“Don’t hesitate to try something new – you wouldn’t know a game-changer without ever being a part of it”
Bachelors’ in Geoinformatics, Batch of 2020, College of Engineering, Guindy
University of Waterloo
Interviewee: Jaya Sree
Interviewer: Juvairiya Farsana (GT)
GT: Do you have any internship experience before this one?
Jaya Sree: Yes, I had interned at Space Applications Centre, ISRO, Ahmedabad, as a Summer Research fellow during the second year. I got this opportunity through IASc-INSA-NASI Summer Research Fellowship’18.
GT: What were your feelings when you first landed in Canada and how do you think the experience has shaped you as a person?
Jaya Sree: I was stepping out of my comfort zone since it was my first time traveling overseas by myself. It wasn’t a pleasant start, to be honest! I landed in Canada during the wee hours of the morning and found out that my suitcase carrying important documents had been misplaced. Thankfully, the airport authorities were amiable and made sure it was retrieved within that night. The people I met during my time there, were friendly as well. It was a gratifying experience overall that I’d cherish for a lifetime.
GT: Can you elaborate on the procedure and criteria involved in applying for this internship?
Jaya Sree: There is no specific application process as such. In my case, I had personally approached professors having similar interests as mine. But it took me more time to finalize the professors as I had to read through their area of work, expertise, previous publications, and ongoing projects. Then, after sifting through the most relevant researchers, I emailed them individually with appropriate cover letters and CVs. To those who are hoping to bag an internship through this process, make sure your cover letter is to the point (or research proposal) and be genuine with your knowledge. Because, professors will receive a lot of emails from students like you, so they can easily be considered spam if they are neither honest nor distinctive.
GT: How tough was the competition? Why do you think you had an edge over others in the selection process?
Jaya Sree: The competition was pretty tough. And generally, you cannot predict who your competitors are. Undergraduates, postgraduates and Ph.D. scholars alike, all around the globe, compete to research under the guidance of eminent researchers in renowned universities. I believe my relevant research experience at ISRO, the bolster of my CGPA, and most importantly the way I expressed my passion for research, together made me stand out in the applicant pool. Moreover, supervisors will always expect their students to work independently as they already have abundant research work to do and are busy writing research papers too. So, I think prior knowledge about the field of research, helped me to secure that excellent opportunity.
GT: Did CGPA play a crucial role in acquiring this internship?
Jaya Sree: In a research internship, preference is given to a candidate who has experience in research rather than grades. However, I had a decent CGPA of 8.8 while applying for the internship. It is very rare for people to get rejected based on their grades alone, if they have an excellent research background and adequate skill sets too.
GT: Could you give a brief description of your project?
Jaya Sree: I analyzed the capability of high-frequency Ka-band altimeter data from Saral satellite (Mission of ISRO and CNES) for estimating the lake ice thickness on large northern lakes, including Great Slave Lake, Great Bear Lake, and Baker Lake. Furthermore, I examined the sensitivity of backscatter and brightness temperature from Saral over the ice on large northern lakes. All of this was implemented using the Python programming language. This work holds significance as the changes in ice thickness have implications on the sustainability of winter ice roads used to supply commodities to remote northern settlements and also, it is the sensitive indicator (integrator) of climatic conditions.
GT: What were the technical skills that eased you throughout?
Jaya Sree: My project was purely based on coding. I had to learn python during my second-year internship and that skill came to use this internship. Along with it, the knowledge I gained through lab courses offered in my department helped me to some extent while working with our domain software. However, I would always prefer coding over dealing with software.
GT: Did the University offer any scholarship or stipend for this internship?
Jaya Sree: Yes, my two-month internship was fully funded and I also received generous pay, with allowances that could cover all my expenses including flight charges, food and accommodation. The surplus amount from the stipend, even allowed me to explore the places in and around Waterloo and a chance to taste some delicious international cuisines.
GT: How did you manage food and accommodation in Canada?
Jaya Sree: The university provided a stipend for food and accommodation. My supervisor was very kind and arranged an apartment for me within the campus itself. But I chose to stay off-campus, in an apartment I had rented out beforehand so that I’d get better exposure to the Canadian culture. The food albeit, is pretty expensive in Canada. Thanks to my cooking skills, I sustained.
GT: In what way do you think that this internship has shaped you and your future?
Jaya Sree: It’s one of the major turning points in my life as it gave me tremendous exposure which I couldn’t have gotten in India. Sadly, geoinformatics is a rather underrated field in India; most people in our country still lack the knowledge of the existence of such a field. Elsewhere, it's treated on-par with other departments. Through this intern experience, I got to know about the various scopes in my field and the ways to pursue it. So, it has played a major role in shaping my career.
My supervisor was satisfied with my work and welcomed me to join their institution. Now, I have been offered a 100% scholarship to complete my master's degree there. I'm grateful to my superior and excited about it.
GT: Would you recommend the University of Waterloo to your juniors and is there a piece of advice you would like to convey to them?
Jaya Sree: The University of Waterloo is one of the most highly reputed institutions around the globe. I'll absolutely recommend it, as it not only paves way for your research career but also helps you to understand the opportunities available in this field. It has a very supportive and healthy work environment. Also, people there are open to others’ ideas and they behave more as a colleague rather than one’s superior.
A piece of advice to the juniors - don’t get demotivated if someone questions the lack of opportunities available or if the ones available to you, won’t pay well. Every field has its pros and cons. So, keep yourself updated with the latest technologies and always be ready to learn new skills. Don’t hesitate to try something new - you wouldn’t know a game-changer without ever being a part of it.
GT: What do you feel about Guindy Times's Intern Diaries Series?
Jaya Sree: It's a great educational initiative. While I was looking out for opportunities, I couldn’t get ideas about internships abroad or how to initiate the process. But now, our juniors do not have to undergo a lot of trouble as this series will help in widening their perspectives. The articles are available online for anyone to check them out. You are doing a great job and please continue to do so.
The Guindy Times extends hearty gratitude to Jaya Sree for spending her valuable time and wishes her all the best for her future endeavours.