Please tell us about yourself
Whilst undertaking a three month research project at ANU during his undergraduate degree, Ankur got a taste for research, and life in Canberra. After completing his Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering in India, Ankur commenced his PhD in Micro and Nano-Systems at ANU in September 2015.
“During my undergraduate degree in engineering, I was always more inclined towards research and undertook several projects.
“I had already seen the research facilities at ANU and interacted with several supervisors who were very supportive. ANU has some of the world’s leading facilities in nano-fabrication and characterisation, and I knew a PhD in this area at ANU would allow me to express myself in the subject I most related to.”
Tell us about your internship at ANU (Australian National University)
I was extremely lucky to be selected as a Research Student (Visiting) by the Australian National University, Canberra at the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences, Nanotechnology Section. I was selected to work on a project to fabricate and design the Ultra sensitive NanoElectro Mechanical Systems or NEMS which have there huge applications in sensors and future electronic devices that we will be using in the coming 5-10 years. The duration was about two and a half months to begin with but we started getting really good research results, so me and my professor decided to continue it for 15 more days, making it a complete three month tenure. I was financed by my professor for my living expenses such as accommodation and food, but travel expenses had to be borne by me. Though when I informed the Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University about my selection he was very kind enough to finance my travel expenses, so I was partially funded by my University and partially by the one where I went to.
How did you come to know about the internship? To what all sources you kept yourself connected?
Ankur: I was working on a Nano tech related projected under one of my professors in my third year of engineering, where we were working on simulation of NEMS devices because in India we still do not have the technology to fabricate ultra high frequency NEMs devices. So he suggested me to look for universities around the world that have this technology. So I started searching for it, by looking at the profiles of the professors and seeking their interests. So, I found universities in US, Denmark and Australia, which were currently working on this technology. I emailed professors in all these countries, where I mentioned my background, the paper publications that I had, and an outline of my project, as to what I exactly wanted to do. After that MIT and Texas Austin from US replied that they did not have funds to support me and declined me. Denmark and Australia offered me a position, but Denmark was not offering any major financial support, so the obvious choice was Australian National University, so I chose that, and also primarily because the lab there was established by a professor having a PhD from Cornell University, which is considered to be the best university for research in Nanotechnology.
The programs that are offered round the world are very, very few, especially for someone in the engineering domain, so my advice to all the people seeking an international internship is, so not rely too much on these programs, I applied to five of them and never got selected but ended up in a university which is way better (ranking wise) than any of the programs could have offered me. ANU is currently ranked 25 in the world, and believe me no university in the top 100 has any internship program, specially for international students, so if anyone wants to get in a University which is in the top 100, and wants to have an experience of a lifetime, going on your own and showing them what are you capable of is the only way.
Internfeel: Any common mistakes which you feel students should avoid while searching and applying for internships?
Ankur: Many of us while in the college are very unsure of what our interests actually are, we just want a internship. But what we will do, when we land in one of them, we are not sure. So the first step is to avoid this, keep yourself crystal clear as to what you want to do, for example: if you want to have a job straight after your bachelors, then do not go for the internships in any university or academic institution, for you the right choice in industry training in your domain, such as in NPCIL, BARC, Maruti, etc if you are a mechie and so on and so forth. But, say if you are planning to go for higher studies, then pursuing a research internship is the thing for you. It may be international or in India. Before going to ANU, Australia, in the year 2013 I was selected by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of INDIA as research intern to work at their R&D facility in Gurgaon, where I worked under an ‘F” level scientist in the solar energy domain. So, by this I mean you have to make the choice right now and decide on your path, as they say ” Choices you make today, determine your tomorrow”.
Internfeel: So Ankur, could you please highlight the work/research project you carried out during the internship period? Its application in near future and your work in it?
Ankur: My work was to design and fabricate Ultra High frequency NEMS based on two dimensional materials, what they are, are actually nano scale devices that are extremely good sensors. They have their future application in Automatically Driven Cars (No Drivers), Next generation touch screens or the Transparent touch screen mobile phones, that you will see in about 3-4 years from now. Nano is the technology of the future, so the devices that we successfully fabricated along with my team, we have those sensors that can even sense the weight of a single atom, it falls on the device, so one can imagine their efficiency. I was accompanied by my professor, another undergraduate student and a PhD scholar in my team, who were working on this project. My role was to manufacture these minuscule devices and characterize them, since I belonged to mechanical and the other student Utkarshaa, who was electrical engineering student, designed and implemented the circuit part of the device.
Internfeel: What was the best thing about the work culture and the internship? What were the things you liked there?
Ankur: I was in love with the Aussie culture and hospitality during the time I was there. Work culture there is very different from India, professors there do not spoon feed you about what you have to do, how you have to do. They explained the project to me once and left the entire lab and finances with me to handle on my own, with very limited interference. I just loved that, it made me more creative, self reliant and very confident of myself. I really started believing that I can do some really path breaking research. The quality of instruments and labs there are just exceptional, I was working with semi automatic to fully automatic machines and some of the most expensive and delicate instruments like the RAMAN Spectrometer, which costed around 2 million Australian Dollars. Imagine working on such a device and getting favorable results, what an ecstasy that was.
