Interview: Baden-Württemberg Stipendium

Please introduce yourself for the record and give us a brief description of your profile.

I am Huzaifa from Mechanical final year. I did my 3rd year summer internship at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany for a period of 3 months. 

Before this internship, what other internships have you done?

During my 2nd year summer, I interned at IIT Madras for a period of 2 months in the field of magnetorheological dampers. I was tasked with developing a CFD simulation of the MR damper and optimizing it for required damping force. 

What is the BWS scholarship and who does it cater to?

The Baden-Württemberg-Stipendium (BWS) is a scholarship awarded to foreign students (outside Germany) for a research internship opportunity at any university within the state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany. Any foreign student belonging to a BWS partner university has the option of applying. NIT Trichy is a partner university. 

What is the application procedure?

One must obtain a research supervisor at one of the universities and the supervisor must be willing to ‘nominate’ the student for the scholarship. After this is done, the BWS foundation will mail the student his or her application form and a list of further documents that need to be submitted for completing the application. The foundation will inform you within 2-3 weeks regarding the selection. 

Note: Nomination by the supervisor does not guarantee selection by the BWS foundation. 

Are there any specific guidelines to drafting mails to professors?

The mailing phase is one of the most important and tricky phases for any student wanting to do a research internship abroad. Firstly, one must ensure that the mails are not too long and tedious to read. They must not include parts that are not relevant for the research position you are applying to. There should be sufficient research done from your side regarding what exactly the professor you are applying to work on. Mention a few research papers of his/her that you might have read and some on going projects that you are interested in. Ensure that you make clear how your profile is suitable for the project he/she is currently working on. Secondly, always try to mail the professor and the PhD student whose project you are interested in. In the institute where I completed my internship, the professor was guiding around 25 PhD students and even the PhD students got to meet the professor only twice a month or so. That being said, it is very plausible that the mail you send the professor is simply deleted by his/her secretary without it being read by the professor because of the sheer number of mails he/she gets every single day. Thirdly, ensure that you send a follow up mail one or two weeks after the initial mail. This will surely increase your chances of getting a reply. 

What further communication did you have after the initial mails? What preparation did you do for them?

After I sent my follow up mail, my supervisor asked me for a letter of recommendation from the professor under whom I did my second year internship. He then sent me an acceptance mail after which we had a skype call. The call was basically him introducing me to his project and me telling him about my previous research experience and co-curricular activities and so did not require any preparation. 

What were the criteria you were selected upon? What were the standout points that you think gave you an edge over the other candidates applying?

When I asked my professor as to why he chose me, he said it was because he felt that I was interested in the project he was doing and that I have  the necessary software skill set to have a positive impact on the project. Apart from this, maybe the recommendation letter from my professor and my co-curricular activities as part of the Brakes team (related to the project) in PSI Racing would have helped. 

How was the VISA process?

I had to apply for the Guest scientist Schengen visa. It is a fairly simple process. All the documents necessary can be easily found online. Once the documents are ready, the visa appointment must be booked. The visa will be couriered to your house within a week after the interview. 

How did you manage your accommodation there?

Since one requires proof of accomodation for the visa process, it is advised to start looking for accommodation as early as possible. For Germany, the wg-gesucht website, wherein you can find student apartments for rent, is fairly useful. However, even after sending around 40 requests, I was unable to find a suitable apartment. I then contacted my supervisor and he helped me get a room in the International Department of KIT. The ID was like a hostel but instead of a wing you have a group of 6 rooms with a common kitchen and living room. Although it was pretty expensive, its facilities, proximity to the city centre and the cultural diversity made it a worthwhile experience.

What did you work on? Had you done anything of the sort before? Describe a typical week. 

I worked for the Institute of Product Development at KIT wherein I majorly worked in the field of tribology. I was first tasked with creating a multibody simulation of an Schaeffler axial thrust bearing using the MSC Adams software after which I developed a micro finite element model to evaluate the contact properties between the bearing balls and the race. After this was completed, I was tasked with making a finite element surface damage simulation in ABAQUS using various damage models and develop a python script to automate the post processing of the simulation. I had worked on the aforementioned software and so had a good idea on how to proceed. I had to work 35 hours a week. Although I was asked to come in to work at 8:30, it did not matter how many hours I worked in a day as long as I did 35 a week. I was given a desk with a computer and most days were spent there. Towards the end, I also spent a few weeks in the laboratory to verify my simulation results. Because of my supervisor’s friendly and supportive nature, I could easily walk up to his room at any time I liked –  be it for showing results or asking for advice on the problems faced. The work culture was very different from what it is in India which was a refreshing experience for me. 

How did you spend your time after work hours?

I was lucky enough to have two other interns working under the same supervisor. Most of my time after worked was spent with them. Most evenings we would spend at the park playing sports like spike ball or having a meal. During the summer in Germany, there are ‘sommerfests’ at the institute every 4 to 5 days and were a great source of entertainment. Weekends were allocated for Europe trips with my co-interns or fellow NITTians. All in all, it was not just a great research experience but an amazing social experience as well. 

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