They are recipients of scholarships from the Indian government’s funding program Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE), which is aimed at gifted and talented secondary and postsecondary students and doctoral candidates in the natural sciences.
Rupali Chawla, a student at a science institute in Mohali, and Kaustubh Chaharia, who is enrolled at a technical university in Kanpur, are two of the six Indian junior scientists enrolled in a research internship at Freie Universität Berlin during the 2013 summer semester. They are recipients of scholarships from the Indian government’s funding program Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE), which is aimed at gifted and talented secondary and postsecondary students and doctoral candidates in the natural sciences. Their time in Dahlem is arranged through cooperation between the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology (Departement of Science and Technology) and the Center for International Cooperation at Freie Universität. The goal is to make contacts for their dissertations already at this point.
For Rupali Chawla, hearing a talk given at her institute by Jörn Manz, a professor emeritus of theoretical chemistry at Freie Universität, provided the impetus to travel to Berlin. Even before starting her university studies, Chawla, now 21, had thought that she might “like to get out of India sometime”; Manz’s visit made the wish a concrete one. As a young student, she might have only understood 40 percent of the talk at most, she says with a smile, but the connection between organic and physical chemistry is exactly what interests her.
Chawla wrote an e-mail to Professor Manz, and – to her astonishment – received an answer right away. Because Manz himself is retired, she did not wind up in his working group, but she is now working with chemist Jean-Christophe Tremblay, a highly engaged supervisor who even, she explains, picked her and Kaustubh Chaharia up from the airport.
Like Chawla, Chaharia is completing his research internship at the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Freie Universität. Chaharia, who is 22, found the working group headed by Dirk Andrae through Internet research; he hoped to combine quantum chemistry and physical chemistry in his internship project, and that is exactly the focus of Andrae’s group.
“In Germany, you aren’t allowed to work on the weekend”
Both students have been members of the Indian scholarship program INSPIRE since the start of their studies. The program aims to provide support and aid to outstanding junior scientists in India. Just two percent of students in India receive these scholarships. Both of these students are enrolled at institutions that engage in research and teaching activities at a very high level.
The opportunity to go to Freie Universität Berlin to complete the research internship that is required as part of their training represents a unique cooperative initiative between the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology and Freie Universität, organized by the New Delhi liaison office of Freie Universität.
The goal of this initiative, says liaison office head Ulrich Podewils, is to set the students on the path toward their dissertations already at this point, giving them the chance to engage in a research internship and spend two or three months working “on a trial basis” within the working group headed by a scientist at Freie Universität.
The Indian guests are already excited about the way in which scientific research is performed in Germany. “You can definitely see that Germany has a long tradition in the sciences,” Chawla says. “In comparison, India is just starting out in supporting the sciences,” she adds.
Chawla also says she was surprised that German scientists have such a clear working rhythm. In India, researchers generally work at their own pace; they might not work in the morning, but then they might work nights or weekends. At the start, advisor Tremblay teased her a bit about it: “In Germany, you aren’t allowed to work on the weekend.”
Plans to Return after Completing a Master’s Degree
Andrae and Tremblay value the Indian perspective on science in Germany. Tremblay was recently in India, and he is excited about the high level and tremendous engagement he saw from Indian scientists. “I already have plans for my dissertation,” Chawla says. “It would be great to come back here.” Before then, though, the two students have one more year of their master’s degree programs to go.
During their current short stay, the two of them – like the other four Indian INSPIRE students currently at Freie Universität – hope to experience as much of Europe as possible. All of them together have not only visited almost all of the museums in Berlin already, but also taken a look around Munich and Freiburg.
The group has taken advantage of their weekends off, visiting the Baltic Sea coast and taking short trips to Paris and Switzerland – all of it by train. Asked how they do it, Chaharia says modestly, “We Indians are used to longer, far more exhausting train trips.”