A tale of two Internships- Valay Agarawal

I’m aware of the struggle instizens go through to secure their third-year internships but allow me to flex here. I, on the other hand, undertook 2 internships in my 3rd-year summer. One of the internships was to start late due to the  restrictions of the host university, and so I had the perfect window of about 45 days from the end of End Sems till the starting of my second internship 

A little about my first internships, It was at Homi Bhabha Center for Science Education (HBCSE), Mumbai.

Process of securing the internships and experience:

Internship 1: Since I was an olympiad medalist during high school and had visited HBCSE earlier as well, I had built up great contacts there. 

After graduating from high school, I have worked during vacation ( 1st-year winter and summers, 2nd-year winter and summers) and as a result, securing an internship was not very difficult.  

In the past I have worked on a project about the history of chemistry through a Program called National Initiative in Undergraduate Science(NIUS), that takes 1st year Science students for projects in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. After that, I have also worked during my 3rd Year winters at HBCSE for another program about chemistry education.

During this particular internship, I worked there as the lab expert for the selection camp of the Indian Team for the 51st International Chemistry Olympiad to be held in Paris, France. It was a great experience being on the other side of the table after being a part of the camp and Indian team in 2016. 

My daily schedule there usually included about 10 hours of work and simultaneously I was also working on another project related to the history of chemistry, so it was indeed a packed schedule for me. Fortunately, I did not have to cook there which saved a lot of trouble. 

My work was to standardize experiments and to look over the conduction of experiments for over 40 students with a team of 7 other people. This work had absolutely no margin of error since it was evaluative and one mistake from my side could affect the chances of students making it through. Fortunately, there were no mishaps on the work side at least. 

My biggest takeaways from this internship:

  1. Understanding the design of an experiment.
  2. Standardizing an experiment, and understanding what could go wrong, which I tell you is a huge list for even a simple titration.
  3. How to handle lab accidents.
  4. Being careful about the presence in the lab and take care of the students safety and work environment. 

Internship 2: Since I worked under Prof. Kaliappan in IITB for more than a year, and to my delight, he offered me an opportunity to go to Chicago to work with his colleague, Prof Scott Snyder there. It saved me a whole lot of other processes of applications for various other programs 

It wasn’t very difficult to obtain a visa for me. I was anxious about it sometimes, but not difficult. It was indeed expensive and did require extensive paperwork, but again not difficult. 

The University of Chicago ranks in the top 10 universities of the world and certainly stands true to its name. A very strong research culture and great research facilities make it a great university to work. 

I worked on the total synthesis of a natural product called Manginoid A. My daily schedule was pretty hectic, usually got in about 10-14 hours a day for 6 days a week (The supervisor did not ask that much time, but I still worked because I loved the work). Sundays were either for relaxing or solo visits around the city, especially its historic museums. 

I started to learn how to cook. However, not a lot of cooking was involved, since breakfast was usually cereal, and usually got something packed for dinner. But my flatmates were really nice, and they taught me some of the dishes. I think to live in a culturally diverse background was a big takeaway for me. Among the flatmates, there were Polish, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and American citizens. I spent a lot of time on the lake that was about a 20-minute walk from my home on weekends. 

Valay along with his flatmates

Regarding Chicago: It’s a culturally and historically rich place. With the famous museums along with high-rises, it’s a homogenous mixture of culture and technological progress. It has also been a historically important place of religious importance with the 1893 Parliament of World’s Religion being held here. Although I must mention that Chicago is not very safe in terms of crime, but the campus itself is much safer with its own police. 

My message to juniors looking for a good research intern is to work with a prof on campus and pester them for a good intern. It saves you a lot of work and will help you in driving further ahead for your career.

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