Koushani Das

Koushani Das
Koushani Das, an undergraduate student in the​ Department of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering from the Y15 batch walks us through her journey in the field of research at IITK and abroad. She did her summer internship from the Ruhr University of Bochum, Germany. This blog gives insights of the application procedure and internship experiences that she had.

After completing a Bachelors of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering from IITK, I have come to an utmost conclusion that research demands sheer dedication and immense passion. Just like every other bewildered sophomore, I headed towards research with a mindset to fill up quality content for my resume! In this span of 4 years, I managed to have done an internship with Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), a BIRAC funded project, academic internship in Germany and finally mentored an IGEM project held at Hynes Convention Center, Boston.

Well, it still takes a minute for me to fathom how I traversed from one opportunity to another, mostly due to a sudden developed interest in research with due course of time. So, in this article I am going to present a step by step personal experience of what attracted me to research, major hurdles faced and how to overcome those. And just like people say “BSBE main koi future nahi hai” trust me it’s just a gibberish comment.

So, right from my third semester of study, I joined Prof. Saravanan Matheshwaran’s lab and since then I got introduced to Gel electrophoresis, culturing of bacteria, streaking on a culture plate and the whole scenario of diligently working in a lab. These advanced techniques fascinated me and soon after that I applied to CDRI- CSIR labs where I got noticed by Dr. Sukant Khurana who willingly offered me a project covering neurological disorders including Parkinson’s project. I worked under his guidance for over a year where we shared weekly Skype calls discussing my progress and eventually my formulated articles were published in his journal. Immediately, after my fifth semester, our HOD sent a mail across the department for participation in a BIRAC funded project in Ahmedabad. So, I received an opportunity to spend the winters in Gujarat, where I got exposed to lab techniques like spectroscopy, HPLC, TLC, various extraction methods and fortunately I was awarded the BIRAC grant to continue the project in IITK.

Simultaneously, my main intention was to secure a descent academic internship during third year summers and hence I paid particular attention towards strengthening my lab skills prior to any international exposure. Technically, securing an academic internship abroad is stated as ‘luck dependent’ or ‘very high CPI requirement’. But, neither did I have a very high CPI nor was I extremely lucky! Hence, I did put sufficient effort into formatting my resume, motivation letter (listed down my accomplishments and future goals honestly) and also recommendation letters (It’s pretty easy to obtain recommendation letters from department of BSBE!). Moreover, I started preparing my resume during second year summers with immense help and advice from seniors. Trust me, securing a descent international internship completely lies in your resume, how you build it up strategically that will surely capture the eyes of your employer (often a well-established research experience sparkles more than your CPI!). So right from the beginning of fifth semester, I jotted down various institute and related professors that complemented with my specific research interest (I was sure of not sitting for internship season). Since, applying off program is a very tedious job (people send 40 mails and get back 2 or 3 replies, mostly self-funded), I majorly focused on a fully funded internship that would suffice my stay abroad. Moreover, travelling has always been a matter of interest hence a foreign internship would suffice both of my clauses – enrichment of knowledge as well as exploring cultural diversity!

“Rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success”. The fear of rejection is one of the key elements to any foreign internship. Hence, dealing with it, I got rejected from some of the very prominent programs, but without losing hope and seeing my friends securing high paid company internships, I strictly focused on my research application. Eventually, I came across an exchange program known as IAESTE (International Association of Exchange Students Technical Experience) India, which basically enabled exchange of students who aimed at pursuing technical experience abroad. Hence, I applied to this program and filled out my preference for Dr. Leichert of Ruhr University of Bochum, Germany. This university was supposedly established in 1962 and the very first public university in Germany after World War II. Hence in February 2018, I got accepted to this university since the professor was impressed by my resume and thought it was ‘quite detailed and long’ unlike that of German resumes! The professor was very student friendly and he offered me with DAAD scholarship which covered my entire expenditure along with extra fund for travelling across Europe! The best things definitely occur unexpectedly. My three months of stay in Europe couldn’t have been more exhilarating.

Eventually, I was guided by a German student representative who looked after my stay, provided me with work visa, and also with other essentials. Since I was the youngest in lab, my colleagues were extremely affectionate, taught me lab ethics from scratch and made me feel like home. My lab mates along with the professor would have lunch together and we had our weekly hangouts. My research was specifically based on Biochemistry where I performed protein purification and studied the effect of the purified proteins on Hypochlorous acid mimicking the condition of an infected human. Apart from my nine to five job, I managed to travel across Germany, Netherlands, France and Switzerland (my professor had a huge role in planning my trips!). In total, I had accomplished an enriched experience both culturally as well as academically.

The department of BSBE also provides Summer Innovation Award (Joy and Manmohan Gill Endowment Fund) to students who complete quality internship during their third-year summers in academia as well as in company. I would like to thank my professor immensely for his cooperative support due to which I also managed to receive the First prize in Summer Innovation Award’2018 organized by the department of BSBE.

Four years at IIT Kanpur was full of surprises when I expected the least. And just like Einstein said “Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new”, hence irrespective of what people say, focus on yourself and what you believe in. Stay alert about the programs, its deadline and start early as possible. The first thing to keep in mind is to have a research interest before aiming for any foreign internship, a lot of patience and belief in oneself!