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Chinmay Sankhe is a 2nd year Undergraduate pursuing a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering.
I am Chinmay from Chemical Engineering Department. I have completed my second year and currently doing my internship at Mechanobiology Institute(MBI), National University of Singapore.
It’s been a memorable six weeks for me, staying in this wonderful country-city Singapore, following strict traffic rules every day, getting a first-hand exposure to research and to roam around this beautiful city.
Well, I have to admit that it is quite difficult for a sophomore to crack a good university intern. Only 2-3 universities opened for chemical students through PT cell and that was around late January. Earlier itself, I had made up my mind to put in effort for apping and even though my CPI was not that good I had done a project in my freshie year summers which I used as background for apping. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to send the normal 500 mails like it is usually described. Having sent out around 35 mails, I got 3-4 positive responses. The problems that you might face are:
Most of the time you won’t get replies from the professor and you may reach a saturation point. So it’s important to have patience while apping. Even if you do get a reply it may not be a positive one. The professor can write you two types of mail saying, ‘I am happy that you have shown interest in my research and I am glad that you want to work in our lab but we have no vacancy this year. You can write to me next year.’ or straightaway say no.
About 10% of the time, you will get a positive reply. Again there can be two scenarios here: First, the professor will give you required funds to cover your travel and accommodation or can give you a monthly stipend. Even if the stipend is less you should surely go. Second, the professor doesn’t have any funds and so you have to cover your entire journey from travel, food and accommodation all by yourself. In this case, you can request the professor for partial funding. If you are able to gather the required funds and you think you can get the best research opportunity of your life, you should consider going.
In my case, I received 3 positive replies from professors but had no funding. I had thought of funding myself as they were amongst the world’s best universities. Obviously, it proved to be too costly and so I had to discard those options. Luckily for me, I received a positive reply in mid-October from Mechanobiology Institute (MBI) and they were giving me a monthly stipend as well. My stipend was enough to cover my food and accommodation. In Singapore, you need to have a TEP form which requires some documents to submit and my visa procedures were completed by early February.
The labs where I got to work on various new equipment are high-tech and provide a very good environment for research. My project was to study the regulatory pathways in Salmonella Typhimurium and the role of silencing and anti-silencing of certain genes. I chose to do the experimental part, as it gives better vision and the computational part becomes easy. Prior to this, I had never handled biological samples so it was a bit difficult for me in the initial stages. But my guide was extremely helpful and she helped me practice simple lab methods like pipetting, test-tube labelling, sample labelling and so on. Once I was confident enough I started doing my experiments individually. Since she was from India, it made communication all the more easier. Our lab had postgrads from India, Japan, Singapore and China and my PI was from US. All of them helped me clear my silly doubts. The lab had lots of interesting inventory which I was surprised to see at first, a black room and a -80 degrees fridge to name a few.
The scheduling of experiments decided our lab timings but I used to enjoy working in the lab so I used to work from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. We also had usual lab meetings, where I got to know various new research that is being carried out.
Life in Singapore:
Food: Food is not a big problem here and you can get various Indian dishes here. Though the food is a bit costly, it is indeed quite delicious. Also, NUS has lots of food courts and canteens with Indian food stalls having both veg and non-veg options.
Transport: Here in Singapore traffic is the only reason that you can give for being late to work. There are public buses plying every 5 minutes and they are a lot cheaper than other transport. There’s also MRT (like the metro in India) which is also a good option. Taxis are costly and are only used when you need to travel somewhere far away. Singapore is a brilliant example of how people and even drivers follow traffic rules. Lane driving, zebra-crossing, vehicles waiting behind the yellow line while the signal is red, all such things are followed very strictly here.
Place: Well, you will only see a small red dot of Singapore on the world map. Yes, it’s that small. You can safely say that the main island is almost the same size as Mumbai. It is a very beautiful city and the first thing I noticed was that the entire city was really clean unlike our cities. Places like Merlion Park, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Zoo, Clark Quay, Little India, Chinatown attract a lot of tourists and you will always find a huge crowd there. There is Sentosa Island which has attractions like Universal Studios, 4D adventure Park, S.E.A Aquarium, Madame Tussauds and a lot more. There are lot of entertainment options here which one can enjoy during weekends.
Besides all the fun, learning the laws of a different country, interacting with people from around the world were some of the other things that I got to learn. This internship also gave me a chance to get myself acquainted with the life and culture in Singapore. Overall, It was a wonderful and a satisfying experience.