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Summer 2018

Summer Diaries: Technical University of Munich

July 7, 2018
- Arpit Agrawal

Making it there

To be frank, I was not sure about my area of interest until the start of the internship season, which typically happens at the start of the third year. Having secured a decent CGPA and gained some lab experience in my department, I planned to apply for a research internship. Although there are many programs for research internships and scholarships like DAAD, Mitacs, NTU-India Connect et cetera, I restricted myself to DAAD and Mitacs Program. However, the two scholarship/internship programs have a completely different application process.

In Mitacs, you are asked to select projects that are offered by different universities of Canada and assign them a priority number. You are also asked to submit transcripts, Curriculum Vitae and the Statement of Purpose. While there is ambiguity in the selection criteria, to the best of my understanding it all depends on the Professor who offered the project. Interviews are held in December and the final list of selected candidates is announced in January.

DAAD chiefly is a scholarship program funded by the German government. Therefore you’ll need to get an offer letter from a German institute. The application requires you to upload your offer letter, the Statement of Purpose, transcripts, NOC from your parent institute along with general personal information. Selection is mostly on the basis of CGPA and your past projects. The most difficult part of DAAD application is to get an offer letter from a German institute. The result of this program is also announced in the month of January.

With luck on my side, I got selected in both the programs. This, however, tossed me into a dilemma. It was tough, but I chose the German university, the Technical University of Munich, as it’s ranked among the best in the world. Moreover, the offered project suited me more.

Few tips and tricks that I would like to share:

  1. The new semester usually starts from September in Germany so that’s when the professors are looking for kick-starting new and interesting research projects. Start mailing immediately so that you get time for replies and follow-ups.

  2. Avoid mailing more than two professors who are from the same chair or department as there are chair meetings fortnightly and they often discuss these things.

  3. SOP (Statement of Purpose) is the most important part of the application. Make your SOP short and to the point i.e. related to your research area. Make it interesting but not dramatic.

  4. Cover letter (in case of DAAD) plays a crucial role in your selection process. Avoid spamming and always edit to be more professor interest specific while writing it. Mention your past projects and lab experience, preferably in one or two short paragraphs.

  5. Collect a few good SOPs and cover letters from your seniors for reference.

  6. Be careful while writing a CV, it is not a resume. Avoid mentioning extra-curricular activities and awards unrelated to academics.

  7. Prepare a few frequently asked HR questions (about your motivation for research, etc.) for your confidence.

  8. When applying for a foreign internship, always keep your passport ready. You need to apply for VISA after getting selected, which takes time.

Exploring the country(s)

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Life in Munich
Obviously, this is the most interesting part of a foreign internship. Talking particularly about Munich, it is the most expensive city in Germany and finding an affordable accommodation is almost impossible. There are some websites like WG.de, where you can search but you need to be cautious: frauds and scams are pretty common. A good way to stay away from such scams is to never pay anything in advance. The best accommodation there is studentenwerk hostels. Many students go on vacations during this period, so they sublet their rooms and luckily I found one. It was similar to a hostel and students from almost every part of the globe resided there. The initial days were troublesome as getting vegetarian food at cheap rates was a herculean task. So I resorted to cooking myself. There were a few Indian students who helped me with it. A piece of advice for all: carry Indian spices from home, it’s very expensive in Germany for obvious reasons. We used to have parties on weekends and looking at Chinese people dancing to Bollywood songs was so much fun. When you are in Europe, you can’t be untouched by football and especially when the World Cup is going on. I stayed at Olympiapark and it is considered the party destination of Munich. Unfortunately, Germany was eliminated at the first round of World Cup and the excitement ended in a few days and so did the parties.

Travelling around
The best part of living in Europe is its free borders and you can visit most of the countries on a single visa. There was no work on weekends so it was the best time to explore a new world. Connectivity and public transport in Europe are second to none and you can easily move from one country to another by bus/train. Trekking in the Alps, drinking wine at the top of the Eiffel Tower and roaming in the streets of Amsterdam made some lifetime memories for me. You will see the effect of war if you visit Germany or Vienna whereas you will see an entirely different world in Prague. When you are in Europe, always try the local dishes, especially waffles in Brussels and chocolates in Switzerland. The only problem you will face there is drinking water. You need to fill bottles from bathrooms. Though the water is clean and potable but at times it’s weird to do so, yet way better than spend two euros for a half litre bottle of water. pic3

About the people
People there are very polite and helpful. You will always find someone to help you to find ways or addresses. Walking through the streets of Paris (considered one of the least safe cities in western Europe) felt safer than walking in Delhi. Most of the time, you won’t face any language problem as people living in the cities can speak or understand English but if you are living far from the city center, where you’d find cheaper apartments, communication becomes difficult. However, Google translate will help you a lot there. Always keep an offline version of a German and French dictionary in your phones and buy a local sim as soon as you settle there. Another common problem for interns is about bank accounts. You will need a German account to get your stipend and most of the banks there don’t open accounts for such a short period. Around 5-6 banks refused to open an account for me. Eventually, I had to lie to open an account: I told the bank that I was considering pursuing a masters there. Overall, it was a great experience for me and I would definitely like to revisit.

Work

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The work culture in Germany is remarkably different from that in India. People there take research professionally, and readily detest any childish behaviour during the working hours. The attitude is quite the opposite on weekends when they have parties and night outs. Since I was in a university as an intern, there were no fixed work hours. I worked variably, ranging from 6 to 10 hours. TUM is one of the best universities for research because of the fantastic work culture there. There was no work pressure, and I was primarily observed and graded on the level of dedication and enthusiasm for the work I did. One thing that I liked the most about the place was the interaction between students and professors. I used to have lunch with my guide who also took me to bars and restaurants. These type of informal meetings ultimately helped me in getting familiar with the system, and had a good impact on my work. They also organise biweekly chair meetings, where every professor, lecturer, and research scholar meet and discuss their ongoing work. In short, it was a pleasant and comfortable environment to work in. My project was a part of the HiOS project of TUM, which is related to the flood modeling of southern Germany. I was asked to prepare a model to correlate the surface run-off with different factors like roughness, slope, elevation etc. First, I had to collect all the data and prepare maps and land use charts for the cities involved and then use python programming in ArcGIS to automate the entire process and run it for 2-D Dynamic wave model. Although I was not expected to run the model but seeing my progress at work, they upgraded my work. Collectively it was a great learning experience. I had to give a presentation at the end which got approved by the chair of TUM.

Summing up and Key Takeaways

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So if you are interested in research and want to go for a fully paid foreign internship, start mailing right after mid-term examinations of the autumn semester and be ready with all documents like NOC, SOP etc. Put maximum effort into writing the SOP and cover letter. Refrain from mass mailing and always send edited and personalised cover letters to different professors. It is a great experience to improve yourself academically and develop a better personality. You will witness a new culture, meet new people and learn a lot. These programs also help you obtain scholarships for masters or Ph.D. in future, so don’t miss the chance. The last piece of advice, if you are selected, remember that when you visit a foreign land, you are not only representing your institute but also your country. Always keep a balance between amusement and work, and while you are there get praise for yourself and for India.