Khorana Program for Scholars – Ruksar Sultana, NIT Rourkela

1Profile picMeet Ruksar Sultana, a B.Tech Biotechnology final year student from NIT Rourkela, Odisha. With a CGPA of 9.23, along with being good in studies, she is an avid reader of novels & sitcoms. She carries a good passion towards singing. She was selected for the prestigious Khorana Program for Scholars 2013. The program gives an opportunity to Indian undergraduate students enrolled in science, engineering or medicine to spend their summer in research laboratories at U.S. universities mentored by faculty members. The program covers Airfare, Accommodation & other miscellaneous expenses, the total duration being 2 months.

So let’s know more about her experiences…

 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?

Ruksar: I came to know about this internship from its advertisement in our department notice board. Besides our branch seniors also suggested me to apply for this.  Internshala  has been a major source of information regarding all the internship opportunities.


IF: How much competitive is the selection process? What things you feel are looked for in the applicant by the selectors?

Ruksar: It was really challenging to be one among the selected few for the prestigious Khorana Program. Competition was huge & only 37 students got selected this time. The following things are looked in detail during the selection procedure – CGPA,University you belong to, Statement of Purpose (SOP), past research experience (if any) & Faculty Recommendation.


IF: What qualities of yours – educational / otherwise, you feel helped you in having an edge over the selection process?

Ruksar: My past research experiences at Biocon & IISc Banglore along with a decent CGPA helped me bag this opportunity. I also have a review paper which elaborated my passion for research.


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

Ruksar: To be very specific I got to know about my selection on Feb 5, 2013. I was really overwhelmed on hearing this.


IF: What all preparations you did before joining and after the results?

Ruksar: I worked hard on the Statement of Purpose (SOP) thing. I had to also get recommendation letters from Dept. faculties. I also applied for a couple of other internships which I would like to mention here – Mitacs Globalink (Canada), VSRP (TIFR), Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS), CCMB Summer Internship Program. This part of the time was very tough & exhaustive. Writing SOP’S & meeting the deadlines of all the internships. I was very glad to be selected for almost all the internships I applied for. Though I couldn’t make up to Mitacs Program, I was ecstatic & overjoyed to be selected for Khorana Program, National Institute of Immunology (New Delhi) through IAS, CCMB Summer Internship Program & VSRP. The very dreams of visiting America were blooming in my head & not able to resist me from flying through forthcoming awesomeness. It was crystal clear to opt for Khorana Program which would boost an international work experience. Immediately, after knowing the results, I rushed through applying for tatkaal passport. Then I had to tarry until the DS2019 form arrived from UW-Madison for applying for Visa. Then there was the tension of Visa interviews made easy through the lengthy conversations & exchange of doubts in the facebook group of all the selected Khorana Scholars. I was truly overwhelmed when my Visa got approved & then I was all set for flying to the States.


IF: Any problems that you faced before joining, which you feel could have been easily avoided if known in before?

Ruksar: One mistake which I did was applying for Passport after hearing the results of getting selected. I had to then rush up & apply for Tatkaal passport. All this would have been avoided, if I had my passport ready at the time of application process.


IF: Any common mistakes which you feel students should avoid while searching and applying for internships?

Ruksar: Choose applying for any internship considering your area of interest. You don’t have to do an internship just for the sake of doing.


IF: So Ruksar, 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?

Ruksar: I was engaged in a hands-on-research project under the mentor ship of my hosting lab. I worked on studying the DNA binding specificity of bZIP’s (Transcription factor’s). This helps to understand the transcriptional cascade as well as the quantitative level of gene expression. Besides, these proteins regulate a wide range of processes, such as cell cycle, reproduction, development, homeostasis, metabolism, & programmed cell death. On completion of the internship I presented my summer work in a professional setting at Biochemistry Addition, UW-Madison. I have also made a poster to be presented in the Khorana Symposium to be held at New Delhi in a couple of days.


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

Ruksar:Host Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison Place: Madison-Wisconsin-US There is just no match to the passion Americans have for their work. It makes me go weak on my knees. They are disciplined with their work & manage their time well. People are less pretentious & more open to failures. Privacy, civility & respect is almost embedded in their culture. This was the most exciting & formative experiences of my life. More than research, it was about contributing to meaningful research while gaining worldly experiences. Could learn many new topics & acquire skill sets. Besides work experience, I could also get an exposure to a wealth of other experiences. I could try my hands in a couple of things I never did before – sailing, fishing, cooking & many more. It was a wonderful experience overall, paving a direction for a career in the field of research. I liked the perfection there, which was evident in everything starting from simple Public Transit rules to a plethora of facilities around. People in States are very polite, helpful & generous.


