Summer internship at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Virginia by Harsh(IIT Kharagpur)

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InternFeel ID: IF15013

virg.InternFeel: Hello Harsh, pleasure to meet you! Please tell us about yourself. What makes you different?

Harsh: I am pursuing a Dual Degree course in Agricultural and Food Engineering specializing in Land and Water Resources Engineering, with a minors in Mathematics and Computing, at IIT Kharagpur. I am an avid programmer and somehow managed to find an intersection between my hobby and my stream of study. An introvert at heart, I love debates, be it in the field of science, politics or cricket.

IF: Which internship you got the chance to take? What is it all about? Stipend, duration, place?

Harsh: I did my summer internship at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Virginia, for a period of 6 weeks with the department of Biological Systems Engineering, with a pay of $3000 ($500/week). It mostly encompassed time series analysis of hydrologic variables and the impact of climate change on the flow of river. The internship involved extensive programming, hydrological modelling, literature review and statistical analysis.

IF: How you came to know about the internship? To what all sources you kept yourself connected?

Harsh: I worked with one of my department professors who recommended me for the job.

IF: Tell us on the procedure to apply for the internship. Who all are eligible to apply for this internship?

Harsh: It was different for me, as I was directly recommended for my internship.

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 looked for by the selectors?

Harsh: Again as I was recommended by my professor, I didn’t have to jump through any hoops. Although, I had worked for about 6-8 months with my professor and built a prototype for an irrigation scheduling system. I wanted to give a try to a foreign research internship so as to make an informed decision about higher studies. This was a well-known fact to my professor, who thus recommended me for the job.

IF: About when you got the news for the selection? How was the celebration?

Harsh: Probably in December. I was at home then and was excited to see the confirmation email. I told my mom and dad about it who were a bit hesitant at first, but happy for me. I did have a big bash after returning to college, where I along with a couple of friends, who also managed to score great internships, threw a lavish party to our group. It was a good day!

IF: What all preparations you did (academic/otherwise) after the results in view of the internship?

Harsh: I contacted my guide from Virginia Tech and asked him about his current research work, and read a little about it. In my opinion, if you can get acquainted with the research work before starting the internship, it really helps and you won’t feel lost once you start working. Although, an internship in USA has got a lot of formalities and paper work, which took me a couple of months.

IF: So Harsh, 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?

Harsh: My work involved time series analysis of hydrologic variables. In simple words, I ran a hydrologic model called Hydrologic Simulation Program FORTRAN for Chesapeake Bay (a big water body in USA) for a time frame of 22 years, extracted the outputs by writing python scripts, made an array of figures trying to make sense of the data, carried out statistical testing of the output and wrote a research paper which is in review stage. It was part of Chesapeake Bay Program, which was started in 1980s to clean up the Bay as it is a fresh water source for more than 10 million people in USA.

IF: What was the best thing about the work culture and the internship? What all things you liked there?

Harsh: The people are very professional and straight-forward. You will have to take care of your work, people appreciate good work and also understand your limitations. They are helping but nothing is spoon-fed to you. The best thing about the work culture in a research environment in USA is that you are pretty much on your own, which gives you the independence to work as there is no micro management, but that maybe scary for some because there are no step-by-step manual. It helps to be creative and organized.

IF: Were there any special events during the internships?

Harsh: There were plenty. We used to barbeque in the weekends and go to beaches for random fun activities like tubing, fishing, etc. There was an annual departmental seminar the day I reached, which showcased work of the graduating students. Also, I got a lot of free stuffs!

IF: What was the guidance provided by your guide? What all support you received from institute’s administration.

Harsh: My guide was very helpful. He knew about my background and designed the entire experience specifically for me. He gave me a set of research papers every week, helped me when I got stuck and discussed the interpretation of statistical testing in details. We used to have brain storming sessions which cleared many of my concepts.

The institute folks were cooperative to say the least. They helped me set up my workspace, and provided everything I needed. They had a dedicated IT guy, who was pretty awesome. We had some good discussions. There were some activities organized by the administration to support social bonding for the visiting interns.

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?

Harsh: There wasn’t any field trip for me, so I didn’t get to use any fancy equipment. It’s said that if you are a vegetarian and don’t know how to cook food, you are going to have a tough time. This is absolute garbage. Just find an Indian store, and you will get everything frozen and you only need to microwave it for a specific time.

One advice to my juniors is to stop wasting time mailing professors. The best way to land an internship is to get proper research experience by working at your own institute and collaborating with your professor, who can help you with the internship. Also, if someone wants to go via a program, your resume is greatly enhanced if you have some prior research experience.

IF: Anything you would like to tell us please. Feel free to share any interesting thing that happened.

Harsh: At the end of my internship, I went to Washington DC for a couple of days. I visited a lot of historical places, rode bikes and segways, and tried out all types of cuisines. It was an expensive weekend!

IF: Have you done any internship/training before? It would help the readers if you could bring a comparison among your two different experiences.

Harsh: I had previously worked with a number of startups like Internshala, Rakshak Foundation, Hacker Rank, etc. which gave me a strong coding profile. My research experience at my institute equipped me with the technical flair I required for a foreign internship.

IF: To which all people you would, like to thank in context of this internship?

Harsh: I will probably thank my professor who recommended me for the job. Other than that, I think its your work that should stand out. So, work in a planned way with a clear goal in your mind and you should be successful.

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?

Harsh: The one thing that I gained most of the experience was a clarity that I am suited for a research environment, which requires a lot of dedication. It doesn’t matter much if you are the next Einstein (though it helps!), as long as you take the job seriously. Technically, I improved my statistical understanding and got a peek into the working of a dedicated research group. More than that, it gave me the confidence of having succeeded at a bigger stage, and made me realize the importance of having a strong mathematical background.

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.

Harsh: Ideally, a student should work in an industry environment in the second year and go for a research internship in the third year. This gives clarity as to what suits the candidate most. Take your math classes very seriously (especially probability and statistics), as that is something which one requires in every sphere of life.

Also students need not send emails to 1000s of professors. Its time consuming, and most of the times you don’t even land up with an internship.

So, instead work with a professor on the pre-condition that he will get you an internship. All that is required is an email from a professor and you can get in. Plus, most of the professors are willing to do this, they only need a dedicated student. I realized this in my third year and had a clear understanding with my professor.

Mailing works well only when you know your field very well and have a clear knowledge of who is most suited for you. Its not the case with any undergraduate student. Instead of mailing, work in a lab and ask the professor. If that’s not possible, then ask for a recommendation so that you can apply for all the internship programs. These two are the correct ways of getting an internship in my opinion.

IF: What are your future plans after this internship and how much impact this internship will have on it?

Harsh: I have one more summer left, so I will pursue another research internship probably by a program this time, after which I will go for PhD.

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

Harsh: The stories you guys bring are an interesting read and give useful insights for a beginner.

IF: Harsh it was so nice to know all about this. We agree you would have been busy with your academics. Even then you took out time for this. We thank you and wish you best of luck for all your future endeavors.

Harsh: Thanks!

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