TIFR: Sheetal Jain

2383 Views, Posted on: July 26, 2015

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A freshie at IIT-Bombay… Well after two years of JEE, everyone’s exhausted and need an end to struggles in life. A good first year, rejoining the long lost realm of sports, loads to learn (read: infi fundae from seniors), amazing friends and wingies… In short a perfectly tailor-made beginning to college. A new world invariably takes up nearly all the time in hand, but what next? It’s good to have a goal to work towards. Well, I chose the unconventional branch of Engineering Physics out of interest, so studying was fun and branch change out of question, but the studies didn’t seem to take me anywhere. I felt a challenge would be good after a year’s rest. Incidentally, I was handed it, ‘A Summer Internship’. Now I was up for something new in the summers, but the fight was going to begin much earlier than that…

From Contemplating to Applying to Getting Accepted

I did agree to do one, but having no background or experience and only an exemplary academic record meant bagging an intern won’t be easy. Options like ITSP and project under IIT-B professors were available, but being a person with an extremely unconventional thinking, I wanted to try something different. It was kind of late to apply, so I decided that personal applications would be a better thing to do. So applications through personal mails were the way ahead. First a draft mail was prepared, which underwent lots of changes to take its final form. Appending a list of achievements rather than a formal CV was a good trick. Next, some contacts were compiled and applied to via email. Suggestions from known seniors and friends kept pouring in, but even after a lot of mailing, not a single reply came through. New contacts were found, fresh mails and applications sent, the semester changed, but only development was from no replies to ‘No’ as replies. Finally, the last four mails were sent and this process of application was closed, as I was truly fed up.

But to my surprise, by stroke of luck, two of the last four sent positive replies, one of them directly inviting me to the workplace, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, in the months of June and July. It was an opportunity to work in one of the frontiers of research in India, with great exposure to a stimulating environment and lots to learn and explore, along with invaluable experience, a perfect offer in all ways. I had not learnt many new things or achieved much in the first year. This was the golden chance to actually do something, accomplish something. Thankful to my luck and overcome with joy, I gratefully accepted the offer, and there I had my summer internship. An important lesson learnt, about importance of patience and not giving up till one succeeds.

The Summer Begins

Being free in the month of May was great, but due to unforeseen interest, I decided to make an ITSP too. May went well and work was smooth, as soon as June began, begun conflict of interest. ITSP would go on till mid-June, and being the team leader, I had to manage both ITSP and my internship simultaneously for a couple of weeks. Life was most hectic, with nearly no free time, but it was worth every bit of it. Seeing the ITSP turn into reality in front of our eyes was a dream come true for the team, and as it came to its end, I could heave a sigh of relief.

Now only my internship to tackle. But first, let’s rewind two weeks to my first day at work. My guide asked me to meet her in her office in TIFR. Even though I hail from Mumbai, I had never gone into Colaba. As I went past Navy Nagar, being surrounded by all the security was not amusing, especially after reading “Trespassers may be SHOT”. TIFR is a building at the very tip of Mumbai. The building, standing on the peninsular land, hosts an amazing view of the sea. But again, I see strict security personnel at the entrance of TIFR. I am rigorously questioned; my intentions inquired about, and finally let in as a visitor. I have no clue where to go, and it being a protected area, was free of human crowd. I walk into the closest building and, asking directions like a traveler in a new city, finally find the cabin I have been looking for. My guide is friendly, and asks me to have a seat. She briefed me with what I am required to do, what all I can avail in and around the area, and then sent me to the administrative section. My ID and pass were not ready, and would take a couple of days, as I was informed. However I was given a barcode for availing the canteen facilities (high-tech). I made my way back to the cabin, from where ma’am took me to my workplace. I was allotted a nice cubicle where I would work. Being assigned my first own workplace, I was delighted. This was ‘The Beginning’.

