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Summer 2018

Summer Diaries: NTU Singapore

July 17, 2018
- Kalp Garg

Making it there

At the start of internship season, which generally kicks off as soon as summer vacation ends, I was pretty sure that I will not be going to any coding companies and was unsure about spending my next summers in some core company or in some university. Keeping that in mind, I start preparing for two main core companies which came to our college i.e Texas Instruments and Qualcomm. I got selected for interview round for both companies but finally didn’t make it up to any of them either. I can write a separate blog post regarding that context but it is better if you heard/read from the guy who got selected because I am here to tell an altogether different story of a ‘research internship’.

There are many different foreign internship programs that provide funding and research opportunities in different universities across the world. Some of them are Mitacs, DAAD, SN Bose, Viterbi, NTU India Connect, RISS, Charpak, SURF, etc. Discussion with seniors and friends let me acquaint with their procedure and selection criteria. This is a list of only common and usually known programs. Many universities have their own programs for summer research internships. Generally, there are two ways of getting an internship, one to apply through the program and other to directly mail professor. Latter one is tedious and becomes more time consuming if you want funds from the professor for your internship. How to decide whether you directly mail professor or apply through the program? Some program like DAAD have minimum CGPA criteria of 8.5, so they gave you the direct answer but almost in every program selection, ‘CGPA’ is an important criterion for selection. So if you have an average or low CGPA, start working on your SOP, CV, cover email right from the start of August or even start of your 3-1 semester. It will give you a head start and obviously more time. Also, there are great chances of a professor of reading and accepting your proposal as the year progresses, their inbox is filled with such emails and they fed up with them.

The procedure of NTU India Connect is pretty simple and straight-forward. You will require Recommendation Letter from two professors of the home university, passport scanned copy, Curriculum Vitae, NOC from home university, transcripts. There are no minimum CGPA criteria in this program. Your selection in the program mainly depends upon your previous project/experience and its relevance in your applied project. After getting selected, you don’t need to go anywhere for your VISA. Instead for the 3-month stay in Singapore, you can apply for the TEP (Training Employment Pass). You need to submit an application for TEP to NTU office which they will forward to the Ministry of Manpower (MoM). After visiting at NTU, however, you need to visit Employment Pass Service centre to complete the process.

Everyone who applied through program receive accommodation in the same hostel/hall. Moreover, you will easily find Indian food and Indian people everywhere inside or outside the campus. I have many pure vegetarian friends there who ate outside almost every day. Since there is no mess system inside NTU, but there is pantry room with Induction and Microwaves in every block of Hall, so you can cook your own food. I did carry frying pan and some other utensils, along with pulses, rice, and some ready to eat packaged food. Also, it is better if you take some cash currency and rest currency in your forex card as some online private forex companies like buyforex, bookmyforex etc. give better options and services as well as competitive exchange rates. You don’t need bank account there as all reimbursements and stipend are given into cheque can be directly converted to cash through “FRANK by OCBC” located into North Spine, NTU. The language here isn’t a barrier, as every people here talks and understand English. Since Singapore has 4-5 official languages so if you’re Tamil speaker, even then you will be able to perform your official tasks since it is also one of the official languages, that’s how secular this country is.

Work

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My research work is in the field of robotics and vision. A USV (unmanned surface vehicle) is being developed by the team led by my Prof for the Maritime RobotX Challenge which held after every 2 years and is a joint project by NTU and Rolls Royce Lab. Initially, I was told by my Prof to study and analyze the work that has been done in the vessel. My work is related to its vision and I have assigned the task of developing vision modules in ROS (Robot Operating System) according to the need of competition. During that time, an enhanced visual sense for colour learning and recognition is being developed by me and Prof and I implemented this algorithm as a separate ROS node so that it is modular and others can also easily use this to develop their own robotics project. To properly analyze its functionality, an interactive GUI is also being made in ROS itself. As per the number of interns under prof is concerned, two is from NTU India connect program (including me) and two are from GRI (Global Research Internship) program. All of us are working on the same vehicle with different work assigned to each of us.
The work culture here is completely different from India. Students and professors are dedicated to work and research, self-study is the main focus of students. The study and research go side by side and there are many places to go and do your work quietly and peacefully. Apart from work, NTU has a very beautiful, dynamic and evergreen campus as its also among the 10 most photogenic universities in the world according to QS (Quacquarelli Symonds).

