my internship in IITM, I worked on the evaluation of microstructure of ultra-high temperature ceramics (UHTCs) exposed to GTAW arc melting. The primary applications of UHTCs are in thermal protection system of hypersonic vehicles, reusable atmospheric reentry vehicles, and rocket propulsion. My task was to study the effect of arc melting of the surface on the microstructure and mechanical properties of these ceramics. During my time there, I did face problems since I didn’t know much about ceramics. I performed experiments towards the end of my internship. A common problem prevalent in the Metallurgical departments is there isn’t a lot of apparatus as they are expensive. Even if they are available, they are not in working condition. Due to this, I couldn’t perform all the experiments which sometimes resulted in frustration because of the situations I faced, I learned a hard lesson that yes, research could be tough, but we must always move forward. At the end of the day, I was happy to get a recommendation letter and a letter of recommendation from a professor at IITM does matter a lot.
MM: We all know that you have bagged internships right from your second year; the landmark achievement being the internship in Germany that you recently came back from. So, what is the procedure for applying for such an internship and its eligibility criteria?
SK: I had planned to apply for a foreign internship right from my second year. I was preparing for an internship in either Canada or Germany. I spoke to some seniors who had done internships there before. I also read about people who did their internships in foreign countries on Monday Morning; so I was well informed about these internships. I applied for foreign internships like MITACS and DAAD-WISE. Students in the third year of B. Tech are eligible for them. I got selected for an internship via the DAAD and the MITACS program as well, but I chose the former as the results came out earlier. I started emailing the professors from August last year. Once a professor accepts, you have to fill a form online and send the application form with all the required documents to the DAAD head office in Delhi by the deadline. They will then evaluate your application and inform you of your selection.
MM: Tell us what was the internship all about? What field(s) did you work upon as a research intern? Was the internship a paid one? Did you get an assistance of any sort from the Institute for your foreign internship?
SK: My internship was a 10-week program, and it was a paid internship as well. I got a monthly stipend of 650 euros and a travel allowance of 525 euros. I interned at Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Centre for Materials and Coastal Research in Germany. My work was the characterization of Magnesium nanocomposites in as-cast and extruded state. The centre had much-advanced equipment which I was guided to work with. I learned about the current research underway in magnesium alloys. In India, very few professors do dedicated research in magnesium alloys. In this sense, I had a good exposure! I would like to thank all the professors who helped me, especially Prof. B.C. Ray sir. He is a great researcher and always inspires students to adopt research as the career option. I got adequate support from the Institute. They helped me during the application process; whether it is within the department or the administration.
MM: So how was the overall experience in Germany; both personal as well as professional?
SK: Professionally, I had a great experience in Germany. The people there are very punctual, disciplined and they are all perfectionists. I interacted with the students pursuing their Master’s thesis and PhD there.This gave me an idea of the scope of research in magnesium along with other current areas of materials research in Europe. On a personal level, there was a lot of improvement in my personality. As I was staying in the guest house of the Helmholtz centre, I was able to interact with guys from around the world like Russia, China, Brazil, Spain, Canada, and even Pakistan. I got the opportunity to learn about their culture, food and lifestyle.
MM: What did you do for recreation during your time there?
SK: On normal working days, I didn’t really have time for recreational activities as I had to cook for myself which took a long time. I only watched movies during those days. On weekends though, I visited near-by places. When you apply for a short-term visa to Germany, you get a Schengen visa which means you can visit around twenty-six countries in Europe. I visited Paris, Munich, Hamburg, Brussels, and Amsterdam!
MM: How did the Institute provide their support? What would you like to see implemented at NITR that you saw there?
SK: The Helmholtz centre supported me in all possible ways like providing workspace, arranging my accommodation and my travel from the airport to the centre. I would like to see more sophisticated and advanced equipment here at NITR. In most of the cases, our apparatus is old and sometimes defunct. To implement the changes, we will need funds and projects. I hope to see more projects coming to NITR in the future.
MM: Did your previous internships at the IITs help you for this one?
SK: The work I was doing in Germany is different from what I did at IIT Bhubhaneshwar and IIT Madras, but the experience matters. If you have prior research experience, a decent CGPA, and a good recommendation, you will be able to get foreign internships. It is the research experience that matters the most.
MM: What’s the reason behind you choosing research based internships as opposed to the industry based ones?
SK: The work culture is a bit hectic in the industry. I know my strengths and limitations; so I feel I am better suited for the research field. I think I can contribute more to the society in this manner.
MM: What are your plans as of now?
SK: I will be pursuing Masters in the future whether it be in India or a foreign university. I am not completely sure about Ph.D., but Masters is definitely my next target.
MM: What according to you, is the scope of the Department of Metallurgical and Material Science in this world today?
SK: There is a lot of scope of the Metallurgy Department. As researchers, we work to improve the performance of materials; whether it is used in day to day life or in high-end defence or aerospace applications. Materials engineers are required in every sector. In the end, everything depends on the student whether his/her interests lie in developing new materials or being part of the industrial process. However, there is a plenty of scope in the field of research.
MM: What all clubs or societies are you a part of? Other than material science, what else fascinates you? Any hobbies or passion that you keenly pursue?
SK: I am not a part of any club. In fact, I’ve never even attended an orientation or an induction. From the very beginning, I was fascinated by foreign internships and my seniors told me a high CGPA was required for that. So my aim was to get a good CGPA. I saw some of my friends not being able to manage clubs and academics. So, I never even tried in my second year. I did end up missing out the beautiful club culture of NITR. However, in my free time, I read newspapers, blogs, and play table tennis with my friends. I usually try to keep a disciplined life.
MM: Finally, a small message that you would like to give for all the readers out there!
I advise everyone to keep their strengths and weaknesses in mind while deciding their interests and career options. One should have a vision of where they would like to see themselves in, say next five years.