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  • BSP

Pratham Pahuja - University of Birmingham

Updated: Dec 30, 2022




Motivation and Application Procedure

I was looking for an internship during my second year. However, unlike my seniors, who were going through different constraints, I did not wish to do it remotely. Covid had spread a lot during the summer of 2021, but things started returning to normal during my year. By January, you could see things opening up, and I did not want to miss out on the hands-on experience. The ideal time to start applying would be November. We had our CMP lab in December when I made my CV and began sending emails. My initial target was Business Schools, although I received no response from there. I tried everything - scheduling the emails for 8 AM, putting in mail trackers, setting up read receipts and sending follow-ups. At this point, I realised that if a professor has read and ignored your emails, there is no point in wasting your time and energy on follow-ups.

When my grades came in, they were not enough to apply for a Foreign Exchange. So I wanted a foreign internship to compensate for that. I wanted to get my CGPA above 8, and Professor Lakshminarayan Ramasubramanian, my MLL100 professor, pushed me to work hard. And in this process, I started enjoying my courses in the middle of my fourth semester. I could see the correlation between different concepts - Heat Transfer, Fluid Mechanics, and Mass Transfer. I scored an SGPA of 9.7 that semester. This was a turning point away from the B-School targets. I had some knowledge about these concepts and strongly felt I should try a core internship. I started reading research papers around the end of February to understand what was happening in the field. I personalised every email and never engaged in mass mailings. Suddenly my response rate was very high.

Although I ran into another trouble - due to Covid, university students needed to catch up on their lab experience. Research Internships are entirely centred around the lab experience. Universities instructed professors only to take in interns after their students got some experience. I was scared as I had no internship by April, and thought I might have to arrange a corporate internship. This was when International Programmes came in with their internship Portal; they were trying it out for the first time. I could go for three internships based on criteria like CGPA and department. One of the universities waitlisted me, another rejected me, and the University of Birmingham shortlisted me, and I went with that. In the middle of April, I conversed with my professor about my knowledge and interest in working over there. The process was that I had to submit a transcript, a brief introduction about myself, and an SOP about why I wanted to work over there. The SOP turned out to be the differentiating factor for me. That was where I leveraged my creative writing skills. By then, I had a general idea of what the reader wanted to read, throwing particular points in places to catch their eye. I was writing my SOP the night between my majors. I got the offer after my majors.


The internship

As for my learning trajectory, I started from zero. I knew nothing about nanoparticles, did not even know how to synthesise them, and I was supposed to do reactions with them. But the good thing was that I told my professor all of this, and they were very understanding. People in the field are very understanding on this matter. So if you do not know something, tell them that you don't. They will teach it all to you. There is this software for drawing all your chemical structures in textbooks - ChemDraw. From ChemDraw to everything like Ansys; they taught me everything. The good thing about research is that you learn much from the people around you. The PhD people will be like your parents; they will hold your hand and get you through the entire process. And that was really encouraging for me. Whenever I encountered a problem, I knew I had people around me who would help me get through it. No problem was an utterly unsolvable problem. My job was to work on nanoparticles for Cancer Drug Administration. I was supposed to load that drug; it was a challenge because the loading had never been done before on nanoparticles. After that, I had to work out the quantity, ensuring that it was entirely inside the nanoparticle and then releasing it. I had to work everything out and do the mathematical calculations for every step. I wanted to work on cancer because my best friend was diagnosed with colorectal cancer just before my third semester started. That was another added motivation that I had. I eventually got a Letter of Recommendation for my work.

Birmingham was hosting the Commonwealth games at that time. The University of Birmingham was in a prime location, and the organisers wanted the area sealed. They wanted all the rooms vacated a month and a half before that. It led to many issues with getting apartments for rent. None of the usual student lettings were available and I couldn't find a place to live. So I had to go for Airbnbs, which were around 5-6 times as expensive. Again, it was rather far from my University, so to reach it by 9 am, I had to leave by 8 am. And it was not like IIT or my home, where I could wake up at 7:30, brush my teeth and go. I had to cook my food, so I had to wake up at 7, and if I wanted to leave after taking a shower, you could consider another 30 minutes for that. I worked from 9-5, and coming back was another hour, so I was home by 6:30 -7. After that, I would talk to my parents and cook dinner, and I was exhausted. I gained a newfound appreciation for my parents when I did it all alone.

Ultimately all these things made me very confident and gave me a strong sense of independence. I landed at Heathrow at 11 at night with a phone with no UK sim. There were no buses, and I had to find my way to my hotel for the night; it got a little scary but at the end everything was fine. Somehow I navigated through that process without my parents, with two suitcases and a handbag. Managing a situation where I had essentially no control helped me gain a lot of confidence.

Even in Birmingham, my accommodation was not fixed. I, along with another person from IITD who was with me in the same internship, had to shift every 10-15 days because no one was ready to give a booking that long due to the Commonwealth games. My last host would give us notice to vacate daily. We used to get a lot of allegations, and she never blamed any of the other four tenants. Then this guy came in between, from Leicester, and he protected us from that woman once we explained our problem to him. He was in his early fifties and was a medical nurse. It was a very different experience. He cooked dinner for us one day because he was thankful to us for showing him around. We talked about various issues with him, which gave me a sense of how people think differently. I would suggest that if you are going for a long intern abroad, try to final a proper and permanent place and avoid making last minute decisions.


Takeaways

Research is an excellent field. The foreign internship was a one-time opportunity, the kind you get only at IIT, especially at IIT Delhi, because of the prestige and the legacy of this institute. Once you graduate, you will never be able to go abroad, often on a public fund. To every IITD student out there - research is an outstanding experience, and you should all try it out one time. A lot of people try to research after coming here. The person whose interview I took in my second year wanted to go to a B School but tried a research internship. This set the precedent for me to try out research in the core chemical field. If you are slightly interested in trying research out, grab the opportunity at this stage, you would just get the basic understanding of what research is like.


Suggestions

If you get a research internship opportunity, you should jump on it; you will not get it back again. I do not have any regrets about the entire process. It would help if you were mindful that OCS would arrive with its deadlines in the middle of your 2nd-year internships. And these things are going to come and go on campus. Your placement deadlines would come near your 3rd-year internships. Do not let these things ruin your experience, especially if you are going abroad. Avoid compromising; give yourself a little break. You can still plan out a little and get a good experience. The stress is not really worth it.

 

Interviewed by - Amogh





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