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Omkar Masurkar is a 2nd year Undergraduate pursuing a Dual Degree (B.Tech+M.Tech) in Energy Sciences and Engineering
How it all started?
A 7 point something CPI, a relatively new department, second year dual degree undergraduate. Put all these together and the chance of a summer intern at a reputed research university seems fickle. However as fate would have it, it did come my way. I had been doing wannabe research projects under two of my professors and over the period of my second year, I developed a keen interest in pursuing research as an option. So for my second year summers, I set out ‘apping’. But, It didn’t really go well. And then came my IC, who circulated an application for University of Maryland, College Park. The best part was we had to name any three professors from Mechanical Engineering Department under whom we would like to work. We had to send in our resumes and statement of purpose and transcript. This process happened in November of 2015 and the results were out in February 2016. There is no interview procedure as such, but only an ‘HR’ interview to check your English proficiency.
About University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
The University of Maryland, College Park is a public research university. Founded in 1856, the university is the flagship institution of the University System of Maryland. Maryland is the largest university in the state and the largest in the Washington Metropolitan Area. The University of Maryland’s location near Washington, D.C. has created strong research partnerships with government agencies. Many of the faculty members have funding from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Security Agency. These have created numerous research opportunities for the university, like for instance, taking the lead in the nationwide research initiative into the transmission and prevention of human and avian influenza.
About my project here
I am working in the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) at UMD. The CALCE is a university research facility focused on risk assessment, management, and mitigation for electronic products and systems. CALCE is the largest electronic products and systems research center focused on electronics reliability and is dedicated to providing a knowledge and resource base to support the development of competitive electronic components, products, and systems.My project has been proposed and funded by Dell Computers. This was the best part of doing research here. You get to experience how industrial R&D works, apart from working in a conductive environment, that helps in holistic intellectual growth. As a part of this project, I also got an opportunity to attend conferences and symposiums. I can say that this project surely does justice to my engineering study- research is sometimes assumed to be pure science more than engineering.
People at CALCE are very particular about their work. There are morning meetings everyday at sharp 8 am which are compulsory. At the end of the day everyone is supposed to submit a work report to your supervisor about the work you did on that day. The work environment is friendly, helpful, strict and extremely knowledgable; all at the same time. It surely goes onto show why the USA has produced so much cutting edge research in the recent times. Working here at CALCE has surely helped me in getting my messed-up IIT body cycle straight.
Life in the States
Yes, this was my first visit to the states. I was extremely excited about the prospect of visiting the country almost alone. Like every other person I did make plans of places to visit but they don’t really work out. A lot of people talk about culture shocks. I won’t say I had a lot. Some things were so pleasant that they can’t be counted as shocks. For example, every time you get into a bus, the driver greets you. That does make your day sometimes. Also people greet each other even when they don’t really know each other. And people address each other by first names. Cool, isn’t it?
What I want to talk in detail about is food. Firstly, if you are a vegetarian it is quite expectedly going to be a bit difficult for you. What you can of course do is take a lot of eating stuff from India (and of course utensils to cook it). Else the only options you have are getting ready to eat packets from an Indian store around you (one can easily locate a Patel store or Annapoorna store) or survive on salads.(Also vegetarian stuff is more expensive than other stuff) Places like McDonalds or Subway have very limited (mostly only one) options. Now if you are a non vegetarian and eat only chicken or fish, you my dear are gonna have to get adjusted to the meats here. Every food item (non vegetarian of course) has either beef or bacon or pork in it in some form. I didn’t have much of an issue since I had had all of these before.
So my internship did not come with an accommodation. I had to look for it on my own. It isn’t that difficult but would be a problem if you start looking around late. The best way to find accommodation is to get added on to the university accomodation facebook groups (like we have Buy and Sell they have a lot of groups). On an average you should be able to get a single room for anything between 300$ to 600$ a month. Apart from that the major issue that one may face during looking for accommodation is that the holidays in states start from June. So not many places are available during May. Hence, do start looking as early as you can.
Finances are a major thing you learn when you are living on your own. Asking for money constantly from home can sometimes be embarrassing, so managing your money should be a priority. You can always open a bank account – kind of necessary because the university pays your stipend in cheques so you need somewhere to deposit. Also a small note here, the stipend you get from the university is after tax is deducted. So it is less than the amount declared in the JAF. If you want you can apply for an SSN (which is USA’s equivalent for a PAN in India). It takes about four weeks for the SSN to come through but once you have it you can file for tax returns.
Travelling Around & Places to Visit
UMD has a limited shuttle service (it is an equivalent of Tum Tum but it has air conditioning and is obviously better and limited because of summer vacations) which goes pretty much to an approximate radius of 25 miles around the university. Otherwise there are local WMATA buses available, they are a bit expensive (obviously comparing with buses in India) but have a good spread. Travelling around the states is otherwise expensive. Trains are the most expensive of the lot and should preferably be avoided. Buses, though take more time, are the cheapest for long distance travelling, like New York or Philadelphia. Flights are fine only if you are enthusiastic enough ( they are cheaper than the trains! )
There are a lot of places to visit in and around Maryland. If you are too excited you can obviously go to Miami or California, a lot of money is all you need. The best part is that there were just as many man made wonders as naturally beautiful outings. Of all the places that I visited, New York was the best and is located just next to the United States Capital, Washington D.C. Also there are amusement parks, beaches, trails and treks to visit. The best way to go around is obviously a car ( licenses are issued on the basis of Indian licenses but renting a car can be a problem because stores are generally reluctant to rent it to people under 25 years of age )
A lot of people who come to the states want to enjoy the nightlife. Maryland has a decent night life, New York apparently has one of the best in the states, followed by Georgetown. However for any aspiring second year or third year student this is a failed prospect because the legal drinking age is 21 and these places are very strict about it.
One of the best things is the fact that all around the states, Pride Month is celebrated during June. Pride Marches and a lot of other events are held in this month. I was lucky enough to attend the Pride March in Washington D.C. in the second week of June. The Pride Marches here are very different from that in India. Also at the University of Maryland they have an LGBT equity center (their equivalent of Saathi, IIT Bombay) which has a great range of programs (short, week-long programs) for anyone who wants any sort of help.
I have probably written a lot of boring stuff and if you have managed to reach this sentence then great. In my opinion, everyone should try doing a research intern because it gives you a perspective and helps you widen your thought process. Undergraduates at any institute across the world don’t get a lot of importance, but research surely is something one should try.