EPFL – Surbhi Agarwal, TT1

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Application Procedure:

I started the mailing process in September. I wrote about the MCP100, ELL100 and COL100 projects in my CV. In addition, I also mentioned some relevant lab experiments. To add more value to my application, I also got a Letter of Recommendation from one of my professors. I got a positive reply from EPFL after around 60 mails and was accepted without an interview.

Since we don’t do department-specific courses or projects until the third semester, it is fine to explore different avenues and not stick to a particular domain while applying.

About the Internship

My internship was in the field of Analytical Chemistry and was related to synthesis and factorization. The project was based on energy and the batteries we use in our day-to-day lives. It was completely experimental. It involved the synthesis of different Prussian blue analogs and performing electrochemical tests on them (like Cyclic Voltammetry) and deduce if they would be suitable for use in sodium-ion batteries as cathode-active materials. My supervisor was aware of the IITs and shared a good rapport with me. But then he also had his fair share of expectations.

I would say I had a hectic schedule. My hours were 9 to 6:30 and then I would have to devote an hour daily in the night for reading stuff related to my research. In fact, I can’t recollect much from my entire stay there except for the fifteen-minute walk from the laboratory to my room and the refreshing weekends. In Europe, countries are connected just like different states here. So, each weekend we used to pack our bags and head for a different land.

Academic Environment

EPFL offers much more academic liberty than IITs. The studies at EPFL are also much more practical and the research topics are quite relevant. The seemingly simple stuff like X-ray diffraction, which is inaccessible for use by students in our college, was open for use by anybody at EPFL. The professors there were very friendly. Almost all of us were on a first-name basis. In fact, if I addressed any of them by sir, they would give me a stern look and mumble, “Don’t insult me, Surbhi!”.

 

Food & Language:

Adjusting to the culture was a little difficult. The professors in my lab could converse in English, but the locals only spoke French. I felt dumb at times as my communication was restricted to sign language. It becomes difficult to buy food from supermarkets as well since all the ingredients are also written in French. Food was also a big problem. The one word that most aptly describes the food there is – pathetic. I tasted at least twenty types of yoghurt there and that basically formed the bulk of my diet during my stay.

Memorable Experience

I travelled a lot and so there are a lot of fun memories. Once I was travelling from Geneva to Sion by train and on this two-hour journey, there were 20 stations. Since it was difficult to discern whether I’d reached my stop (read: language issues), I would have to step out at every station asking, “Is this Sion? Is this Sion?”. Finally, I stepped onto the place and the scenery there was absolutely breath-taking.

Realizations

Research in EPFL is in many relevant fields, for example, energy. In India, we tend to overtly focus on information technology, ML, computer science and I feel that research in several crucial areas is limited.

In a much lighter vein, I realised my love of Mother India after two months of bad food and language BTs.

Article By: Satwik Pandey

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