InternFeel: Hello Anurag, pleasure to meet you. Please tell us about yourself. What makes you different?
Anurag: Hey! I am currently pursuing Mechanical Engineering, from IIT (BHU), Varanasi. I am in my pre-final year of a Dual Degree Course. Proud Mumbaikar, born and raised in the maximum city, though, presently am residing in the holy city of Kashi till the end of my undergraduate course. Additionally, a big-time foodie and I invariably undertake food pilgrimages whenever am in the metropolis. I love commenting upon topics of present-day relevance and articulate my views every once in a while.
IF: Which internship, you got the chance to take? What is it all about? Stipend, duration, place?
Anurag: I was selected to participate in the Summer Research Co-op/Internship Program in the Dept of Materials Science and Engg, University of North Texas (UNT), U.S.A. It is located in a university town called Denton, an hour’s drive from Dallas. My internship spanned 8 weeks and the stipend covered the airfare, living expenses and housing. Remaining expenses- shopping and roaming around pinched my pocket.
IF: How you came to know about the internship? To what all sources you kept yourself connected?
Anurag: Being the Department Topper of my batch, one of my professors who regularly visits UNT for his research collaborations recommended my name for this internship program as I was also the subject topper in the courses instructed by him. Moreover, a strongly worded LOR given by my internship guide (from BARC) had a profound impact on my successful selection.
IF: Tell us on the procedure to apply for the internship. Who all are eligible to apply for this internship?
Anurag: There were no such strict eligibility criteria per se, but the trend suggests that students generally visit the university at the end of their 3rd year of Undergraduate studies. Thus, I surmise that the final selection process probably commences around Jan-Feb. Students studying in their 5th or 6th semester should immediately start shooting emails to individual faculty members at UNT with a well-drafted cover letter, resume and (optional) letter of recommendation.
IF: Let’s talk about how competitive is the selection process.
What qualities of yours, you believe helped you in having an edge over the selection process? What key things you feel were looking for by the selectors?
Anurag: Since internships are awarded to students from all across the globe, the process is truly very competitive. I believe I got an edge over the others owing to my former research internships at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), IIT-Bombay, industrial training at Larsen & Toubro (L&T) alongside the pioneering work which our group was undertaking back then under the able guidance of my departmental supervisor at IIT-BHU. This augmented my research profile. In my humble opinion, I think this is pretty much what professors look for while recruiting trainees. Similar technical experiences gained in the past garner the attention of the faculty and increase the chances of one’s selection manifolds. So choose a field of your liking and stick to that, because arbitrary leaps from one to another might not be convincing enough for them.
IF: About when you got the news for the selection? How was the celebration?
Anurag: Coincidentally, I received the acceptance letter on the evening of my parents wedding anniversary, dated 27th Feb. Rejoice was the buzz word, celebrations were in order. My parents were quite elated, but personally, I was pretty apprehensive of the daunting visa formalities for States that lay ahead. My dad even went to the extent of calling it – the best anniversary gift till date.
IF: What all preparations you did (academic/otherwise) after the results in view of the internship?
Since the work profile required extensive experimental know-how, I quickly skimmed through the pertinent, practical lab sessions which we had been exposed to in the preceding semesters. Added to that, I revisited the theoretical courses concerned, viz Introduction to Materials Science, Manufacturing Processes (welding, Laser Surface Alloying) and Strength of Material and accomplished the same within a month’s time before the end-sem examinations begun. Academics aside, the visa application process (J-1) was precisely what I feared from the core of my heart, primarily owing to the disheartening visa rejection stories of innumerable acquaintances. Mock-visa interviews became the norm of the day.
IF: So, Anurag, could you please highlight us with what work/research project you carried out during the internship period? Its application in the near future and your work in it?
Anurag: For starters, my project was predominantly based on Enhancing Wear Resistance utilizing Laser Processing on Aluminium, coated with Tungsten. It entailed laser processing to deposit a thin-film of Tungsten over Aluminium with varying and optimizing laser parameters alongside microstructural observations using advanced characterization techniques – SEM, EDS, XRD followed by micro-hardness profiling by indentation, image analysis and finally concluding with tribological tests to evaluate wear resistance of coated samples as against plain Aluminium, which suffers terribly from poor wear performance under service conditions. Can be brought to possible use in light-weight applications for structural elements. Since I occasionally write articles and essays too, which was brought to the notice of my professor, he gave me an opportunity to be a co-author in a review paper on Machining, wherein I had to go through reams of papers in the respective field and thereafter condense it, conveying just the essence, more like a synopsis writing task.
