Washington University – Gowtham Kuntumalla

274 Views, Posted on: July 1, 2017

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This is going to be a mixed review and an ‘honest’ one at that. (high five if you get the reference :P). I’ve tried to give a flavour of foreign internship in this part of U.S for a typical student from IITB.

Getting the intern:

Like many other students out there, I wasn’t completely sure of what I would want to do few years down the line. I believe internships are a good way to experience stuff before committing yourselves for a significant portion of your life. The hype started way back in the fall semester of my sophomore year.

Fast forward to signing IAFs in third year, as it stood then, peer pressure pushed me into applying for the day one companies. I participated in the selection process with little to no preparation but in vain. After doing a few projects on campus, I decided that university internship is the best bet for me.

I took chances apping to universities but found that it wastes a lot of productive time. But silver lining is that you get to look at active areas of research in any particular university around the world. This ‘research’ of research topics helps in applying to Grad school. PT cell is doing a wonderful job streamlining the options for us.

As soon as university IAFs started pouring in, I started applying for a few. There was resume based shortlist and a short telephone interview. The whole point of the phone interview was just to see whether the interviewee would be interested in taking up a PhD position in this university. Eventually three of us (2 from MechE and one from ChemE) got into Washington University in St. Louis, USA (no, it is not in Washington state or DC for that matter!).

WashU Interns from IITB.

St. Louis as a city and my stay here:

I seriously don’t understand why it is called Midwest when it is actually closer to the east coast of US 😛 (I am trying hard not to include this emoticon but you know that takes away the fun :P).The first thing you observe when you come to an ‘actual’ medium sized American city like St. Louis in the Midwest, is that you won’t find a lot of people. This gives you more time to contemplate your surroundings. The alluring green setting near the campus, called Forest Park, makes me lose track of time whenever I go wandering through the woods. Such is its mesmerising beauty!

A serene lake in Forest Park and an Art Museum (looks like a castle IMO)

The one thing that I would want to staunchly follow is the high standard of cleanliness and the way people conduct themselves. It will probably take a while to accustom to a lot of people opening doors for you and random strangers greeting you in middle of the day.

PS  Also, I eventually got over the pocket-friendly albeit irritating habit of converting dollars to rupees every single time I make a purchase.

Even with all the gratifying pleasures, each city has its own shortcomings. This city never fails to place itself at the top of crime rankings. The public transportation is not up to the mark, the connectivity is bad and their tipping culture has somehow not evolved into how it should ideally be. Nearly everyone owns a car barring a few students who live on or near campus.

The Project and Research group:

Initially, I was apprehensive if the research topics were actually in my line of interest. I wasn’t disappointed at all. I deal with cool stuff like fractal morphology and use advanced equipment like scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS), photoacoustic analyser (Google it!) to measure gas concentration and optical properties of aerosols. It works on a peculiar concept of detecting changing pressure waves using highly sensitive microphone, caused by heating of the particle by monochromatic laser. There is this particular instrument which is used to artificially age those aerosol fractals, which one of my lab seniors likes to call a ‘time machine’.

Long story short, the lab equipment here is high tech and this is one aspect IITB needs to work on. My project involves analysing the transition regime in diffusion limited cluster – cluster aggregation phenomenon which is a transport theory concept more related to chemical engineering than my major in MechE.  

I dabbled with the experiments in the beginning, and as of now I do many simulations involving writing code and doing data analytics trying to figure out and predict trends in huge volumes of data.

Everyone here is friendly and meeting new people from diverse parts of the world brings out a different side of your personality which you have never experienced before.

I came to believe that the most important things in a graduate student’s life is his/her relation with their professor and the research topic. They tend to make or break you. Go for a PhD only if you see yourself doing that for the rest of your life. From the little I gather from talking to the postgraduate students here, even if you don’t take it to the next level (professorship or scientist) PhD allows you to introspect your life and change your perceptions about life. There is a lot of freedom in what I do in the lab. The hours are flexible. There is a brutal truth underlying all the research done. “Publish or Perish” attitude exists in most US universities but it is heartwarming knowing that my research indeed has some impact in nanoscale science and basically wherever tiny particles interact with each other.

Chicago:

Chicago is nearby and only 5 hours away by bus. Be it standing on the overhanging skydeck on 103rd floor of Willis towers or sailing in Lake Michigan on a chilly evening, Chicago has it all. I was flabbergasted to see shops in downtown Chicago shutdown at 9 PM. The ‘Metra’ daily pass at $10 ensures you a hassle free travel throughout the city. Sadly, we also had to endure a harrowing experience of staying in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of south Chicago for a night where gun shooting is as commonplace as a midnight party. Fortunately there wasn’t any incident during our stay. Nonetheless, It is a nice place to visit.

A typical windy day in Chicago.

Takeaways:

I got a different sneak peek into what research actually entails and I feel proud to say that hobby tech and research culture in IITB is burgeoning and is at par with world standards. The boundaries between different traditional branches cease to exist as we delve deep into demystifying/decrypting the secrets of nature (an artful way to put it). A guarantee of myriad emotions during the stay here kept things exciting and new everyday (for instance, even my culinary skills improved. Believe me, you will always love the food you cook 😛 )

With a handsome stipend, this internship has been quite lucrative so far. There is a lot more to write but this is it for now. I assure you will find a treasure trove of rich experiences awaiting you on the other side of the world. For more info & no qualms attached review feel free to contact me.

(With Inputs from Venkatesh Kabra, Pranay Ladiwala)

 

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