First Person: “One of My Most Exciting Internship Experiences”

October 16th, 2011 by Erwin Gianchandani Post a comment »

Shwetak Patel, University of WashingtonEditor’s note: As we’ve previously noted in this space (see here and here), the National Science Foundation (NSF) is soliciting applications for its 2012 East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI). Shwetak Patel — an Assistant Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington who was recently named a MacArthur Fellowship — participated in the 2005 EAPSI program, visiting Jun Rekimoto at the Sony Computer Science Laboratories (CSL), while a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech. Here Shwetak describes his experiences — and encourages others in computer science (and related fields) to apply.

One of my most exciting internship experiences came in 2005 as a part of the NSF EASPI program. Through an EAPSI fellowship, I was given the opportunity to work with any host researcher and institution in Japan. This was an incredible opportunity, because the host does not have to worry about finding funding, travel logistics, etc. The NSF and the JSPS (Japanese Society of the Promotion of Science) work together to create a seamless and rich research and cultural experience. The NSF and JSPS together provide a very generous stipend, cover travel to the host institution, and provide a very effective one-week crash course on Japanese culture and language when arriving in Japan (I didn’t know any Japanese prior to arriving). This is certainly one of them most well-organized programs in which I have ever participated.

Through the EAPSI program, I was able to work with Jun Rekimoto at the Sony Computer Science Laboratories (CSL). Working at Sony with Dr. Rekimoto was one of my dream internships while in graduate school due to his vast experience developing really novel interaction techniques. However, I had no idea how I would deal with all the various logistical challenges for an international internship and how to work through differences in their funding model. This was certainly not a mainstream internship for U.S. students. With EAPSI, I just had to make sure I could find a host researcher that would be willing to work with me and they would take care of rest. Luckily, Dr. Rekimoto agreed to host me, and I was ecstatic. I knew this was going to be a great experience!

The dream internship was incredibly fun and exciting. I was able to work with some of the best human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing researchers, not just in Japan but in the world. I had all the standard outcomes of a successful internship — I published a paper with Dr. Rekimoto, who would also become a great letter writer, and also established strong connections to Sony and came back with many new ideas. However, the thing that stood out the most for me with doing an international internship was the fact that I had a much better understanding of how to motivate and position my research. We often get into the habit of designing and developing systems that we would want for ourselves or people like us would want. Even if you break out of that mindset and target your work toward others, you may still be missing out on the significant impact your work could have globally. In fact, the cultural differences around the world force you to think about problems in different ways, which allows you to create a stronger motivation for your work and work on new problems that others may not have explored. In addition, living in a new culture helps provide a means for exploring yourself as an individual and helps you to recognize your values and expand your world view.

Interested in applying? Click here to learn more about the EAPSI program and review application instructions. The deadline is November 9, 2011.