Vishnu Ratnam, 23, wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived in Los Angeles for the first time in the summer of 2011.
A student from the Indian University of IIT Kharagpur, he had just been accepted into the advanced, eight-week Viterbi-India summer program designed to give students from India exposure to conducting research at an American university.
The program thrusts the undergraduate researchers into life as a graduate student at USC. Some assist current Ph.D.’s with their research, while others work directly with faculty on a research problem. The goal of the program is to expose these students to careers in research.
Though Ratnam was excited for the opportunity to research at USC, he had his concerns before arriving.
“I was worried about the weather and what clothes I would need to bring,” he said. “I was also worried about the availability of Indian food close to campus.”
The program alleviated those concerns and more. It proved such a great experience that Ratnam applied for and eventually enrolled in USC’s Ph.D. program in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering a few months after the program ended.
“One of the biggest reasons I decided to come back to USC for my Ph.D. was the quality of the other Ph.D. students that were already there,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be among a group of such highly intelligent and capable people.”
Ratnam is not the only one eager to apply for Ph.D. at USC following the Viterbi-India summer program. From the 20 Viterbi-India program scholars in 2013, five had applied for entrance to a Ph.D. program at USC. This is a marked increase from 2012, when three applied.
Cauligi Raghavendra, vice dean for global academic initiatives and mastermind behind the Viterbi-India program, is encouraged by the developing trend.
“The program is great for attracting the top global talent to USC,” Raghavendra said.
The program is as popular as it is competitive—there are only 20 spots in the program and more than 300 apply.
“The numbers are getting more competitive every year,” Raghavendra said.
In addition to attracting top talent to Ph.D. programs, the Viterbi-India program has also helped to foster collaboration between Indian and American faculty members.
“Through the program we get to know more about the faculty there which can lead to research collaborations,” Raghavendra said.
USC has had strong connections with Indian universities in the past. In 2005, Raghavendra had developed an agreement with the dean of academics at IIT Kharagpur that sent the brightest students at the Indian university to USC for summer research. In 2011, the program was opened up to students from other top Indian institutions and given the name “Viterbi-India program.”
Now that Ratnam is enrolled in the Electrical Engineering Ph.D program, he is enjoying the friendly professor interactions and the availability of Indian culture at USC.
“The professors are more like a friend than a boss,” he said. “You can talk about anything with them.”