Internship Experience | Siddha Ganju | European Council for Nuclear Research | CERN OpenLab

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IF: In which course are you presently enrolled? Please tell us something about yourself – your interests and areas of specialization.

Siddha Ganju (SG): Hello, I am Siddha Ganju currently pursuing Master of Computational Data Science at Carnegie Mellon University, USA. I hail from Shimla, a hilly city in India. I recently completed my Bachelors in Computer Science from National Institute in Technology, Hamirpur India. I enjoy my work, like travelling and love listening to music.

IF: Which internship did you opt for? Give us a few details – stipend, duration and location.

SG: This summer I was humbled to have been chosen as an intern at the European Council for Nuclear Research, CERN Canton of Geneva, Switzerland. I was selected among 1500 applicants all over the world for ‘CERN Openlab Summer Student Programme’. My internship was for 8 weeks. CERN organized the accommodation at Geneva, Switzerland, and paid a stipend of 90CHF per day which easily covered the stay and living expenses. Also the travel expenses were reimbursed at the end of the internship. Besides, we got to listen to special series of lectures by distinguished researchers. Visits to tech giant organizations like Google, and Open Systems were enriching. Indeed work and fun at a world class organization was a lifetime experience.

Duration of internship: 8 weeks

Stipend: 90CHF per day

IF: How did you come to know about the internship? Which channels of information did you utilize?

SG: Being a pioneer in scientific research, CERN needs no introduction. After hearing so much about the organization from my faculty and peers, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look it up for myself. An extensive search over the internet introduced me to a world of noteworthy scientific research being done at the organization and the opportunities offered to students. So I started preparing for the internship and applied online. I also kept myself abreast with other places where internships could be done.

IF: Briefly describe the procedure for application. What are the eligibility criteria for this internship?

SG: The application process starts early on the official CERN website. It is an online user friendly interface with focus on research and scientific aptitude of a person. After creating an account, the important documents to be uploaded include CV, transcripts, motivation letter and the projects done. Most importantly one has to state why one wants to take up this internship, why one should be selected and how will it affect your future. Two recommendation letters are required to be sent online from your professors. The application process should be submitted online before the deadline.

IF: What you think helped you to have an edge in the selection process? What key attributes were the selectors looking for?

SG: Well, CERN is a world class organization where students all over the world apply for internship. Out of 1500 applicants only 40 got selected. As far as I know I am the only intern to have been selected for this prestigious internship from my institute. So the selection process is quite rigorous.  Apart from a strong academic record, in depth work on innovative projects are important. A good skill set adds weight to the application. After being selected for the internship, I learnt about the selection procedure. The researchers who have proposed the projects actually go through your applications, so it is necessary that your profile appeals to them. I feel participation in other related activities is also important. CERN looks for interns who are dedicated and passionate about their work. I think they might be looking for relevant projects and experience related to the technical requirements on which you might be needed to work on, during the internship.

IF: According to you, what are some common mistakes that you feel applicants should avoid in the internship application process?

SG: The application form is to be filled online and is quite easy. I suppose that the answers in the application forms should be written according to what you feel about them. They should portray you and not what an ‘ideal statement of purpose’ should look like. Work on your CV, check your answers and upload all the documents required. Request your professor to send the recommendation letter in time. Apart from this, one needs to understand that the people who made the form put a lot of effort into it, so you probably could put as much effort and fill it accurately and good luck to all!

IF: What kind of groundwork did you do post-selection and before beginning the internship?

SG: After selection was announced, I once again, researched the official website. All the official mails were self explanatory with regards to stay, work, weather and transport. The invitation letter from CERN expedited the VISA process and all the things went smoothly. Any queries I had, were answered right away, thanks to Kristina.

We were told about our projects. I was going to work on Apache Spark, that was a software which I had not really used before. There was an EDx course which was teaching Apache Spark and I enrolled myself for it. So henceforth started my Apache Spark experience!

IF: Please give us an overview of the work/research project you carried out during the internship period, including its future prospects, and your role and responsibilities.

SG:
I was in the Information technology – Databases, which is usually called IT-DB. My project was to evaluate Apache Spark as an analytics framework for CERN’s Big Data Analytics infrastructure. Apache Spark is a framework designed to enable parallel and fast distributed data processing. It offers a simple programming abstraction that provides powerful cache and persistence capabilities. With such features Apache Spark framework is nowadays more and more successfully applied to pure data analytics problems. Spark Streaming and MLlib (Spark native machine learning library) are making that move possible. My job was to evaluate Apache Spark to streamline the different predictive prototypes which are capable to gather information from CMS data-services, run predictive models and suggest which datasets will become popular over time. The evaluation covered implementation on Apache Spark framework to evaluate quality of individual models, perform component analysis and choose best predictive model(s) for new set of data.

