I started applying to professors in September itself. I sent a lot of mails in Jan and Feb and the UCLA mail was sent around late Feb. The professor I mailed asked me a few questions about my previous experience in programming and the courses I had done. There were a few questions about what I wanted to do ahead, as in what type of career I would pursue, research or industry. After these questions, there was an interview with him. The interview was mostly about understanding what kind of projects they had and whether they would interest me. He also wanted to know about my interests and why I was particularly interested in the field. He also asked me a few questions about my experience in machine learning and statistics.
I think that doing SBL100 helped because that was a large part of my work there and the various topics on the genetics component of SBL100 gave me a background which was necessary for my project it involved genetics. My background in Probability and Statistics also helped. I also did a project under Prof. Neeladri in association with Nokia, which I also had on my CV but I don’t think that helped that much in this intern.
Most people of MnC apply in some intersection area of Maths and Computer Science. Some apply in Algorithms, some in Computational Biology, others apply in pure statistics, AI etc. There is a little bit of benefit in being in the Maths department since you are exposed to a wide area of internships. There are a lot of areas most people don’t discover, say the intersection of Maths and Computational Physics. Genetics essentially is very mathematically strong. You need to have a strong background in Probability, Statistics and some amount of Machine Learning as well. A large part of my internship was based on Statistics theory.
My day began at 9 AM when I would start working on my project, which was basically to build prediction models using different machine learning methods, to figure out the gene expressions in the tissue using their genotype data. Around 12, there used to be a “research lunch” and I used to attend that. It was essentially a talk by a particular person who was doing his/her research there. After lunch, it was back to coding and I left lab anytime between 6-8 PM.
There were also two big seminars while I was there. One was on AI and its applications in bioscience and the other one on genetics.
The first day was good. I tried to navigate around UCLA and got lost in the morning. When I finally found my way to the lab, I met my supervisor and talked about the project and he showed me around the lab. He gave me some time to set up my place. I had lunch with supervisor, who gave me some research papers to study. I spent the rest of the day doing that and some basic formalities that needed to be completed.
The academic environment is completely student-focused. Students have complete freedom to chose what they want to do. It can range from Art, design to computer science. There were students who were majoring in Art and Physics at the same time, also people majoring in Music and Computer Science. The key thing is that there are a multitude of options for academia and people are really passionate about what they are doing.
Students strive to maintain a work-life balance. You see the same students working hard from 9 to 5 and then go to gym at 5.30, and continue to work on their personal projects after that. And they try to have fun on weekends as well. Nobody I met worked on a weekend, ever.
I interacted with my supervisor at a personal level. We were on first-name terms and it was extremely informal. You can just go to the professor and ask him even the stupidest of doubts, and he will be happy to answer them. He also spent a lot of time explaining a particular concept or teaching us a particular model and was very much involved in our research. He also gave me several recommendations on places to eat and helped me with my accommodation as well. Essentially, he was like a friend.
I lived in Westford, which is like a small town next to UCLA. 90% of the people living there study at UCLA. It’s a very safe neighbourhood, but it’s very expensive, the most expensive place in Los Angeles, which is already a very expensive city. My accommodation was self-arranged, so I contacted people on Craigslist and through facebook groups. Getting accommodation is not really easy in LA, but it’s worth the effort.
Places I Visited:
The city was very beautiful. I visited the Six Flags and went up to Hollywood. I also went up to the Griffith Observatory there. And the beaches were amazing. I went up to Malibu, which is an extremely beautiful place in LA. I visited the Venice beach and the Long beach as well. It’s kind of funny since LA is home to Hollywood, so most of the places here are same as those we see in several movies and TV series. You can always feel like, “Yeah, I have seen this place somewhere before.”
There were a few cultural shocks. The main thing was about the traffic rules. They were strictly followed there, and there was a lot of respect for the pedestrians as well. The system of tipping was also pretty new. Giving large tips to Uber drivers and waiters at the restaurant is something not very prevalent in India.
During the internship, I realized that it is very necessary to have a temporary schedule to coordinate different aspects of your life. When you are living alone, you have a lot more responsibilities than when you are living in a hostel. You have to cook your own food, clean your own place and do all the chores.
I also realized that research is an extremely intensive field, and really competitive, especially in the US and people spend a lot of their time on that. I learned that a research career is not an easy career and you have to be extremely hard-working if you want to succeed in it.
One of my friends from IIT Bombay was also interning at UCLA, and another from UCB was interning in Google. So every Saturday/Sunday morning, we used to go out to visit places and eat ice cream at night. I was also invited to a pool party at the Director’s home and that was a really memorable experience.
Article By: Aryan Agarwal