IF: What was the best thing about the work culture and the internship? What all things you liked there?
Anurag: There can be no denying the fact that the work culture was distinctly different from what I had formerly experienced in India. The industriousness, professionalism and attention to detail paid by every member of the research community there was really awe-inspiring. Sophisticated equipment and state-of-the-art facilities, which too under the same roof was indeed jaw-dropping. I was in love with Denton, the town where I was residing, from the very moment I entered the fringes of the township. Cleanliness in the neighbourhood, streamlined procedures for all formalities, ultrafast net connectivity and monetary transactions, mesmerizing urbanscape, you name it and the land offered it.
IF: Were there any special events during the internships?
Anurag: My professor allowed me to accompany his group to Southern Methodist University, Dallas, for a day’s meeting with another professor’s group. Turned out to be quite a field trip for me cause I was new to the glorious campus and eager to travel and discover the vicinity. Back at UNT, met some folks from Mexico who were co-interns in adjoining departments and they left an indelible mark on my life, we guys instantly struck a rapport at first introduction and the rest is history. We visited the major towns of Texas together, hit cafes and hangout joints most evenings, dined at fancy restaurants, celebrated Independence day fireworks(4th of July) together and had some really memorable moments back then. Apart from this, I ventured out to other cities far and wide namely Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, where I had the privilege of spending a weekend at Marriott as my father’s colleague was lodging there for the last few months. Also befriended an alumnus of our institute and he was so kind as to invite me to dinner at his place on several occasions, offered culinary lessons and permitted me to dash into the stress-relieving pool & the adjacent Jacuzzi that his residence offered.
IF: What was the guidance provided by your guide? What all support you received from the University’s administration.
Anurag: My guide at UNT was extremely knowledgeable, commanded tremendous grip on the subject, and had vast experience in successfully conducting rigorous experiments. He is one of the most renowned material scientists in the world, whose pioneering work spanning three decades has been widely recognized the world over and highly appreciated throughout. His problem-solving approach, continuous motivation and zest for excellence kept my morale very high and I, personally, believe that perhaps the constant pressure that he maintained throughout the duration of 8 weeks is precisely what got the best out of me. The administration was very supportive and cordial. They even went out on a limb to accommodate international students like myself and eased out the majority of the overly complicated procedures, which ranged from securing a Social Security Number to opening a bank a/c at Wells Fargo Bank for stipend transfer. One of the staff members even invited me over for lunch one time and I reciprocated it the following week and thereafter, we practiced these weekly trips till the very last day.
IF: Let’s now talk about some negatives.
What problems you or your friends faced, regards to the internship, which your juniors may be able to avoid?
Anurag: Immigration at Newark Airport took away a lion’s share of the halt time between our connecting flights and for a moment, I felt as though there was no possibility of boarding the next one from New York to Dallas, but somehow, after rushing through, changing terminals and checking-in again, I made it just in time to board the connecting flight and heaved a sigh of relief as soon as I entered the aircraft. Lesson learnt: to keep ample halt time, while changing aircrafts. Initial apprehension lingered regarding eatables and food items, but the doctoral scholars there lend us some cutlery and Walmart came to the rescue- they offer anything and everything. My advice- try buying socket converters beforehand, carry some winter wear just in case the mercury drops and positively buy a travel card, it is a cashless country, and everyone prefers cashless transactions. Keep the contact details of the nearest Indian embassy/ consulate handy and stick to the law of the land. Always remember: your passport is the sole identity proof you possess in that outlandish country.
IF: Anything you would like to tell us please. Feel free to share any interesting thing that happened.
