Despite being surrounded by a plethora of fields, our vision is often obscured by just a few popular ones. The hidden fields are apparently less traveled paths and students are reluctant to travel and explore these paths. Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur is here with a new series of articles “Core vs Non Core – Grad School Series”. In the series, we will be presenting you with insights into the journeys of students who traveled through these less-traveled roads.
In this article, we have Mr. Arghyanil Bhattacharjee, who is currently studying Master of Applied Sciences in Materials Engineering at The University of British Columbia. Last year, he graduated from IIT Kharagpur with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Here is an insight into his journey and life that will surely inspire many.
1. What prompted you to go to graduate school after your final year as opposed to a job? How has your experience been until now?
I had kept my options open and also sat for placements in December. I worked for around eight months at Tata Projects Limited. I was working in the commissioning team, and even though the work was related to my core discipline, it wasn’t something that interested me as much as the projects I had worked on in materials engineering. In the meantime, I had deferred my admit at UBC from the Fall 2020 intake to the Fall 2021 intake. So I decided that I would go for the master’s program here at UBC as it would help me learn more about the field of materials engineering and better prepare me for a career in the same field.
2. What were the various options available to you while choosing a career path? How and why did you decide to pursue a career in the field of Composite Materials & Polymers?
I had mainly two options, either to work in the core field or join a graduate program. This was because I enjoyed working on my projects at KGP as well as my internships. As a result, I never gave a thought of preparing for management schools or going for a non-core profile job.
My projects at KGP were mainly based on applications of fluid dynamics in thermal management systems. Both my internships, on the other hand, exposed me to the world of composite materials and their applications in products that we use in our daily lives. I liked working more in the latter field, and hence I decided to go for a program that can give me exposure to the field of composite materials and polymers. Also, while working on these materials, I kind of had a feeling that composites are the “materials of the future,” and they are here to stay.
3. How important is a Letter of Recommendation (LoR) while applying to learn at universities abroad? What role does it play?
The LOR is important in the sense that the admission committee doesn’t know you, and it’s one of the things they use to evaluate you academically as well as personality-wise. Often it may happen that when you are applying to a graduate program under a professor, that person may know the person who is writing a LOR for you and will hence trust the opinion of the recommender about you. Almost all universities require one or two LORs at least (in many cases three as well) from people who have supervised you and can hence give an opinion on your personality, work ethics, and intellectual capabilities. When there is more than one qualified applicant for a single vacancy, I believe the LOR could be something the admission committee gives more weightage to while making the decision.
4. What made you switch from job to research?
Although the work culture at Tata Projects was nice, and they provide you ample opportunities to grow in the corporate world, the project that I was working on didn’t really excite me as it involved more techno-managerial work. As a result, I felt this was a good time to venture out into the field of materials engineering. Having liked working in laboratories during my time at KGP, a career in research and development is something I would like to have in the future, and hence I decided to make the switch.
5. When and how did you build the required skillsets for getting into The University of British Columbia? Did you do any internships? Any resources you used to prepare?
Most graduate programs in engineering require you to have a bachelor’s degree in the same or related field. Internships are always a good way to show that you have worked in the area, and they justify your desire to go for a graduate program. In Canada, there usually are two types of master’s programs- course-based and research-based. In a course-based program, you complete your coursework and do an internship to graduate. In a thesis-based program, you are required to complete courses and work on a project to write a master’s thesis. In a research-based program, you are required to have a supervisor who would guide you in your thesis work and also fund your program.
As a result, when applying for a thesis-based program, you need to not only get approved by the admissions committee, but you also need a professor who agrees to have you under his supervision. So, if you have internships or have worked on projects similar to any professor at the university, you have more chances to get accepted. Hence, if you have done some projects while at KGP or during your internship, try to find professors working in similar fields when applying for graduate programs. I had done two internships in the field of composite materials. One was at the Life Sciences and Technology Centre (LSTC) of ITC Ltd., and another was at the Laboratory for Processing of Advanced Composites (LPAC) at EPFL Switzerland.
6. What changes did you observe between IIT Kharagpur and The University of British Columbia with respect to the education system, campus environment, research facilities, students’ lifestyle, etc.?
There are some major differences due to the cultural differences between the two countries in which both the universities are. From my short time here, I have observed that the courses are designed in a way that is more related to practical applications. One is exposed to working on real-world case studies, and lectures are more focused on sharing ideas and concepts than just formulas and equations.
As for the campus environment, I found it similar to KGP in some aspects – UBC also has a pretty big campus. However, most students don’t stay on campus, unlike KGP.
In terms of research facilities, one very stark difference that I observed here was the importance given to safety. New students and employees are required to go through intensive safety training at the university, department, and laboratory level separately. In fact, without completing these training, one cannot work in laboratories. This is something I never came across in KGP, and I feel this is something that needs to be enforced in KGP and other institutes that do not have this yet.
7. Do you plan to pursue academic research or are there research opportunities in corporate as well related to your field?
There are opportunities in the corporate world as well related to my field. Composite materials are being used in a number of places, and the scope is increasing as time progresses. I plan to join a research team in a corporate setting after completing my program here at UBC.
8. What do you think are the major differences between academic research and corporate research jobs? How did you decide which one is best for you?
One of the main differences is your freedom of doing research, I feel. In an academic setting, you are supposed to define your research goals and accordingly work on that from your first day. In a corporate setup, you are mostly restricted to the research goals that your organization needs. Both have their pros and cons. In an academic setting, you can always change your research topics and venture out into new areas.
However, you are also supposed to mentor students and future researchers and are responsible for arranging funds for your research. In the corporate field, you might have to change jobs if you want to work on a different topic as it might not be relevant to your organization’s goals. However, you are not required to supervise students or worry about funding most of the time. In my case, I do not see myself doing a Ph.D. right now and entering academia. Having worked at LSTC for ITC Ltd, I liked the work culture of a corporate R&D setup and hence am more inclined to join a similar role currently.
9. What advice/message would you like to give to a student interested in pursuing a course similar to yours? Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I would like to say that it’s never a bad time to switch to something that is not your core subject at KGP or otherwise. Many students at KGP feel they are not in the right department or are inclined to believe that due to notions developed in discussions with peers or seniors.
At the end of the day, pursue whatever interests you and gives you a sense of satisfaction. You don’t have to code or do Data Analytics just because everyone in your hall and department are doing the same. There are a vast number of fields to explore, and every field has enough scope to work and grow in. Don’t run after packages or Day 1 Placements. If someone tells you that your life is finished just because you didn’t get a high package or you got placed on Day 7, don’t let that bog you down.
Looking back, I would probably not have been too disappointed when I didn’t get a DepC to Mechanical Engineering after my first year. Life works in mysterious ways, and you never know where you will end up. The sky’s the limit!