Purdue University – Sheetal Jain

295 Views, Posted on: July 2, 2017

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A PURE Summer

Here I am in the Land of the Hoosiers! 6 months back I was complaining about not having anything to do in the summer despite having done 3 internships. Just about when I was going to press the panic button, I got lucky for the second with these summer internship programs.

How to get to Purdue

I have had great faith in the power of apping to professors, and I was going through this process for the third time in search for a summer intern somewhere in the world. Having been to Europe, Japan and Australia, I was looking forward to working in the North America (the continent!), and was eagerly hoping MITACS would come good. But, as it is usually put, life had other plans. The IAF of Purdue University opened and it seemed perfect, until I came across the participating departments to find Physics missing from the list. I had become privy of this important piece of knowledge that these rigid departments exist only inside our geographic borders and nearly everything was interdisciplinary outside. So I was indeed in with a chance.

As it turned out, there were about 4 Profs. who were in the Physics department and were also honorary members of the ECE (Electrical and Computer Engineering) Department. This department was participating in the program (Purdue Undergraduate Research Experience – PURE). But I had to ensure this was allowed. The terms of the program were simple, if a prof. accepts you, the program will fund you. So all that was needed was the prof.’s acceptance. Lucky for me, all four Profs. were into expt. Physics and I applied to all four of them. The program didn’t forbid us from corresponding to the profs., so I wrote to them to explain the program and why my application was coming through the ECE department. Two of them chose to ignore my email, one gently declined weeks after the deadline, but it didn’t matter. As Edison once jibed, only one way needed to work. I got a prompt acceptance email from one of the profs.

Purdue – The land of the ‘Boilermakers’!

After that, before I knew, I was in the US. It seemed ‘normal’ to me, much like what I expected the countryside and cities to be. Purdue is known to be in the middle of nowhere, and that is what it turned out to be. Chicago and Indianapolis are nearby, but turns out there’s nothing much to do there either. So it was work I was looking forward to.

The thing I got paid for – Work!

My lab was a typical basement lab with desks for PhDs and a common working ‘shared’ space. One of the graduate students in my lab showed me around, and the equipment was majestic. It was CMP (condensed matter Physics) at its finest. Then the work came; except there was no work. It was this point in time where I learnt about what the American dream of ‘freedom’ stood for. I was free to work whenever I want, on whatever I wished to. Almost any question I popped led to a ‘your wish’ type answer. Honestly, it was annoying to not be supervised or guided. I just started working on learning some of the most basic work in the lab.

One of my workplaces – It was magical!

I got real lucky there. Two weeks spent on learning and doing the most basic work made me an ‘expert’ in everyone’s eyes and I was handed some real and important work soon. My hands were already full with work, and on top of this, I was instructed to get trained on an industrial grade device to perform some more important experiments. Suddenly, I was working on some important and interesting Physics applications. I am still coming to terms with the fact that my patience led to such great outcomes. So here I am, working on multiple important projects, all of which are promising to bear great results; along with having gained expertise in many lab experiments and devices. I have seen myself progress from being worried whether I will get any work to being neck deep in work that is so exciting, it makes me jump out of bed every morning.

A little bit of a pro-tip here: whenever people offer you this freedom (which is really just flexibility), always fix up a schedule and treat it as mandatory, since that is the only way you will ever get work done. Work very hard and do not even think about misusing this freedom. Internships are not vacations, and I have experienced this multiple times that if you work hard enough, it will give you the joy no excursions can! Also, don’t think you won’t be having any fun if you work hard. A couple of days back, I was heading for an overnight run (9pm to 6am, which is sunset to sunrise here in this season). I was wondering what a long night it is going to be. I stepped out to leave for work and there I saw the most majestic sight: A HUGE rainbow perfectly placed in front of the door. If I had been lazy, I would have missed this perfect sight!

Outside the Physics Building; the primary rainbow was so bright that even the secondary rainbow is so clearly visible

The Program

PURE, as a program, is as exciting as my personal work. It is handled really well, especially with respect to assistance and paperwork. There were compulsory pizza seminars to help understand application procedure for Graduate school, which went really nice. You can plan things for weekends, but they never seem to happen actually. So an advice is to be prepared to roam alone or with local junta, if you wish to. Also everyone here thinks that everyone owns a car here, so most of the ways to approach place is ‘just drive’. Public transport is sparse and costly.

Everyday Life

I opted to live alone by subleasing a 1 BHK and was lucky to find one at a reasonable rate. It turned out to be worth way more than I paid, and it is like a holiday resort (hence saying I was simply ‘lucky’ is a bit of an understatement). The local people are nice but slightly moody. Indian food is easily available, and there is a huge Indian food mart which supplies almost everything an Indian student might need to eat well and live comfortably.

Don’t be sad because it is over, be happy because it happened!

Looking back, this is a really good place to work. Equipment quality is simply awesome, and if you can manage to be self-motivated, you can get some good work done. It might be in the “middle of nowhere”, but it is a really cool place to be in. It has an uncanny way of making you in fall in love with it!

I am not a person interested in research. Development, the ‘D’ in R&D is what I like doing, and (in my completely personal view) those who find research boring should try the development sector (it’s today’s engineering who become tomorrow’s inventors!). In my experiences (as a psuedo innovator), the central lesson I have learnt is always listen to your advisors and mentors. They are very cool (atleast the ones I have worked with) and their style of bringing fun to work makes it worth fighting for (that is, “try” spending time working when you are required to, rather than on recreational excursions). If you do impress them, not only do they become great people to chat with (you can literally ‘bakar’ with them) but they also make you do some incredible work, so you can make a significant impact via your presence.

Thanks to all those who managed to reach this part of my humble blabber. To all those who gain some benefit out of this, have a good one! Boiler up!

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