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Jay Mardia is a 3rd year Undergraduate pursuing a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering
Hi, my name is Jay Mardia and I’m here to talk about my 8 week stint as an intern in the EECS department at MIT during Summer 2016.
First things first- How did I land this opportunity?
It turns out that Prof Anantha Chandrakasan has been taking on 3rd year interns from IITs for nigh on 7 years now, and two of these lucky individuals are currently even pursuing their PhD under him.
He invites the top ranking student(s) at the respective IIT (This year there were two students from IIT-B and one from IIT-KGP) to work under him, but this seems to happen only if your IC asks nicely. Shout out to Pakshal Bohra for handling this aspect wonderfully and landing me an intern.
Takeaway: If you’re a top ranker in EE, pray to God you have a good IC. Reach out to Pakshal for more details.
Anantha’s group is an Energy-Efficient Circuit Design group that designs small hardware. So math wizards they ain’t. But with the impending advent of the IoT, a part of the group is also focusing on cryptographic security related issues, which entails a lot of math. Which was brilliant for me.
So what exactly did I work on?
I tried to figure out the most efficient way to implement “Bilinear Pairings over Elliptic Curves” so they could be used to create “Leakage Resilient Cryptosystems”.
Which basically meant I was studying beautiful mathematical tools and looking at how to apply them in very important practical situations. As a result, my work spanned the entire gamut from theoretical abstract algebra (thank you MA minor) to actual down-in-the-weeds hardware architecture.
Arriving at MIT:
Whatever concerns I had about being worthy of a place known for such bright minds as MIT, they were quickly dispelled by observing THIS Platform 9 and ¾ -esque marvel in their student centre. Directions leading to solid brick wall.
Hey, everybody screws up. Life is good. You might just fit in here, I told myself.
The oddities just kept on coming. What I didn’t know about MIT until it was too late is that all the buildings in the main campus area are connected to each other from inside.
Imagine GG and EE connected by the bridge except that both buildings are neck and neck and you are never even aware that you have crossed into another building entirely.
I spent my first half hour of my first Monday at MIT trying to locate a particular room in building 39, and eventually had to be informed by a kind soul that I had somehow reached building 34 without knowing it.
Nasty surprise, to say the least.
But hey, the atmosphere is great, the work is great, and people are always talking research. What a wonderful place to be. AND everyone is ready to help you at the drop of a hat.
Let’s talk about the work culture for a bit:
I could go into the lab at whatever time I wanted, leave at whatever time I wanted, and in general just do my own thing. All I had to do was get the work sorted, and there was no problem. This culture is in general true for most University interns, and I do pity those of my friends with corporate yokes around their necks. (Soon they’ll be able to buy us inconsequential Academia-loving fools, but Hey, we have this at least. No one can take this away from us)
Such an environment was really conducive to work and I ended up enjoying my time and my work here tremendously.
Brief Pictorial Interlude to show off the view from my dorm room <3:
For all the Listicle Lovers out there:
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things I enjoyed this Summer, and which you could expect if you’re going anywhere abroad for a research intern:
- Research. This may sound cliched, and it may sound naive since I have only done this for two months, but boy was I hooked. Those days when some new concept from some paper I was reading actually clicked and melted my brain, I used to find myself on cloud nine.
- Solitude. With no semblance of a social circle here (my Tinder endeavours remained unsuccessful), I could spend hours and hours with myself and my own thoughts and with books I had been meaning to read for months.
For people who like being with themselves: Foreign interns can be a boon. If you need people around you and liveliness, this could be problematic.
- Cooking. My own two hands making my own meals and no one to tell me “Don’t add Nutella to everything”. Does life get any better?
- Cycling. I have a confession to make. Before I went to the US, I was a 21 year old who couldn’t pedal to save his life. Now? I can cycle from A to B without unduly embarrassing myself. Ohh, what a glorious glorious feeling. Uphill is a bitch, though.
Take away: The best way of getting around in a US city is by biking (as they confusingly call cycling) around, since laws are very very biker friendly.
This also helped me explore Boston in a comprehensive and cost-efficient manner.
- America, home of the brave, land of the free. The amount of free food available due to seminars, meetings, events, etc was enough to boggle the mind. I kid you not, I was once walking down MIT’s Infi Corridor (They had it before us, we can’t sue them, I checked) at 10pm on a Saturday night and found myself face to face with a giant box of bagels and a plate of butter with a sign saying “Free Food”. I still don’t know why or who set those out, but I sure am not complaining.
- Choreographed Lightsaber Combat (I see your eyes go wide in shock)
I ran into a group of people who would practice lightsaber combat every Thursday evening and then perform at various events. And since this group was extremely inclusive, they let a guy who has not watched a single Star Wars movie slash and thrust and parry with them every Thursday. Yayy, shiny lights! Stick ‘em with the pointy end.
The setting for several triumphs and a few unmitigated disasters.
And now, things I DIDN’T quite enjoy as much:
- Convoluted bureaucratic requirements. As I mentioned earlier, sorting out all the formalities and documents and running from pillar to post took “five weeks” to get done. Not to mention that I have to remember to file US taxes next February or God alone knows what will happen to my chances of returning to the US again (OK, I don’t think they’ll bar me from returning but who knows what it’ll do to my credit rating). All this, for one intern.
- MITs (in retrospect hilarious) way of paying its interns: We were formally set up as students (duh), AND as staff.
That’s right. If this was at IIT-B, we’d be part of the student body as well as NASA.
Technically designated new hires at MIT, we were contractually obligated to sit through HR training where we were informed about all the pension benefits we would receive as employees at MIT if we worked here for more than 10 years.
I would like to note that all the people involved were very helpful and understanding, but the bureaucratic system that required interns to be paid as staff needs some rethinking, stat. Who knows what they’re smoking down there at MIT Admin?
- House Hunting: Suffice to say that if you’re going anywhere in Cambridge/Boston for an intern, please please please start hunting for accommodation as soon as possible. Demand is high (Boston is a college town) and supply is low. Finding accommodation off campus is expensive, and finding accommodation on campus is difficult.
I’ll sign off with a petition to the students of IIT-Bombay.
If we want our institute to reach dizzying heights, if we want our institute to have greatness thrust upon it, we must work hard to ensure we have all the facilities and all the departments to ensure we are a truly diverse institute. We have taken steps in the right direction with BDes program and the upcoming Bachelor’s degree in economics. But these are merely the start. If we want to be truly diverse in our range of subjects, we must emulate THIS:
PS: Always always always buy decent health insurance before going abroad.
PPS: Always always always always buy decent health insurance before going abroad.