How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

With a B.Tech in Biotechnology Vignesh Rajamanickam from India was looking for a Master’s programme in English that concentrates on Bioprocess Engineering to set the foundation for a career in research. His aunt, Head of Bioinformatics at a university in Chennai, encouraged him to apply to American universities but Vignesh had other plans.

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“Half the world’s leading pharmaceutical biotechnology companies are in Germany and the Indian newspapers are full of articles about German universities offering Master’s and PhD programmes in English for international students”, he explains. “And it was easy to find out about degrees in Germany. The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) has an office in Chennai and they have seminars every month about studying in Germany. I found their database very useful.”

Vignesh Rajamanickam procured his Master of Science in pharmaceutical biotechnology from Hamburg University of applied sciences, Germany and, Bachelor of Technology in Biotechnology from Anna University, India

Tell us about the tuition fees

And what role did tuition play in his decision? “Fifty percent”, he admits. “The fact that tuition in Germany is subsidised, even for international students, was an important factor. After a Master’s degree at an American university I would have started my career with a huge debt.” The cost of living in Germany however, was still a shock. “When I arrived, I calculated everything by the factor of eighty to understand what things cost in rupees”, he laughed. “I stopped doing that after a few weeks. You just can’t compare.”

What is your Master’s thesis about?

After two semesters of course work, Vignesh is now working on his Master’s thesis, researching process optimisation in bioprocess automation. “Studying in Germany is very different to India and I found it difficult at the beginning. But the professors and my student colleagues were always very helpful and I had a lot of support.” He likes the mixture of theory and practice at the HAW Hamburg and the state-of-the-art labs, where he completed his study projects and now does his research.

How was the experience in Hamburg?

Vignesh shares a small office in the HAW Hamburg Bioprocess Automation Research Centre with three other Master’s students. One of them is Jashwant Kumar, who is a semester above him. “Jashwant contacted me through facebook when he saw my name on the list of new students and he was a great help when I arrived in Hamburg. He helped me get a phone contract, buy winter clothes and showed me where to buy Indian food. Last semester I was part of the weBuddy Programme and helped a new student from Russia get settled in Hamburg.” The weBuddy Programme is a support system for new international students starting at the HAW Hamburg. They are looked after by older students who help them with administration, finding accommodation, getting to know the university and the city. weBuddy offers a Hamburg Orientation Programme before the semester starts and events during the semester to help students get to know each other.

From his stories it is obvious that Vignesh has a lot of friends in Hamburg. He shares an apartment in the Allermöhe Hall of Residence with five other students from Germany, Italy, Finland and Spain and twice a week they get together to cook. Other friends in the Master’s programme have invited him home to meet their families or to celebrate a German Christmas together. “I don’t feel foreign in Hamburg”, he says. “When you are made to feel welcome, it is easy to feel at home.” Being able to speak some German also helped him settle in quickly. His Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology is in English, but applicants are required to have A2 German to be able to apply. “This really helped me get started in Germany. And now my colleagues speak mostly German to me and I am getting better every day”, he smiles.

And what are his plans for the future?

“I would either like to do a PhD or get a job as a research engineer in the field of bioprocess engineering for a pharmaceutical company in Germany”, he says. “But first I have to visit my parents in India.”