Work Begins

My first work was to learn, and keep learning. Coding in Python was first on the list. I was asked to seek the help of YouTube. Within a span of two weeks, I watched more than a hundred small and big videos, to learn all I could about programming and plotting in Python. I had always heard of learning from YouTube, but had never done it myself. It was an amazing feeling. It made me feel truly independent and proud, because I had done something from scratch all by myself. I had taken the onus on myself, and had achieved considerable success in the assigned task. Next on list was to sharpen my basics in Astronomy. My pre-project work helped here, and a lot of reading and net surfing went into understanding details of dust radiative transfer, the resolution limit of telescopes, Gaussians, discrete convolutions and other scarily named topics. Reading them was fun, but when it came to understanding, well, most of it goes right above the head. My guide’s supportive nature helped a lot here, and she clarified these otherwise senseless words I was reading up. Finally came my most treasured possessions, the ID and pass. Now the fear of security went away.

This workplace was 1.5 hours away from my home, and traveling in Mumbai is a Huge pain, with rains to add to the misery. But with the ID in my bag and interesting work to do, this became a dream run. Three weeks down, I was feeling the excitement and fun of this project. Learning, Building working codes, analyzing published papers, and enjoying, that would aptly describe my work. Going that far was truly worth it. The food in the canteen was good, tasty and costs were literally negligible. All day I would sit in that Air-conditioned room with my laptop and enjoy all I did. There was no interference from fellow colleagues. It was a very proud feeling to be the youngest in the workplace. The challenges were tough but I was up to them. The feeling of evolving and maturing in one’s work is majestic, like a royal dream, and every day I felt I was living that dream. The phase, “One’s entire world in a Cubicle” started making sense.

A F(l)ight to the Finish Line

As the days went by, my fatigue started getting the better of me. The last week was truly a race to the finish line. During that period, all I concentrated was on was finishing. All this while, I was enjoying the journey, the process of building up, but in the end, completing became the ultimate goal. A harsh feeling of getting rid of this work and gaining rest was all my soul was begging for. Slowly, I started getting scolded for mismanagement and lack of knowledge. But it did not step down my efficiency. I had learnt my lesson while applying:

“Nothing worth having comes Easy. Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”

I had begun this and it’s my onus to see it to its end. With this positivity, I regained my faith and interest in work, and it started bearing fruit. Stuff not working for weeks got resolved within minutes. Understanding with a clear mind was lot easier, and the project finally neared its completion, just before my leaving date.

The last day was unique in its own way. There was a garden and a pathway behind the Main Building, and beyond that the great Arabian Sea. It was simply beautiful in all types of weathers. I always wished to take a stroll in the garden, next to the sea, appreciate the beauty of this city that never sleeps. But the abundance of security in the area, and nearly no people seen in that area was enough to make me hesitant enough to not venture out. I had highly restricted my movement inside TIFR and its premises. But on the last day, I did step out after lunch. Hesitatingly, I roamed around the premises, had a walk next to the seas, enjoyed the breeze, lived the joy I was yearning for ever since I joined, and underwent the harsh realisation that tomorrow onwards, these places will just be in my memories. When I returned, my guide came to my cubicle to hand me over my certification. She called me into her office, had a candid talk about life and times, expressed her hopes that I would continue enjoying this large field of Astrophysics and the even larger field of Science, and wished me luck. I was deeply touched by her words, which will ring a bell in my mind every time I remember this summer.

The Take-Away

What began as a craving for something more in life has changed courses drastically as it ends now. I have seen miracles and speculation slowly become reality. I have seen that believing in someone can transform their capability and competency. A naive, simple wish to do something effective has taught me things I would have never learnt otherwise. A big lesson on the importance of not giving up, a close-up experience of workplace atmosphere, the joy of learning and being independent, the impact of support and co-operation, the reasons courage is indispensable, the confidence to take up anything and a belief in one’s ability to make a difference. If anything defines infi, it is all I take back from these summers. This internship was not just for gaining experience, or learning, or accomplishing something, it had developed me, and taught me things nothing else could have.

Some things do not come with birth; they must be acquired along as we grow, not only as age, but also as a human. If anyone ever asks me what my first internship did for me, I can honestly, gratefully and proudly say, it made me a better person, a stronger personality and a satisfied human. It has shown me once again that, one must always follow one’s passion, and be prepared to take risks, ignore worries without being carried away by the majority, because it’s what most people don’t or can’t do, that makes you special. All my life I have done things against the general way of thinking, and all of those decisions had done me wonders. Living according to one’s own wishes and never following the herd blindly; according to me that’s the secret of being happy, achieving success and growing in life.

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