My undergraduate internship at EPFL

In this blogpost I write about my summer internship at EPFL, Switzerland in the summers of 2017.

Perceiving the opportunity:-

For my second year summer project back in IIT, I was referring to the book Elements of Information Theory by Thomas Cover and since then I started developing an interest in the field of Information Theory and Coding. I decided to apply for the Summer@EPFL program in mid-November as I was keen to work in the Information Processing Group at EPFL. The Summer@EPFL program is conducted by the School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC) at EPFL. The application requires you to complete a form on their web page and submit a one-page letter of motivation. You are asked to give three interest domains out of a list of research domains that the IC works on.

On one fine day during the winter vacation, I received a mail from my Professor asking for a Skype interview. It turned out to be more of a discussion rather than an interview. A couple of weeks later I received a confirmation from his side. After completing all the formalities the next big task was finding the accommodation. Since my friend Siddhant Garg was also selected for an internship at EPFL, we decided to do it together. After lots of searching and (spamming the landlords with lots of emails :P) we finally managed to find a studio apartment in a student housing, through FMEL - Fondation Maisons pour Etudiants Lausanne, about 2.5 km from EPFL.

Switzerland:-

Switzerland may well be a small country located at the heart of Europe, but in terms of its performance in the areas of education, research and innovation, it is one of the most competitive countries in the world. Switzerland started for me with the fairy landscapes from an airplane window and then, with the vineyards and the beautiful Lake Geneva onboard a train from Geneva to Lausanne. Switzerland’s beautiful landscapes make it a dream place. Wherever you go, you are bound to find lakes and mountains. The chateaus and the castles add to its scenery. Another strong impression was the people. Before going to Lausanne, I had heard about how the Swiss were reserved. However, they turned out to be friendly and kind-hearted. Switzerland is a very organized country. The discipline followed by each and every one is impeccable. Every single bus and train is hardly ever even a minute late. During my time there, I did not see even a single person shoving past another to get onto a train unlike that in India. Living expenses are high, even by Western Europe standards. Average meal cost me close to 1000 rupees.

Lausanne and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne :-

The beautiful natural setting of Lausanne, with the Swiss Alps nearby, surrounded by vineyard-covered slopes, with Lake Geneva at its feet, is extremely picturesque. It is a colorful town with many boutiques, cafés and restaurants and has a pretty waterfront area of Ouchy. Calm and beautiful, Lausanne is perfect for a research institute like EPFL. Unlike IITB, EPFL has no defined boundaries. Lake Geneva is just 5 minutes walk from EPFL and you can enjoy the beautiful Alps (part of France) right across the lake. One of the most amazing structures in EPFL, the Rolex Learning Center, includes areas for work, leisure and services and is located at the center of the campus. The SwissTech Convention Center, a conference center is also sited on EPFL.

IPG and Work:-

The Information Processing Group at EPFL includes people who work in the field of Information theory and coding. The group is composed of four laboratories: Communication Theory Laboratory (LTHC) Information Theory Laboratory (LTHI) Mobile Communications Laboratory (LCM) and Laboratory for Information in Networked Systems (LINX). I worked in the LINX lab. (The acronym is after an animal by the name LINX and just because LINX sounds cooler than LINS :P). As the name goes, this lab mainly works in network information theory and related coding.

The LINX lab has a coffee meet at 10am every Monday at the top floor of the IC building. This is how I got introduced to everyone in the group. There are weekly group meetings were each the PhD students, in turn, presents their work. There is a common library for all of the IPG labs. This is where I spent most of my time. The people here at EPFL, including the international students and employees, were very helpful.

I worked on a problem by the name Coded Cooperative Data Exchange Problem. A set of users is interested in gaining access to a common file but each user has only partial knowledge about it as side-information. The file is assumed to be broken into packets and the side-information can be considered to be in the form of linear combination of the file packets. The goal is for each user to gain access to the entire file, while minimizing some communication cost. The first variant I worked on considered the communication cost to be sum of each user’s cost function over the number of bits it transmits. The second variant I worked on was to find out which communication scheme distributes the load of communication to the users as fairly as possible out of all the possible schemes that deliver the entire file to the all the users in the minimum number of transmissions.

Tourism:-

I was mostly interested in traveling within Switzerland since there is so much to explore and also visiting the nearby countries. I tried to travel somewhere almost every weekend and visited Milan, Cinque Terre, Jungfrau, Paris, Zermatt, Innsbruck and Rhine Falls. I can truly say that it has been the most intense summer in my life. Those two months are inscribed in my mind as bright memories of exciting work, great people and endless adventures. The beautiful village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre where we were the only tourists at 6am in the morning, the Trott-bike ride at Grindelwald, the Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain roller coaster at Disneyland Paris, the bus ride across Liechtenstein were few of the highlights of that summer.

Conclusive conviction:-

I learnt a lot of new things in Switzerland and also managed to interact with lot of people. While doing the course Information theory and coding in my 6th semester, Prof. Sibi Raj Pillai was teaching us “Capacity of Multi‐antenna Gaussian Channels” and had asked us to read the paper by Prof. Emre Telatar (also PhD advisor of Sibi Raj). It was a wonderful experience to personally interact with Prof. Emre Telatar. I was personally very impressed with the research culture at EPFL. This program had further strengthened my motivation for research. Also, I hope to come to this beautiful country again :D

Recent posts

2018

Overview of EE Curriculum at IITB

This is my first blogpost and it is intended for prospective and current undergraduate students of the Electrical Engineering (EE) department at IIT Bombay.

Back to top ↑