The Alchemist Beyond Borders: Rohit Dash's Internship At NCTU Taiwan
The search for the perfect internship in long, tiring and is often met by deadends. To ease up your tensions while you give in to the internship woes, Monday Morning brings you a candid conversation with Rohit Dash, a final year student from the Chemical Department who interned at National Chiao Tung University at Taiwan. Excerpts from the interview:
MM: You joined NIT Rourkela in 2016 and chose Chemical Engineering as your discipline. How and why did you make this choice?
Rohit Dash(RD): I didn’t choose Chemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering chose me. We generally don’t have a clear idea about which stream we should opt for, we first want to be engineers. I had a basic idea about 2 branches, Mechanical and Chemical. My rank was close to 17000, so from studying the trends of the previous years I knew that admission into Mechanical was possible but getting admitted into Chemical was for sure. I didn't want to study at any institution which ranked below NIT Rourkela. After counselling, I got selected at NIT Rourkela in Chemical Engineering.
MM: For your pre-final year internship, you had the opportunity to intern at National Chiao Tung University(NCTU) in Taiwan. How did you come across this internship?
RD: I was rejected for Mitacs (an internship program for Canadian universities). The results came out in January and by then I was emailing professors in the States(United States) and France by that time. I had made up my mind for 2 things: one to get an internship, second to get an internship outside India because I had previously interned at IIT Gandhinagar. I started searching for an internship but January isn’t a very suitable time for that. A friend of mine and a senior of mine recommended Taiwan. NTU, NCTU, NTHU, NCKU were amongst the universities I had applied for. I searched for professors whose research areas were aligned with mine. I mailed them and one of the professors was very welcoming. So that’s how it happened.
MM: What is the procedure to be followed while applying for an internship like yours?
RD: I have been a part of this process. Internship abroad starts as a fad, you don’t know why you want to do it but you just want to. You should be acquainted with the environment of research internships. In India, it’s a bit easier since the education system remains. Western and European countries have a liberal culture but Asian universities will expect you to work hard. So you should know why you want to do it. Second, you should know how it will affect you in the long term. You should also know what you don’t like in your stream and mail professors accordingly. Be wise while mailing, mail them in a time when they will check their mail. The idea is to be wise, to dream big, focussed CV and a good email which explains your interests. Reject what you don’t like, mail people and hope for a good reply.
MM: Why did you choose a research internship?
RD: It started as a bitter experience. As a sophomore, I had approached a professor in my department to get to know my subject more but he rejected me straightaway. With the help from a few friends, I mailed various professors and got selected in IIT Gandhinagar’s program. There the culture is welcoming, you and your opinions are valued. There is no such hierarchy and everybody is willing to hear you out. This inspired me to do a research internship.
The experience you get in a foreign country, it’s very fulfilling. Those perspectives expand horizons. I like travelling and photography, so my internship wasn’t just about slugging. This aspect of a foreign internship is ignored.
MM: Brief us about your area of focus. What fascinated you the most?
RD: In the chemical department there are two fields catalysis and nano. I haven’t tried anything in catalysis. My first internship was in nano and it was based on nanofluids, I was simulating a phenomenon we observe in nanofluids when an external magnetic field is applied. So I read my professor’s thesis at the university and it interested me. If you feel important while doing something, you will be motivated to do it. They(university) provide you with everything. Once I couldn’t simulate something on my laptop so they provided me with a system that had 128 gigabytes of RAM.
MM: What are the prerequisites that a student should have while applying for an internship at NCTU?
RD: There are no such requisites. You only have to mail your professor and forward it to their administrative department. I attached 3 things with my cover letter- my Letter of Recommendation, my CV and any other documents that I had. They will go through your LOR and rarely through your transcript(grade card).
MM: How would you describe your experience at NCTU?
RD: I was in the advanced computational department, so I had access to some great facilities including a supercomputer. Taiwan has this system that all the colleges share their resources. All the industries know that the universities are working together and they let you use their systems. Taiwan also has great relations with other countries. Once I wasn’t able to rationalize my simulation and my professor helped me interact with a professor from Japan.
