Summer Internship at University of Southern California (USC) – Sai Sneha from IIT Madras

Sai Sneha (last row, second from right) interned at University of Southern California (USC) and shares how her internship turned out to be one of the best things in her life. Sneha is a student of Chemical Engineering at IIT Madras. Here’s her internship story.

It all started in August 2013, when I was in a very confused state whether to go for Industrial Internship or Research Internship. Towards the end of August all the top MNC’s like HUL, ITC, P&G started visiting our campus to recruit students for summer internships. I thought I would give a try for them. I still remember that was a busy day attending all company talks followed by GD’s and final interviews. I first thought I was unlucky for not being selected for any of those companies. But later I realised and now I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. If I had been selected, I would have missed a whole lot of awesomeness which I cannot describe in words. The actually story began after my decision not to attend for companies that were visiting campus, as I had to accept it if I got selected. I was pretty confident of being selected for at least one of the popular research internship programs and took a chance.

Then I started applying for DAAD, Mitacs and S.N.Bose Program. The application procedure would be more or less like the one for Masters and PhD, on a small scale. I prepared everything (SOP, Recommendation letters, Resume etc.) by September. Then the most important and essential part passport process started. I applied for it well in advance. But things turned against me and I got passport only in April after infinite struggle. At one point of time I was so despondent that I thought I would miss internship opportunities. I got selected for Mitacs and S.N.Bose Program. I chose S.N.Bose.

Almost 28 students from different colleges in India were selected for summer internship at Viterbi School of Engineering. After being all set for internship I started for University of Southern California (Los Angeles) on May 18th. Almost 20 of us were on same flight and long journey became fun and enjoyable. I spent three days at my relative’s place and we had orientation on 21st. We were taken on a campus tour. USC is a small campus well known for its architecture. We had a luncheon with eminent professors followed by a lecture from public safety department of the campus. They give high importance to public safety despite which thefts etc keep happening around the campus in residential area. My internship started from the next day onwards.

I worked at Loker Hydrocarbon research institute (LHI), one of the wings in Department of Chemistry. To my surprise advisor was very approachable and sociable. I found most of the people over there to be like that. This helped me in overcoming the lack of deep knowledge about experimental chemistry in a very few days. Research scholars working there were from different parts of the globe like China, Vietnam, Korea and of course from India. I could interact with them on daily basis which many of my fellow interns could not. We used to have lunch together and had some outings too. I have spent 10-15 days learning the experimental techniques. At LHI they have found a new redox flow system that works on organic chemicals which has many advantages over conventional redox flow batteries. I worked on a cost estimation model to find the total and split wise cost of the scaled up system. I also identified the parameters that had a sensitive effect on the final cost and suggested possible ways of mitigating the negative effects. My project involved combination of both technical skills and cost estimation. It was kind of semi research and semi Industrial Internship. But not many research internships will be like this. I reiterated and played with the parameters and had a final conclusive version of the scaled up system. We had to give a poster presentation on July 10th. All of us started making poster the week before. I still remember the night outs, reviews and rehearsals. Before poster presentation we had barbeque on one day where all the students from different internship programs got to meet. We also had a talk on how faculty review the applications for PhD followed by a Q&A session. We had all these on three continuous days and apart from the take away messages and information, the best part of it was food!

Our co-ordinator Tracy Charles was very helpful and friendly. She took us to a base-ball match during internship. Though the game was boring the unlimited pop-corn refill made it interesting. We almost roamed around every weekend. We have been to San Fransisco, Las Vegas, Universal Studios, Disney Land, Six flags, San Diego and this list will be endless. We had Panipuri and Phavbhaji nights. One more interesting thing about internship was most of us became more or less experts in cooking starting with no knowledge about it!

Finally the last week arrived and one by one started leaving for India. All those send offs and plans for reunion are still reverberating in my mind. After internship I had been to my aunt’s place. It was a very apt relaxation week after 2 months of work and fun. After a very long, tiring and boring journey (may be as I was traveling alone) I reached India on July 27th.

I consider this internship as the best thing ever happened to me. I understood how research goes on in countries like US. I could meet people from different countries. I made a lot of new friends. They also give PhD offers to interns and encourage them to continue research. I would strongly recommend students who want to pursue research as a career to apply for these internships. It will give you a flavour of how a research career is going to be.

I would like to thank Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, Department of Science and Technology, University of Southern California, my parents, my advisor Dr. Narayan and his students, co-ordinator Tracy Charles and my friends for giving me this great opportunity to have a life time experience. I also thank Internshala for giving me a chance to write my first story.

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