After completing schooling in Vidya Mandir, Chennai, and B.Tech Biotechnology in SASTRA University, Tanjore, I decided to apply for my master's in biotechnology in Germany.
I was often asked this question, “Why Germany? Why not the USA?” The reason was that I did not want to follow stereotypes but still wanted to go to a place that had great technical competence and a good deal of pharmaceutical and chemical companies (BASF, Bayer, Evonik, to name a few). I received very useful information about German universities from DAAD (Deutsches Akademische Austauch Dienst) centre in Goethe Institute in Chennai.
I was successful in getting admission to M.Sc. Biotechnology at Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH). I attended the basic German language course at Goethe Institute before leaving for Germany.
Studying in Germany costs much lower than elsewhere. There are several scholarships available in India for students aspiring to study abroad. I applied for the JN TATA Endowment scholarship for higher education. I applied for it in March 2007 and was called for the interview in Mumbai in May 2007. The sanction came in August 2007 and I left for Hamburg in September 2007.
Hamburg is a beautiful city and the life in Hamburg was really memorable for me. Excellent arrangements were made for the international students arriving to study at TUHH. Student Tutors also help the new students with securing insurance, opening bank account, phone connections and all the other necessary chores. There is an Indian Students Association (ISATUHH) which helps the Indian students coming to TUHH. There are also international tutors who are part of Welcome@TUHH group. The tutors organise get-togethers, parties, introductory and guidance sessions with the students to make their life easier.
The best part is the excursions organised by the tutors and majorly sponsored by DAAD, where the students are taken to places like Berlin, Copenhagen, Oberstaufen (mountains in southern Germany) etc. I got excellent international exposure and got to interact with people coming from all over the world.
Coming to education, the university is technically competent as can be expected. The curriculum is quite hectic for the first year. After the first semester, the international students can apply for a scholarship (Leistungstipendium). I was able to get this scholarship since I had good results after the first semester.
The scholarship amount was sufficient to meet my expenses, since living in Hamburg was not too expensive. I was also able to get a research assistant position to work for 20 hours a week at the Institute of Technical Biocatalysis. This was very helpful as I got hands-on experience in several Biocatalytic techniques. It also helped me decide in favour of Biocatalysis (White Biotechnology).
For the mandatory master's thesis, I got an opportunity to do my project in collaboration with Biocatalysis and organic chemistry group at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. I spent six months in Delft doing research and completed writing my thesis in Hamburg. I got a scholarship to support during my research at TU-DELFT.
During my stay in Delft, my Professor there, asked me to apply for the Marie Curie fellowship (International training network) under a network called BIOTRAINS. The concept of the BIOTRAINS was quite unique. It allowed exchange of students between different European countries for doing a Ph.D or Post Doctoral. There were some stringent conditions for eligibility for non- EU students. Getting through the fellowship was rather tough being a non-EU student. Most of the universities in the network were reluctant to take non-EU students. But I was selected and called for an interview in the Department of organic and bio-organic chemistry at the Karl-Franzen University of Graz, Austria — founded in 1585.
After a presentation and interview, I was selected for the Ph.D position under the BIOTRAINS project. I am currently pursuing my second year of Ph.D in Graz under Prof Wolfgang Kroutil, a very supportive and knowledgeable guide.
The three and a half years in Europe has been a truly amazing experience. I got to travel all around Europe and meet people from different countries. I could learn about new cultures and share my own with others.
As a vegetarian however things can be rather difficult. Language is indeed an important factor in Europe. I took the interest and learnt the German language. This proved to be rather useful; it helped me even when I moved to Austria (Where German is the language). It would also make applying for jobs in Germany easier and simply improve the day-to-day life.
I have been fortunate to study in three beautiful countries in Europe, an experience to be cherished forever.