My Internship Experience: Cornell; Ithaca, NY

It was a summer of numerous firsts for me. Not only was I going to fly on an airplane for the first time, this was also the first time I was going to even enter an airport. The flights went off fine, or so I thought they did, until I saw Prof. Sanghi’s Facebook status. It was about how his flight, before landing, had to take off again, and then come back to try and land again. I got to experience this first-hand when my flight landed in Abu Dhabi for a stopover. While looking down at the ant-hill like cities, I wondered how easily we manufacture normalcy from the really difficult tasks that are rendered simple by technology. Going at 800 km/hr above the clouds makes me wonder how far we’ve come from wild jungle beasts we once were.

After landing at the JFK Airport in NYC and getting out to see the city from the AirTrain, I was surprised at how I unsurprised I felt. (I think I’ve seen way too many American TV shows and movies to notice the cultural reset.) We took a bus and reached Ithaca on a chilly Sunday evening. Something noteworthy I observed was the utter lack of any humans or animals on the way from NYC to Ithaca. The way was naturally beautiful and serene, yet all I could see were people inside cars — no pedestrians, no birds. (In retrospect, the cold was just getting over, and the birds would migrate back in due time.)

I lived in an Indian apartment, and that made a lot of things easier for me. I did not have to worry about Indian food because my roommate Ashudeep was really good at cooking, and Indian masalas etc. were readily available in the kitchen. The people we were living with were extremely helpful, and we quickly acclimated to the apartment. Other than the technical things I learned in the course of the internship, cooking was the other most important thing that I learned. I already miss the daily breakfast of a variety of cereals and milk. In fact, I could probably live just on cereals now if the need arises.

The work I did during the internship was great. We had weekly group meetings where each member talked about the work done over the current week and the plans for the next one. The group was extremely helpful, especially the Ph.D. student with whom I was working. He helped me settle down quickly in the lab, and was always ready to discuss any problem whenever I felt stuck. I quickly got access to the necessary resources like computers with little bureaucracy.  You can always contact me for the real technical details if you want.

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Jayesh working at the lab

The Cornell campus is big — even bigger if you also include the plantation groves and the like. It even has it own dairy with its own bar where you can get oodles of great ice cream at a relatively cheap price. (Converting to Indian currency, nothing is cheap there.) Just as I reached there, they organized their annual Slope Day, where the student community gets drunk before the exams. I was really incredulous to see so many drunk people that day.

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Slope Day at Cornell

Comparing IIT Kanpur and Cornell in terms of infrastructure would be unfair for obvious reasons, but there certainly was a much more free-wheeling atmosphere at the latter. Professors don’t care if one comes to the lab at any time or at all, as long as you do your work. You got free coffee, at least in the CS department. People could meet and discuss in the numerous student lounges in various buildings. On the other hand, at IITK, even though we live in quite cramped-up hostel rooms, living at Cornell in an apartment: doing your own laundry, cooking your own food, doing your own dishes; you realize how little work we have to do while staying at the campus here.

The IIT community at Cornell is pretty close-knit and helpful. I met a lot of them even while hitching a ride to Niagara on my first weekend. We joined them on a hiking trip to the local Robert Treman State Park, apart from the numerous rides across the city for groceries to potluck.

According to me, one of the perks of being a university intern is that you get ample time to travel and visit various places. I went to NYC and Boston which were pretty close to Ithaca. I much prefer the laidback simple life at Ithaca compared to the skyscrapers and crowd at NYC and Boston, but I sure understand their appeal (and at the same time finally understanding so many movie/TV references). The well-maintained museums in NYC  and the aquarium at Boston were a treat to visit. Even though we spent hours there, we had to run through most of the displays. The crowd at Times Square would certainly remind you of the crowded Indian cities like New Delhi. Although I couldn’t find Finney’s third level, Grand Central Station surely was beautiful. Finally, instead of doing the typical Indian tourist drill of visiting Madame Tussauds or riding up the elevators of Empire State Building, we leisurely spent our evening playing NY based Dumb-C at the Bryant Park.

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Jayesh at the MIT Stata Center, famous for its Deconstructionist architecture

Personally, I think, even if you do not eventually go into research, foreign internship is one hell of an opportunity to expand your horizons. One gets to see how big the world is, and how varied people’s point of view can be. Mohit has detailed this and much more in his article as well. As far as suggestions go for getting into an internship programme, especially to the first and second year undergrads, I would say:  talk to professors, and try doing research during the summer vacations. This will not only help you ferret out your fields of interest and whether you do want to continue doing research at all. Junior undergrads of course don’t have many options, but to apply at various places.

This article was written by Jayesh Kumar Gupta, final year undergraduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Kanpur.

This article is a part of the thread My Internship Experience, as a part of the Career Series to help and guide students in their internship and placement preparations.