Interview: Shwetha Kumar (2016-2020)

How did you go about the application process for MITACS? Did you have any interviews? If so, would any prior preparation of concepts be needed (for an interview)?

The application process was fairly simple as compared to other similar scholarship programs. It follows a sequential process spanning personal details, passport information and a few declarations. One letter of recommendation is mandatory for the application to be deemed complete. A second one can also be submitted if desired. A brief description of around 100 words each on skills, background knowledge and research interests, notable achievements, research rationale and research work completed needs to be uploaded as well. Seven projects need to be selected and ranked according to your preference. Around November or early December, you will get an email stating that your application status has been upgraded to Candidate Under Consideration. The first phase of results is usually out by January.

I had an interview taken by the professor I finally went on to work under. However, having an interview is not compulsory and there are many who got accepted without any interview as well. After the interview (if it takes place), the professor ranks all the applicants in the order of his/her preference and MITACS makes the final decision by comparing this ranking with that of the student’s ranking of projects.

The interview that I and a few of my friends had were very general. No prior preparation is required as far as concepts and technical aspects are concerned. Some of the questions that were asked include “Why do you want to come to Canada?”, “Describe your previous research experience”, “Why do you think you are qualified for this post?”, etc.

What were the roadblocks you faced during the application process? How did you go about writing the research statement?

There were no specific roadblocks as such. Writing about research rationale, notable achievements, etc. within 100 words was definitely a challenging task. Just include major points and remain as brief as possible. I would suggest to first write down all that you would like to include as points; preferably even as clauses instead of complete sentences and then select the most important ones. Also, when it comes to choosing projects, there is sometimes a trade-off that has to be achieved between good universities and good projects. I personally feel that it is better to go for a good project, one where you can gain considerable experience in a not-so good university than go for a not-so-good project in a highly reputed university.

The research rationale, as it is called here, should be written as a paragraph of around 4 lines. You could begin by mentioning why you want to do research in the proposed field; how important it is in today’s world, followed by what you wish to achieve through your research or in other words, how you wish to help society through your work. You could end by mentioning how MITACS Globalink Program is a vital step in helping you fulfil your aim and why Canada is a good choice for your internship.

When would you recommend that interested students start applying?

The application for 2020 is already open. Students should start applying immediately as shortlisting projects, collecting LORs, etc. will take considerable time. 

Scholarships like DAAD require you to email professors first, and then apply through the DAAD-WISE program. Is it the same in the case of MITACS?

No. MITACS does not require you to mail professors and get acceptance prior to applying. They have a collection of different projects available in various universities in their portal itself. Applicants have to choose seven projects and rank them according to their preference. After the deadline, the portal will again reopen for about 2 weeks or so wherein candidates can reorder their preferences in case they want to.

How did you go about shortlisting projects and applying for a visa?

As far as projects are concerned, MITACS has a vast repository. There is an option for keyword search wherein you can enter the topic of your interest to view specific results. As I mentioned earlier, there has to be some sort of trade-off which has to be achieved sometimes regarding the nature of the project and the ranking of the university. I would advise you to choose a project which is challenging and will give you immense experience as opposed to a good ranking university offering a not-so-good project.

The VISA application can be submitted either offline or online. Biometric is a mandatory part of obtaining Canadian VISA. Thus, it is required to physically go to one of the registered centers. Some of the documents which need to be submitted include No Objection Certificate from the home university, MITACS funding letter and host university acceptance letter. In case the MITACS funding letter is delayed, a letter from a parent along with the bank statement and copy of parent’s passport can be submitted as a proof of self-funding. I received the VISA within 10 days of biometric registration and document submission while for some others it took close to a month.

Was the stipend provided by MITACS sufficient to cover all your expenses? How did you manage accommodation and food?

Yes. The stipend provided by MITACS was sufficient to cover all the expenses over 12 weeks. You can even manage to go for a few small trips here and there. In fact, many students even managed to save a lump sum. The stipend provided was a little over 4 lakhs: partly by MHRD before leaving for Canada and partly by MITACS, after reaching the host destination and opening a local bank account.
You have to make arrangements for your own accommodation and food. In my case, I stayed in university accommodation itself. Though university accommodations are more expensive than outside accommodations, I feel it is more convenient. However, not all universities provide accommodation within campus. You can look up accommodations on Kijiji, where you can find several affordable options. There are also several Facebook groups where students rent out their accommodation for the summer as they would be going home during that period. Moreover, MITACS will send you a list of past summer interns and you can mail those who interned at the university you would be going to and ask them for help with accommodation.
It is advisable that you learn a bit of cooking before leaving. You can choose to eat out everyday though that might burn a hole in your pocket. I used to make my own breakfast and dinner and have lunch at the university. If you are lucky like some of my friends, you might find some Indians offering tiffin service.

Did Mitacs provide any assistance after reaching the host university/country?

