Meet Tayyab, a senior under-graduate in Biotechnology now, at Indian Institute of Technology
Roorkee. He wants to study Develo-pmental and Regenerative Biology and has figured out the
best way to do that by getting a doctorate and hence wishes to get into a Ph.D. program in
Developmental and Regenerative Biology.
He was selected for the prestigious Khorana Program and was placed at the Whitehead
Institute for Biomedical Research of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
in the lab of renowned Prof Rudolf Jaenisch and under the esteemed guidance of
Dr. Meelad Dawlaty.
In his own words: The Khorana Program is like a boon to all the Indian students who wish to pursue research as a career. It is sort of an exchange program. Some students (30-40) are selected from all over India and placed at really awesome universities in the US. Similarly some students from USA are placed in India. Khorana Program is like the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP) of India. MSRP is the program of which I was a part once I was there at MIT. Bothe MSRP and Khorana Program are superb programs. They are organized and well-structured and provide you with a complete and life changing experience. Also the directors of both the Programs Dr. Mandana Sassanfar and Dr. Aseem Ansari and all the people at the MIT and Khorana program are truly amazing people and are so helpful that you will have the perfect opportunity and perfect environment for your summer research. The stipend is $2000 plus accommodation and travel so you won’t have to worry about finances. Some Khorana scholars are honorary in which case only accommodation is provided. But this is also a good opportunity because accommodation is very expensive in US. The duration was 10 full weeks but due to the delay in my Visa and then the early start of the next semester at my college, I only got 8 weeks.
Time to know more about him!!
InternFeel: How you came to know about the internship? Generally what was your way of being in touch with the media to get the information about the various internships?
Tayyab: First of all there are seniors. The amazing and genius seniors who get extraordinary internships and inspire you to do the same. 2 of our seniors have been selected for Khorana Program last year and that is how I came to know about the prestige of this program. Then there is Internshala, where almost all the internships are posted. Then there is GBioFin, a NGO that helps Biotech students in everything. And now there will be InternFeel doing the great job of informing about the internships in a unique way.
IF: How much competitive is the selection process? What things you feel are looked for in the applicant by the selectors?
Tayyab: The selection process is very competitive. And since it is very competitive there is not just one thing that is looked at. The grades, the school you belong to, the research experience, the personal statement; everything is considered. A student who is passionate about research with good grades and research experience has a good chance of getting selected.
IF: What qualities of yours – educational / otherwise, you feel helped you in having an edge over the selection process?
Tayyab: I think my profound interest in research got me in but the most important part was played by God.
IF: Approximately when you got the news for the selection? How was the celebration?
Tayyab: This is a nostalgic question. But I will try to answer it the best I can. I got the news sometime around mid-February. First of all there were no celebrations. Let me start from the beginning. I was in the lab. It was around 8 pm when I went over to the lab computer to check my mail and there it was. I didn’t believe it at first and I kept waiting for a mail that will rescind this dream offer. This is why I told no one for more than 2 weeks and that is why there were no celebrations. I was just too stunned by this wonderful surprise. And then when I realized that Ok it is true, there was nothing that could wipe that awkward smile off my face. And then it was a long process from selection to actually getting to MIT which is a story for another day.
IF: What all preparations you did (academic/otherwise) before joining and after the results?
Tayyab: After the results I checked out the lab and the work that I will be doing, studied a little bit about it. I went through some of the literatures of Dr. Dawlaty so that I have a basic grasp of what I will be doing over the summer. So it is kind of easy and helpful if you already have a brief idea about the field, the techniques, the work and the theoretical aspects of your work. I left 2 days after I got my Visa so I had no time for any otherwise preparations. I just threw in everything in a big suitcase and ran towards the airport.
IF: Any problems that you faced before joining, which you feel could have been easily avoided if known in before?
Tayyab: After the internship I believe that there are no things such as problems. There are just challenges which you have to face and emerge victorious. So, yes I faced a lot of problems and although at that time I was very sad and frustrated about those problems but now that I reflect back onto those memories, I can very well see how those particular problems prepared me for my future. I would say don’t avoid the problems; face them.
IF: Any common mistakes which you feel students should avoid while searching and applying for internships?
