Usually, NUS students can only choose between doing 6-month internship or exchange. Having the best of both worlds (doing 6-month intern and going for an exchange program) will result in delaying your graduation. I was fortunate to be able to do both internship and an exchange program. I already did a 6-month internship in Singapore as a part of Applied Chemistry curriculum. As a Science student, I figured out that I should do some research projects before facing the notorious Final Year Project so I can prepare myself to work in a research environment. UROPS was too overwhelming because I still couldn’t imagine myself juggling both core modules and research at the same time. So last year I joined the NUS i-RAP (International Research Attachment Program) out of my curiosity about research life. I embarked on a 1.5-month journey in Ulm, Germany as a Research Intern.
The application was pretty straightforward. I searched for research topics that suit my interest and background on NUS International Relations Office (IRO) Website (http://www.nus.edu.sg/iro/opps/irap/index.html). I scanned through the different options and considered various things such as accommodations, living costs, research topics and eligibilities. Once I found the desired universities, I submitted the required documents and essays to IRO e-mail. Most of the applications required unofficial transcript, CV or resume, and one or more recommendation letters. A few weeks after the application deadline, IRO sent me an email informing that my application was successful (yeay!). So that’s the beginning of my research internship in Europe.
Costs and Benefits
The cost estimation of each program can be found in each program’s link on IRO Website. The estimates were quite accurate. However, do keep in mind that some universities do not provide on-campus accommodation so it’s a bit tricky since you have to find your own accommodation in a foreign land. In this case, the cost estimation of the accommodation might not be very accurate.
Different universities offer different benefits. While some research internships are paid, mine was not. Instead, I was rewarded with 12MCs upon the completion of the internship. However, do keep in mind that the MCs might not be transferrable to NUS due to NUS’ strict regulation. For instance, my 12 MCs could not be transferred as the minimum length to map a research project to UROPS is 10 weeks. Mine was only 8 weeks.
But do keep in mind to always check the costs and benefits of each overseas internship programme you are applying to. Some of the internships offered by IRO required the applicants to pay certain amount of money to cover the agency fee.
Before my departure, I communicated closely with the international office of Ulm University to settle my accommodation and the required documents. The accommodation was randomly assigned depending on the availability. I was fortunate to be allocated in a dorm only 20 minutes away walking from the lab while another intern was allocated in a student hostel in the city center.
On top of the accommodation, the international office provided all the relevant links and documents that I had to provide for the visa application.
Research Life in Ulm
As a research intern, I was working under a specific professor. I did not really get the chance to work closely with the professor on daily basis as we only met during bi-weekly meetings. I was assigned to work under one of the professor’s PhD student and given a project to complete within 2 months. The project given to me was to synthesize and identify several potential photocatalysts. At the end of my project, I had to present my findings through a report and a presentation. One thing that I learnt from the 2-month research project was to never be afraid to ask questions. As an undergraduate doing my first research project, it was both very challenging and exciting at the same time. The challenge was mainly to find the right direction for the project. Fortunately, as my supervisor and I were working in the same lab sharing space and glassware, it was very easy to interact with him to get some guidance on the project.
The internship was similar to research internship in Singapore. I worked from Monday to Friday. However, as the Germans are very good in maintaining the fine balance between working and leisure time, the biggest difference between working in Singapore and Germany was mainly in the working hours. During my research internship, the working hour was very flexible. Usually, we came around 8-9 AM and left around 5PM. There were some days when we left at 4 or earlier simply because the weather was perfect for my supervisors to go out (that is, sunny day).
On top of that, unlike in NUS where we have to share a laboratory with several other researchers, there were lots of laboratories in Ulm University so each of the researcher had their own laboratory. Another difference was that some measurements such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Elemental Analysis (EA) were done by university staff instead of the researchers. The researchers only needed to submit the sample to the designated lab and collect the result a few days after.
All in all, the whole experience was nothing short of amazing. Besides the fact that I could explore the beautiful continent, I never regretted my decision to embark on the 2-month journey because I learnt so much things in such a short period of time. I was exposed to different cultures which really honed my cultural flexibility. I met people from the other side of the globe: Germans, Egyptians, French, and many more. More importantly, I had the best of both worlds – working experience and overseas exposure – without delaying my graduation.
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