Exchange Diaries  

By International Relations Cell

Outbound Diaries 2020

Saransh Gupta | Quality Engineering Design and Manufacturing

Osaka University, Japan

Research Area: Using machine learning to predict Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Q1: Which university did you secure an FT in and what was your research topic?
A:I collaborated at Osaka University. My research topic was on using machine learning to predict Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) and the Bayesian modeling approach to identify the drug targets in NSCLC using the gene-expressions data.

Q2: How did you apply for the FT?
A: I applied through emailing the professors of my research interest.

Q3: From where did you get the motivation and how did it all start?
A: In my second year, I saw many of my seniors working extensively to build predictive models using programming and concepts of probability and statistics. The nature of utilizing prior datasets to predict future outcomes using mathematics and programming excited me. I wondered if there is a way to apply these concepts in biology and healthcare as well. Fascinated by this fact, I started searching for opportunities in research labs in India and abroad, where scientists are working extensively in this field.

Q4: How did you handle your preparation along with the academics?
A: Finding a professor of interest, going through their research projects, and sending a personalized cover letter is tiring and time-consuming. So, I started this groundwork before the beginning of our academic session, which saved a lot of my time for academics and extracurricular activities.

Q5: What is the role of CGPA to secure an FT?
A: There are multiple criteria for a professor to judge your candidature. CGPA is just one of them, and not everything. For them, a good CGPA proves that you are sincere and hardworking for sure. But they are not as quick to judge you just based on your CGPA as long as your research interests and skill-set align with their expectations. In short, a lower CGPA should not discourage you from emailing the professors and showing your genuine interest in working with them through your cover letter.

In my case, I had a very mediocre CGPA (not at par with "so-called" FT standards). However, I received paid FT offers from very reputed universities in Japan, Singapore, and France and remote collaborations from Norway, Netherlands, and the USA.
One of the professors at Korea University said that he was not in a position to hire interns at that moment, but was eager to talk to me because he found my cover letter quite unique and tempting.

Q6: Did you do any projects in the same domain in Kgp?
A: I had done several projects in Machine Learning, but computational biology and bioinformatics was entirely a new field to me.

Q7: How did your university manage everything in this confusion during the pandemic?
A: Due to the pandemic, I did it remotely. Hence they did not consider it as a formal internship rather a collaboration. They acknowledged me as an Undergraduate Research Assistant. Discussions used to happen on slack. Along with that, we used to have weekly team meetings over Google Meet to discuss the project's progress.

Q8: Did you face any difficulties during this entire process?
A: Yes, there were several difficulties related to time-zone. It was a remote collaboration, and the central lab was in Japan. I was working from India, and one of my colleagues was working from the USA. Three different countries and three different time zones created a lot of mess in arranging team meetings for weekly discussions. It also made a lag in the progress of the project.

Q9: How would you describe your overall experience?
A: It was a fantastic experience. I got a chance to showcase my knowledge in machine learning and apply them to biology. Not only did I just follow the instructions, but also came up with my own solutions that raised the bar. I had an exponential learning curve. I made new connections abroad, explored a completely new research area.

Additionally, I got to know about the Japanese work culture in detail. Until I started working with them, I had just read about the six-sigma process in one of my depth courses, but I felt that concept while working with them! They take the quality of the work very seriously! Even I had to perform a specific task almost fifteen times to ensure no QC errors.

Q10: What was your mode of communication with your professor during the FT?
A: We used to communicate over Slack. Our weekly team meetings used to happen on Google Meet.

Q11: What advice would you like to give to the fellow students who aspire for an FT?
A: There are several Do’s and Don’ts that I would like to suggest:
Explore your research area of interest.
Shortlist the professors, go through their research papers
Express your genuine interests to the relevant professors of that field through an attractive cover letter.
Start contacting early
Be humble. Respect the fact that they are very busy and might not read your emails on time.
Have patience. Let the professor go through your profile. If you do not receive any reply, then send another follow-up after at least 10 days.
I would advise (not mandatory) to maintain a professional website. This helps the professor to know you better.
Mass mailing
Sending the same copy to every professor.
Writing a generic mail. Professors are so experienced, and they will catch you!
Do not send more than two follow-ups to the prof.
Avoid grammatical errors (Grammarly is quite helpful, and the premium version is available free of cost to all KGPians)
Do not send emails simultaneously to all the professors of the same department. (contact one at a time) They generally discuss the applications among themselves as well.
Don’t send long cover-letters, keep it short and concise. They are always in a hurry and receive hundreds of such requests along with their other important emails!
Please do not accept any offer that wants you to come to their lab and do not pay you anything in return. If you are working at their location, then you deserve to get paid! Otherwise, they will ignore you if you do even exist!
Don’t let the CGPA stop you from applying, given that you have the required motivation, interest and the skills-set.