Arpan Sasmal is an alumnus from the Department of Chemistry who is pursuing his PhD from Université de Rennes, France. In this interaction with Chennai 36, he speaks about the challenges of pursuing a PhD in France and gives some practical ideas on how to manage life in this foreign land.
Please tell us about your experiences at IIT Madras and how they shaped your career decisions towards graduate studies.
It was really a great experience to study at IIT Madras. The Department of Chemistry at IIT Madras was very good and we had some very good teachers. During my coursework, I got inspired by the subject and decided to pursue higher education.
As a scholar at the Université de Rennes, how’s your life going on?
It is going well. I am really enjoying the research environment at Université de Rennes. Life is both challenging and enjoyable at the same time.
Please tell us about your thought process while choosing to do your grad studies in France and in particular at Université de Rennes.
I was looking for a PhD position in Europe. My MSc guide had worked in France and told me about the research environment there. After listening to him I decided to carry out my PhD in France. But it was really difficult to find a PhD in France as there are only a few grants in France for a PhD programme. I got some kind of a positive reply from Université de Rennes. However, they did not guarantee a PhD. I did one-year of MSc again there. Fortunately, by then they had a PhD grant and selected me as a PhD student.
What differences do you find between the student life at IIT Madras and at Université de Rennes in terms of academics, extracurriculars, peer-group, faculty and facilities?
From a teaching point of view, I did not find any difference. The facilities were also more or less the same as in IIT Madras.
But, I really got more space to work in France. I could access the research material easily. The faculty in France were much more friendly and very helpful. But, I did not see much a difference in the competence of the faculty.
How is studying in France different from studying in India? How are the facilities, living conditions and the atmosphere in general?
I actually did not find much difference between studying in India and in France. France is a very nice place with a really good weather. It is a ‘cool place’ for carrying out a PhD.
Facilities in Rennes are very good though. Like I said, the easy availability of everything needed for research made the difference. It helped a lot in obtaining results much faster.
What were some shocking realizations about France you got to know after going there? Did you face any cultural shock at France? How did you deal with it?
One major shock was when I saw a lot of students from Africa. I did not expect so many African students in a European country.
Do you know French? If not, do you face any difficulties due to that? What do you do to work around it?
I am not fluent enough in French. Sometimes I face difficulties while conversing with local people. However, I think I am getting more adjusted to French as time goes by.
Do you at times feel left out or homesick? Are there any communities or groups one can be a part of, to feel connected and less lonely?
We have a lot of Indians in Rennes. We do not have a group per se. But, we often meet each other. Especially, there is a large IIT-KGP alumni community here.
Is food a problem for Indian students in France? Do you get Indian food? Is it better to cook for yourself?
I don’t think that food will be a problem if you are non-vegetarian. We have some Indian Restaurant in the city. However, it is better to cook as it saves money.
Do Indian students face any kind of discrimination in France? Did you take any measures to avoid it?
I did not face any discrimination in France. My teachers were very friendly and helpful.
How does one manage finances in France? Do you get any support from your university? What options can one seek to finance their education and living in France?
My PhD is funded by CEFIPRA (Indo-French bilateral Centre for research). My fellowship is given by Campus France. I got a parallel ‘Chapark Grant’ for carrying out my 1-year MSc. It is very useful if you can get a full grant. Other than that, ‘Foundation Rennes 1’ also offers grants for MSc.
What advice would you give to Indian students who want to study in France?
France is a very nice place to study. But it is a bit difficult to find a PhD in France and the programmes are challenging too. The better option will be to try for a PhD in Germany, where there isn’t much of a funding problem. But as you might know, France has a very good history of innovations in Chemistry. Even though it is challenging, it nevertheless feels really great studying in France and I am enjoying my study here.
Author: Renganathan (BT-CH ’20)
This article is part of the series – Living in a Foreign Land. To get regular updates on all our articles, follow us on Facebook at /chennai36.