Shubhangi Sharma - Tokyo University
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Interned at: University of Tokyo
Area of Research
My major is in Civil Engineering, and I wanted to pursue something in the same field. My interest lies in the optimum reuse of resources and sustainable development. I learned that many students in my year were pursuing a research internship, which inspired me to look up one too. I came upon a professor's profile from the University of Tokyo, where he promoted his efforts to produce aggregates from plastic garbage. I was very intrigued by the concept. A significant part of construction projects for buildings, roads, and other structures involves aggregates. Aggregates are raw materials produced from natural sources, including gravel, crushed stone, and sand, utilised for construction purposes. Natural aggregates are overused in the modern world of rapid expansion and rising construction demand, which causes a severe drop in their supply. Thus, using plastic to create aggregates relieves pressure on natural aggregates. Additionally, it aids in reducing the problem of rising plastic pollution, which benefits the environment by promoting sustainable growth.
I read the second-year intern series on the BSP website to understand how to apply for internships. I had started late, around January. Most scholarship programs, including MITACS and Globalink, had already passed their deadlines by that point. I decided to start target-mailing the professors.
I researched and decided on the universities I wanted to attend. ETH Zurich and U-Tokyo are the two most excellent options for research internships in civil engineering. However, because ETH Zurich prefers experienced candidates, I wasn't chosen because I was only a sophomore and a novice. The sixth or seventh professor on my list was the one I worked for at U-Tokyo, and he responded to my email within two days.
CV and Cover Letter
In my second year, I applied on the OCS website and formatted my CV according to their guidelines. I made sure to draw attention to the courses I had taken until that point, particularly those related to the research topic I was applying for. I also spoke about the relevant work I had done with Prof. Shashank Bishnoi on material testing.
My email to the professor served as my cover letter. My research on the professor's profile, my interest, and all the courses I had done were the primary details I had included. I gave a few suggestions about some of the initiatives he had stated in his profile.
When applying for a research internship, LoRs are crucial. To support my profile, I also added a Letter of Recommendation I acquired from an IITD professor with whom I had taken a course.
I worked with a Ph.D. scholar in her research involving the study of properties of plastic aggregates to use them to replace natural ones effectively. Our main field of study was the bonding between cement and natural aggregates. We tested the strength properties of the aggregate created using cement and plastic; however, the water absorptance level of that aggregate was not close to the one of the natural aggregate. Hence, we worked on creating samples with varying percentages of cement and plastic powder (PE powder) to create lightweight aggregates of different strength properties. We also experimented by replacing cement with other cementitious materials like fly ash and pozzolana and performed various strength tests on these samples.
The workload was pretty light. I worked for about 5 hours a day, including commuting time. Experiments occasionally required extra time to complete, which increased working hours. However, the working environment was excellent.
I received advice and assistance from the professor and his staff regarding everything. Due to COVID, Japan had various restrictions during my internship, which caused delays. Additionally, I had to spend three days in quarantine. The professor kept in touch with me over that time, sending me emails regularly to see if I needed any help. The team was a huge help to me with my academics as well.
Tokyo is a beautiful city, and my experience with work and travel has been lovely overall. I recommend U-Tokyo to interested students and plan to go there after graduation.
In the second year, one should pursue a research internship if interested in that field. Since I was unsure of my research interests, I used this chance as a test to see if I wanted to pursue research after I graduated.
Going and living independently outside of India was a pleasant experience. My confidence increased, and it undoubtedly enhanced my experience. Additionally, the learning curve was excellent. Everything I discovered there expanded my knowledge and also assisted me with my present courses.
Advice for second yearites
By the middle of the second year, one gets an idea about their likes and dislikes in the coursework. I avoided the mechanics part of civil engineering as much as possible. I worked on exploring the materials side of it. One should take up a project in the area of their interest to add to their experience and mention it in their CV.
Interviewed by - Unnati Goyal