Research Abroad offers a unique opportunity to be part of an international research project, gain non-credit work experience, and potentially get a leg up for graduate school.
Read on for insights from 5th year Engineering student Han Zhang.
Which exchange experience did you choose?
It was a Summer Research Program through Go Global and I went to Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. It was only for about two months, but the reason I signed on was because it was a super cool project.
What advice do you have for someone who is going there next summer?
They had what I thought was a pretty generous monthly stipend. And by that I mean, like, I could eat off of it and have a little bit leftover. But some universities do this thing where they deduct from it whatever they think their housing expense should be. After housing and rent, there wasn’t that much left. So you want to be clear what your financial situation looks like for the summer. And look for plane tickets early, as early as you can, because that saves you quite a bit of money, especially if you’re flying across the ocean!
Anything in terms of living somewhere different?
Maybe you’re going to a place where their diet is very different or they’re not allowed to eat something. Just be cognizant of that. And also the climate—Singapore was very hot and very humid. Lots of thunderstorms all the time. So do research and pack accordingly for that.
Do you have any advice for getting into a new routine with research?
Get to know whoever you’re working with—it might be the professor, it might be one of their Ph.D. students—and work with their schedule. If they’re in the office from 8:00 am - 4:00 pm, don’t be in the office 11:00 am - 7:00 pm. Try to keep it close so you can maximize the time that you work together, and never be afraid to ask questions. Typically, there are no stupid questions. Most of the time it’s better to ask, so you don’t screw something up and then, later on, they figure it out, or you do something inefficiently or you’re totally going off in the wrong direction.
Yeah! How did you find support systems and stuff like that?
Go Global was actually pretty supportive. They provided some funding which was really helpful. They also did a lot of these pre-departure meetings where they get whoever else is going to your destination in a room so you can meet each other. If you send them an email, they typically answer pretty promptly and they’ll try to help you out if there are any problems that arise.
Cool. Was there anything in terms of the research aspect that was challenging? Or any advice you have on that aspect as well?
I was tasked with measuring magnetic fields for a cloaking device and reporting on what the disturbance looks like. But I kept getting a noise signal that didn’t make any sense. This is where I really learned the lesson that there’s a way of thinking about problems that we learn in classrooms and it’s very textbook-based. But these things don’t capture what reality is like. When you think about it by the textbook, you’re just thinking, “Yeah, this should be working,” but you’re not thinking about it in terms of the real world. You could never have seen that problem if you were just thinking about it from a textbook perspective. The biggest challenge of the research was learning these sort of things that no textbook could ever possibly have an example of.
Totally. Did this program change the way you thought about your studies when you came back?
In research, you learn a whole bunch of hands-on skills and debugging skills and just relevant experience that I took back with me and helped me find co-op opportunities down the line. I’m definitely very appreciative of that.
Was there anything this experience taught you about yourself?
I learned that I’m actually quite a bit more social than I thought I was. When I was here at UBC prior to that, I never really went out very much. Typically, my nights were mostly just homework. Turns out, when you put me in the right setting, I can be pretty social. So that was an interesting self-discovery!
For more info, visit the international experience page to search study abroad opportunities by faculty.