Tayyab: A common mistake that I have noticed is that students apply to all the internships and virtually all the professors present around the globe. You should only apply to the ones you are interested in. If you apply to the internships that interest you and you think you will be good at those then that enthusiasm and passion will automatically show on your application and you will have a better chance of getting selected.
IF: With this internship being foreign internship, we would like to know what problems came in getting the visa, travel tickets, and any journey related problems which your juniors may avoid?
Tayyab: My visa was put on hold for further processing. This basically means that your visa had no big problems as such but you won’t get it approved right away. A letter is given to you stating what all is required to process your visa application. And after you have fulfilled that requirement, your visa usually take 4-8 weeks to get approved. So I would advise you to get your visa as soon as possible.My travel tickets were booked by the Khorana people. These people were so great and so efficient at their work that I had no problem with the tickets whatsoever.Same is with the journey. For those of you going for the first time like I was; getting nervous is perfectly fine. You need to understand that the flights are not like the Indian Railway or bus transport system. Everything is in order and there are always people to help you out. The staff is always there to help you. Don’t forget to enjoy the butterflies during the take-off and landing.
IF: So Tayyab, could you please highlight us with what work/research project you carried out during the internship period? It’s application in near future and your work in it?
Tayyab: My work was on this enzyme called TET3. It belongs to the TET family of enzymes. These enzymes cause demethylation of a DNA sequence. What happens is that we have a DNA sequence or in other words, a gene. Right before this gene there is a region rich in C and G also called the CpG island. This CpG island when gets methylated stops the gene from functioning. TET enzymes demethylate it back to recover the gene function and therefore play an important role in regulation of gene expression. Its applications are vast. TET2 has already been implicated in cancer and the research in this field is trying to answer all the questions about TET enzymes, their activity, their mechanism, their possible effects, their regulation etc. My work involved a lot of cloning, sub-cloning, PCR, dissecting mice etc.
IF: What was the best thing about the work culture and the internship? What all things you liked there? The difference you found in comparison with the work culture of our country?
Tayyab: It could not have been better. Everyone was so friendly and so great. There was sincere work at the time of work and there were jokes in between. And there was Coffee and cookies every Wednesday in our building, the Whitehead. I got to know a little about everyone. I also went out to a baseball game with my lab mates and it was an awesome evening. I spent most of my day in the lab and I felt really good there. Everyone was so helpful that I felt like home in the lab. The best thing was getting out of lab at 11pm and feeling like I did something important and then walking back to the dorms in that beautiful weather and cool breeze. That was the best part. It was totally blissful.
IF: What project specific problems you or your friends faced, during the internship, which became a bit hard to crack?
Tayyab: In our field, the most important part is designing the plan of the experiment and troubleshooting the experiments. Designing was already done for me because I was not anywhere near the intellectual level to do that myself. Then I carried out the experiment. But an experiment doesn’t always go as you want it to. And that I think was the hardest to crack. But as always, if I was not able to figure it out, I would run to my mentor who would explain it all to me and this way all the problems found their graves.
IF: As with almost everything, what were the cons of the internship? The elements which you felt, if wasn’t there could have made this internship super awesome?
Tayyab: Oh no. You can doubt me all you want but there were no cons of this internship. And yeah, I would like to mention here that there is no such thing as a bad experience. Every experience teaches you a few things. And if you are able to just learn any one thing from each experience then it is not a bad one. I had some moments which were not so delightful. But do I wish that they weren’t there? Absolutely not.
IF: Were there any special events during the internships which you would like to share?
Tayyab: There were a lot of events. That’s the beauty of MSRP. There were a lot of talks with professors where all the MSRP students would discuss anything they like with a renowned professor from any field and there were seminars by the pioneers of the field. There was a trip to Martha’s Vineyard which is a nice beautiful island about 3 hour bus ride and 30 min ferry ride from Cambridge. It was a whole day trip and all of us MSRP students had a lot of fun. Then there was this boat cruise which was so soothing and charming. Out in the waters it was so peaceful. But this was not the best part. The best part was to live in the dorms and have fun each and every day after the lab with all my great MSRP friends.
IF: What was the guidance provided by your guide? What all support you received from your intern institute administration.
