Harshit Garg (BB1)
Interned at West Virginia University
Domain: Cancer Detection using Lab Chips
I am a third-year biotech student and recently interned at West Virginia University, where I worked on detecting diseases using laboratory chips. Initially, I did not like my branch, but I have grown to appreciate it a lot. In my first year, I involved myself in many things, which helped me network and gain access to many opportunities. I always wanted to try a research internship, too, so I did!
CV and application:
My seniors had advised me that a good CG with projects and letters of recommendation was essential for a research intern. I did two projects in the winter which by the way did not align with my internship topic. First, I spoke to a professor who knew me (as I was a first bencher in her course and used to bug her with doubts) and asked her for a project. Luckily, I got the opportunity to do a project with her, and later, she gave me a letter of recommendation. The second project I did was under a professor at IIT Roorkee, and it was related to computational biology. It helped me figure out that I wanted to do wet lab work and experimentation in the lab, not computational work.
I started mailing in the 4th semester as I did not have these projects or a good CGPA until then. For the research internship, I found out that a lab receives a badge called an R1 rating, which shows that it is well-funded and is engaged in substantial research work. I filtered labs according to this rating without considering the university's name because I knew I eventually wanted to do wet lab work. I sent personalised emails to professors by understanding their research and explained how my work was relevant to their research interests. I sent out about 250 emails, regularly sending 3-5 emails. I got only 2 positive responses for offline work.
My research involved detecting diseases using laboratory chips, focusing on culturing bacteria, and creating the necessary laboratory chips. Initially, a lot of time went into figuring out things, but later, it became pretty smooth. The PhD students were quite supportive, and the work hours were less than I had expected. I could manage my third-year intern prep fairly well.
In terms of my work, the first few days went into familiarising myself with the lab equipment, and the learning curve after that was quite steep. I read more than I've read in any course here and learnt more lab work than I've learnt from the labs here. I got a lot of exposure and was even motivated to do a Masters or a PhD.
Since I was in the US, I faced many challenges like lack of public transport, high daily expenses, complicated visa processes, etc. Luckily, I had the advantage of a priority visa due to my prior stay in the US. I had to cook for myself and share living space with a couple of Masters students, but on the other hand, I got to travel a lot, visit New York, and have a completely new experience. The thing with SURA and other IITD projects is that since there's no change of place, your motivation levels might be low, but you can continue the work after the holidays, so choose wisely!
Advice to juniors:
I think many students don't give their branch a fair shot. Even if you don't like a few courses, it is not necessary that you wouldn't like your department as a whole. Try to maintain a decent CGPA; it is what gets you a research intern most of the time. You will miss out on a lot in college if you don't work towards it. As for the application process, it can be frustrating at times, so have a lot of patience when it comes to mass mailing. Read up on the professor's work before mailing and look for paid research interns since they would require more relevant work than others. You can apply in your fourth semester if you're not confident about your CV in the third semester, as I did. Research will also require a lot of patience as you might have to do repetitive things with little output. If you don't get a research internship, you can try SURA, take up a project under an IIT-D professor, or find a corporate internship through LinkedIn. There are also proper programs through which students can apply.