IF: What problems you or your friends faced, during the internship, which your juniors may be able to avoid? Any safety issues for girls, which generally all parents fear about? Food and accommodation?

Ruksar: As far as I could remember, we didn’t face any problem as to mention here. If your internship provides accommodation facilities & stipend for food, you don’t have to worry


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?

Ruksar: It happened with me & few others that we were allotted to laboratories which were though linked to our field of study but not exactly the research topic which interests us (as given in the SOP during the application procedure).


IF: Was this your first internship?

No, I had done an internship in last year’s summer too.


IF: It would help the readers and other aspirants if you could bring a comparison among your two different experiences. (in terms of project work, location and anything you would like to highlight).

Ruksar: This was my first experience abroad & third internship in total. I pursued my last Summer internship at Biocon Limited, Banglore & winter training at Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Banglore. I found the passion for research at IISc to be at par with that of US. Both, the internship experience’s were very informative & productive. Morever, this foreign internship provided excellent opportunity to apply research skills in an independent environment. The work culture of Biocon was far different from the aforementioned experiences as it is an enterprise focussing on cost effective approaches for novel drug discoveries. Employees would not be open to discuss the topics in detail with the fear that you would reproduce their work after completing your training & file a drug patent. So they keep some information private & confidential.


IF: Were there any special events during the internships which you would like to share?

Ruksar: This Summer of 2013 had a perfect balance between adventure & science. The Khorana Program orientation was very welcoming & a memorable amalgam of meeting & listening to brilliant people & dignitaries. All the Khorana Scholars sailed their ways through the waters of Lake Mendota in the orientation eve. Besides, I also attended many mind enlightening Seminars & Conferences which used to be held every week. There was then a wonderful picnic to Lake Wingra Park organized by my lab mates. It was so much fun outing with Americans, trying their homemade dishes & enjoying their common games. Madison Fireworks on July 3rd night (pre-Independence Day night) was icing on the cake. It was a wonderful experience – first of it’s kind where cracker’s formed various shapes & shades in the sky. Towards the end of the internship, a Farm visit was organized by the International Students Services (ISS),UW-Madison. We were also invited by Aseem Z.Ansari,Director Khorana Program for a grand lunch at the Biochemistry Addition on one of our last days in Madison. A group of us also went to Chicago & New York for sight-seeing.

Group photo

Group Photograph (Khorana Scholars)

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

Ruksar: My guide Prof. Aseem Z. Ansari & co-guide, Jose A. Rodriguez Martinez, both were a fantastic combination of composure & generosity. Jose helped me in every aspect of my project. He was too humble & polite. He taught me all the techniques & concepts with great attention to detail.The Host administration arranged for our accommodation & stipend. It also completed all the paperwork required for our Health Insurance (SHIP). Besides they were very helpful during our entire stay at US.


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

 Ruksar: My guide at NIT Rourkela – Dr. Indranil Banerjee Sir without whose guidance during the application procedure this would not have been possible. I would be always very much grateful to Jose & Aseem for their help & support during the entire course of my internship. Last but not the least, I would be ever thankful to all my fellow Khorana & Bose Scholars for being so friendly, cooperative & making my stay at US memorable.


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?

Ruksar: Working in an independent research environment has sharpened my creative problem solving skills. Imbibed diligence in me & helped me built scientific contacts. Enjoying an allaround experience helped me to grow as an individual and as a researcher. This has helped me figure out my inclination towards the field of research.


IF: What advice you would like to give to your juniors, which can help them in getting internships in their future college life.

 Ruksar: Focus more on the Statement of Purpose thing which matters a lot during the selection procedure. Be specific to a particular topic that will help a lot. Also have your CV ready which might be required in some internships. I would suggest you people better apply for passport now though you may not require it while filling the form.


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

Ruksar: This internship opportunity has provided the necessary direction & encouragement to pursue a career in the field of research. Few years from now I imagine myself doing PhD in the States.


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

Ruksar: InternFeel is doing a wonderful job helping students grab a good internship which would help in gaining practical exposure. Details regarding various internships & suggestions to apply under a single head would help students to stay informed & apply on time.


IF: SoRuksar, 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.

Ruksar:I am glad to share my experience & help juniors grab good internships.

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