Hard work does not guarantee success but improves its chances. Adityesh shares his wonderful experience of internship days.
The curious case of how I got into the TIFR Visiting Student Research Programme: I have always been of the opinion, that if you want something badly-and are willing to put in the effort to get it-there is no force on Earth that can stop you from reaching said goal.
As a BSc Microbiology student, I had always been inclined towards doing a research oriented internship during the summer of ’15 (between second year and third year). While most of my friends headed off to find the nearest hospital or pathology lab wherein they could complete their internship- I had set my heart, mind and soul into securing a position as a visiting student in the prestigious Visiting Students’ Research Programme conducted every summer by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.
This however proved to be easier said than done. The VSRP was only open to exceptionally bright students from MSc, PhD and B.Tech final year. Despairing, to have not even found my stream listed in the eligibility criteria- I frantically searched their website for any avenue via which I could even be allowed to apply for said program. My search yielded results in the form of an email address of the professor who happened to be working on Cell Biology which co-incidentally featured in my list of interests as a Microbiology student. On communicating my interest in his lab and work, the Professor asked me a series of challenging questions about the kind of research I would like to pursue, what kind of scientific techniques I knew to perform and he even gave me a number of papers to read on a popular Cell Biology topic- Apoptosis.
Determined to leave no stone unturned, I turned to my college library, pestered my professors for hints to a few of the trickier problems and read any and all material I could find on the topic, till the questions which earlier seemed to flummox me-now seemed easier to grasp and answer succinctly. I was finally allowed to apply to the VSRP and miraculously, I was one of the 70 odd students chosen from all over India, to be a part of this prestigious and mind-blowing research opportunity. I also happened to be the youngest member chosen for this program, as most of the others chosen were MSc students.
The Programme kicked off in May and was scheduled to run for 2 months. During the course of this internship we were expected to attend a series of invigorating lectures given by some of the best minds in Indian science as well as a few visiting faculty from abroad. In addition to this, we were also assigned projects which had to be completed in assigned laboratories in the same duration. The lecture series was both thought provoking as well as stimulating. It allowed us to question certain “granted” things in the scientific world. The answers to those questions, one might think would be more complicated than the question itself-but it really wasn’t so.
More often than not, the problems posed to us proved so excruciatingly simple, that we were left bemused. The laboratory experience however proved to be one of the most defining and by far the happiest one I have of TIFR and the VSRP. The Cell Biology laboratory had many students who were MSc or Integrated PhD working there and my project happened to be under the guidance of one such student. From teaching me the ropes, to making media for experiments, poring over a complex problem over umpteen cups of chai in the canteen-this student was to help me navigate through these two months of my life. And help he did. I learnt a number of new techniques from the laboratory, which as I realized later-proved tremendously useful in my college’s practicals and theory papers. This combined with a strong knowledge of reading research papers, extracting data, handling and observing images under cutting-edge microscopes in the TIFR laboratories all proved to me one thing- this was what I wanted to do all my life!
Life at TIFR, those two months weren’t only about lectures and lab work. My laboratory mates believed in celebrations during the weekends-being students themselves, we used to enjoy meals at budget restaurants which served large portions without causing people to head for the exit post the arrival of the bill, we went sightseeing and on treks to observe the pattern of stars and/or to simply enjoy the beach with a little bit of beach volleyball. The days zipped by in such a hurry, that I soon began to realise that post July- my interaction with this diverse, multi-talented group of people would cease and I would have to return to the regular humdrum of college life.
The internship for all VSRP students concluded with a written report and a presentation in front of a consortium of departments and their professors. Each professor on the panel was notorious (or so I had been informed via the TIFR grapevine) for asking tricky questions which most people failed to grasp. Fortunately for me however, my lab mates had anticipated a set of tricky questions and had spent most of the previous night grooming and polishing my answers. Additionally, they also lined the back row of the auditorium where the presentations were being conducted to provide moral support!
During the Q/A (question/answer) session however, I was asked a question which I hadn’t been coached on- and knowing my lack of experience in terms of years of research, nobody expected that I would be able to answer it. Thankfully, the answer to the problem lay in a bit of reading I had done prior to getting the internship in the first place- and I was rewarded with a standing ovation once I answered correctly. With the presentations and reports concluded, all the VSRP students posed for a group photo near the picturesque backdrop of the Arabian Sea which lines the TIFR campus. We bid each other a fond farewell and exchanged contact details promising to stay in touch.
The saying which began this story, makes me glad that I chose to persevere and get myself this internship- it ended with me realising that Science need not necessarily be intimidating and no matter how out of reach something looks-with hard work and perseverance, it will pay off soon enough!
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