Back in my first year at IIT Delhi, I heard about research internships from my cousin who was studying here at the time. The way he described his foreign internship experience was thrilling. I knew at that time that I wanted to explore doing research work to see if it would be something I could pursue in the future. And from that point on, I set my mind on making a good resume and applying to universities as soon as I would enter my 2nd year. In the summer after 1st year, I started doing Data Structure courses to build up my skills and my resume.
I wasn’t aiming for any specific university when I started applying around September of 2019; I targetted the ones that had accepted students from IIT before. At first, I wasn’t sure what field I wanted to intern in, since students in their 3rd semester don’t possess a solid set of technical skills that are required for a professor to choose you. So I decided to remain very flexible in this aspect. I mailed the professors about all the fields that I had the slightest knowledge about and awaited their response. Initially, it became somewhat typical for me to receive an answer from a professor that said: “This requires more knowledge” or “apply next year”. I thought this was understandable and didn’t let myself get disheartened.
Meanwhile, I did several courses in Computer Science and Deep Learning. Around the end of the year, I teamed up with 2 of my friends and took up a project under a professor to automate parking slots in IIT using neural networks. This project was key in me bagging two opportunities - a program by NTHU and an intern in Trinity College, Dublin. I was ecstatic when I received the acceptance letter in January. Following this, I even had the opportunity to interact with the professor during a seminar here at IIT. I felt more motivated than ever before. But alas, that’s when Corona arrived. I feared my intern would get cancelled and watched the situation worsen until I was utterly convinced that I won’t be able to go.
As cases surged worldwide and we went into quarantine, I anxiously mailed my professor to know about the status of my intern. He informed me that the university had to be shut down, which meant that my intern was more than likely to be cancelled.
A few days later, my fears came true; I lost both my opportunities, the program as well as the intern. I was so disappointed; it felt like all my hard work had gone to waste.
But I picked myself back up and started thinking about other opportunities. That’s when I decided to mail a professor at UNSW again, who initially had denied me an offline internship because of a lack of funds. Luckily the professor responded to let me know he could arrange for a work from home internship. However, it was an unpaid opportunity that would revolve around the more theoretical aspects of my project since we won’t be having access to any labs. Regardless, I was still quite eager to learn and quickly jumped on board.
I started my project by reading about intelligent reflecting surfaces and near field based power transfer. As soon as I got acquainted with these topics, my professor and I started investigating whether these configurable surfaces could be used in wireless power transfer. But since we were working in a new field, the lack of lab access meant that we couldn’t test our findings.
Many times during the internship, my professor told me about the labs in UNSW, and how different my experience would have been had this been offline. He was very patient, and whenever I didn’t understand a topic, he explained it to me, sometimes on skype and sometimes by sending across some research papers. He graduated from an IIT too, so he would tell me about his journey from being a student to a professor, and he also made me realise the importance of the research field.
Even though it was quite a roller coaster ride, with the acceptance letters and scraped interns and programs, I learnt so many things and got to explore so many fields.
The lockdown blues combined with setbacks I faced in my project were sometimes really hard to get by. However, I pushed through it all. And I can say for sure it was a fantastic experience.
I’m not sure if I want to continue it in the future, I might say this because of it being a work from home intern. However, I will be doing a company internship next year, which will help me get a clear perspective.
Finally, to anyone that wants to try this out, I’d say give it a shot, because you could end up like a field so much, you might want to pursue it all your life.
Article by: Simran Bhagat