My Internship Experience : MITACS

It was the last day at Toronto. With two suitcase trolleys, one travel bag and a backpack, 40 Kg of luggage was being juggled on and off my shoulders. I was pulling it through the underground subway to take my flight back from Toronto to Delhi when a middle aged lady, passing by near the subway, uttered, “It seems I got a chance to have a good exercise today, I shall carry this bag for you down the stairs”, and then she took the heaviest one downstairs and dropped it off after I had collected my last subway token.

Well,do  you know why is a roller coaster  so exciting? It is not the fast drops, curves  or turns but rather the few initial moments invested in building the potential – when it slowly but steadily takes you to the top. And then down you go.

Leviathan, one of the fastest roller coasters at Canada’s Wonderland

Leviathan, one of the fastest roller coasters at Canada’s Wonderland

Applying for the Mitacs internship was no different. It was after the mid semester exams, around the third week of September, 2014, when I realized that I needed to hush up my application for the Mitacs program, sealing it up just a few hours before the deadline (Well, it got extended, too). Then, about a month later, they mailed back that my application was being forwarded to the professors whom I had chosen to work with. About a few weeks later, two of the professors set up interviews over Skype. I was asked to brief them about my previous projects and in turn, they gave me an idea on the project that I could be potentially working on. Again, after a month’s wait, I woke up to the subject in my mailbox: “Mitacs Globalink Research Internships – Official Project Offer to Students / Programme de stages recherche Globalink – Offre de projet officielle aux étudiants”. That’s when, it was official, and that’s when you are dropped from the roller coaster after months of potential build up. I was selected for my internship at Microrobotics Laboratory, University of Toronto (UofT) to work with Prof. Eric Diller on designing and controlling bio-inspired micro robots.

At Pearson International Airport, having finished all the customs and immigration formalities, I was there out in the city only to realize that  it was 9pm and the sun was still making way for the dark. This was the first of many surprises that were to unfold. At airport, my mentor,the one who was the link between Mitacs and me, received me. She was a former student of UofT, and was to be my first contact for all kinds of assistance and support over the next twelve weeks. From the airport, as she took me through the TTC (Toronto transit commission) underground metro and connected buses (Extensive network of public transportation) to my temporary hostel (I had arrived two days earlier, and was among the first ones from Mitacs to be at Toronto), she described the routes, and how she never recovered her taste buds after her visit to India; I was still stuck wondering if the day was to be so long.

I shifted to Rowell Jackman Hall, the abode for all the Mitacs interns at Toronto. You get a suite, shared with two fellow interns, with a big drawing room, a kitchen, and a big bedroom, with a very big bed. With time, this residence becomes all about its residents. You get to be friends with people from different parts of world (and different colleges in India) , all sharing their stories, some about good things, some about not so good things, playing charades and werewolves, celebrating birthdays, and weekends being full-fledged vacation.

Being a vegetarian, one has to be contended with ‘ghaas-phoos’ in most of the eateries. Having a suite-mate who can cook could be a lifesaver. Gradually, I also started cooking and initially, be it pasta or aloo ki sabzi, everything would taste the same. With time, my skills got better. They had to. We had to do everything, all the way from cooking (with extra precautions that fire alarm don’t go off), cleaning the dorm, buying groceries, planning travel itineraries, managing every single thing on our own… all that renders us fiercely independent.

My time at the lab is what I consider the best and the most enriching part of all these 12 weeks. It could not be better when you are given a chance to choose among a range of projects going on in the lab. The very first day, Prof. Diller was kind enough to introduce me to different projects in the lab and gave me almost a week to choose among the projects. I chose working with and on, soft microrobots, tiny swimmers.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying”, and with a lot of literature review and flipping through pages of Griffiths, Strang and FM White, I started working on tiny swimmers. I had to characterize the motion of a swimmer with variation in control parameters, use characterization study to develop independent and parallel control of two swimmers driven with single, uniform actuation field and  demonstrate the advantage of cooperation of swimmers for task accomplishment. Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter, and I am grateful to my lab mates and my lab guide for their amazing company during this internship.

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My lab mates

It was a complete package of academic learning for me: machine design, coding, micro fabrication, and controls; could not have expected more in one project. Along with the learning, the work itself was quite motivating. It seemed effortless to contribute to the project and do justice to my internship. In addition, I got to know my interests better, refine my skills and build up my confidence.

In all, I thank Mitacs and Prof. Diller, for giving me a chance to enrich my knowledge and contribute to the best of my abilities and for bestowing me with an unforgettable experience.

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Skydiving at Skydive Toronto

 

Written by Piyush Jain .