Internfeel: Were there any special events during the internships? (events can be academics related like field trips etc and also non-academic, relating to your hostel life or alike)
Ankur: Yes, Australians are fun loving people, during the end of every month our professor took us to a Barbecue Lunch in the Mountains and also to a cruise in the beautiful city of Sydney. Field trips were not there because most of my work was lab oriented. I was living off campus in the suburb (obviously because it was cheap). So, I did not experience much of hostel life.
Internfeel: Let’s now talk about some negatives. What problems you or your friends faced, during the internship, which your juniors may be able to avoid?
Ankur: The problems are there, but if you keep your head still, you will see them through. To begin with, communicating with your professor or official, do not be too imposing on anybody, just say your thing formally and sit back. We tend to over exaggerate sometimes. VISA is a major issue, before finalizing your country be very sure of which class of VISA you are qualified for, ask the University help desk, they have the best solutions. Vegetarian people have to suffer, no doubt about it, you will not get even a single vegetarian burger at McDonalds in Australia, now you can imagine the trouble. Beef is an excess and is found on everything that you might want to eat from pizza toppings to sausages, so Indians might have a problem with that. Australia is expensive for food as compared to the US, so if you have a stipend issue, think about it. Girls are very safe or for that matter anybody is very safe in Australia, people are worried about racism there, but believe me, Australia has one of the strictest laws and punishments for racism, people are very lively and cheerful as long as you mind your own business and let them have their own pint of beer. Drinking Water is expensive in most countries and Australia is no different.
Internfeel: Could you please tell us about the other internship you did with the Government of INDIA in 2013, at the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy at their R&D facility in Gurgaon? The work profile, duration, how can a student apply for it (mode of selection).
Ankur: I was selected their, by no formal procedure, I was working in the renewable energy domain and had published a paper on that, so with that project I went to the ministry for sanctioning some grants and funds for that project through my university. There I came in contact with an ‘F’ level scientist Mr. S.K. Singh, who was very impressed with my presentation and suggested me to pursue an internship under him. So I readily agreed and worked with him for two months from June-August 2013 and got a chance to meet some of the best minds in INDIA working in the renewable energy sector. They do not have any specific positions for undergraduate students, but if you can convince the scientist or have a chance to meet him and then convince their HR Manager, you can be lucky enough to experience our Government at work in collaboration with one of the best labs in the world, The NREL, USA.
Internfeel: How much difference this period of 3 months made in your intellectual capabilities and mindset. In broader terms what were your gains from this?
Ankur: It made me understand what actually research is, and how it is done the right way. It has changed my perception towards everything, I am more patient, more hardworking and realize the power of dreams, that IF you can dream it, you can have it, no matter what comes in your way. I gained not only professionally from this, I have my paper published in one of the best journals in the world. Apart from that I have made my mark on the international scale. From this I can build my career further in this field and some day be recognized globally for what I have contributed to the welfare of the world through my knowledge.
Tell us about your PhD at ANU
Upon commencing his PhD, the support Ankur received at inductions and trainings provided him with the freedom to innovate and explore in his research.
“Right from the moment I started my degree at ANU, I was exposed to many induction programs which helped me understand my role as a PhD student at ANU, as well as programs which have helped me enhance my creative skills, scientific writing and research ethics.
“Over the past year, I have grown as an independent thinker; I know now how to approach a problem rather than panic about it. I think ANU has instilled within me a sense of self-dependence both personally and academically. I now approach subjects in an analytical way, with more confidence. This was totally unexpected; I was never expecting such a paradigm shift in my thinking capabilities.
“ANU allows you to innovate and explore yourself and find solutions to complex and challenging problems.”
From scholarships to conferences, competitions and showcases, Ankur believes the opportunities available to PhD students at ANU are vast.
“I have been given the opportunity to undertake research with freedom – the facilities are enormous.
“To showcase my research I have had the opportunity to attend conferences, showcase platforms and from time to time enter in national and international level competitions.
“Scholarship opportunities are also there for students who are willing to go the extra mile, and they are very generous making life at the university quite easy!”
Located in Canberra, the nation’s capital, ANU is set on 145 hectares of beautifully maintained bushland. Hosting international students from across the world, Ankur found the transition from life in New Delhi to ANU and Canberra smooth.
“People at ANU are really welcoming, and accepting of people from the international community. I have never experienced such hospitality from other universities around the world.
“Coming from India, I am used to seeing a lot more people on the streets compared to Canberra! Canberra is so beautiful; there are many multi-cultural festivals. Facebook can keep you updated with events happening in the city. There is no shortage when it comes to partying as well, Canberra lives up to all expectations!”
Already having been involved in developing ground-breaking research, Ankur is excited about his prospects post-PhD.
“I was a part of a team which, in March 2016, made the world’s thinnest lens. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and I was so proud to be a part of it!
“I want to see my research having an impact in the world, and being the best at what I do. ANU has instilled within me a sense of perfectionism, and I will keep that pursuit of perfection going in whatever I do in my life.”
Ankur’s advice for students considering postgraduate study at ANU?
“Do not think twice! Achieve your dreams. You will grow not only as a professional but also as a human being, as you interact with students and people from all over the globe.”