The only difficulty I had was in terms of language barriers. Translating a thesis from Mandarin into English took some time. Overall it was an enriching experience.
MM: What long term effect do you expect from this internship?
RD: When you are away for 3 months, you miss a lot of things from your country. A foreign internship helps you realize whether you can do this for a longer time during your masters. You adapt and observe their work culture and assess whether you would fit into this flow. After doing 2 research internships you question if you want to sit for the placements. It's better to reject an area after you have completely explored it to its best.
MM: How difficult was it go get an internship at IIT Gandhinagar?
RD: IIT Gandhinagar has a portal called SRIP(Summer Research Internship Programme) and you have to apply through that. I got my internship in my sophomore year and by that time, professors don’t look for a lot in you. They only look at your SOP(Statement of Purpose) and whether you have a genuine interest or not. My project was on Smart materials and I explained why I wanted to do it. My professor then called me and we had a telephonic interview, probably to check whether I was bluffing or not. CGPA is important because it shows that you are diligent in your academics. It doesn't need to be very high.
Your entire CV should be 10 on 10. If you are a 5 in academics, make it up by being a 15 in research.
MM: How did this internship help you in scoring an internship at NCTU?
RD: It gave me the confidence that if given a task, I could complete it in 3 months. It gives you an idea of discipline, almost like a job. So I was accustomed to the routine. I went back in December again to complete another aspect of my project. By that time, I had established an organic relation with my professor and his PhD scholars. They eventually helped in writing my cover letter and in applying for NCTU.
MM: Students are often confused about whether they should go for core jobs or into the field of coding. What would you advise them?
RD: I feel that coding is a tool. An engineer should know how to code for the project he is working on. Basic forms and techniques such as machine learning, image processing etc can be applied to many fields and these jobs should not be segregated between departments.
I feel that in first and second year, students should get a hang of some tools like machine learning and image processing. As far as competitive coding is concerned, its just maths with testosterone! If you want to be practical about your approach, you should know them irrespective of your stream. Software Development is a different topic altogether.
MM: There is a gap between the package offered by a software company and research fields. What’s your take on that?
RD: When you are offered a package, you should know why they are paying you. A 35 LPA package isn’t 35/12 per month. About 10 lakhs is your in-hand salary and the rest is in other forms. You need to know how the company operates. First, educate yourself.
If offers from this sector are that high, then everybody would be working here. Every field has something to offer. You choose a job, the job shouldn’t choose you. A lot of software companies lay off people after they become a burden. Go to a place which uses your skill. Money is everywhere. If you have good skills you will be paid more.
MM: Do you have any words of advice for students who wish to follow a similar path?
RD: Like I said, first figure out why you want to do it. If you don’t have an answer, be chill. All of us are trying hard to sort out the next 10 years of our life. There is an anecdote I would like to share
On the last day of my internship, my postdoc guide suggested we go out for a drink. He had a connotation that Indians don’t drink. We had a free-flowing conversation and I asked him about his plans. He said he doesn’t know yet, still trying to figure it out. I realized how relaxed they are about their future, they are living it one day at a time. What my postdoc guide said was
You don’t necessarily need to like what you are doing, you are just doing it now. It might be because of the money or something else. When you have some sort of backing, you can leave.
It's a good mantra to live by. My thing is, try to figure out everything that’s at your disposal right now. Engineers can be everything other than engineers. Explore and be honest with your work. Do something, don’t be stoned and sit back. Even if you don’t like it, you know at least one more thing you don’t like. Always value yourself, you are a NITian. When you entered this institution you were already in the top 10 of your batch of students. There is no need to give in to desperation. Apply, search and focus.
Think about Colonel Sanders who founded KFC. He never knew he would be selling food and he began at 65. Keep doing what you love.
No struggle is too hard if you have the right guidance at your disposal. We hope that Rohit Dash’s journey is an inspirational treat for all the students.