Tarkes Dora, an alumnus from IIT Madras in the Applied Mechanics Department, is pursuing Ph.D in the Technion Institute Of Technology, Israel. In this interaction with Chennai 36, he speaks about the challenges of pursuing a Ph.D. in Israel and gives some practical ideas on how to manage life in this foreign land.

Please tell us about yourself and your time in insti. What activities were you involved and how did they lead to your choice of pursuing grad studies?

My name is Tarkes Dora P and I was at IIT Madras from the year 2012-2016 to pursue Ph.D.  I was basically involved in research and teaching assistant work at IIT Madras. Before joining at this institute, I was interested and motivated to work in academics.  Activities involved in the Ph.D. program at IIT Madras enhanced and motivated me to pursue further research experience as a postdoctoral fellow.

Tell us more about Technion Israel Institute of Technology and the kind of opportunities you have to pursue research compared to some of the other grad schools.

Technion is one of the well known and premier universities in Israel as well as in the globe for science and engineering research. This university is dedicated to providing solution/ developing technology for the nation’s development. In this university, I have worked for more than 1 year as a post-doctoral research fellow. I find there is a lot of scope to work on a lot of cutting-edge research problems and innovative ideas which may potentially find some novel application in real life.

How is the work culture on campus and in your department? Do you feel the environment is competitive and motivating? How is it different from IITM?

The work culture is quite different from the IITM campus. There is complete flexibility in work timings. The best part of our campus is the Institute takes care of all the requirements of a student such as stay, food and etc. whereas at Technion you need to manage everything on your own. I felt maybe keeping this factor in view, there is a lot of flexibility in work timings provided by any faculty (commonly). Competitive and motivating depends on the faculty you work with. I didn’t realize any major difference related to this factor. Facilities wise, one may find better and latest experimental and computational facilities as compared to IITM.

How difficult was the transition from studying in India to studying at Israel? Do graduates get support and help through the initial few months.

The transition from India to Israel is not very difficult apart from the journey. Since the security of Israel is quite intense, one has to travel through one or two halts which could be tiring. Yes PhD/Post-Doc get initial support for few months until he/she is settled. Initial financial support is given by the Institute for Ph.D./Post-Doc by paying a 1-month advance salary which should be sufficient for initial settlement. They provide confirmed long-term stay in the dorms for PhDs or if willing to stay outside the campus, they can search for apartments. Initial temporary stay for about 2-weeks or more can be arranged in the guest house based on the request made (preferably 1-3 months earlier or as soon as travel plans are confirmed). For Post-Docs dorms can be made available based on availability/ after reaching there. After the student gets in touch with the international office, they provide all other help/information in getting telephone SIM, WIFI connections in private apartment, searching for flats etc.

Could you tell us more about Israel? How are the living conditions in the city and on campus? Are facilities easily accessible for foreign grad students?

Israel is a small country (equivalent to one state of India). One can travel from one end of the country to the other end in an overnight journey. Lifestyle and living conditions in the Haifa city is better. Here you may find nature of people as a mix of Indian and European Culture. Overall people are good and helpful. There are good communication and traveling facilities. The university campus lies in a hilly region. It could be difficult to walk to the department based on the living location. Nevertheless, by selecting a proper stay location or by purchasing annual travel pass, the walking difficulties can be overcome. All the required facilities are available. It’s wise to purchase any daily based requirements from a supermarket/ central market (also know as Sukh Talpiot in Haifa) from an economic point of view.

How does the war situation in Israel affect the students living there? Are there any particular precautions one has to take?

This is a big misconception lying with many students/faculties in India. Israel and especially Haifa is one of the most beautiful, safe and relaxing places I have ever seen. One needs to understand that war/ disturbance exists in every country’s border region and so does Israel also have. But in no-way students are staying close to the border region and hence it’s absolutely safe. The precaution I would suggest it not to move around /plan trips alone in the controversial regions. Technion organizes economic trips to different regions of Israel for the international students and it would be safer to travel along with the group.

Food is a major problem usually for Indians, so what type of food do you get every day? Do you generally have to cook for yourself?

Yes, I used to cook myself usually and sometimes I used to have food outside. Some of the dishes available in Israel are comparable to Indian dishes. There are restaurants/cafes within Technion that serves economic vegetarian Indian-like dishes. One shouldn’t expect all sort of Indian dishes in Israel. To optimize time, one can easily manage the lunch in Technion and the dinner can be self-cooked. To optimize cost, one has to self-cook for both the times.

Do you have any suggestions for fresh grads joining there to improve upon or learn to make their integration at Israel smooth? Were there any issues you struggled with when you first joined.

Technion has an International office which supports every incoming international student. I would recommend the incoming student to get in touch them for any kind of local information and help. One may also get in touch with existing Indian student in the lab/institute. Usually, many of them are helpful. There is a Technion Indians google group to post any queries or for any help/requirements. Every step in the settlement process is quite very easy compared to other country starting from searching for flats to buy groceries/vegetables. I personally didn’t face any issues. Israeli currencies are not available anywhere in India.  I suggest carrying Rs. 60k-80k cash converted to USD for initial safety purposes. There are two Technion guest house s(Institute Guest house and Kassel’s Guest House). I would recommend booking the Kassel’s guest house (with the help of Ph.D./PostDoc Coordinator at the Admin. Department of Technion)initially for 15 days for searching flats in Haifa. Searching flats can be done with the help of the coordinator/ student assistant from international office. With this background, I would strongly recommend following the sequence of steps (to settle down fast) as soon as you reach Haifa  1. Meet the concerned assistant of HOD at the department 2. Meet the international Ph.D./Post-Doc student coordinator and request for one-month advance salary 3. Open Bank account and get all necessary accessories like checkbook/ATM card/credit card 4. Take a Golan telephone SIM (good for international students) 5.Search and visit flats by finding renters from www.yad2.co.il /seek help from international office/look for dormitories options from step 2. 6. Purchase any other items you need. Now you are almost settled. I am describing these steps because this is not usual/common steps for every country.

Any other preparation mentally or physically required to study in Israel? What are the VISA, clothing etc requirements?

One of the strongest recommendations I would suggest (esp. for unmarried) is to forget about all sort of typical Indian dishes like Idly/Dosa/vada as cooking such Indian dishes would involve large costs and a lot of time consumption. But it can be easily managed with simple Indian dishes. Some of the Indian spices are difficult to find such as curry leaves. Visa requirements are usual and can be followed according to the embassy guidelines. The temperatures vary from 32 C to 5 C. Carry suitable clothes accordingly.Carry a small non-stick pressure cooker for 2 persons maximum for your requirements.You may carry spices of your interest from the economic point of view. Do not worry if you are not going to carry any spices. Most of them are available.

Any final words of advice for anyone considering going down the same path you have?

Advice for anyone moving to Technion: to my experience, most of the research work going on you may find will be of theoretical based/futuristic ideas. You will rarely find research topics which are focused on direct applications.

Author: Paridhi Khowala (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.