Hello Devashish. Can you please tell us where you are currently doing your internship and on what topic are you focusing on?
Hi. So right now I am working at the University of Tokyo. The internship I am doing comes under the IJEP program, which is organized by the University of Tokyo. I am working in the Department of Mechanical Engineering under Prof. Shigeo Maruyama on carbon nanotubes and related one-dimensional Van-der Waals heterostructures. My topic focuses on small diameter single-walled carbon nanotubes grown on various zeolite catalysts and coated with other materials such as boron nitride and molybdenum sulfide. I am trying to analyze some of their semiconducting properties, optical properties etc. I am also working on the separation of metallic and semiconducting carbon nanotubes. The internship is experimental in nature and involves using various techniques like electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, electron diffraction and so on.
Having completed my first year in chemical engineering, I have observed that many students end up going into the non-core sector. There are also some opportunities in core sector such as industries etc. How did you narrow down on research as your interest?
In my previous years, I did an industrial internship in Reliance in which I worked on reactor design. I also wanted some non-core experience so I did an internship with Ernst and Young (EY). I have also been doing some research work in the institute which also gave me some feel for research. I did a more chemistry related internship with a Swiss company called Givaudan which develops flavors for various FMCGs.
I don’t think choosing research for the third year internship is, or ought to be a sudden step. You should take your time during undergraduate studies to explore all avenues. It is quite difficult to understand what chemical engineering really is sitting in a classroom. It is a very interdisciplinary field so we should go out and explore more. Internships are not just about putting things in your CV but are also about gaining experience and finding out what you like to do and what you are good at. Research especially is very difficult to pursue if you don’t have a liking for it.
When did you start and how did you go about your application process for the internship?
For research internships, you should basically talk to a lot of seniors and read a lot on the internet because there is a wide range of options available. I applied for a couple of internships, S. N. Bose for the US, MITACS in Canada and one at NTU, Singapore, to name a few. There are others like DAAD for which I did not apply.
The IJEP application usually opens in November and closes sometime in December. S. N. Bose and MITACS applications close sometime earlier, while NTU is around the same time. One statement of purpose is generally required, in which one talks about prior research experience and future plans, research interests and, for some internships, why one is specifically interested in the institute in question. The IJEP internship requires one letter of recommendation with an option to submit two. I would generally advise you to provide two letters, to strengthen your application as much as possible. Recommendation letters can be from professors with whom you have had previous research experience. You can also take recommendation letters from professors who have taught you a lot of courses or in whose courses you have got good grades. You can also take them from profs with whom you have had a lot of interaction because of common interests etc. I got one from Prof. Sumesh Thampi with whom I have been doing a project related to fluid mechanics. Another I got from Prof. T Renganathan who has taught me three courses, and with whom I have had good interaction in my time here. For S. N. Bose, I took another one from my internship manager at Reliance. It is good to have a large pool of letters of recommendation, so that you have some flexibility, and a safety net in case your recommenders are unavailable at the last moment.
Lot of people from IIT-M end up doing research internships in the US or in Germany through DAAD etc. How did you end up choosing Japan?
It was a difficult choice because I got accepted into S. N. Bose as well. The choice was based on a number of factors. One thing you look at is the research. In the institute, I have been generally working on fluid mechanics simulations. It is related to stuff like the particle and molecular dynamics. I have never really had experimental exposure. In the US, the profiles I was getting were based on topics like modeling and simulation, on which I have already been working on in insti. Here, I was getting a nice experimental profile and a good professor to work under.
There is a policy in the US which states that after obtaining a J-1 visa (which you have to have for an internship), you have to stay in your home country for two years before coming to the US on an immigrant visa again. So you will be in a difficult position if you want to go to the US for work. While it is possible to get an exemption, the visa application for Japan is much more streamlined, takes lesser time, and the process is less uncertain.
I also have always wanted to come to Japan because it has a very interesting culture, cuisine, and people. Research internships are not only about research but also about experiencing a foreign work-culture and meeting new people. I had also been learning a little Japanese, and I wanted the chance to improve my language skills.
Being a student, how important is it to keep the finances of internship in mind? How did you manage the finances? Did you receive any stipend?
We are given a stipend of 240,000 yen (about Rs. 1,50,000) for the whole duration of stay, which is around two months. The flight tickets are also sponsored by the program. I had to find my accommodation myself, in Tokyo, which is one of the costliest cities in the world. However, it is possible to manage with this stipend. We can also use the leftover money to roam around Japan, which I definitely recommend. Of course, if you roam around a lot, you will end up spending some money out of your pocket (which is still worth it). We get food at subsidized rates in the university cafeteria. It is not easy to get vegetarian food because in Japan everyone consumes meat. Rice is very common so you can buy and cook it in your apartment. Some of my co-interns who are vegetarian initially found it difficult but are managing quite well. You also get many commodities very easily in convenience stores. Next comes transport, which also eats away a lot of your stipend.
I would like to convey to aspiring interns that they should not expect to earn any money from this internship. If you want to earn money, this is not the right place.
We have completed everything from the academic point of view. Now I would like to ask you about what you do in your free time and on weekends?
I travel a lot. I also like to eat Japanese food. I have been to Kyoto. Tokyo also has a lot of historic sites. There is the Imperial Palace which has beautiful gardens and then there are ancient Shinto temples. Shinto culture shares some aspects with Indian culture, so you should not be surprised to find Saraswati, or Ganesha being worshipped in these temples. There is a Disneyland in Tokyo which some of my friends have visited. Japan is also known for its beautiful gardens and parks. Hiking is also a very popular activity here. In fact, I organized a trek to climb Mt. Fuji, one of the most famous mountains in the world. Japan is also the place to be if you are into anime and stuff. You can also travel in shinkansen trains, which is actually a part of the program. We have also been taken on industrial visits. There are some Indian companies here so you can also get a feel for Indo-Japan collaboration. There is a lot being talked about the Indo-Japan relations so it’s a very nice time to be here.
These activities have taken up most of my free time because I end up working till 8 or 9 at night. Since the Japanese work very hard, you are also expected to put in a lot of effort.
After doing this internship, are you eligible to continue in the same university as an MS or a Ph.D. scholar?
When you come here, they want you to come back to do your masters because Japan is not a country where students come often because of the different culture, cuisine, language etc, so if you put fight they’ll definitely want you to come back. They actually want more Indian students to come and study there.
Devashish, it was a pleasure talking to you. Ending the interview, is there any advice you would like to give to your juniors?
Yeah, I would encourage them to go for international internships, even if they are not in the research field. It’s a totally different experience, you meet a lot of people since there are exchange students from all around the world, so you come to know how the world works. You get exposure which is difficult to get in India. Of course, check research out and explore a lot of avenues. Work hard and maintain a good CG, but at the same time, enjoy and learn new things.
Author: Sriram(BT-CH ’21)