Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
I heard about the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, while pursuing my master of technology (MTech) course at the University of Calcutta. My master’s thesis involved studying how the amount of radiation emitted by the sun changes over time. I was so fascinated by the subject that I decided to delve deeper into it. While searching for the best institute to pursue research abroad, I came across a few in Germany and the US.
What did you study?
I did my Bachelors (Electronics & Communication Engg) from Academy of Technology, West Bengal and Master of Technology degree course (Space Science & Communication) at the Institute of Radio Physics & Electronics, University of Calcutta, 2011.
What did you do next?
I started sending emails to faculty members of these institutes — University of Michigan, University of Texas at Dallas and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, the US, and Max Planck Institute in Germany. I received encouraging responses from all of them. I was planning to start the process of sending applications when my MTech results were declared. I found that I had passed with a first class and stood first in the university. With renewed vigour, I sent my first application to the Max Planck Institute for the doctoral / PhD programme. Within 15 days I received an invitation from the institute to appear for the selection interview in Germany. The interview continued throughout the week and I was eventually selected .
Moreover, I was offered a stipend of 1,365 euros (around Rs 1.15 lakh) a month — an ample amount to cover my living costs. The tuition fee, required to enrol as a PhD student in the physics department at the nearest university (the University of Goettingen), was just around 160 euros (around Rs 13,500) for a semester and I had to make a mandatory payment of around 100 euros (Rs 8,435) for medical insurance.
Tell us about your research
My research area is “solar physics”. Contrary to the popular idea of the sun being a constant source of energy, its radiation varies with time because of complex magnetic processes inside and on its surface. These variations are important because they affect our lives as well as the earth’s climate. I have always enjoyed exploring complicated phenomenon because I have always been quite a nerd (ha ha!) since my school days (St Augustine’s Day School in my hometown Shyamnagar, near Barrackpore). I wasn’t at all into outdoor games, sports or hanging out. However, I learned Indian classical music for 10 years.
How was the experience living in Germany?
The experience of living alone in a foreign country for the first time was fascinating. Last year, I travelled to Rome and several cities in Germany for work. This year, I went to Greece and Vienna to attend conferences. The key to studying at an international institute is to be open and eager to meet people of different cultures and explore life outside the known boundaries. At Max Planck, I was welcomed by a friendly bunch of students. In fact, I had a similar bunch of close friends in my college (Academy of Technology, Hooghly) where I did my BTech. After work we often chill out. On the weekends, we sometimes visit the nearest city, Hannover, either to attend cultural exhibitions or watch movies.
There are many Indian students — pursuing PhD, post doctoral programmes or engineering — on the campus. Since Indian space science and astrophysics research is counted among the world’s best, many scientists and scholars from ISRO, SAC (Satellite Application Center) and IIA (Indian Institute of Astrophysics) visit frequently.
Advice to students?
Just as I did, students must approach the Max Planck Institute while doing their master’s degree. They can enquire about opportunities for student internships and contact the relevant department and professors. This is best done independently
To apply for the PhD programme, students have to visit the institute’s website (www.mpg.de / institutes) and submit the documents to the PhD programme co-ordinator by mail or through the online submission portal
In the interview I had to speak on my academic background and research interests. The interview takes place over multiple days when the candidate interacts with the various research groups, tries to identify a research topic, develops preliminary contacts with a potential supervisor and also meets current students