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The booming voice of the Captain announcing the landing of LH-765 woke me up. A long run in the enormously vast hub of Lufthansa finally led me to the connecting flight I was supposed to board by 6:15am. With my heart thumping, I sat in the cityliner which would take me to Nizza(German) /Nice(pronounced Nees anywhere else). The 2-hour journey took me over the snow-capped Alps of Switzerland, the Maritime Alps of France and finally over the blue Mediterranean. After landing in the airport, which is apparently as large as Monaco (a 20 minute journey from Nice) having a runway ending at the sea, I finally set foot on French soil.
Given the trends we see in our insti, a good company intern in third year is a pretty evident thing at least on paper. I preferred to try the Science part of Computer Science & Engineering, leaving the latter for the future. Thinking in this fashion and having a clear idea about the fact that not everyone can get a research intern through PT cell, I expressed my wish to my DAMP mentor, who suggested a lot of alternatives. Every university he suggested was a good place to work.
Have an eye, at least a hazy one, on your seniors’ internships. Trust me, data and seniors both will help you to a great extent if you are determined.
I say this because they contributed a lot in my trial of securing a research internship. From some of the data I was able to procure using the above technique, I found one team in Inria quite interesting, and it worked on Computational Geometry at a remarkable level.
Inria is the French government organisation for research in the field of Computer Science, and is their flag bearer in concurrent research & innovation. It’s a reputed and well-known organisation among the CS guys and a regular place which IIT-Bombay CS students visit for their internships. While composing the mail to the Prof, I thought of waiting for two weeks for his reply. That was my first mail. I thought of leaving apping in case he did not respond, as it is a really tiresome job which makes you more and more desperate for an intern day after day, and try for the universities which come through the PT cell. The mail was very plain and simple, merely stating my interest to work under him along with links to my web page and resume.
During this window of waiting, seeing everyone in my batch signing for the first IAF(Chronus), I too signed it in the spur of the moment. But, after thinking for a while, I decided to screw-up my written test in order to avoid any kind of dilemma. I was very scared of the internship policy if I got selected in both 😛 (I know that I was being too optimistic). I completed the aptitude part in 15 minutes (there were three parts, I guess) and left the room after attendance was taken. Opening my mailbox after coming to the room gave me a pleasant surprise. There was a mail from the prof stating that he found my resume interesting, and wanted me to wait for a week as he was on a vacation. As promised, there was a mail awaiting me right after a mid semester examination. It read that he would be glad to accept me as a research intern. This was in the second week of September, and the duration of my intern was fixed to be 11th May-10th July. I was so elated that I didn’t even study for my next midsem exam, and to add to all this happiness, my birthday in a few days made it an awesome week. Later I had one of my friends, Sivaprasad joining me to the same place as an intern in a closely connected team. Right now we both work in the same lab sitting on opposite work-stations.
Finally, it was only one mail which saved me from all kinds of hardships faced in procuring a good research internship. Also, I preferred a foreign delegation as I was interested in exploring new places 😛 .
There are pretty long days here as we’ve passed through the Summer Solstice. They span from 6am-10pm and my day starts at 8am. Generally, I reach the research centre from my hostel room by 9:30am after a heavy continental breakfast. That doesn’t stop me from having an awesome lunch (which has almost never repeated till now) at 12:30pm. I leave my workspace, which is shared by me and my friend, at 5pm. Having an early dinner is necessary as we don’t get snacks as in our hostel. There are very helpful people around who speak impeccable French, making our life hard; but thanks to Google Translate, life is a smooth ride. There is no honking on the roads which are clean with the exception of cigarette snubs all around, which shows the amount of smoking in France. Almost fully-automated stations and shops make your life easy, but the deserted roads after 10pm make you feel scared, enough to spend 7000 rupees to get back to your room 7kms away.
