LVPEI hosts 4 students under MIT - India Program

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MA, USA’s pioneering initiative in applied international studies MISTI (MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives) connects students and faculty with premier corporations, universities and research institutes the world over. Every year, around 400 MIT under-graduation and graduation students do their internship and research abroad under MISTI.

As part of the MIT–India Program top MIT students work with leading Indian firms and academic institutions on a project of their choice; the host institution allots a preceptor/mentor for each student. L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) is one of the internship hosts chosen by MIT. This year, LVPEI saw its second batch of students — Laura Levin Gelba, Lindsay Johnson, Swetha Kambhampati and Ethan Solomon, who came for internship from June 15 – August 15, 2010. Dr Virender S Sangwan, Head, Cornea and Anterior Segment, Ocular Immunology & Uveitis Services is the technical in charge of this program.

GroupPhoto From Left: Laura Levin Gelba, Swetha Kambhampati,
Lindsay Johnson, Ethan Solomon

Swetha Kambhampati

Graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in biology from MIT in June 2010

I’m overjoyed to be in India with my family and friends after four years. Though I belong to Andhra Pradesh I spent a part of my childhood in Chennai. When I was eight, I moved to California with my parents.

Initially, I did not want to join MIT because I thought it was very demanding and hectic. But once I was there, I could see for myself the collaborative cultural spirit, the openness and the friendliness...I have acquired skills in problem solving and think it is the experience of a lifetime.

I have a good group of Indian friends there. I learnt Carnatic music in southern California and took the lead in forming a music group called Swara. There are many such cultural groups in MIT such as the Bharatanayam group and the Bhangra group. My mom is a connoisseur of Carnatic music and I see myself continuing with music. I gave a dance performance depicting the arts of science of the central DNA process and the DNA replication and transcription through the mudras of Bharatnatyam. I have always loved science and am amazed at how the human body works and the physiological dynamics involved.

We have a mini India in Cerritos, LA. I try and stay in touch with the country through films. I loved the film “3 Idiots”. However, I do feel kind of torn apart sometimes by an identity crisis because I am an immigrant unlike many children who were born in the USA to immigrant parents. I miss India because my extended family lives here; I miss the homely atmosphere.   

It’s been wonderful at LVPEI because I always wanted to get some clinical exposure. A lot of things are very different from the US. Here we had an opportunity to do both research and to shadow doctors in the clinics. In the US, you cannot go to an operating room unless you are a medical student. The doctors here see around 80 patients per day, while in the US, a doctor sees 8 – 9 patients per day. So the stress levels are quite different. Some of the critical cases I have seen here have been eye-openers.

I will begin my first academic year at Stanford medical school soon and I’m seriously considering taking up oncology. I like children, so I would like to take up pediatric oncology. But I’m all over the place right now! After coming here, I am also considering ophthalmology. If I do take up ophthalmology, I will come back to LVP in the 4th semester.

Lindsay Johnson

Pursuing a Bachelor’s in Neuroscience at MIT

I didn’t know about MIT till I was 16. I read about it in some science magazine… about the work they do and the great opportunity for research. Montana, where I lived before moving to MIT, is a bit isolated from the world culture. Until I came to MIT, I didn’t know people from other countries, including India. All I knew about India was Gandhi and the Independence movement. MIT is very collaborative and not competitive as all the students work together. They really want people to teach each other.

Dr D Balasubramanian (Director of Research, LVPEI) came to MIT and spoke about the work of the Institute. It is a great opportunity to be at LVP. I got to see a lot of surgeries. We don’t have any hospital that offers treatment free of cost. It is really interesting to see all this. What’s good here is that we get to see the clinics and work in labs at the same time. It’s really important to be able to see patients so that my research is not just for myself but has some relevance to human life. I’m interested in studying pharmacology in research in Parkinson’s disease.

Laura Levin Gelba

Pursuing a Bachelor’s in Cognitive Science in Psychology at MIT

I’m considering joining medical school after my Bachelor’s. I thought a visit to LVPEI would help me decide whether I want to do research or practice. Working in a hospital, you get to interact with a lot more people. I’m studying Cognitive Science at MIT, which is about how the brain functions and also the art of science. I’m also involved in a community service group for people with brain disorders.

I had been to Europe but never to India. You have a very large population and the traffic is very scary. It sometimes took me half an hour to cross the road right across the Institute. However, it’s interesting that you have people from different cultural backgrounds in India. You really can’t appreciate many things unless you come to a place where people from different social and cultural backgrounds co-exist.

Coming to India and to LVPEI was a great experience. If I had come with my parents, I would have been just a tourist. But this was different. I remember a strange incident when I went to Golconda Fort. A family came up to me and handed me their baby — they wanted me to pose for a photograph holding their baby. I did not understand what was going on. So it’s interesting how I think people here are different from me, but people here think I am different from them (laughs)!

Ethan Solomon

Pursuing a Bachelor’s in Neuroscience at MIT

I never expected to join MIT although it is the best science and engineering university in the US. There is a great emphasis on research. If you want a good science education, that is the place to be. A lot of schools in the US get competitive but MIT tries very hard to get people working together rather than against each other. That is the core philosophy of MIT.

I have travelled pretty extensively around the world but this is the first time I have been to a country like India. You get to see both ends of the spectrum over here. On the one hand, I can see elements like in the US, such as multiplexes and shopping malls but, on the other hand, you have people living on an income of less than two dollars a day… Another thing that I found very surprising here was the high level of security everywhere – in shopping malls, parks, zoos…Till now I thought the maximum security I had seen was in Israel!   

It was interesting to get a first-hand experience in the clinical areas of LVPEI. I could also observe in the OR, which is something I cannot do in the US. So I got a good clinical exposure and also got to shadow the doctors.