Pavneet Singh Kochhar's picture

My Exchange Experience

I joined Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), one of the best schools for Computer Science, in the fall of 2014. This was a unique experience at the doctoral level. Moreover, I had never been on an exchange programme before which made the whole experience even more exciting. CMU draws some of the best students from around the world, which makes its admission procedure highly competitive. The intellectual cohort of students makes for a great learning environment. Lessons were highly interactive as the graduate population is diverse and most of the students had prior industrial experience.

During the spring semester, I took part in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, which challenged Ph.D. students to present their thesis work and its significance in three minutes, in a language which is easily comprehensible by general audience. This was a unique experience for me as I had never participated in such an event before. It was amazing to see how students presented tremendous amount of work they had done over the past few years in just three minutes. It was a great learning opportunity as it taught me how to present my work to friends and at networking events.

Apart from the engaging lessons and assignments, CMU also had many co-curricular clubs/societies. Campus was always buzzing with events. I was also actively involved with few clubs, in particular the International Development Group, Heinz Finance Club, Heinz Forum and the Indian Graduate Student Association.

As part of the International Development Group (IDG), we were responsible for organising events to increase awareness of the economic, social, cultural and political situation in other parts of the world through seminars and activities such as international potluck, where members cooked and shared food from their respective countries. Being an active member of the IDG, I got an opportunity to attend the 21st International Development Conference at Harvard University, which had a great list of speakers such as Larry Summers (President Emeritus, Harvard) and Arvind Subramanian (Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India).

Being a member of the Heinz Finance Club, I attended several seminars and networking events with prominent finance professionals. Recently, I participated in the Credit Suisse Trading Challenge, where participants were given virtual currency to invest in different stocks over a period of 8 weeks. With little background in finance, this was a great opportunity to understand capital markets and enhance my knowledge of investing in a risk-free environment.

At Heinz forum, we held fortnightly sessions for all the graduate students to discuss issues ranging from terrorism, racism, political scenario, net neutrality, wage gap etc. This was a great learning experience as it exposed me to different perspectives and helped foster new friendships.

The active Indian student group in CMU celebrated many Indian festivals on campus. I was particularly involved during Diwali, where I along with other students performed Bhangra, a traditional dance form from Northern India.

CMU has a strong culture of inculcating innovative attitude through events such as hackathons. In particular, I participated in two such events: CMU Idea Space and CMU Hack-a-Startup. CMU Idea Space brought graduate students from different schools of CMU to work together and address issues such as climate change, sustainability, women safety etc. Our team floated the idea of a solar panel cleaning robot, which impressed the judges and guaranteed us the second spot in the competition. CMU Hack-a-Startup had participation from undergraduates and postgraduates alike, where we had to come up with a working prototype over a span of two days. Our team created a web application which allows users to rent out their free spaces such as garages, basements etc. Our team grabbed the second prize for this event as well.

Now, a little bit about Pittsburgh. It’s a nice city with three renowned universities (including CMU) and a few other colleges. It’s also called the city of bridges. Yes, there are a lot! The city also has numerous art museums. The weather can be very unpredictable, going as low as -20o C in winters and you must carry a jacket at all times. Also, it is one of the best places in the US to experience the fall season. Pittsburghers are crazy for their home teams Steelers (American football) and Pirates (Baseball). I also got few opportunities to see these teams live in action.

I am an avid traveller and love to explore new places. I undertook many trips during my CMU tenure, which gave me an opportunity to learn about different lifestyles and cultures. Night hiking in Death Valley National Park and Skydiving in California are some of the unforgettable adventures.

Being a Turbaned Sikh, I got noticed easily whether walking on the streets or buying groceries in the supermarket. People either approached me to ask about my culture, or I walked up to many to strike a conversation. By this way, I met amazing and lovely people, and had many culturally enriching conversations.

Time has gone by so fast, and I would have loved to stay longer in this beautiful city, at this amazing university, among the brilliant people. All in all, this exchange was an amazing experience filled with loads of learning, abundant adventures and opportunities to foster new bonds. As I finish writing this piece, I am into my third week of internship at Microsoft. I hope to write another blog describing my internship experience soon.

P.S. - Feel free to reach out to me if you need any information about CMU or exchange in general.