My hostel… this damn thing is an IIT-Bombay placed in France. It’s on a hill, on rugged terrain in the middle of a forest. Every day I need to walk up a steep road to my room , just like the Main Building road. And the room is no bigger than those in H5, cozy enough for the moderately low temperature around here. The only thing I don’t like here is the sharp sunlight, which the locals love to the deepest cores of their hearts. The scathing sharp sun with a moderate temperature of around 20 degrees is most horrible for travelling around Europe.
The first day the professor himself, with his assistant, received me and made me feel comfortable. My prof. is a really enthusiastic, energetic and a friendly person. His friendly gestures made me feel comfortable from the first day, when I right away started with the reading work assigned to me in order to get the crux of the problem I was going to tackle.
A novel problem to enhance the capability of the present day image-processing techniques and the graphics was assigned to me. I am in the team dedicated to 3D-modelling of geometric objects. My team comprises around 15 researchers and the team leader himself is my mentor.My project is to design, analyse and implement a stochastic algorithm for the improvement of meshing which forms the core in graphics and image-processing techniques nowadays.
This is the team which contributed to the development of various meshing techniques and CGAL; a C++ library used in image-processing. A typical day in the lab involves reading of various research papers, getting lost dreaming about the algorithm and trying to prove its correctness. Wait, does it stop here? NO! We need to then implement this algorithm to check its worthiness and analyse the algorithm using scripts which run overnight, all the while praying that we don’t end up with a runtime error. The feel when I came out of a deadlock which lasted for 3 days, was simply rejuvenating and gave me the push for the next phase.
Discussions once a week about the progress and my doubts regarding the problem with my mentor, a busy researcher, ensures that we proceed towards producing worthy outputs, as expected for the betterment of the stated fields. The work till now is interesting and demands 15 good & productive hours a week. Every Monday we have tea, where all the members of two teams meet up and have a good chat. The heterogenous mixture of great minds from various countries, visiting profs and their seminars on modern developments, ultra modern facilities and super cool buildings with awesome workspaces is truly mind-boggling.The French firmly believe that effective work is inversely proportional to the pressure of deadlines. They want the work to be perfect and elegant rather than crude and buggy.
After coming here, I figured that research is a real fun thriller. Research involves unlocking tricky deadlocks through innovation.
Beauty lies in the walks
Among all the weekends till now, I stayed in my room on just one Sunday– that because of improper planning. In these five weeks, with a good amount of planning with my friend Sivaprasad, we covered a great extent in four countries of Europe.
Long walks in Paris, Venice, Rome, Milan, Zurich, Geneva and the cities of the French Riviera along with friends to visit some historical places as well places of breathtaking scenic beauty were spectacular.
The cuisine is a nightmare for the vegetarians, whereas for me and for that matter any non-vegetarian; you get to explore lots and lots of new dishes, even try new delicacies and new animals! Pizzas and Gelato ice-creams of Italy, desserts of France, chocolates of Switzerland and the entire Mediterranean cuisine beckon you to have your try at them.
The French buy cartons of beer and stay cozy in their houses most of the times, or sunbathe in nearby beaches during the weekends and holidays. So, on weekends, the roads are generally deserted.
With a pressure-free work culture, an interactive mentor, helpful people around, one would love to work happily on a problem that interests him/her. My internship has all of it so life is smooth ride here. A well-noted and established research centre always attracts people from all parts of the world and here you get to interact with them, have a laugh and work on your problem with their help if required. I expected the whole of Europe to understand or speak English which is not the case and was a disappointment for me. Having your internship in a research centre dedicated to modernisation, automation and innovation always powers you to pursue your interest in life, which might push the world to another level.
People are incredibly polite. The clean surroundings are ideal for long strolls but the absence of nightlife except for in huge cities is a little appalling. One gets to see both the pros and cons of automation in life after coming to France.
A new country always gives you a new perspective and this internship gave me a taste of research, and to an extent, helped me understand what I might want to be.
After my 1.5 month stay here, what I can assure you is that, travelling widens your horizon of knowledge in life; and research helps you stay at the zenith of your own field.