I started mailing in November. I looked for professors in foreign universities doing textile-related research. Since I had been working on a semester-long project involving both textiles and electronics, I specifically searched for professors who could offer me an opportunity in such domains. After getting a reply on email, I had an interview on Skype, based on which I was selected. I received 2-3 other offers as well, but I chose this one because I found this professor’s research work more intriguing. My experience in robotics might have helped me clinch this internship.
Boston University offers a lot of academic freedom. My professor never put me under any pressure or asked me to work in a project not related to my interests. In fact, there were a lot of Ph.D. students working under my professor on different projects, and it was completely my choice which one I wished to assist. I worked with two Ph.D. scholars. One of them was working on signal processing; focusing on signal filtering and noise reduction. Our job was to process signals generated by the movement of wearable sensors, like accelerometers and gyroscopes. The other project was longer; related to autonomous systems like self-driving cars.
Work Culture and Schedule:
The general infrastructure of Boston university is way above any Indian university despite being overshadowed by neighbouring giants like MIT and Harvard. People there have a much more professional outlook towards their work. They have a better work ethic and often go out of their ways to help others. My schedule there was fairly relaxed. There were no strict timings, and I could work anytime I wished in the labs. Also, I was allowed to take leaves for genuine reasons. I lived in an apartment nearby to the university. My day began at 8 in the morning, and typically there was no fixed time end time. Sometimes I used to wind up by 2, while on other days I stayed on till 8.
The place was socially quite heterogeneous. Besides Indians, I met people from Nepal, Bangladesh, and China. I found people there were way too isolated than we Indians back here. Maybe that is why they do their best to make friends. They were extremely cordial. A lot of times it happened that on my way back to my apartment, people would pull up their cars on the road to offer me a lift. People there smile and greet strangers on the streets.
Places I Visited:
I spent each weekend covering new places. I visited MIT and Harvard University. Along with that, I went kayaking, paid visits to Niagara Falls, and the famous beaches of Rhode Islands.
Language and Food:
Thankfully, there is no language problem in the US. But the food was big trouble there. They have bland dishes, with little to no spices. Also, being a vegetarian, I had limited options there. At that point, I began pining for mess food (research internships can be hard :p). I finally made peace with tortillas as an alternative to chapatis. Initially, after settling in the new environment, I thought ten weeks would be very less, especially when the place began to grow on me. But by the eighth week, all my excitement had drained, and I wanted to return as early as possible. I couldn’t tolerate the dull food and the atmosphere of solitude there.
My visit to Times Square was memorable. The square was jam-packed with people, and it had traffic lights that changed quickly. So, when the light turned red, we rushed in front of the cars and clicked photographs while jumping.
Also, I went to a summer picnic with the lab staff, where we played cricket. In fact, playing cricket became a regular affair. We would spend 3 out of 7 days a week, playing cricket in the evening. The Indians living there arranged the bats for us. The locals had never even heard of the sport. I did try to make some of them play along with us but they found it similar to baseball, only a lot boring and slow.
In the end, I felt I could have contributed much more to the project than I did. It was a long project, and nobody could have completed it in just ten weeks. But now I think of the things I could have worked upon, only if I had a few more weeks to spare.
I wish students here can have more flexibility in pursuing their interests and ideas, irrespective of their departments. For example, I met people there working in the field of textiles despite being from departments like electrical, computer science, and biotechnology. They did so purely out of interest and because the system rendered them the necessary academic liberty. Promoting inter-disciplinary research is the need of the hour for Indian universities.
Article By: Satwik Pandey