Chinese University of Hong Kong – Bhargav Varshney, ME1

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Application Procedure:

I started mailing early from September but I got no replies for a long time. So, like any normal student, I got disheartened. The professors barely replied, and even if they did, they refused. Either they didn’t have any positions available, or they were short of sufficient funds. Around December, my dad got my passport made. Now the passport was there, so I realized I had to up my mailing game. I started mailing again in January, and it was in mid-February when I got a response for a Skype call. I got the internship two days later.

Initially, I used to customize each cover letter. I first read the research papers of each professor I liked, and then mentioned them in the cover letter. I did this in the beginning and this yielded no results. Eventually, out of sheer frustration, I wrote a common cover letter for each professor. Instead of targeting specific professors, I bulk mailed. People told me that students in Mechanical Engineering generally get internships in East Asian countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. The truth is – American professors are spammed by thousands of Indian students, asking for research opportunities on mail. This makes getting an internship there tremendously difficult.

Fortunately, I got an internship under a professor whose research work I liked. I was a part of the Robotics club. So, I had kept its projects at the top of my CV.  I mentioned my technical skills, languages and IDEs I had learned during my Robotics stint.

The Internship:

Just a bit of background – there are two kinds of robots – cable and serial. The professors there already had a MATLAB interface for running a cable robot. My work was focused on serial-based robots.

My first objective was to make an 8 with the robotic arm at varying speeds. My second objective was to shorten the script, running the robot using OOP. For the serial robot, they were writing everything in one script. My job was to make the script more concise. They ordered an X-52 arm for me on which I conducted my experiments.

The laboratories were clean but congested. I was accompanied by a friend from IITD and another guy from IIT Ropar. They just cleared up a table for the three of us to work. We didn’t have any separate space, but we managed well and were quite comfortable. My professor and the team were also a part of a first-of-its-kind construction conference.

About Hong Kong:

People in Hong Kong are very polite. They entertained even my slightest of queries – whether it be which software to use, “Where’s the screwdriver?”or Wifi issues. I could ask for help from any of the research staff, even the professor himself. The one-to-one interactions with professors were amazing. It was a stress-free environment for research.

The only minus point during my stay in Hong Kong was the food. I made breakfast and dinner, but for lunch, I relied on the laboratory staff. They helped find vegetarian options that I could have. Still, the options were quite poor.

We also faced language issues (in the university cafeteria itself). People there are well-educated, but that doesn’t imply they know English well. It was up to one of the staff members to translate our English messages to Cantonese in the cafeteria. At other places, like convenience stores, Google translate came handy, so that wasn’t a major problem.

I lived in a society called Festival City. Since the three of us were students, we got the apartment for cheap. The society was well managed and was top-notch, amenity wise. We had a comfortable stay there, and I would recommend any student visiting Hong Kong to check that place out.

Places I visited:

Hong Kong has an assortment of places to visit. They have the Ocean Park, which is gigantic and quite impossible to explore in a single day. I also visited Llama Island and a lot of other places. The weekends were thus really enjoyable. Having said that, my in-week schedule wasn’t hectic, so I relished my working hours too.

Takeaways:

I realized research isn’t my cup of tea. Doing research is beneficial if you are interested in discovering new stuff. A lot of people have that. But you also have to ask whether you can work 12 hours a day for 2 months, only to meet a dead end. Research requires the ability to overcome failures and strive for years to get a single research paper published.

Message for applicants:

For people aiming for research internships – don’t stop mailing. You might feel exhausted, but don’t stop. It is ideal to start in September, but even if you haven’t begun till January, don’t lose heart. I do not know a person who kept mailing until April and didn’t get a research internship.

Also, the environment abroad is really conducive for research and your interest in research may develop in these fertile grounds, so I would highly recommend going on a research internship abroad.

Article By: Satwik Pandey

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