My Internship Experience: MITACS

It was the last day of my semester and I had an exam scheduled just few hours before I was expected to leave for Canada. My bag was still unpacked; I hastily dumped all my items in the bag and departed to New Delhi. Reluctant to leave my parents who had accompanied me to the airport, I departed with a heavy heart and an exhausted mind.

After a 26 hour long journey, I reached Calgary International Airport to find a friendly Nigerian graduate student waiting for me. MITACS had assigned him to be my student mentor and made sure attention was given to my comfort. As I hesitantly greeted him and we made our way outside the airport, a gasp escaped my lips. It was 9.30 pm (local time), yet the city shone bright with sunlight. This was my first experience to what days being longer in summer meant in Canada.

The day was about nineteen hours long and sunset lasted for hours. In the initial days during my stay, I couldn’t feel like eating at normal dinner time. Albeit my stomach sensed the hunger, my eyes were pretty convinced that it was still evening. I was one of the first Globalink Research Intern (GRI) to reach Canada. The university residence was not yet open for interns, so I stayed at a hotel already reserved by MITACS, where nature welcomed me with snow. Wrapped in a cozy blanket, a peaceful weekend took my jet lag away.

My first meeting with my project supervisor was scheduled after two days. Meanwhile I paid a visit to the university, to familiarize myself with the surroundings and my department. The work culture at the university was visibly different. The interaction between professors and students was more open. Additionally, there was a lot of diversity- I met graduate students from Turkey, Japan, China, Iraq, Bangladesh and many other countries. My supervisor’s administrative assistant welcomed me, and introduced me to my office mates- two cheerful third year graduate students who happily agreed to give me a campus tour. The process of making friends for lifetime had just begun.

I had begun to notice few differences even outside of the university. The population density of Canada is about a hundred times lower than that of India. To an average Indian, public places like subway platforms might occasionally appear to be isolated, haunted even. The driving system was left handed and traffic rules were strictly followed–I could rarely hear the honking of a horn. People were humble and polite; almost everyone greeted strangers and vehicles compulsorily stopped for pedestrians. I felt a strange sense of importance.

My supervisor was a prominent Canadian economist- an immensely energetic man, full of brilliant ideas. Even a small conversation with him could turn out to be so insightful. He was gregarious and approachable, and could talk endlessly about his research experiences over years. Our first meeting began talking about cultural differences in both countries and concluded with deciding on the topic of study, as well as the step by step approach to go about it. I started my research on Energy Economics and Energy Transitions by reading popular press articles to ensure that the field of study was important enough.

Everything was going great, except the hunt for good food. Being a spice craving foodie, having some flavourful delicious food became a rarely accomplished task. In the first few days, I had trouble trying new cuisines and I couldn’t eat much and would invariably throw my food into the bin after first few bites. I was desperate to have some Indian food and resolved to prepare it on my own as soon as we shifted to our new residence.

It took me almost two weeks to complete my first survey, which was followed by another exhaustive survey on theoretical and empirical academic literature. The study started from being quite interesting, but became tedious in between. My supervisor remained cheerful and supportive ensuring that I was not lacking behind. This is when I learnt the best and worst parts of doing research.

Meanwhile, more GRIs had started arriving. We shifted to our new residence at university. We had a furnished, fully air-conditioned, 3-bedroom apartment with queen size beds, along with an unparalleled room service- nothing less than a splendid five star hotel. The access to new kitchen was accompanied by what I would call an ‘irrational exuberance’. I enthusiastically bought a lot of groceries, only to find quite a bit rotting in the fridge after few days. I never had done groceries before, I was only learning. Since I had never cooked before, googling recipes and troubling my mother over skype became a routine. It made me realize the tireless efforts she puts in everyday.

The research was going well now, and I was falling in love with the work culture. After the prolonged literature survey, I began collecting and refining a huge data set, which I continue to do even now, the analysis is yet to follow. Throughout my stay at university, my supervisor’s assistant kept me informed with the department news. One fine day, she emailed about the three day ‘Rocky Mountain Empirical Trade Conference’ supposed to be held at Banff. About 130 km away from Calgary, Banff is one of the finest places in Alberta. My supervisor kindly proposed to fund all my expenses during trip, giving me the rare treasured opportunity to attend the insightful talks by eminent economists across the country, informally interact with them, as well as enjoy the mesmerizing beauty that nature has bestowed upon Canada.

Apart from the high quality research, MITACS made sure that GRIs had a steep learning curve through several other ways. We were frequently invited to workshops, industry meetings and social events. Additionally, we had weekly department seminars that promised a lot of knowledge along with free food (which of course was the main motivation to attend them.)

About thirty people from India, Brazil, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, China and Mexico joined me during my 12 week stay. The weekends spent with fellow GRIs were one of their kinds. Together, we visited every tourist place nearby. We celebrated each other’s culture. While Indians cooked dinner for everyone; Brazilians prepared dessert and shared a few a dance moves; Chinese, Mexicans and Vietnamese made farewell dishes for all. The fun part was teaching non Indians to play mafia and dumb charades.

I spent the last few weeks contemplating the wonderful things that Canada gave me, a legacy that I shall never forget. I was missing so much of it already. Even today, all the last meetings, and the warm farewell hugs are fresh in my memory. Everyone has a story, and is capable of teaching you so much. Living with an ethnically diverse group made me embrace our differences while also realizing our innumerable similarities. Although I could only get glimpse of Alberta’s rich culture, breathtaking beauty, inspiring heritage, multicultural society and peaceful environment, there is so much that I have brought back with this intern.

Written by Nafisa Lohawala, Fourth Year Undergraduate, Department of Economics