Internship Stories: Partha, Harvard
I am Parthasarathi Pati, better known as Muski in the institute. I am a fourth year dual degree student. When not trying to solve world problems, I take time out for my humble responsibilities. I have been the co-founder of a company (which is no more), a hostel secretary, a shaastra coordinator, co-editor of a book, member of the hostel light music band and now the head of GCU. (Editor’s Note: The author is well known for his multi-talentedness and his modesty.)
I am currently interning at Harvard medical school – it’s easy to guess my department now.
How will a Harvard experience help?
For people who are intending to apply for a phD, it’s bliss. The United States allocates lots of funds for research in pure sciences, and Harvard certainly has excellent facilities for every department. For people who are not so keen about a research career, it’s a great opportunity for an international exposure. To be at one of the best universities in the world is a wonderful experience, since you can interact and learn from experts in your field of choice. Recommendations from Harvard professors go a long way too. Above all, a plethora of opportunities to explore oneself, find one’s niche, certainly places Harvard up there among the nicer universities, especially for people as confused as me. Besides, Boston and Cambridge ( where the Harvard campuses are) also house MIT (does not expand to Manipal, Madras or Muzaffarpur institute of technology). With a Harvard ID one can attend lectures, seminars and workshops at MIT, as well as in several super speciality hospitals around the campus.
How do you get in?
This is the tough part. There are no international programs for a summer internship at Harvard for Indian students. So your best bet is to mail a professor and hope for his approval. This isn’t too bad if you play your cards right. Here are a couple of tips. Look for a professor who is rich enough to fund you (you can find the list of fundings on his website). Look for a professor who needs your skill. For example no one really knows coding in the lab I work in and my professor wanted somebody to do some image processing. So try for fields which in the right light may be termed as “inter-disciplinary”. You have a better chance to being unique then.
How are the working conditions?
Fabulous! My professor is a doctor and has his lab in the research building of Children’s Hospital, Boston, which is the top paediatric hospital in the US. Since I am recruited as an employee of the hospital I have all it’s facilities on my plate including a discount on the items I purchase from the hospital. When toy trains serve your lunch and clowns greet you everyday I don’t think there is much left to complain. The lab facilities are top class. I work in a very big lab which covers a full floor of a building and has 35 people working in it. But it is essential to understand that they demand extreme professionalism, punctuality and sincerity.
What am I working on?
My lab is all ion channels. I look into a sperm-specific channel, which help them as they reach for the eggs. In the last two months I have learnt techniques which I never would have in an Indian lab since they aren’t equipped enough. My project is a mosaic of many things to achieve a unique goal. I have tried everything from image processing to antibody purification, molecular cloning, super resolution microscopy, in-vitro fertilisation and dissecting mice balls.
Is Harvard special?
There is an adage which goes like this: “Ye who shall shine the shoes of John Harvard shall have the chance to enter this prestigious university”. You would be surprised – people actually polish his shoes while visiting Harvard! Students must do a fair amount of research to find the school that best suits them. My first choice would have been Cornell if I was getting paid there, since I am interested in microfluidics. But there is always a next time. There are hoards of good universities and institutes in the U.S., especially for the biotech crowd. Good institutes like Salk or HHMI may be difficult to get into, but one always stands a chance in universities ( especially the west coast: UCs and Stanford). I try to choose a school not only on the basis of the work they do, but also by the life around it. Boston is indeed one of the best cities to live in. Plus one can go to New York anytime since it’s just four hours away.
How difficult is it to adjust in the U.S.?
Depends on which city you live in. I would have to say Boston is among the nicest cities I’ve seen. People are cultured, well-mannered and polite. The night life is awesome regardless of whether one drinks or not. Occasionally one might have the chance to be a part of a BBQ party. The food can be a hassle for the vegetarians sometimes. But if you are up for cooking a nice meal, you get everything from kadhi chawal to idlis to punjabi Chholay. Things might be expensive to the Indian eye, but one gets used to it. Great places for shopping, beautiful gardens, amusement parks, reputed universities and the Charles river make Boston one of the most livable cities on earth.
Not really sure. Prior to this internship I was sure to do a phD, but after witnessing the cut- throat competition I am left with skepticism and doubt. Only 10% of the post docs make it to being faculties in the U.S., which is shocking. If having spent 12 years of one’s life in research does not guarantee a good job then it might not be worth a shot. But having said that, the 10% that do succeed have the best jobs in the world; great freedom, lots of money and recognition. So it’s a trade off and as far as I am concerned, I am just not ready to take the plunge.