Ankur's diary entry - Summer 2011

His exchange year in Singapore coming to an end, Ankur has chosen to stay on for the summer as a research intern. However his hunt for an industrial placement back in the UK is getting tougher…

Ankur Banerjee with software development project teammates With my academic year on exchange coming to an end, I find myself almost, but not quite, done with Singapore. My application for a research internship at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) - which I mentioned in my previous student diary entry - was successful. Over the summer I will be doing research under NTU's electronic engineering department on the use of microphone arrays to improve speech recognition accuracy.

This undergraduate research programme is sponsored by NTU to encourage more engineering students to think about research jobs as a career option. I must admit I feel a little out of my depth when reading up the latest research in the field; however, the professor I will be working under has been very supportive as well as the guidance I have received from seniors at my university studying the field has helped.

My hunt for an industrial placement

What has not gone as smoothly as I expected has been my hunt for an industrial placement job. Technology has certainly helped bridge gaps, as some companies allowed me to interview over telephone, even Skype.

Job interviews over Skype can be surreal; my interviewer confessed it was the first-ever Skype interview he had conducted. Yet, the human connection remains a stumbling block. Companies prefer face-to-face interviews as an industrial placement hire is a significant investment for them, and on numerous occasions I have had to drop out of the final rounds as I was unable to fly back to the UK on every instance I have been offered an interview. I expect a good chunk of my summer in continuing efforts to look for a placement.

Taking part in some really interesting courses and projects

On the academic front, my last academic semester has been very competitive, thanks to the famed Asian work-ethic among the students at NTU. Some of the courses that I found quite interesting this semester were ones on microprocessor architectures and operating system design. Among others, I got the opportunity to work on a software development team project with teammates from Singapore, China, Malaysia, and India - and there is a lot to learn from working with people from such contrasting backgrounds and cultures.

I also took on higher-level elective courses on artificial intelligence, digital video compression, and computer graphics - which has given me a clearer idea on what fields of specialisation I want to pursue in my final year.

Tough to see my study exchange time coming to an end

Coming to the end of my study exchange (but not my stay) in Singapore was hard. As I bid farewell to friends from around the world that I made over the year, I came to a realisation that this was probably the last I will see them for a long time. The things that you learn outside a lecture theatre - the aspirations, the cultures, the work approaches - of so many unique individuals has been one of the high points of my exchange.

It gave me a chance to know electronics and computer engineering students and to discover how the industry works and is progressing in their country. I got to meet mechanical engineers who worked on financial trading software for media companies and electronics engineers who are doing research on functional brainwave mapping broadens your view on how multidisciplinary today's workplace is. Hearing their stories gives inspiration that applying engineering principles need not be confined to narrow definitions of what a 'field' is.

How engineering is improving life in Asia

As I upload this entry from my cell phone on a long river journey up the Mekong River in Vietnam (on a break from Singapore before I start my internship), I am reminded of the things I have seen with my own eyes that show how engineering has made a real impact in improving quality of life in Asia; the software industry powering the offshore banking centres of Singapore and Hong Kong, the semiconductor industry revitalising economy of the Malaysian state of Penang, telemedicine centres in Cambodia providing much-needed expert medical assistance in rural areas.

Inspiring stories, all. I cannot wait to see how my placement and final year turns out.