University of Alberta – Aishwarya Iyer

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Hello, I’m Aishwarya Iyer, about to go into my 4th year, in the department of Energy Science and Engineering. I am a summer intern at the University of Alberta this year, under the University of Alberta Research Experience (UARE) Program, and Insight thought it’d be a good idea to let me write about my experiences here.

Now coming to the formal description of what an internship at the UoA (as we fondly call it) actually entails.

Pre Intern happenings: (The Whats, Whys and Hows)

Well, the University of Alberta was a name I was fairly acquainted with, considering the fact that seniors I knew and respected had been on an intern here. I never really delved into their experiences much, but I knew it was a cool university to go to. The University comes through two windows, MITACS Globalink and UARE. MITACS is a scholarship that allows you to apply to a lot of universities, whereas UARE is exclusive to the University of Alberta. The UARE internship came well in advance of its deadline to the PT Cell. I read about it initially and almost forgot about it when a push from a friend made me consider applying to the IAF, and boy am I glad I did! The UARE application is a little bit of a long procedure, as you not only have to sign the IAF, but also have to submit an application on the university portal requiring a lot of documents including letters of recommendation. You also get to choose projects from a list of projects they put up on the portal (people applying for MITACS, please note that these projects are different than the ones offered through MITACS most of the times, and it’s a good idea to go through these too). But as there is no interview, and they select you directly on the basis of your application, put thought, time and effort in deciding the projects you wish to apply for, and designing the kind of profile they see of you through your application.

Who knew barren land could be so spectacular

As for me, I decided to apply because the projects offered were right in my field of interest, the professors seemed to have a great interactive working style, great academic backgrounds, and it seemed to be a great university overall (yes, I checked the rankings, to make sure that it was high on the list). I also spoke to a couple of seniors who had been on University interns and they told me UoA usually presented a great learning opportunity to their interns. To be frank, I also wanted to visit Canada, and though this was a small attraction, it was by no means an insignificant one.

The results take a long time to come and you receive an email from the UoA regarding your acceptance. After this, it is imperative to quickly book your tickets once you finalise the duration of your intern, as the prices of flights keep fluctuating, and usually rise as you go closer to the time of departure. You’ll be required to complete 10 weeks minimum at your intern, and since IITB has a vacation of about 10 weeks only, there will be hardly any time after your endsems before you need to get here. The flight to Edmonton is about a 30 hour journey, with usually about 6-8 hours of transit time and about 18-20 hours of flying. So it’s going to be a long, but quite a picturesque journey here, with usual layovers at Munich or Frankfurt.

Getting There!

Living in the hostels at UoA is very very expensive and can be afforded only by the MITACS scholars as they get paid about $30 for each day, which is roughly the rent at the hostel. For UARE scholarship recipients like myself, this was not an option. So a couple of other UARE scholars and I decided to live together in a house here, and started hunting accommodations online. The process is fairly simple once you lock in on a house, they send you an agreement for the lease online, and you correct it to fit your liking, and sign it and send it back. The landlord signs it too, and then you have to transfer some amount (usually a month’s rent or the damage deposit) to their account.

We had choices between apartments a little far from UoA (which costed quite less) and slightly pricier ones closer to UoA. We went with the latter, and at about $1250 for 2.5 months per person (for an apartment of four), we secured an apartment at a 15 minute walking distance from the University with all the basic necessities included.

A piece of heaven, in Edmonton

Hello Edmonton!

Edmonton, Alberta is a beautiful city, probably on par with the most beautiful cities you will see on international tours. Since you’ll get here at the beginning of May, it’s going to be a bit chilly for the first few weeks, and the temperatures will be between 3-10 degrees Celsius. So pack accordingly. However, snow is a rarity, but not an unheard occurrence. However, as the month of May slips by, it gets warmer progressively, and as I’m writing this in mid-June, I can verify that very light jackets, if any at all, are usually required. I found myself comfortable with a lot of normal clothes, with just one thick jacket and one institute hoodie.

