A Summer in Germany!

This article discusses some important issues regarding Indian students going for an internship abroad. Many students from every IISER go to various Universities and Research Institutes across the world for internships! Every first timer has many questions regarding how to apply or how to get the funding, etc. This article tries to answer some of them!

Summer Internship at Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society
(FML-MPG), Tübingen, Germany.

A lot of people do not appreciate the idea of doing an internship. Some do appreciate it, but discourage people to do one very early in their academic life, as in high-school/early college years. However, I feel that it is very important for a student to realise the importance of an internship as early as possible while enjoying student life.
A lot of things are not taught in regular classes, which includes not only advanced lab
techniques, but also the experience of getting involved in a project, brainstorming ideas along with the lab seniors in a research group, to ask and answer the research questions, designing experiments and organising lab work. An experiment in a daily practical class might seem to be mundane as it might lack intellectual involvement on a student’s side and if something goes wrong, the student fails to troubleshoot the same for the above reason. This is another important thing, among many others, one can learn in an internship.

I did my second year summer internship at FML-MPG, Tübingen, Germany in a structural biochemistry lab. Now this internship was very important to me as not only I learnt a lot of things, but also got an exposure of working in a world-class lab, where there are no major shortage of lab facilities due to lavish funding for science. This is not the case at most places in India and so I got the luxury of getting hands-on experience of doing costly experiments which is mostly restricted to watching and helping seniors do them at most places in India. I never had to delay my experiment for being unable to use any sophisticated facility for my work as they were always functioning efficiently. Also, other than work, I got to visit some new countries and came across many of new people of various nationalities and learnt a lot beyond science. The exchange of ideas and culture was the best thing I loved about this and all these added up to why a foreign internship proved to be great for me.

I was looking for some labs who worked with research topics that I would love to indulge in,before applying for this internship. Honestly, I was typing both my research interests and an institute name to find out easily a lab where I wanted to work. I had to email personally, as, being a second year student, I was not eligible for most of the structured summer programmes. I am not a big fan of applying randomly and in huge numbers. I always read a lot about each topic and tried to find if it might help me in my scientific interests before typing my email application. This helped in increasing my knowledge about various research areas, finding labs that was the best suited to me and typing an email that could logically convey to the PI why I was interested in his/her lab. The CV should always be attached to the email to convince the PI why you should be chosen. I also took suggestions from my seniors in finding the best people to apply to. In my case, one of my senior’s suggestions seemed attractive. I liked the lab in terms of research interest and output. So I sent an email. I got a reply after a few weeks and he seemed to like my application. He called me in for an online interview and again asked me in
detail about my past exposure in science, my reason for being interested in his lab, my idea about the topic in general and clarified about his expectations from me as a summer intern after describing the work of his lab in minute details.

As of financial and other technical stuff, I was fully funded by my PI through the Max Planck Society for my living and travel expenses related to the internship. As per my contract, I was expected to work for a total of 39 hours per week. Nobody ever asked me to work in the lab during weekends/public holidays. In short they expected people to work sincerely during their working hours and to be completely free to do anything during other times. This made life less stressful and helped me to work more efficiently. This is another thing lacking in most Indian labs, where stress levels are super high. I realised that I did more work than most of my friends who did their internships in India even after visiting 4 new countries, chilling out while indulging in local activities and going to a lot of parties to enjoy my time. I also got enough time for table
tennis and football after work.

Now, it is true that language can be an issue in many countries. It was nothing different for Germany. However, one who is fluent in English shouldn’t have a big problem at work. I never faced any considerable issues with communication. Most young and middle-aged people in Germany can now speak English. Also, I had the advantage of staying in a university town (approximately 1/4th of the population in Tübingen were students of which most are studying at the University of Tübingen). So I had no problem communicating in English during my entire stay. However, such a town is expensive in general and it is often hard for a foreign student to find suitable accommodation options for such a short time. These were the only issues I faced despite being paid nicely. In general, Germany is a very student-friendly country and a short glimpse of the same can be seen from its simple visa application procedure, high acceptance rate and the fact that the embassy did not charge me a single cent as my visa fee. However, it is a country that can involve you into a lot of paperworks which are good, but might seem to be a
bit complicated at times. For a stay of less than 3 months, one need not register in the city
office, which saves a lot of effort and money (which might have gone as taxes) for a short-term foreign intern like me. Regarding transfer of stipend and other allowances, one might open a German bank account for which one requires a Tax Identification Number, for which, again, the city registration is mandatory. However, one of my friends told me that he had opened an account at Kreissparkasse Bank with his Indian PAN number as he didn’t do the city registration too for his stay of two months. He had faced no problem. As for me, I was lucky that the administration people managed to issue me a bearer cheque every month after discussion with the higher authorities at the Max Planck Society. This is one of the issues that I would request the readers to look thoroughly into before or immediately after going to Germany.

I would like to conclude by strongly suggesting the reader to apply for a foreign internship. Germany had been good for me and I can recommend it as a country to look for internships and other academic posts. There are many globally famous research institutes and universities in Germany and the research environment is very good in most places. As for Tübingen, it is a beautiful town with a nice academic environment and looking for some academic positions there won’t be a regrettable decision for sure.
I tried my best to explain my insights on doing a foreign internship, after doing one myself. If you feel I need to elaborate more on some point or if you just want to interact with me for any constructive discussion, feel free to write to me.

Viel Glück!

By Diptatanu Das
IISER Kolkata
BS MS batch of 2017 (5 years BS-MS Dual degree Programme)
Email-id – dasdips33@gmail.com , dd17ms004@iiserkol.ac.in .

The Qrius Rhino team thanks Diptatanu for such an amazing article and we will try our best to bring more such articles about internships in future!

Read his other blogs for TQR: Dragon’s Triangle – The Pacific Ocean’s Deadliest Enigma, How Good Is Gaming?, Life@iiserkolkata, A Dream within a Dream, Impacts of Natural Disasters on Ecological Balance – An Original Perspective, iGEM in India! and Coronavirus – An Unsolvable Challenge?

Author: Das Diptatanu

Diptatanu is a fourth-year BS-MS student at IISER Kolkata and a KVPY fellow, majoring in biology, with a chemistry minor. He has been a part of the gold-medalist iGEM IISER Kolkata teams in 2018 and 2019, and is also associated with next year’s team. Other than having a high affinity for good food and sleep, he loves to make music and play TT, football, cricket, etc., in his free time. He prefers to do some original work and has been writing articles, blogs and composing new songs. He is currently the CEO of IISER Kolkata Campus Radio and is also one of the admins and a regular blogger of our blog page, ‘The Qrius Rhino’.

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