Internship Experience | Akshay Kamath | Mitacs Globalink Fellowship | Research internship

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At a glance

College – final year undergraduate student in Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE) at NITK Surathkal

Place of work –Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Toronto with Prof. Roman Genov

Department – Intelligent Sensory Microsystems Laboratory

Duration of the internship – 12 weeks

Project – to design a FPGA based Epilepsy seizure indication system for clinical implementation

My lab members
Akshay with his lab partners

In detail

InterFeel (IF): Please tell us something about yourself. Where are you studying currently? What are your hobbies and interests?

Akshay Kamath (AK): Hi! This is Akshay Kamath, a final year undergraduate student in Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE) at NITK Surathkal. I am a day scholar and reside in Mangalore, a city which is about half an hour away from my college. I’m currently the Representative for my ECE batch and a member of NITK Students Council. I’m a foodie and an ardent fan of WWE and UFC. Playing badminton and watching TV series in a sitting are some of my hobbies.

IF: Tell us something about your internship including stipend, duration and place?

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AK: Mitacs Globalink Fellowship is a program offered by Mitacs (pronounced as My-Tax), a non-profit organization in Canada, that attracts students to study at various Universities in Canada. This is a fully funded program for research internship of 12 weeks.

The application process begins sometime in September. They have a database enlisting a number of projects for us to choose from. One ought to apply to a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 7 projects from at least three different Canadian states (or provinces as they call it). Most of these details are easily available on their website – http://www.mitacs.ca/en/programs/globalink/globalink-research-internship

Regarding the stipend, it is either paid directly by Mitacs or by MHRD in collaboration with Mitacs. The amount is the same in either case. The stipend includes airfare, visa application fee and weekly 200 CAD towards living expenses.

So far, Mitacs used to organize accommodation directly for all the interns. But 2016 onwards, they only provide stipend towards accommodation (30 CAD a day, separate from the stipend I mentioned above). The interns are supposed to book their accommodation themselves, although Mitacs does provide assistance by recommending certain places, both on and off campus, for residence. I stayed on-campus.

Mitacs keeps on updating us about the application status via emails and on their portal. I got my selection letter in January for internship at University of Toronto. My internship duration was from 9th May to 29th July, exactly 12 weeks.

My gang
With his entire friend gang

IF: How competitive was the selection process? According to you, which qualities have helped you have an edge in the selection process? Also, what were the key things that selectors were looking for?

AK: The selection process is highly competitive as one would expect it to be. As far as I know, in 2016, nearly 130 students got selected for Mitacs internship from India from institutes other than IITs (I do not know the exact number of selections from IITs, but from what I heard, it was about 7-8 per IIT). NITK has been consistently getting a good amount of selections in Mitacs. Last year, we had around 15 seniors who interned through Mitacs. The number rose to 27 this year, of which 21 actually accepted.

The selection process revolves largely around the skills known, prior work experience, research rationale (SOP), Letter of Recommendation (LoR) and probably CGPA.

I had interned at Manipal Dot Net, an entrepreneurial hardware and software design services organization, after my second year which contributed to my profile since the work I carried out there was in a related field. My grade pointer at the time of application wasn’t very high compared to my peers. So I feel it’s not just about GPA after all!

On 15th November 2015, at around midnight, I got an email from the University of Toronto requesting for a Skype interview. It was for the project that I gave the highest preference, so I was very happy. The interview was the very next day, so I prepared myself for it overnight. I read more about the project on the professor’s website. The interview was taken by four PhD students of my professor. They asked me to briefly explain each of the projects that I had listed in my submitted CV and a few questions on the concepts involved. It went on for about half an hour. I was quite happy with the interview and was confident I would get selected.

Then exactly two months after my interview, I got the offer from Mitacs. I was so ecstatic, I cannot describe it in words. Subsequent emails followed to complete all the formalities such as confirming internship dates, applying for VISA, booking flight tickets and accommodation etc. Everything happened smoothly.

IF: Could you please highlight the work/research you carried out during your internship period?

AK: I interned in the Intelligent Sensory Microsystems Laboratory of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Toronto with Prof. Roman Genov. I worked closely with one of his PhD students who was also my interviewer. The project was to design a FPGA based Epilepsy seizure indication system for clinical implementation. I was assigned the task of developing seizure detection and prediction subsystems for integration in the main system. I’m not allowed to get into more specifics, but this was the gist of it. It was simply a great opportunity to have been able to contribute to the ongoing research.

The lab members were as diverse as they could possibly be. People working here came from different countries such Russia, Ireland, Iran, China, Indonesia, to name a few. I went out for lunch with them, talked to them on a range of topics other than just tech and also got to know about their culture and ideologies. This made my professional work experience truly international. (There were two Indians too, other than me. You know, we’re everywhere ;p)

The working style at the University is not as hectic as in India. There’s no specific work timings. Just make sure you achieve your work goals within the deadlines and no one will question when you arrive or leave. This was a huge boon for a night owl like myself. I used to reach my lab at around 10 AM and worked till 7 or 8 in the evening. (Sunsets usually happen at 9 PM during summer time).

IF: Can you give us interesting details about your experience – good and bad?

