“Art of trying things outside of your comfort zone” – Intern Diary – Universite de Montreal, Canada – Harshita Khurana

“What a beautiful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet” – Anne Frank

Hi, My name is Harshita Khurana, a final year Masters Student. I am here to share with you an experience I gained that definitely has a big share in some of the best days of my life. Well, it has been almost a year since my Summer Internship at Universite de Montreal, Canada and I am feeling pretty nostalgic as I pen this down.

Bagging the internship:

I got this internship offer through the PT cell. Being the internship Coordinator myself, I had this responsibility of ensuring that the selection process is fair. I tried to keep the whole process as transparent as possible. I was a little nervous before the interview since I did not have prior research experience to talk about. Contrary to my expectations, the interview was quite simple and smooth. It felt as if I was having a usual conversation with the Professor. The questions were quite generic in nature. The internship offer was made to two students in insti, including me.

Getting the Visa:

Since the offer was made in March, the whole process of getting a visa had to be a hush hush affair for me. None of the seniors I knew, had visited UdeM in the past 3-4 years. Being a part of PT cell, I was helped by my team members in getting the details sorted. Korak Ray, an alumnus of our Department, had been an intern in the same lab as mine. He is currently studying in New York, but responded to every little query of mine ( on messenger) as quickly as he could. I filed a Visitors Visa under the Global Skill Strategy 120 days work permit exemption for researchers. I got my visa about a month after filing the application. I am grateful to him and every other person who lent a helping hand during that time.

My work as a Research Intern:

I worked in the Bio-Sensors Group under Prof. Jean Francois Masson. JF, as people fondly call him, is one of the most inspirational and good-hearted people I have ever come across. French is the official language in Montreal and the mother tongue of most people working in UdeM. JF went an extra mile to ensure inclusiveness for all English-speaking members of the Research group. My project centered around building a machine learning model in order to separate active and inactive Raman Spectra of drug molecules. Though I had a little bit of coding experience, Python and Machine Learning were new for me. For the first 20 days, I simply went through online courses and learned the fundamentals. Then came the most interesting part, I developed a code to integrate data preprocessing with a machine learning code. All the members of the research group were very encouraging and helped me out whenever I got stuck.

                   –                              

The Academic Building of UdeM

Research Culture: UdeM versus Insti

Researchers in UdeM work in a stress-free environment They come into the lab and leave according to their own convenience. Most importantly, everyone really enjoys what they are doing which is not the case with a majority of research scholars in Insti. Each lab has its own facilities, and the concept of a central facility doesn’t exist there (perhaps due to the extensive research funding available).

With the SPR – Biosensor Research Group

Settling in the city:

Being a Punjabi, I have a lot of relatives living in Canada 😛 . Getting an internship there is one of the best coincidences that I could ever think of. Imagine going to a country for the first time, and someone waiting for you at the Toronto airport with a car to carry all of your 50 kgs luggage and you!! And then you are welcomed to a cozy house with homemade Rajma Chawal and Jeera Aloo. Yes, that’s exactly how we started in Canada. Montreal is 8 hours drive from Toronto. We had already rented an accommodation through a website called Montreal Craigslist. 

Pro-tip: Look for a Subleased accommodation if you want an economic one. 

If you are going to Canada for an internship, you need not carry any frozen or essential items with you from India. Every single thing is available quite easily there (Thanks to the large Indian diaspora there!!). If you are not interested in cooking yourself, even then, there are plenty of Indian Restaurants serving food at affordable prices. You can grab a Cappuccino from Tim Hortons (the “Chai ki Tapri” of Canada) in just 2$ and kickstart your day. In fact, I had the most delish Paneer Tikka in Montreal. 

Poutine (French fries topped with sauces) is the national dish of Canada and it became one of my comfort foods. So, if you are a foodie, you are definitely going to have a delectable time in Canada. There is one difficulty, though, that I faced in Montreal. Since French is the official language, many a time, bilingual information was not available at a lot of places. This led to messy situations sometimes, but nevertheless, Google translate came to my rescue.

 Notre- Dame Basilica in Montreal (A symbol of Ancient French Architecture)

Daily Schedule:

Though I am not an early riser,  I used to wake up early in Montreal. 5 minutes walk from my place, there was a serene Lachine canal which was enough motivation for me to rise up early. Since my lab hours were flexible, I used to spend a good amount of time there, every morning. After coming back and doing the usual chores, I used to board a metro and reach the lab around 10: 30 A.M. I could take a break whenever I felt like that. The night life was quite lit too. Though I only got a chance to enjoy that during weekends.

Lachine Canal, serene place where I spent most of my mornings in Montreal

Montreal is a beautiful island city with a lot of tourist attractions. It is an amalgamation of Ancient Europe and present day North America. Weekends were all about leisure and exploring Montreal. My PI and lab mates kept giving me suggestions for weekend getaways. Be it the breathtaking view from Mount Royal or a ride in the tallest Ferris wheel of Canada, every weekend brought a surreal experience for me. I accidentally ran into my schoolmate while walking in the University Campus one day, yet another coincidence! He told me that he was an intern in the Computer Science Department of UdeM and had a group of Indian friends. We planned for an exhilarating Rafting Expedition in the St. Lawrence River and paddled the Lachine Rapids. We also witnessed the vivid Montreal Firework festival together which takes place at the Old Port of Montreal every year. Since my relatives resided in Toronto, they showed me around the colossal city. The city is a perfect example of development in harmony with nature. I got a chance to visit the CN Tower (the signature icon of Toronto’s skyline), Lake Ontario and the magnificent Niagara Falls.

With my co – intern and other Friends after Rafting in Montreal

   

Captivating beauty that is Niagara Falls

My infatuation for Canada

I have observed the people of Canada and realised that they are extremely polite and humble. Even strangers will smile and wave their hand to you which brightens up your day. From the research point of view, my biggest learning is the “Art of Googling”. This term might sound a little weird but this is something that I learnt from my labmates in Montreal. Python and Machine Learning were new for me and I used to be stuck every now and then. Vincent and Ben, my labmates, actually taught me how to find the right information on the Internet, debug the code and troubleshoot on my own. This is a skill which I have tried to imbibe in myself since the internship. JF, my guide, is an extremely organized person. I learnt the art of using post-it notes for productivity from him. These are small but very profound things that this internship has taught me. And more than anything else, at every step of the process, I got to meet incredible people who have left an indelible impression on me in some way or the other.

I’m incredibly grateful having been given this opportunity.

The skyline of Montreal viewed from Mount Royal

Feel free to reach out to me 

Beaucoup d’amour au Canada

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