Summer Internship with Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Germany – Divyang Saxena from IIT Kanpur

Daily Winner for: –  5th August 2013Divyang

Name of the intern: – Divyang Saxena

Institute: –  IIT Kanpur

Organization interned with: –  Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Germany

During this summer, I undertook my internship at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany. The Max Planck Institutes in Germany are centres of excellence in research and are regarded as the foremost research organizations in Europe. So for me, it was literally a dream come true – to get a chance to work in a world-class laboratory with the latest equipment, to attend talks by eminent scientists and researchers, (some of who were Nobel laureates!) and to be mentored by a Professor who was renowned in his field of research. The institute’s entire atmosphere was one of intellectual stimulation and scientific inquiry.

My European sojourn began on June 1 when my flight landed at Stuttgart airport. An hour’s bus ride through beautiful scenery — lush green fields, forests and meadows– terminated at the Tuebingen Hauptbahnhof, the central station. On the bus, I chatted with a German girl who was more than happy to give me useful advice on places to see, how to settle in and in general, how to have a fulfilling time in Germany. Through this encounter, I realized that the Germans are indeed an affable and approachable lot (especially the girls!). At the station, I was received by an Indian friend. At his home, I experienced quintessential Indian hospitality and also enjoyed desi-style food. He also helped me get acquainted with the new town, its transport system, places of interest and introduced me to his other buddies, who later became good friends.

Tuebingen is essentially a small university town with around 80,000 inhabitants out of which 30,000 or so are students. Its main attraction is the Neckar River where one can go for boating excursions, swimming or simply sit inside riverside restaurants and enjoy the evening the German way (with a chilled beer and/or a barbecue party). Reveling in the cool weather and my beautiful environs, I could almost feel the envy of my friends back home who were sweating it out in the heat. All the weeks of planning and preparation had borne fruit at last, I mused, given the ease with which I was settling in!

On June 3, I had my first meeting with my revered professor. He was very welcoming and after an exchange of pleasantries, we got down to discussing the details of the project that I was to work on. My project involved a new Nematode species (a kind of worm) which had been recently discovered by members of the lab. I had to investigate its characteristics such as life span, stages of development, etc. Though initially I had some apprehensions about the project, under the guidance of Ph.D. and Post-Doc students as well as technicians, I was able to complete the experiments and get results. My schedule for the weekdays involved a hurried breakfast in the morning followed by work in the lab for eight hours till 6 in the evening. Often, I also had to stay late and come on weekends as well. After all, I was at the mercy of the worms’ whims and desires! Afterward, I would either go out for dinner with friends or cook some food at home and then go to sleep to wake up early the next day. My training also taught me a vital lesson – that not all experiments will work out smoothly and give the desired results in the first attempt.

However, it was not “all work and no play”. In the first week itself, a football tournament was organised, which was a great opportunity to showcase my skills as well as to bond with my lab mates. Our team “Worms United” also grabbed the 2nd place! We even had Cake Day every Monday afternoon where someone was required to bring cake for everybody. Then there was also a ‘Beer Hour’ every Friday evening, considered a perfect start to the weekend by many. Apart from all this, the institute had a vast library, Foosball tables, a scenic view of the surrounding mountains and intriguing people with whom I could have entertaining conversations. In other words, there was never a dull moment during my internship.

What also played an important role in making my European visit a success was the continent’s efficient and well-developed transport system. It allowed me to travel to almost any country within a few hours. The fact that it didn’t get dark before 10 pm was an added bonus (unlike in India where night starts to creep in around seven). So while during the week I was buried in lab work, weekends saw me exploring new places, meeting new people and adding to my repertoire of memorable experiences.

Having been gifted a Eurail Pass by my wonderful parents, I was able to travel to most of the countries bordering Deutschland (as Germany is also known) – Switzerland, Austria and France- to name a few. This led my lab mates to remark that I’d travelled more in eight weeks than they had in their entire three years of stay! Being an ardent fan of football, the highlight of my trip was being able to watch live matches of the famous German football clubs Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern as well as a visit to the iconic home stadium of the latter team, the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Time flew past very quickly and I felt most reluctant to go back to India so soon. Frankly, only the threat of not being able to register for the next semester at institute was what pushed me to pack my bags. Needless to say, I will cherish these two months for the rest of my life. I have been enriched by unforgettable experiences and have made life-long friends. I would also like to encourage my juniors to apply for an internship abroad without apprehensions, as it will surely be an enjoyable experience!

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