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How Aleena pursued her dream job in Germany

Ever since my childhood, I was always interested in biology as a subject which made me pick to Bio-Maths as my stream for higher secondary. Yes, I wanted to opt for engineering after Class XII, but I wanted to study something related to biology, rather than pure electronics or programming. That is how I ended up choosing Biomedical Engineering at Adhiyamaan College of Engineering, Hosur. Even though the course was not very popular, I wanted to give it a try because it was related to my field of interest.

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During my third year, one of our faculties who had an entirely different approach to teaching told us about the medical industry and what our options are in India and abroad. He himself took Masters from Germany and had worked there in Germany for many years before he decided to settle in India. It was he who triggered my interest and gave me the idea of pursuing my masters in Germany. It was around the same time, I attended a seminar by a consultancy in Bangalore, who was specializing only in German universities. They gave me a better about the no-tuition fee system, application procedure and job opportunities in Germany.

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After the seminar, I asked the lecturer about pursuing my higher studies in Germany. He encouraged, and then I spoke to my parents about it. Even though they were a bit apprehensive about it, they encouraged me to go ahead with my plans. So, I went to the consultancy again. To get admission for a master’s degree programme in a German university, I needed to have a valid bachelor’s degree with good grades, an IELTS score of at least 6.0, two recommendation letters, CV and a Statement of Purpose. And once I get admission to a university, I had to show an amount of 6.5 lakh rupees (in 2015) in a 'blocked account' for the visa processing. This amount was completely for my use for the duration of my studies; every month a fixed amount was released which I could use to cover my expenses like rent, health insurance, food, travel, and other expenses. And international students could do part-time jobs for a maximum of 20 hours a week to cover their expenses and after the completion of the course, we had 18 months sta- back period to find a job in the same field.

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Even though the application procedures were simple and could have done it myself, I felt it safe to do it through the consultancy and it was relatively cheaper. When I was in my 8th semester, I took my IELTS and once the results came, I started applying to universities offering courses in biomedical engineering in English. After my final exams ending in May 2015, I immediately joined Goethe Institute for a German language course. Meanwhile, I got conditional admission (I still have not got my degree certificate) at Furtwangen University for Medical Technology. And by September the same year, I landed in Germany.

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It was an entirely new and different experience in the university, but with time and help from my fellow students. I was able to adapt. I also did some part-time jobs in places like Burger King and later in an Italian restaurant. It was soon very clear that German language skill is a necessity if you want to improve your job opportunities and to make your life easier in Germany.

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In my third semester, I started applying for thesis positions in many companies and research institutes. I had three options for my master thesis, medical image processing, Telemetry (programming) or Biomaterials. Since I found biomaterials much more interesting than the other two, I finally chose to do my master thesis on Biomaterials at NMI, Reutlingen. Once I had completed my masters, I started my job hunt, it wasn’t very easy as I wished to find a job in the same stream as my thesis. After about six months of job search, I got a job as Project Engineer in a Dental and orthopedic implant company. For the past 6 months, I have been working in Biotrics Bioimplants AG and I am very satisfied and happy with my job. And sometime in the future, I would like to continue my career by pursuing PhD.

For biomedical engineering students, what are the career options in India?

The medical device manufacturing industry is still in the development stage in India and the scope is currently limited. A larger percentage of medical instruments and machines used in India are imported from the US, Germany and other countries, therefore it is quite difficult to find a job in medical device R&D in India. However, there are other job opportunities in India like biomedical/clinical engineer in hospitals and other places

How has your German experience been?

The first few months in Germany for me were quite challenging, interesting and sometimes overwhelming. My very first journey from the airport to the town where my university located was a very interesting and memorable one. I had to change three different trains to reach my destination, all the signboards were in German, had some pretty heavy luggage with me and on top of that my phone got switched off. But I met some very nice and friendly people who went out of their way to help me with my luggage and figure out the correct platform and train and one person even contacted my student coordinator after I got into the next train to inform her the exact time of my arrival so that she could pick me up. Once I reached my student apartment, I met my neighbours who were Chinese and one African guy. They were all very friendly and organised people and we had a great time sharing our culture, food and experiences. There was also an Indian girl who was living in the same building and studying the same course who later became and is still my best friend. The next thing that I found very different was the approach of the professors, their teaching method and Assignments. There was no compulsory attendance or restrictions for using gadgets, eating or drinking in the classroom during lectures. Everything was online and had to be done through the university portal - the notes, assignments and submissions. The first assignment for programming was a nightmare for which I couldn’t figure out the logic, but thankfully, I was lucky enough to have other Indians in my class, we used to help each other and the German students in the class used to help us a lot. Similarly, the other things that I found challenging were the first semester exam for which I had great difficulty with time management as the exam was only for 90 minutes and the question paper was for 150 marks and I ended up not answering many questions as I didn’t have enough time. Similarly, my first open book exam was also a disaster. But I have also had a lot of fun during my studies, we used to often hang out together and used to have get-togethers, birthday parties, potluck and outings.

Also, how tough was it to balance part-time work and studies?

It wasn’t very difficult to balance between the part-time work and studies as I only had classes three days a week and my employers were very flexible. I used to mostly work on the days I didn’t have class and on the days when I had class I used to work in the evenings for three hours or so and during exams I used to take off. But there have been instances when I had to miss classes to go to work which indeed made it difficult at the time of exams. I think balancing between a part-time job and studies is not a problem if you don’t overdo it. Always have flexible employers and helpful friends.

What's your advice to students who want to study and work abroad? How to go about it?

Studying and working abroad I believe is just like any other new experience that we might find ourselves in. I think it's all about trying to improvise yourself, your skills, learning new things, adapting to new situations and people’s personalities and making great friends on whom you can count on. Keep on trying despite the setbacks, failures and rejections. For me personally, I think my experiences have made me much more empathetic to other people’s struggle, changed my outlook on life and made me a much more open-minded person than I was. It has given me confidence to try something new and a strong belief that if you have worked for it sooner or later you will get the results that you have hoped for or better.

Aleena Prakash is Project Engineer, Biotrics bioimplants AG.

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