I’m Midhun Unnikrishnan, a fourth year Engineering Physics student from Pampa. I spend most of my free time with young Naval Architects who tell me I am fated to become a Physics TA, but I assure the reader that this is not so – we also steal Electrical core jobs, and we’re getting increasingly efficient at it. On the side, I play chess, and write for fun.
IIT-M undergrads know that those intending to apply for higher studies could do with good recommendations and a research paper or two to his/her credit. This is probably why the institute sees such a large number of students applying for summer projects under professors at IISc, TIFR and similar institutions all over India.
How does it help?
A summer project at IISc helps you understand what a research career or a PhD will be like. For many students, this is the first opportunity to work with research scholars and professors on open problems, and depending on the project, you could handle very sophisticated instruments as part of your work, if that appeals to you. One obvious advantage is that your project mentor is usually the man who ends up giving you valuable recommendation letters during the painstaking process of applying for higher studies.
Another perk, perhaps for those who work hard, is the possibility of producing publications. IISc has its own scientific journal, but depending on your work you can also publish conference papers or in some situations make patents. There are many factors that go into this – your department, your professor, and most importantly, the topic that you work on.
What kind of subjects do I work with?
My own internship was in the Instrumentation department and involved thin films – it was a hands on and purely experimental subject, and over two months I found it fun, engaging and rewarding. The institute-wide atmosphere of lethargic research scholars aside, there are many areas such as this where one can find a good project. However, one may also end up grinding pellets with a pestle and mortar, or making powerpoint presentations regarding finished work, even if the project title says Nanotechnology. There is luck involved.
A fraction of internships (at IISc, at least) involves the monotonous and sometimes fruitless labour of coding. There is no dearth of demand for students who are acquainted with MATLAB and C/Fortran, but be warned – some of these projects lose contact with science and become a two-month exercise for your fingers. That said, there are many coding projects that lead to publications or novel results (latter implies former, but not vice versa) and a strong introduction to important computational methods.
Theoretical Physics/Material Science projects can be challenging enterprises, but benefits students who intend to apply for higher studies in this area. There is also a good Biotech presence in the campus for interested students, and the Electrical/ECE projects are quite popular amongst the Dual Degrees of the Electrical Engineering department, with excellent research in both theoretical and applied areas.
Experimental topics are also available in the Physics, Materials Science and Instrumentation departments, among others. I speak only for myself, but one tends to find that work at IISc progresses at snails pace. Experimental facilities are often booked for three weeks in advance. Professors are either quite busy, or like walking around, because they are seldom found in their own offices.
How to get through?
There is always the option of writing mails to individual professors, like I did, but this will leave you with little or no stipend, and is not recommended for those interested in at least getting their stay in Bengaluru funded. Two programs worthy of mention in this regard are IAS (Indian Academy of Sciences) fellowship and JNCASR (too painful to expand) fellowship, which you could apply to roughly during November/December.
They will require recommendations, but once you are selected, you will receive accommodations as well as stipends of upto Rs.8,000 per month, although a position in IISc Bengaluru specifically is not assured. TIFR Bombay has its own prestigious Fellowship program, highly desirable for students of pure science.
In case you do not end up with any of the programs mentioned above you may have to find your own accommodations. For IISc, there are paying guest accommodations in the vicinity. The institute is well connected by bus. IISc has a good canteen and messes but Bengaluru, especially the nearby Malleswaram, is noted for its fantastic South Indian restaurants. In the unlikely event that you are stressed out by the days work, a walk through the picturesque `campus is always enjoyable, as is a visit to the nearby Sankey Tank.