MITACS had arranged for a mentor who is responsible for pick up from the nearest airport. He/She will also show you around and even organize outings during weekends. It is also the mentor’s responsibility to help you open a bank account there as well as take you shopping for groceries and other such necessary items during the initial days. Apart from this, MITACS offers several free online courses as well as several paid events, which any one can attend free of cost.

Which university did you work at? Could you briefly describe your project? Did you learn any new skills (research-wise) upon completing your internship?

I interned at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario.
My project was based on the integration of additive manufacturing techniques with conventional ones. I worked on using additive manufacturing to make patterns for investment casting. I 3D printed objects on Castable Wax Resin using Form 2 SLA desktop 3D printer and used them as patterns instead of the conventionally injection molded ones used in the process of investment casting. In this manner, I had to cast aluminum foams which could serve as water filters and heat exchangers.
I got hands-on experience in working with 3D printers – setting them up for use, cleaning them after use and post-curing the part produced. I also learnt how to code and set-up the Bartlett Furnace. Other than that, the overall experience of doing experimental work was truly rewarding as I had worked only on simulation projects prior to this.

How diverse was the student community at the internship and what were the takeaways from interactions with them?

The student community at the internship was very diverse. My mentor was Cuban. I had an undergraduate student, who was a native Canadian and an MS student from Greece working in my lab. Other than that, I interacted with a number of people for various trainings such as training for access to the machine shop, to use the 3D printer, etc. Apart from that, I shared my accommodation with a Mexican MITACS intern along with a Chinese, who was working in Guelph and an American, who was a student at that university.
I learnt a lot about the different cultures, particularly their food. Since we all had to cook, I learnt quite a lot about the different cuisines – while Americans can live on pasta thrice a day, Chinese need elaborate dishes of fried rice and noodles. Also, that Canada has no specific cuisine of its own, rather it’s a “Melting Pot of Cuisines and Cultures”. 

Describe your typical work week and off campus life.

I usually worked from 9 to 5 every day with a lunch break from 12 to 1. These timings weren’t strict at all and could be modified as per our convenience. There were some days when I used to go back after lunch and some days when I used to return after 7pm. Weekends were off for us but we could go to the university if we wanted to as our student ID granted access to all the buildings and labs. I had access to the Material Science Lab, where I used to sit, Mechanical Lab for the 3D printers and Machine Shop for investment casting. 
The campus is really beautiful and Guelph, being a countryside, is a haven for nature lovers. I used to go for walks occasionally within the campus and sometimes even outside. There is a beautiful Arboretum too maintained by the university. Evenings used to be spent in cooking, grocery shopping, or sometimes going out for dinner. All the necessary stores including a mall were within walkable distance and moreover, everything was well connected by bus.
Apart from that, we went to Toronto on several weekends. It was about an hour by bus from Guelph. I also went to Niagara Falls twice. It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in my life and a must visit for all who are in and around Ontario. 

Did you face any obstacles during your internship?   

There were no specific obstacles as such that I faced during the internship. My only advice would be to learn some basic cooking, if you don’t already know, before leaving for Canada as that was a slight issue I experienced. The immense freedom and independence you get, including looking out for yourself right from buying your own vegetables to cooking your meals to ensuring you have milk for the next day’s breakfast, might hit you hard in the face at first but soon you will grow to love it: a life sans restrictions! Also, brace yourself for the cold. Carry enough warm clothes as the weather there is as unpredictable as the rains of Mumbai and it might turn chilly even at the most unexpected times.

After joining the internship, what kind of resources did you use to learn in your project?

Generally, your professor will give you material to refer to and learn from much before you leave for the internship so that you can start working right away once you reach there. If not, once you start your internship you can download articles and papers for reference. You will gain access to the university Wi-Fi which will enable you to download journal papers and other publications easily. For hard copies, you can go to the library.

How frequently did you interact with your professor? What was the workflow?

I used to meet my professor once a week, every Monday. However, whenever I had doubts, I used to mail him or sometimes I used to even go and meet him directly. So, my interaction with my professor was very frequent.
I spent the first one and a half months in literature review and in procuring the different parts needed for the experiment. I had to order certain parts of the 3D printer and for investment casting. Parts were needed even to set up a mini vacuum chamber. Designing of the pattern to be printed was also done. In the next one and a half months, I did the experiment. Each casting needed about a week to be completed. In the last week, I gave a presentation, wrote and submitted a report and also designed a poster for the intra-university poster session.

Would you consider studying in Canada in the future? If so, does being a scholar help you get admission over there easily?

Yes, Canada is definitely one of my options for pursuing graduate studies.
Being a Globalink Research intern makes you eligible for the Globalink Graduate Fellowship. You can apply for this fellowship to pursue any research-based Masters or PhD program in any Canadian University, once you have been accepted. There is also another fellowship, MITACS Accelerate Fellowship, which provides long-term funding starting from 15000 CAD and even some internship opportunities for master’s and PhD candidates.

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