Ashwin from the Department of Chemical Engineering interned in his 3rd year, on a project involving enzyme catalysis in the Nagaoka University of Technology. Our correspondent Adriza speaks to him about his experience.
How did you get to know about this internship opportunity?
I interned in the winter vacation of my third year. I’m currently in my 4th year and am majoring in Chemical Engineering. I was interested in the field of Bioengineering at that time. I had mostly worked on experimental projects where I ran reactions with enzymes to find out the optimum concentration of the enzyme for its maximal activity. An email was circulated through S-mail by the international office about a winter internship opportunity at the University of Nagaoka. I looked up the professors and the work they were doing then, at the website of the university. Since it had what I was interested in, I applied for it.
What was the application procedure?
There were a few forms that we had to fill out with the necessary information. You also write about your past research work and background knowledge, including the courses taken by you which would be relevant for the internship. Above all of this, I believe, the research proposal is given the most weight while selecting the candidates. Before writing that you need to confirm with the professor that we want to work under if he would be willing to take you in for the winter. To be on the safe side you can email a few of them, and then choose to work with the one that interests you the most. After you get the approval of the procedure you can go ahead and write the research plan. You can check the university’s website for the professor and read their research paper that interests you the most. In the research plan or proposal, you need to write about the objective of the research that you want to undertake in their lab and give a gist of the work you would do in the internship. They want to know if you have a working knowledge of what you are going to do during your time there. In addition to all of this, you would need to get a letter of recommendation from the head of your department. Once you have all of this, you can email the application to the international office via S-mail; they will forward it to the university for shortlisting.
How was the work experience at Nagaoka?
It was a very rich experience, both culturally and academically. They have very nice labs at the university and the students and professors were really helpful. The only problem that you might face there is communication as the students might not be fluent in English. We were assigned a tutor who knew a lot about the work that we were doing and would help us out if we were stuck.
Our professor was very friendly and helpful. He invited me to his home for the New Year. We shared a meal, did some origami and went to a nearby shrine together. It was wholesome.
How would you describe a typical day at the lab while interning there?
The schedule at the lab was pretty flexible, we could come at anytime between 9 am to 10 am on weekdays and leave whenever we wanted. We were given the keys to the lab so we stayed according to our work requirements. I was accommodated at the guesthouse and the only restrictions were that we had to leave before 10 am and come back only after 4 pm. The weekends were off but we could work at the lab if we wanted to. Most of the time we went for long walks in the countryside in the evenings and at night. There were many natural places to visit nearby too. In the holidays for Christmas and New Year, we decided to visit nearby cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
How did you pay for the expenses? Were you provided a stipend?
The university booked and paid for air travel expenses and provided accommodation to those of us who got a full scholarship. We got a stipend of 80,000 yen per month for two months even though we were going to work for only about 5 weeks. We only had to pay for the food and domestic travel around the city and within the country.
For those of us who were given partial funding, they were given the same amount as we were as stipend but they had to pay for the flight tickets as well as the accommodation. They stayed in the student dormitories instead of the guest house, which wasn’t very expensive. They also had to pay for food and domestic travel. In total there were 6 of us from IITM and 2 from IIITDMK. Ideally only 5 are selected but that year 3 more students from IITM were given partial funding.
How was the food and culture at the University?
It was very different from what we have in insti. We mostly had Japanese food available but it is a little similar to what we have in India, so it wasn’t very hard to get accustomed to their flavors. We had two types of mess near the guest house and a sandwich place. Vegetarians had less variety though. Since we had to pay for each meal separately we ended up cooking breakfast and dinner at the guest house kitchen and going for lunch at the cafeteria. Our mates from IITM joined us there as they didn’t have a kitchen in the dormitory.
The campus was smaller compared to IITM, there wasn’t too much to explore but it was beautiful.
We became friends with some Mexican students too who had come for the winter internship. We celebrated Christmas and New year with them. We prepared food from our native places and they did the same; we had a cultural fest of sorts on New Year’s, tasting each other’s food and dancing together!
We went for long walks over the weekends, sometimes we’d walk over 20 Kms! We visited the nearby shrines and explored the countryside too. It has a cool climate during the winters and it was a lot of fun.
How was your overall experience at the internship?
Overall, I would say it was a very good learning experience. It was a different experience altogether because we had to cook and pay for each meal, the work environment was new and the lab timings were very flexible. The guest house had all the facilities and the lab was very close to it.
I would advise interested students to look up the professors and work only under those whom you’re interested in. Even though it’s only the winter vacation and not a lot of time to do anything significant, you will learn quite a lot, living in a new place, working with new people.
Author – Adriza, BT’23