Yashasvi Ghadale, PH1
Interned at: Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR)
My internship was at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, under a very new professor. I was probably one of the very first interns that he had. The project was in the field of astronomy and is titled as Data Analytics for Fast Radio Burst Detection Pipeline Optimization. A few universities in the US have jointly built a telescope as part of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), located in Canada, one of the world's largest radio telescopes. The entire project is divided into three parts, and different teams are working on these. My professor had been working on CHIME/FRB (Fast Radio Bursts), with which I was also associated. This was a very new area to be working on.
I mainly had to use my knowledge of data analytics and machine learning to work on data that was coming from the CHIME telescope.
The Application Process
Astronomy is something that I've been interested in since my early teenage years. This is a broad field, and I was keen on doing a project in this field before graduating. I didn't start with Astronomy, though. After finishing my first year, I started exploring the area of Quantum Computing; I did some online courses and found it very exciting. Initially, I was trying to get a foreign internship in Quantum Computing. However, I was not following any structured process for the same. I started mailing in October. I'd sent out 70-80 emails but didn't get positive responses because Quantum Computing is a very advanced field, and I hadn't done any courses in it either. It was after this that I started mailing professors in India. In December, I emailed professors in TIFR, and I got a positive response very soon.
The CV and Cover Letter
After our second semester had ended during the lockdown, I spent a lot of time doing online courses centred around machine learning and deep learning. Doing these Coursera courses also helped me put a lot of independent projects on my resume. I hadn't worked with any professor before this, but I used to go on Kaggle and work with data sets according to my convenience and understanding. I'd done this one project on pneumonia detection using chest X-Rays, a computer vision project involving deep learning. This was one that my TIFR professor liked. My machine learning projects, I think, were the ones that made my resume stand out.
I tried to message as many seniors as I knew to ask for their cover letters. There's a standard format everyone follows, and instead of mass mailing one generic cover letter, it's much better to personalize the email. I had very honestly only mentioned how and why I got interested in the field and what I hoped to gain out of the project, aside from a couple of lines about my achievements.
The Experience and Takeaways
Within CHIME/FRB, they've divided the entire team into multiple working groups. The group I was working in had five people, including my professor, two Ph.D. students at McGill University, and the project manager. My professor and I used to communicate on Slack, he was very prompt in replying and was happy to answer even my silly questions. We used to have a weekly science call to discuss ideas, suggestions, and any exciting observations. I'd expected the work would be very demanding, and the professor and my team members would be very strict. However, it was very chill; I'd sit every alternate day for 2-3 hours, and that would be enough.
I didn't expect to be able to work on data coming from one of the largest telescopes in the world. My fifteen-year-old self would be very pleased. At that age, I'd watch space documentaries, and there would be people from these very universities talking about their work, and now I've experienced it firsthand. For me, this was way better than a foreign intern under just one professor.
This was my first research experience in Astronomy, I didn't know how things worked before this. I got a great understanding about how a research project works. I also got to interact with many people internationally, which is something I wasn't expecting from an internship in India. Since this was a large-scale project, this gave me a very unique experience that I wouldn't have gotten working under a professor in IIT Delhi. That was the highlight of it.
The area was very interesting, but at the end of the internship, I figured out that this is probably not something I want to do for the rest of my life. Don't get me wrong, though, I don't regret having this experience; it was a very enjoyable internship.
A Memorable Incident
The person heading the entire project internationally, Dr. Victoria Kaspi, is a very well-known astronomer. I was awestruck at the thought of being able to talk to her. This one time, I made my presentation, after which she said something along the lines of "okay, good work." That's all she said, but it meant a lot to me because it was a dream come true.
People have underrated internships under Indian professors. I know I tried because I wasn't getting internships under foreign professors, but it turned out to be a much better experience than I could've expected or hoped for. So, at the very least, try to reach out to Indian professors, it may turn out to be a great experience for you too.
Interviewed by: Stuti Lohani