National University of Singapore: Nitesh Agrawal

National University of Singapore (NUS) has always been a dream destination for undergraduates and graduates from universities all around the world. And Nitesh Agrawal belonging to the Ceramic department of NIT Rourkela managed to fulfill his dream of interning in this elite institute. Nitesh shares his internship experiences in our InternView column.

 1. What was the reason you chose NUS?

I was inspired by some of our seniors like- Raunaq Pradhan (Research Scholar at NTU Singapore), Sujasha Gupta (Graduate Student at University of Florida, USA), Rahul Yadav (Summer Intern at Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany) and Shreya Sah (Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Germany). From the beginning of my third year, I was planning for an internship at any globally reputed university. I had already done two industrial internships in India, first one was in my 2nd year summer vacation at H & R Johnson Pvt Ltd, Mumbai and second was during my 3rd year winter vacation at Vedanta Aluminium Ltd, Jharsuguda. So I thought of getting a research based project and started planning accordingly for any research based foreign internship from the beginning of my 3rd year, though I had started sending mail to the professors in the month of January. I had got three confirmations from three different universities- North Carolina State University (USA), National University of Singapore and Alfred University (USA) by the end of March 2014. From these three universities, I choose NUS due to its global ranking (World’s 6th ranked university in Material Science and ranked 10th in overall) and the project that was given to me.

2. What is the selection procedure you had to go through?

The selection procedure was quite simple. I had mailed around 120-150 mails to almost all professors from different universities those who are doing research related to my branch. I started sending mails to all the top universities in the world. For this internship, I was asked to send my detailed CV, cover letter, statement of purpose letter and recommendation letter. Looking into these, my PhD guide asked me about my previous internships and I was selected. It took around one month time for my selection.

3. What are the pre-requisites for getting through?

Following are the necessary requirements before applying for a foreign internship:
a. Having a good CGPA
b. Having some experience on research project/training before.
c. Good recommendation from your professors and supervisor.
d. Clarity about your field of interest.
e. Having basic technical and practical knowledge.

4. How was your internship experience?

It all started with a warm welcome from my professor and the department staffs. My professor explained me about my work and the expectations that he had. On the first day, I was given around 10 safety videos to watch which are necessary for anyone before entering the lab. My internship was based on a material science project. All the staffs and PhD students in NUS were very supportive. As my project title was new to me, I had to be well prepared regarding the topic before going to Singapore. After reaching there, I met four more interns those who worked with me under the same professor at NUS. We were assigned similar topics and were given several journals to read before starting our work. I found everyone was very systematic in their work and very punctual and curious about it. One good thing about NUS is that there are no restrictions on the timings, anyone can come to lab anytime and can leave anytime but you need to report to your guide. I usually preferred working from 9 AM to evening 5.30 PM. Almost every instrument was there in the lab and we were allowed to use FESEM, SEM ourselves unlike to what happens in IITs and NITs where undergraduates are not allowed to use the instruments themselves. We had to show the results and the progress of our project to our professor by the end of every week.  I realised soon that they have a very good collaboration with other top universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, University of Cambridge, etc. Students from these universities come to NUS for some short term projects and many students from NUS go to these universities. It was really a great opportunity for me to work in such an environment where you will find geniuses from MIT working in the same lab! I got the opportunity to make several new friends from different parts of the world. It was really very interesting to know about other countries' culture and experiences. In the beginning, there was not much load on us but as time passed, the workload started increasing. My project was a part of a big project and it was quite lengthy. But somehow I was successfully able to complete my project on time and even the results came out very well. My professor and PhD guide were happy with my results and are now planning to make a paper and conference based on it. They have already sent the abstract of the project title to the conference which is due next year March at Florida, USA. At the end, I managed to get a strong recommendation letter along with my training certificate from the professor.

5. No internship experience is complete without enjoyment and travelling. How did you spend your free time?

It was a wonderful experience for me to visit Singapore. Singapore is a small country which is full of tourist places and is well known for its vibrant night life. It is a well planned and developed city which has excellent transportation system. Each and every part in Singapore is well connected through buses and metro trains. Lifestyle, food and weather of Singapore differentiates it from other countries. Weather is an icing on the cake. The only thing that I disliked was the high cost of living. (Singapore actually ranks #7 in the world on the cost of living index, higher than San Francisco (#9) but behind New York City (#5)). Food, clothes, entertainment etc. are much more expensive than India, and housing is definitely a lot more expensive. There people will be working hard in the weekdays and partying harder in weekends to release the work stress. Singapore night life includes world’s best pub’s, disco and the grand casino. Singapore has two big casinos in the heart of the city and entry is free for foreigners. I also had a casino experience for the first time in my life and it was really a fantastic feeling. Other than nightlife, Singapore has lot many tourist attractions, one of them being the Sentosa Island. Sentosa Island is the best place in Singapore to visit. Sentosa Island has 3-4 beaches, luxury resorts, adventure water ride, massage parlours, and Universal Studios. It is full of thrilling roller coasters and adventurous water rides. I will say our visit to Singapore is incomplete if you have not visited Universal studios. Apart from these there were lots of Chinese temples as well as shopping malls.  It was a great experience for me to visit such a beautiful country.

6. Describe your place of stay in Singapore.

Accommodation in Singapore is very expensive. NUS didn’t provide me any room. You have to look for your own accommodation. I had contacted some of our seniors who are doing higher studies in NTU and NUS. They helped me finding a cheaper room in Singapore. I managed to get a HDB flat where already 5 people were staying among which 3 were Indians, one was Australian and another one was Philippine. There was one vacant room in the flat on sharing basis, so I joined them. The flat was having 3 air-conditioned rooms, one hall, one kitchen and one bathroom. It had a microwave oven, fridge, washing machine and utensils for cooking. And the best thing is the fact that whole Singapore has a 4G Wi-Fi connection, so it was easy for me to be updated with the news. I never had to wait for buffering for any of the channel. In my leisure time, I used to watch some Indian news channel, ‘Comedy nights with Kapil’ and online movies. I found some difficulty in the beginning to adjust with them as they all were working and everyone was non-vegetarian and I was the only vegetarian among them. But as time passed, I got familiar with them and they even encouraged me to roam around Singapore. I would say my stay in Singapore was very comfortable and relaxing.

7. Any message or tips for the aspiring students.

I would say that if you are interested to do higher studies from any foreign universities, then this type of project and internships are a must which gives a good exposure to our subject. Getting a recommendation letter from such a great professor is itself a great advantage which gives you confidence to do higher studies in future. Therefore if you are interested, then you should start mailing them at the earliest. If someone gets a chance, you should never miss this kind of opportunity. There are lots of foreign internship programs which one can apply for. And even one can personally mail to the different professors. Never hesitate to contact your branch professor’s and seniors for any kind of help.