MITACS Diaries: Bharath Venkatesh

Tell us something about yourself.

I am R Bharath Venkatesh, a fourth year chemical engineering student. I was a MITACS research intern at the University of Ottawa in Canada (2015). My chief interests in life are books-reading books and discussing them. I aspire to be a good engineer and a great writer.

What is the MITACS process?

MITACS Globalink research program is a 12-week summer research internship program open for students with a CGPA of 8 and above. On the MITACS portal, you need to create an account and begin filling your form. This includes selecting projects, uploading transcripts and recommendation letters and also writing your research rationale. There are close to 1800 projects offered including many multi-disciplinary projects. Take care to choose projects in English (there are some in French), look for the student requirements and ensure that you meet them. Recommendation letters can be sought from professors that you have worked with either in our college or from some other institute. The deadline for this year is 24 September.

How does the short listing and interview phase work?

Candidate’s profile and application is sent to the professors of the projects he has chosen in two phases of matching: one in November and the other in December. The professor reviews the candidates’ credentials and then contacts one or more of them. He finally makes a decision based on Skype or telephonic interviews. The results for the first round of matching were announced in December last year.

What were the roadblocks you faced during the application process?

A particular problem that many faced is the project selection. You have to choose a project that interests you and is along the lines of something you have already worked on but shouldn’t be an extremely popular project that a lot of people will apply to. The professor you choose to work with should be knowledgeable and should have good research output. Some people also take into account the university’s rank.

Tell us a little something about your project, work and guide.

I worked in the Department of Chemistry on a project about process development and modeling. It is about the development of a general multi-step organic synthesis reaction with recycle, something of great value in the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Stephen Newman from the Department of Chemistry, University of Ottawa was my research guide. He has received his PhD from the University of Toronto and postgraduate from MIT. He has a keen analytical insight, acute observation and tremendous enthusiasm for research.

Describe a typical day in your life in Ottawa.

We stayed in the University residence of Carleton. The work hours were not particularly rigid. I went at 9 am and on most of the days, stayed there till 5 pm. I met my professor every morning to discuss goals for the day. I then carried out experiments, analyzed samples and processed the results until lunch-time. After lunch, I usually read a few papers, noted down my results and discussed them with my professor.
What about off-campus life?

During weekends, most of us completely ignored work and took to the roads: exploring Ottawa and traveling to places like Toronto, Niagara Falls and Montreal. There was always something going on- festivals, concerts, heritage trips, exhibitions, free salsa classes, garage sales, geek sales and mammoth book sales. The city of Ottawa is incredible- the rush and hustle of the Downtown gives way to beautiful parks in the suburbs. The Rideau River runs through the city and we spent many afternoons along its banks watching the calm waters flow by in perfect harmony with the peaceful surroundings.

We tried a lot of different cuisines- from Mexican to Lebanese. On Thursdays when the entry was free, we went to museums and art-galleries. We had pot-lucks in our residence, played corridor-cricket and party games and watched movies together. Every Friday, the Department of Chemistry organized an open barbecue sponsored by a professor and managed by his students. Here, we served burgers and sandwiches to students from all over the campus. It was a great experience to be involved in a team activity that for once didn’t involve projects and deadlines!

Your major takeaways from the internship?

I met a lot of interesting people and made new friends. This was my first foreign trip and I feel I’ve gained a lot from it. I interacted with people of different cultures and backgrounds and got an insight into their perspectives. On the academic side, I gained great exposure in research: from how to plan my own experiments, what essential questions are to how to analyze results of the experiments.
I would like to make one final point before I sign off. What I most valued during the internship was the sense of purpose it instilled in me. I felt that my work mattered, and therefore strived to achieve as much as possible in the time I spent there. It was this work-life balance that satisfied me and made my stay memorable.

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