Tayyab: My mentor was super awesome. He was always there to help me. Remember the phrase “esteemed guidance”- it would be perfect here. During the first week of my internship, I really sucked at everything. But due to his esteemed guidance and mentorship, I was doing great by the end of the internship. He was so genius and cool and such a wonderful person. If I can be even 1% like him, I will be a contented guy. The facilities that I got from the university, well, there were too many. I got to live in the Undergraduate dorms, I got the GRE prep class, the Gym, and everything that comes with the ID card issued to me which includes all kinds of discounts to restaurants and museums and what not. With this ID card, my admission to the Museum of Science cost me 7$ while the original price was 22$. Talking about lab, I was at full liberty to use everything that I had access to, for my experiments. I had all the resources I needed for my experiment and there were some really cool microscopes among other cool machines. I got to attend all the seminars. There was a fantastic cafeteria in our building where I had my lunch almost every day.
IF: Could you please guide the readers on any application related area? Any special areas which they should pay importance or anything specific which may give them extra edge?
Tayyab: There is no specific area when it comes to an application. Everything counts. Your CV, your research experience, your statement of interest, your recommendation letters, your grades everything. I would like to quote what Professor Alan Grossman said to us- “Application is a match making process. It’s like a marriage. Both the parties are looking for something and only if they are compatible will the application turn into a selection”. So I would say just try to do everything to your best. And I didn’t get selected for too many internships; in fact this was the only one I got into. So I may not be the best person to ask.
IF: Any special experience which you had during this period, which you would like to share with us.
Tayyab: The internships can get really intense and competitive at times. During the last 2 weeks I was really anxious about finishing my work but because I had such a great mentor, all the problems in my experiments were circumvented. So I would advice everyone to think about what may cause an obstruction in your experiments and plan out a strategy to complete all your project work within the given duration.
IF: To whom all people you would, like to thank in context of this internship?
Tayyab: Ok I know it’s not Oscar speech but I would like to thank in chronological order, The Almighty; my family; my friends here at IITR- Rajat Yadav and Mohit Garg; my professors at IITR- Dr. Pravindra Kumar and Dr. Partha Roy; all the people of the Khorana Program- Prof Aseem Ansari, Ms. Pushpa Iyer, Dr. Nishritha Bopanna, Ms Eti Kaushik; all the people at MSRP- Prof Mandana Sassanfar, Nico Lang, Mayoka Takemori; everyone at the lab – Prof Rudolf Jaenisch, Dr. Meelad Dawlaty; all my MSRP friends and yeah of course myself. If any of the above were a tad short in their efforts, I would have not got this internship. I am truly grateful for such wonderful people in my life.
IF: How much difference this period of 8 weeks made in your intellectual capabilities and mindset. In broad terms what are your gains from this?
Tayyab: A huge one. It was a revolutionary event of my life. The exposure to one of the pioneer research institute and introduction to so many of the great people in this field; it was so great. It was good to actually know what all has been happening around the world and how fast the research is moving. I am way more efficient now. I have learned a hell of lot in just 2 months. It was a total makeover for me. I gained so much experience in these 2 months and it was an experience of everything. I have improved my academic knowledge, my lab skills, my research capabilities, everything. It would be correct to say that I cannot imagine my life without this internship.
IF: What are your future plans after this internship and how much impact this internship will have on it?
Tayyab: I have always wanted to study Developmental and Regenerative Biology and this internship acted like concrete on my “brick”-wishes. And I will be applying to some Graduate schools this year. This internship will be a colossal boost to my chances of getting into a great school.
IF: Any views about this initiative of InternFeel, and how beneficial it would be?
Tayyab: This is a really great and innovative initiative. It provides a lot of material for the students seeking internships in the form of interviews and gives them a chance to see at the internship from the perspective of someone who has been there. All this information if processed correctly by the students and put to use when searching and applying for the internships will increase their chances of getting the internship they want. Besides it makes us famous – so it is already doing a great job.
IF: So Tayyab, we are at the end of the interview. From the entire team of InternFeel, we thank you for taking out your time and sharing your experiences for everyone and we wish you best of luck for all your future endeavors.
Tayyab: Please, it should be me who should be thanking you for a great initiative. I thought it would make me feel nostalgic about my internship but this made me relive some parts of the internship again. Thanks a lot for your wishes.I wish InternFeel good luck in perpetuating this initiative for all the generations of internship seekers to come.