AK: I stayed with 15 other interns from India at the Rowell Jackman Hall, an on-campus residence of University of Toronto. The residence was apartment-style resembling 3 BHK flats in India with two single rooms and one double room. We were a group of eight boys and eight girls living in four different apartments on the same floor of the residence. Consequently, it was difficult to feel homesick. The girls’ suite in the corner used to be our “adda” owing to it being ridiculously bigger than any other apartment on the floor. This was the place to get together, to party, to celebrate birthdays, to watch funny videos, movies and fresh GoT episodes.

GoT screening in adda
At one such GoT watching sessions with his friends

Mitacs assigns each intern a mentor, who is a graduate student there and the first person to contact for anything throughout your internship period. Mentors are also supposed to pick you from the airport, drop you off till your accommodation and also conduct two social events for you to mingle with his/her other mentees (each mentor is given around 4-5 interns).

My mentor was also an Indian and a previous Mitacs intern. He made us feel comfortable right from the day me and his other mentee arrived, by sharing his own experience when he was in same position that we were. He frequently used to visit with his other friends and hangout with all of us.

The sixteen of us had four different mentors and since we already knew each other, we had something in mind for the social event they had to organize (Mitacs pays the mentors to conduct the events). Our visit to the Niagara Falls (which is a place you must visit) thereby became a Mitacs sponsored trip. It was epic. But we had to wait till July for the mentors’ dates to match while our friends from cities as far as Montreal visited it in June itself. The wait was still worth it though. We went to Toronto Islands the next weekend for the second event.

I made very close friends in such a short while. As a group, we did it all – we visited all the major attractions in the city and beyond, competed in antakshari on the subway trains, played frisbee in the parks, danced madly 500 meters above the ground on CN tower and sung every deshbhakti song at the top of our voices during sudden bursts of patriotism while walking down the streets. Boy, couldn’t have we gotten crazier!

I so want to mention my bad experiences but the problem is I don’t have any!

IF: How do you think this internship has helped you grow? In other words, what are your key takeaways from the internship?

AK: This internship has helped me develop both personally and professionally alike.

Working in a diverse team setting on a challenging project has strengthened my skills greatly. In college, we usually do some jugaad to get things up and running. This is not at all an option there. If the setup is not working, one is expected to dig deep to find the root cause and solve it from ground up. It is this work culture that inculcated a sense of technical maturity in me and helped me build a fail proof robust system as an end result for my project. This would be the biggest takeaway for me.

On the personal front, I was kind of sceptical before accepting the internship as I hadn’t told my parents when applying for it. I had never experienced the ‘hostel’ life or lived away from parents for long, but now I was supposed to live independently in a different country altogether and that too for three months. I knew I could do it, but naturally my parents didn’t. It took me a while to convince them.

But I have to admit. It wasn’t easy at first. I started realizing how the most simplest of tasks that I took for granted when at home such as laundry, keeping room clean, ironing clothes etc. required considerable effort. By the end of it though, it became almost a routine and now I do it all by myself even at home.

Apart from this, I had my first-hand experience at cooking, or more appropriately, the pre-processing in cooking – chopping vegetables (my flatmates were good cooks, so I contributed in this manner)

One more thing I want to mention is that I significantly improved my communication skills. I feel more confident now than ever in striking conversations with absolutely anyone or addressing a crowd in impromptu manner.

IF: Has this internship had a decision altering impact on your career? Do you now think of a different future path as compared to before doing the internship?

AK: Yes, a big impact, infact!

Prior to the internship, just like many other engineering students, I too was in a dilemma whether to go for higher studies immediately after B.Tech. or to take up a job and get some work experience first.

I have to tell you, after interacting with a lot of academicians and industry professionals in Canada, I got a clear idea of how I wanted my career to progress. A majority of the people I met, were of the same opinion that Masters makes more relevance and strengthens the profile only with some work experience of the past and that work experience these days mattered more than a degree.

I have received a full time job offer from a core hardware company and I plan to take it up. I’ll work for a few years and accordingly think about applying for Masters, perhaps through the company programs.

IF: Lastly, do you have any words of advice or caution for students aspiring for this internship and reading this piece?

AK: The only word of caution is this – do not apply for the internship with University rankings in mind. You’ll just end up ruining your chances. It’s a three month internship, so your project has more importance than your University. So, apply looking at the projects which require skills you already have (if not all, atleast some of it) and in the domain you already have some experience in.

And if you get the internship, don’t think twice before accepting it. Mitacs program is so organized that it ensures you have a convenient and pleasant stay in Canada. It’s the best experience I ever had, so much so that I wished it didn’t end in three months.

Oh yeah, in case you get selected for any University in the city of Toronto such as UofT, Ryerson, York, OCAD etc., Rowell Jackman Hall is the place to stay! Its ideally located and very spacious compared to any other residence for the rent that you pay.

Finally, when I was applying for my internship, it was Raghavender Sahdev’s interview on InternFeel that gave me more insight into this program. When I got selected, he was the first person I contacted to know more about this internship and life in Canada. I even met him a couple of times in Toronto (small world indeed). My interest in sharing this experience is for the same reason that the juniors benefit from reading it the way I did reading his.

We’d like to thank Akshay for such an in-depth and insightful interview. We hope IF can help others as it helped him. We’d also like to wish him all the very best for his future. Keep the enthusiasm going, Akshay!

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