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Introduction (Name, batch, a program in IITB, Current position)
I am Karan Bhuwalka, a MEMS graduate of 2018 batch. Currently, I am an MS student in Technology and Policy at the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, MIT Research Assistant, Materials Systems Lab.
What was your Motivation in going for MS over job?
I wanted to try scientific research since I did not do much in IIT. I also wanted to work in Development or Policy Analysis in the future and thought that I need some further education in that.
Did you have any specific motivation for choosing the US over some other places like in Asia, Australia, and Europe?
Not really, my only choice was the US. I guess it’s nice to have a 3-year visa extension for a STEM program.
Any exam tips, application tips, links to any personal blogs, etc
No, but I had made a document (for a talk in IIT) with some programs people can look at. This is NOT exhaustive, in any way
Reach out to people studying in programs you might want to apply to.
Factors considered in choosing the university, program and advisor .
I think fit with your research interests is important. The advisor is extremely important so you should reach out to their students and ask about the work they do. Think about location: do you want to be in a big loud city/ small quiet town.
What do you think are the differences between IITB and the current University in terms of say:
I won’t say that it is too different though, the system of grading and teaching is very different. We have fewer tests but more projects and assignments. Unlike in IIT, you’re trusted to be academically honest. Relative grading is not here, so theoretically everyone can get an A, as long as they do the well. I find the professors often very helpful with Office Hours etc.
I guess there are better fitness, sports and similar facilities here. Unquestionably, better accommodation but on the downside, we have to cook ourself though.
Here at MIT, there is a greater range of research. Funding can be one of the reasons which visibly is plenty. Research is more corporate-sponsored than what I had expected.
Any other factor
I have noticed that the campus news media often takes a vocal stand, even against the institute, on important issues. I guess they have greater autonomy.
Friends and Social Life (also if any culture shocks):
One has more time by himself/herself. I do not get to meet friends often.
Significant difficulties (like say finances, research and colleagues, adjusting family life, marriage, etc.)
I got funding through RAship (this is often possible to access in engineering programs at richer colleges). A long-distance relationship can be difficult though, but possible.
What are some key takeaways you have from your experience in the USA?
Materials Science has a lot of respect here that it deserves (but I used to feel doesn’t get) in IIT-B. I didn’t think I would like academic research much or ever consider a PhD but now I think it fits well with my style of working. Getting used to not knowing what the future holds. Recognizing that it’s tough to measure or see the impact of your work. Comparing myself less with others and trying not to doubt whether my decisions/ what I’m doing currently is legit or not. Also now think, more than before, that it’s very important to consider mental health and the pace at which I want to work instead of taking more stress than I can handle.
What are your future plans?
I want to work in data science/modelling for planning food and water systems. I am also considering to apply for a PhD in the future but may choose to work in industry/think tank before taking that step.
Any advice that you’d like to give to the students?
It’s okay to be confused! You don’t have to have everything figured out. See stuff that interests you and reach out to people who you think might be helpful (don’t be shy!)
Think about personal life / mental health when making life decisions.