Saksham Paliwal (MT1)
Interned at the University of Lugano, Switzerland
Domain: Fault-tolerant distributive programming
I am Saksham Paliwal, a third-year student in the Mathematics and Computing department. I interned at the University of Lugano, Switzerland and worked on fault-tolerant distributive programming. I have explored a lot of fields in IIT so far, including dance, music and swimming. I wanted to explore research as I am quite interested in mathematics and computer science, and my mentor advised me to do the same.
CV and application:
I relied on a website called CS Rankings, which cites universities and professors while applying in Europe, Australia, Singapore and Japan. I would check the professor's LinkedIn, Google Scholar and their H index and only apply to professors within a specific range of the H index. (H index is the quantitative measure of number of papers, and citations and views on those papers, which gives a good idea about the experience of a professor.) My objective was to strike a balance between professors engaged in impactful research while also setting realistic expectations. I did not personalise my emails as reading 300 research papers at once was impossible. Instead, I would simply mention my interest in their work and send a cover letter. It is important to mention your technical skills as that is what the professors seek. Any past projects or internships are more or less irrelevant. I got about 3 to 4 positive replies from the 300 emails I sent and was shortlisted for an interview where I was asked technical questions. I was also asked to read and explain a research paper to the professor in about ten days.
The topic I worked on was distributed programming and programming languages, related to a course I haven't done yet. The professor gave me a couple of relevant research papers to read, and I was good to go. My role was to apply the professor's work in one setup-Apache Stall to another-Apache Spark. I had to convert the code from one system to another. I spent the first month studying his work and tried to apply it in the other. I routinely turned to my fellow team members, Master's and PhD students, for doubts, and they were always willing to help me despite the disparity in our levels of expertise. Communication is key in a research internship, as you're never expected to understand anything immediately.
I wasn't very successful because of the time constraints, but it was a great learning experience. It also prepared me for many practical aspects of life, like cooking and living by myself.
The country, though expensive, was wonderful. The healthy work environment allowed for flexible hours, and I joined a swimming group. I had the chance to travel to Hungary, Slovakia, and Italy. I also made some lasting friendships that I still cherish.
Advice to juniors:
Don’t focus on any particular topic unless you are sure about pursuing that in future. If you're interested or have expertise in any particular domain, which is rarely the case, seek profs who work in that field, and you'll be sure to find them. I know of students who got research internships despite low CGs, so don’t be demotivated by your CG. Do not get disheartened by negative replies, as it usually takes more than 300 emails to get a single positive reply. Just try to be regular and apply to as many universities as possible. A research intern provides a good opportunity for academic and non-academic growth and exposes you to new cultures.