The house we live in is owned by really nice Polish people living in Vancouver, and we live in the basement (it is not dark and dingy as you may fear, and is well-ventilated and heated). The apartment upstairs is rented by Chinese students at the UoA and they have been very accommodating if we ever create any noise or disturbance (which isn’t too often). Find yourself an apartment that provides all the things you believe are necessary for your everyday existence, and if you decide to live in one a little far from the university, fear not, as the public transport in Edmonton is beautifully planned. If your apartment is close to the LRT (the train system), you can get a monthly pass of $90 for unlimited train and bus rides, and easily commute to and from the University. However, make sure the area you live in is safe and not too secluded (though Edmonton is a peaceful city, you can’t be too careful).

Canada, An Overview

Canadians in general, are extremely polite, hard-working, nature-loving people. Random people walking up to wish you a “Good morning” or complimenting you on your appearance is quite common, and it took me a while to get over my first bout of surprise at the welcome change. “Thank-you”s and “Sorry”s are said abundantly here, and I had to resurrect my dormant manners. The sun rises at about 5am and sets by 10pm, resulting in long beautiful days we could spend in this quiet, law-abiding city. Being a vegetarian, I brought along a lot of frozen, dehydrated, ready-to-eat food, but I needn’t have bothered. With a large Indian population, some of the localities in Edmonton have supermarkets which have Indian foods, including even the ready-to-eat foods I brought along. Might be a little more expensive than India, though, so I guess bringing along food wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Travelling for us wasn’t an issue as we walked up to the University every day, but the public transport with the ETS (Edmonton Transit System) buses and LRT (Light Rail Transit) trains is quite well planned and easy to figure out, so moving around the city was also quite easy. All in all, Edmonton is a quiet, sparsely populated and beautiful city that’ll etch itself on your heart.

Buildings at UoA look like they have a story to tell

The Project

I work with Dr. Kumar from the Mechanical Engineering department. Experience here differs from professor to professor. I have been assigned two projects, under two separate graduate students. One is a detailed insight into the cement industry of Canada, and the other is provincial energy analysis of Canada. This is quite a learning process, as the projects help me understand how concepts studied at IITB are to be applied in real life scenarios. I don’t have laboratory work (some of my friends from other departments do), and no particular office hours, so I can work from home or go to the campus. I prefer going to the campus though, it’s a picturesque place, and is quite interesting to see the way people here work. Overall, it’s quite chilled out compared to the IITB sem stress, just gets hectic around the deadlines.

Travelling Around

Alberta is a beautiful place! The Rockies are close by, and the University organizes many trips to areas around Edmonton. Drumheller is a nice day trip, so are Elk Island and Ukrainian village. However, Banff and Jasper (National parks in the Rockies) steal the show, and absolutely stun you with their mesmerizing natural beauty (I’ve been to Banff, and I can vouch for this! Can’t wait to get to Jasper!). Lake Louise is one of the most photographed places in the world, so definitely visit it! A little planning and knowing your way around Airbnb can help you plan fun trips to Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, which are pretty easily reachable, even if a little far from here. Edmonton in itself has a beautiful river valley, Downtown and some cool activities like canoeing (the University organizes this), and skydiving! So start planning your weekends in advance, as a senior once told me “It’s a crime to waste weekends on a University Intern”.

The spellbinding divinity that is Lake Louise

Cultural Diversity

Interns, visiting students, exchange students are all added to the Visiting Students Program, University of Alberta. There are Japanese, Brazilian, Mexican, American, Australian, Chinese people who also work here. UARE is a great way to get to interact with people from diverse cultures and understand how life works in other parts of the world. So, even if your Indian group is your comfort zone, go out there and make friends on the frequent Visiting Student Program trips the institute organizes, eat new types of food, and enjoy in a different way than you’d do in India. I’ve made a lot of new friends here, and I can say they are amazing!

Take Aways

The UARE experience is quite a remarkable one. Learning punctuality, getting all my manners back in place are the added benefits in addition to learning how to work in real research groups, developing a professional work ethic and adhering to deadlines. It also gave me an opportunity to develop people skills, make many new friends, to go on short trips that are sure to leave me with a truckload of memories and fun experiences!

The view was worth the hike up the mountain and more!