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Apart from hostel room, there are many places to work and sit quietly at NTU, one such was iconic building “The Hive” as shown in above figure.

Exploring Country

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To travel and explore new things, these are perks that a foreign intern gets and usually, it becomes the most interesting part during his/her tenure. When I landed on the first time in Singapore, my first stop is Changi Airport and I’m awestruck after seeing the interior of the airport. It is so beautiful and well maintained as per its reputation as the best airport in the world. The country is impressively clean, the environment is fresh and information boards are placed everywhere so you don’t require to ask for small things. Even if you ask directions from someone, the people here are so friendly and humble that you will feel good after talking to them for sometime. Every service counter has a candy box before them and person sitting there greets you with “Hey!! Good morning/afternoon” and then they converse politely and are avidly ready to help you out. Saying “thanks” after getting help/service from someone is in their culture that can lift a melancholic person’s spirits. Male Singaporean/Permanent Residents (second generation) here have to do 2 years of compulsory service in the army/police after the age of 18. So this makes them disciplined and at the same time fit. In my two months, I could barely see an obese Singaporean. Office hours here are from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, which they follow diligently and they used to eat dinner early and sleep early, which is the thing that I don’t like personally as you will not be able to find any late night food court inside the campus. Also, they don’t work on weekends and spend quality time with the families and friends in the garden/beach, do shopping, and other recreational activities. I got to learn so much from them.

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Since Singapore is an island state, there are many things to watch and explore there. Some of them like Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, Sentosa Island, Pulau Ubin, Macritchie trail walk are must-see places in Singapore. Universal Studios is also present at Sentosa which is the most attractive place to visit. Since it is not able to completely explore it in a single day, we take 6-month student pass and visited Universal Studios for 4 different days. Since Singapore has a very well connected network of metros and buses, you can reach anywhere using them and the good part is that total travelling cost from one place to another remains same irrespective of you taking the bus or the metro or a combination of both. Talking about buses and trains, they are as good as one thought it could be. They are completely clean, fully air-conditioned. In fact, many buses are double-decker so it feels different sitting on the second deck at front of the bus. Generally, public transport isn’t filled with people talking to loudly, creating a conducive environment to work to take a nap.

If you’re done up with travel in Singapore then you can go to nearby countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines etc. Since most near is Malaysia and Indonesia, you can travel without having to spend too much.
We used to travel during weekends as you don’t have to worry about work.
Although you will find Indian food there, it’s taste is not up to the mark as in India. I did really miss this very much from back home. And you can’t eat their food as it is tasteless. Only thing I like about their food is fruits, juices and milo. Since agriculture in Singapore is completely absent, all fruits and vegetables are imported. You get to taste fruit from different countries. I ate Egypt’s honey mangoes, blueberries, red grapes of Australia, New Zealand’s kiwis, Philippines’s and Thailand’s Bananas, USA’s strawberries, cherries etc. Also “Durian” which is south-east Asia grown fruit also known as “king of fruits” and has a very potent smell.
Usually, rain occurs almost after 2-3 days, so the weather is very pleasant. The frightening part of rain is lightning which sounds very harsh and strong. The average temperature is around 25-30 degree Celsius. There is no need to carry warm wear.

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Summing Up

If you’re interested in a research internship, strike first and strike hard. Start preparing your CVs, LORs, SOPs, etc. and start mailing professors at mid or end of August. Put effort into writing your SOP and cover email. Keep your passport ready. This was my first-hand experience of foreign travel and research internship. You will learn a completely different perspective on the level of research going on across the world. As a foreign intern, you will see the culture of different people, see their working environment. Their facility and infrastructure are that you have never seen before.