I started mailing using my gmail account around September last year and I got a positive reply from my professor around the mid-term break. He liked my CV and had an open position to offer at his lab, so we had a Skype call to know more about me and discuss the work. Soon after, he accepted me officially. I had done DISA during my first year summers under Prof. PVM Rao in the Mechanical Department, but that project was completely unrelated to the field I worked at MIT. Generally, the professors know that second-year students don’t have much experience in the research environment, so they are not really looking for prior experience. If they have a position in their lab which they can offer, they’ll usually get back to you.
I worked on several projects simultaneously. In the beginning, I was building a ‘Near Field Scanning Optical Microscope’, essentially used for gaining insights into sample properties. It has a conducting tip (made of gold) of about ~10 nm radius which hangs over the top of a sample. We can then probe the interaction between the tip and the sample by throwing light on this tip-sample system and then observing the scattered light.
The environment there was very collaborative and I got the chance to explore many areas of optics and quantum systems. My schedule was very hectic. I worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. There weren’t any official hours per se but I was expected to finish all my tasks on time. Regular weekly meetings with the professor helped track my progress and keep up the motivation.
The professors there didn’t focus upon what I didn’t know (which was a lot in my case) . On the contrary, they were focused on what I as an individual *could* bring to the table. I liked this attitude a lot.
Labs at MIT have huge funding, so you can access a lot of experimental setups. During my first week there, I had to use gold tips for scanning a particular material. USD 1000 for just 20 pieces. I broke all of them within a week and was pretty scared, but as it turned out, the professor bought me new ones to work upon the next day itself.
I could not really interact with MIT undergraduates, as there isn’t a big culture of staying back in summers. Though, I got to interact with visiting students and researchers around the world working in various labs there. I also socialised with the Indian students there. During the initial 3 weeks, I lived in an Airbnb as I couldn’t arrange for on-campus accommodation but later I did manage to get one which was a 10 min walking distance from my lab. My roommate was a PhD student, who had completed his BTech from IIT Kharagpur.
Unfortunately, I could not travel much out of the Boston area due to my hectic schedule. I did visit some museums, went whale watching in the pacific ocean, attended a John Mayer concert at Brown University. I also struggled a lot with food as I couldn’t cook and American food was too bland for my taste. Thus, I used to eat out a lot. The MIT area did offer a lot of good options for food.
This internship helped me gain some insight into my interests. Earlier, I was more interested in the theoretical side of Physics, but I’m more interested in the experimental part of it now. Optics and Condensed Matter have become my favourite areas.
I also developed a lot of contacts in universities like Tsinghua and Peking in China and TU Delft in the Netherlands (and in MIT of course).
Advice for applicants:
Start mailing early (after minor 2 at the very least). Don’t write a very generic email, do some research about the group and the professor before writing to them. Also, try to be on the lookout for young profs, they usually have opportunities to offer.
Article By: Sakshi Mirge