I had not done ‘atom smashing’ with machine learning before. But I must say, I enjoyed it thoroughly and learnt a lot.

CERN has unimaginable amounts of data which is generated when its four experiments, CMS, ATLAS, LHC, and LHCb are in their running phase. All that data has its own requirements for computation.

My Mentors, Tony Wildish, Valentin Kuznetsov, Manuel Martin Marquez and Antonio Romero Marin were extremely helpful. They explained in great detail every single part of the project. We used to have continued discussions about the methodology, which algorithm to use and why, and this contributed to my learning experience..

IF: Was this your first internship / training? If not, what do you think was unique about this internship?

SG: Yes, a new software, working with streamlined data, physics, new location, research, atom smashing with machine learning and so much energy (pun-intended) made this an absolutely enthralling experience.

IF: What was the best feature of the work ethic of the organization and the internship? What was it that you liked about your workplace?

SG: Talking about the workplace, the location is amazing! CERN overlooks the Swiss Alps after all. That said, CERN has an open culture, if you face any problem, you can ask absolutely anyone, be it your mentor or the head of IT-DB.

The internship experience is unparalleled; there is no other place where you can do such amazing ‘atom smashing’ using machine learning! I absolutely loved it!

IF: Let’s now talk about some negatives. What were the glitches and problems that came your way, which you think your juniors should be careful to avoid?

SG: The people at CERN are extremely helpful and to top it, all the communication officers are always there by your side. Thank you, Alberto, Kristina, Melissa, Petya and Konstantinos for your guidance and support. I don’t think there was ever an occasion for a problem because of their support and efficient management.

IF: Were there any special events during the internships? (events can be academics related like field trips, conferences, hackathons, meets etc and also non-academic, relating to your hostel life  and the like). What did you do off work?

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There was a summer student Webfest (https://webfest.web.cern.ch/) and I participated in a team and we won the Best Innovative Outreach Award! You can read about our experiences hereIt was one of the most energy packed 24-hours that I have ever spent at CERN. This was on Geneva day, though we wanted to go see the Geneva day fireworks but instead we stayed back, enjoyed the fireworks from conference rooms in building 500. We could see all the fireworks that were happening at several different places. After the fireworks, we stayed up all night, and finally completed all the tasks we had planned.

We had several trips that CERN graciously organized for us. We visited the Google office at Zurich, (got to explore the city as well), ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) at Zurich and the Open Systems Office – I loved their mission control panel, EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. Apart from that we went to Paris, Bern – the capital Canton of Switzerland, Annecy – which overlooks the beautiful French rivera, Mount Chamonix, Mount Saleve and even more beautiful French and Swiss cities!

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A typical workday would be from 9:30 AM to 5-5:30 PM and most of the interns were staying in the same hotel. So, 40 interns from around 25 countries, at the same place, so there is bound to be some travel, fun and lots of food and more fun!

People from Malta, Turkey, Algeria, Italy, Germany, Pakistan, Macedonia, Finland, Belgium, Britain, Spain, Catalan, Nigeria, Romania, and so many more countries were there. I learnt about so many cultures and picked up tit-bits of so many new languages!

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After work, some days we used to play RPG (Role Playing Games). This was absolutely enthralling. I owe it to Enrico and Megan for introducing me to RPG.

Other days, we used to hang around, roam the campus of CERN, attend the summer students’ parties, or try to locate the fabled CERN summer student temple.

We’d also cook! Amazing Swiss Fondue, thanks to Christina and Marija, pasta Italian style – courtesy chef Enrico, Black Octopus pasta by Gaby, home grown strawberries – thanks to Maria and endless more dishes!

I almost forgot the movies! CERN has movie screenings and apart from that we also watched several movies from many different countries in English!

IF: How much difference has this internship period made in your intellectual capabilities and mindset. In broad terms what are your gains and takeaways?

SG: I learnt a LOT! That’s definite. I made many, many friends from people of different countries, learnt about their cultures and languages. This internship has instilled confidence and honed my skills. I was able to understand the different perspectives of research, development and innovation. After all internship at CERN is Unique!

IF: What are your future plans and how much of an impact do you think this internship will have on it?

SG: I learnt so much at CERN. In fact, I never knew so much about physics! I learnt about how the collider works, how exactly the atoms decay into alpha and beta particles. The CERN lectures are amazing.  I learnt how machine learning can be used in security.

IF: Any advice for juniors that can help them in getting internships in future and for deriving the best learning experience out of it?

SG: Every opportunity that presents itself is a learning one, so try to make most of it.

IF: Any views about this initiative of InternFeel, and how beneficial it would be? Any suggestions/feedback for improvement?

SG: InternFeel is great! I know about so many people who got inspired from a blog post on InternFeel and applied and they got the internship they wanted! Congratulations to InternFeel for starting such a unique initiative and thanks to Arihant for giving me this opportunity.

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