Anurag: Initially, I was worried about joining on the very next morning after travelling half way across the globe, but to my astonishment, I wasn’t tired at all, especially after I step foot on the American soil. Surprisingly, all my exhaustion had mysteriously disappeared and the overwhelming need to conk off immediately vanished once we were out of the airport. Travelling through the Dallas downtown redefined the entire concept of a city skyline that I bore in mind hitherto. Houston had a lot to offer, including NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, a Texan sea beach, museums and the list is endless. Add to the cart, the must-visit tourist town of San Antonio with its remarkable Sea World experience. Simple motto: Work hard, party harder. I clearly remember how maxed out I used to end up being by the time I returned from the labs on the weekdays and how the weekly visits to distant cities, the weekend Jacuzzi and a dip in the pool helped me relieve the intense work pressure and stressful project deadlines. On weekdays there was no looking here and there except labwork but on weekends it was a total diametric opposite – chillax and nothing else, not even entertaining any remote thoughts concerning the workplace. Phew
IF: Have you done any internship/training before? It would help the readers if you could bring a comparison between your two different experiences.
Anurag: Having undertaken three internships/training before being awarded this abroad one, I had a fair idea of how research progresses and what constitutes the role of an intern/trainee. My first point of contact with the research arena was at BARC, Mumbai one of the most esteemed research organizations in India, where I first experimented with Laser Processing alongside one at IIT-Bombay, again, one of the premier technical institutes in our country, where Design & Simulation ruled the roost and finally an industrial training at Larsen & Toubro, the mecca for engineers from the core branches aiming to join industry, where Project Management in an industrial environ was the key takeaway. Since all of them are based in Mumbai, also the city where I was raised, the internships were accomplished commuting back and forth from home itself. So there was the cloistered care and warmth of my parents all along, whereas in Denton, everything had to be done independently and it paved the way for a western lifestyle which I intend to stick to in the years to come.
IF: Anurag: To which all people you would, like to thank in context of this internship?
Beginning with my departmental professor who first brought this opportunity to my notice and informed me regarding the summer internship program there, I am also thankful to my guide at BARC for drafting such an impactful recommendation, which overhauled the whole scenario in my favor. Most importantly, my sincerest gratitude to my professor at UNT for considering me for this internship and the life-changing exposure, which ushered in a completely new phase in my career, catapulting me right into the center of the research world. Indebted to my parents too, who were very supportive from day one and bailed me out whenever I botched up unknowingly.
IF: How much difference this period of 2 months made in your intellectual capabilities and mindset. In broad terms what are your gains from this?
Anurag: In hindsight, it radically transformed my life and immensely boosted my confidence like never before. Flying across the Atlantic and exploring the land of opportunities was a dream come true. Contextually, the phrase “living the American dream” strikes my mind. The entire notion concerning research and its very approach changed after I observed the stalwarts excelling there. Technically, my grasp on the subject is now unparalleled if our batch is to be considered as sample size. Quite convinced that research is definitely not a 9-5 job, but an unending lifelong quest.
IF: Advice for juniors? Which can help them in getting internships in their future college life and also advice for making the best out of it.
Anurag: Highlight your major accomplishments preferably internships, papers published(if any), departmental projects undertaken, conferences attended et al. Open up university web pages, find out professors, whose profile matches the kinda work you have done in your former interns/projects and that ought to augment your chances surely. Contact him/her via email with your cover letter, CV and reco attached thereby. Wait for a fortnight and if he/she doesn’t respond back, resend the email with a reminder. Don’t be greedy about the financial aid the prof might be providing but don’t accept an unpaid one either. Just keep mailing and follow the steps as mentioned above and before you know it, you shall be beholding your acceptance letter.
IF: What are your future plans after this internship and how much impact this internship will have on it?
Intend to take up higher studies in the foreseeable future, wherein I believe this short term but significant experience will be highly valued. Hoping that it adds the much-required weightage to my doctoral program application.
IF: Any views about this initiative of InternFeel, and how beneficial it would be? Any suggestions for improvement?
Anurag: Commendable and noble indeed. Kindly keep up the good work. I wish I had known of any forum where one could go through such accounts and personal experiences at a time when I was struggling with the intimidating application process.
IF: Anurag, it was so nice to know all about this. We agree with you would have been busy with your academics. Even then, you took out time for this. We thank you and wish you the best of luck for all your future endeavors.
Anurag: Thank you for making me a part of this novel endeavor. More than glad to help and to make a contribution from my quarters, however limited. Cheers!