Summer Research Internship in Academia Sinica

Hi! My name is Muhammad Fiji. I graduated from Universitas Sriwijaya with a bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering at 2015. Currently, I am pursuing my MS degree in National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST). I joined a research group in NTUST from the beginning of my MS degree in spring 2016. However, I joined another research group in Academia Sinica with the Principal Investigator become my co-supervisor. How can I join two labs from different institutions?

Well, it’s all started just a few months before my departure to Taiwan. I scrolled through my Facebook timeline and I saw a post about Taiwan International Graduate Program-International Internship Program (TIGP-IIP) hosted by Academia Sinica. It quickly grabbed my attention. I then emailed my future supervisor in NTUST, asking whether I can apply for the Academia Sinica program – since the program would take place when I already become his student. Luckily, my supervisor supported me as long as the program does not cause any conflict with my coursework and basically, I have not yet started my research project until my second semester. So I thought, “Why not apply for this (sounds like) fun summer internship? Maybe I may also get some inspiration for my research!”

Academia Sinica and Application Process
Academia Sinica is Taiwan’s leading research institution which covers research in the humanities and social sciences, life sciences, and mathematics and the physical sciences. Academia Sinica doesn’t offer an academic degree. Instead, they have collaborations with top universities in Taiwan and therefore allow the students from partner universities to join Sinica’s research group.

The program that I applied in Academia Sinica is called TIGP-IIP, which is a two months internship that provides you an intensive research training and exciting summer experience in Taiwan. The application usually opens in January with the typical program takes place from July to August. For the eligibility, as long as you are not pursuing (or already obtained) Ph.D., you are eligible for the program. Academia Sinica also provides you with a stipend of NTD30,000/month (~USD960) and half of the cheapest round-way airfare economy class ticket. They also help you for on-campus accommodation arrangement but you need to pay your own accommodation cost (typically NTD14,000 for the whole program period). You can also live off-campus if you want (like me, who lived in NTUST dormitory). They also provided you with free mandarin classes!

For the application itself, you need to upload your CV, statement of purpose (SOP), research interest, recommendation letters, and other supporting documents. TOEFL/IELTS is optional but I would recommend you to also upload it since it will be an added value to your application! I would also recommend you to contact the preference Principal Investigator you want to join since not all Principal Investigators have slots for summer interns. Furthermore, you will also need to post your academic transcript to Academia Sinica (Indonesian and English versions and need to be authorized by your university and Indonesia Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

It was a tremendous feeling when they announced the result and my name was on the list. Just several days after the announcement, I found out that my NTUST supervisor and the principal investigator for my summer internship in Academia Sinica are at the same committee board for a conference held in Taiwan. What a coincidence! This was the starting point on how I joined two research groups like I mentioned earlier.


Internship kick-off
The internship started with an orientation. I have mixed feeling on the very first day. I was both excited and nervous at the same time to meet other interns coming from all around the world. I talked to several interns before the orientation start and also met with another Indonesian intern (it’s you, Steven!). The orientation started with Academia Sinica and TIGP videos, an introduction from TIGP Graduate Student Association (GSA), and introduction from all interns. After the orientation, Rameesh (GSA chair) provided us with Academia Sinica campus tour. In the evening, we were invited to a welcome banquet where we met faculties representative from Sinica. One important message I learned from one of the : work hard, play hard. He encouraged all interns to spend the two months internship not only doing research in the laboratory but also exploring the beauty of Taiwan (I haven’t gone to many places even though already lived in Taiwan for 6 months at that time).

Internship experience
I worked in a lab that related to biomass conversion with the awesome principal investigator and group members! My principal investigator just came back to Taiwan after 12 years living in the United States as a Ph.D. student and researcher at Iowa State and UC Berkeley, respectively. All the equipment in the lab was relatively new and they just started several research projects at that time. I was assisted by a postdoc student during the whole summer, working on a frontier project in biomass (really cool, huh?). To be honest, I was like a total amateur who didn’t know anything. However, that feeling stimulated my curiosity to learn more! Just like Steve Jobs said, stay foolish, stay hungry. In the first two weeks, I did a literature review and learned on how to operate some equipment. I did the main research project for the next three weeks and the remaining days for additional studies and for my poster presentation preparation. The two-month internship did not end there! In the end of the internship, it was agreed that I will join this research group for my future thesis research with my principal investigator act as a co-supervisor.

Another rewarding part of the internship was getting to know my amazing lab mates (5 Taiwanese, 2 Indians). At first, it was kind of challenging because of the language barrier. However, that didn’t stop us to get along and discuss many things. They all were really friendly and we spent almost every lunch together. They also took me to ice skating arena and sometimes we enjoyed our dinner together (yeah, sometimes we need to do experiments very late).

Ice skating with friends

Ice skating with friends

First group meeting: pizza, chicken wing, and ice cream

First group meeting: pizza, chicken wing, and ice cream

Although I did not spend much time with other interns, I managed to go to several places with them. We went to National Palace Museum, Taipei 101, Raohe Street Night Market, and several other places. In the last day of the internship, we presented the project we were working on throughout the summer. Sinica also hosted a ceremony for our last day and held a closing banquet.

Me with my Principal Investigator, Dr. Cedric

Me with my Principal Investigator, Dr. Cedric

Interning in Academia Sinica is truly a remarkable experience. The experience provided me with the research training that eventually becomes the starting point for my current project right now. It also gives me the opportunity to develop my critical and creativity thinking and interpersonal skills. Finally, it is not always about research but also about the social experience. I was very lucky to be able to know many brilliant and amazing people that I met during the internship (and I still meet some of them every day!). I really encouraged you to apply for this internship (or other similar programs), because I believe experiences like this will greatly benefit you on many things.

That’s all from me. Please contact me in case you need to know more!


Photos are provided by the author.

Fiji received his bachelor degree in chemical engineering from Sriwijaya University in 2015 and currently pursuing MS degree in Chemical Engineering at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. His research focuses on biomass conversion to platform chemicals.
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