Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tips and Tricks

For those curious about the Gleis 7/voie 7 or Halb-Tags, you can buy them from any train station (sbb) office with your passport and credit card/cash. Halb-Tags gives you half-price off of most train travel, ship transportation, and some discount on funiculars/private rail. Gleis 7 gives free travel from 7pm-5am anywhere in Switzerland for youth up to and including 25 years of age.

More on my weekend at the National Jodelling Competition in Luzern later...!

Geneva... & a few hours in France

This past weekend I went on my first seriously outside-Zurich trip in Switzerland. I spent my time in Geneva with a friend who is also from Rice in my year, majoring in physics and working at CERN this summer. It is a bit of a sad fact that he can speak German and is stationed in Geneva whereas I can speak French and am in Zurich, but I suppose irony has a way of introducing us to interesting new things we would never bother to learn about before. Anyway, I was at least able to help translate during this weekend and teach him whatever basic words that could be useful. Geneva itself is actually a very vibrant city; I thought that once I had seen Paris, which I had visited a few years ago, I would then be pretty desensitized by the attractions of other big French-speaking cities in Europe. But Geneva has a lot to offer; there is CERN of course which I hope to see more of later when my friend has more access to their facilities. We also visited the Palais de Nations and the Red Cross museum, both of which were very interesting even to us scientifically minded students. We also went on a pretty rigorous hike in the Jura Mountains in France, to a peak where on one side you could overlook some beautiful French countryside and Geneva city, and on the other side the majestic Alps in the distance. Anyway, I definitely plan to return to the French side of Switzerland at some later time in the summer.

And if anyone plans on visiting Zurich, let me know and I'll try to show you around as much as I know (sorry, no German-speaking services offered).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

After a week in Lausanne I am in love with Switzerland and don't think I ever want to leave... that said I am planning to travel while I am here and have a proposal for anyone who would like to show me around the town that they are staying in ... you will have a free place to stay and a free tour guide in Lausanne in exchange for the same in your town. Also if someone would like a travel companion I am planning on going to Paris, Venice, Bern , Zürich, and pretty much anywhere else and have no dates set in stone. I know it is difficult in Lausanne to get around without know at least some French and I only know French and English. I hope you are all enjoying this trip as much as I am, but I think it may be impossible as I sit in Ouchy looking over lake geneve at the French alps. Chaio.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Regen. Rain. La Pluie. La Ploggia (sorry, I haven't yet found a Romansch dictionary).
Oopsy-daisy, here I come, from four days in style-savvy street-happy lively London with, suprise surprise, sunshine. Off the plane in Zurich, through the empty (is Switzerland really that small??) "modern" airport (concrete, a rustic architect's nightmare), ready to use my entire suitcase and backpacker's backpack, (quiet, you minimalist packers sniggering in the background!) of clothes and sheets (yes, it was necessary). I am ready to present myself afresh to a new culture, a new life, a new skill set, a new living situation, and maybe even a new self.
From Zurich to Bern, the trains are sharp, on time, everything Swiss except the cows and the cheese. One hour and I'm in the station. Waiting, watching as the people walk by-- some conservative, some barcelona-esque in their youthful hair and edgy clothes, most in the grown-up version of college wear-- sniffing the wafting scent of a waffle cookie demonstration to my left, not sure if i can just pick up a piece and try it, not sure what to say for please and may i, even though i know that much German and more. Waiting. then my new roommate and I are off through the streets of my new home, Bern/Berne/Berna, a city with the feel of a town, a capital you find right in your neighbor's backyard. It seems that most of its 130,000-odd people make their way to the train station mall each night, but none of them make it back out. The streets are oddly quiet. no horns, no whizzing cars and revving motoped motors. only swiss/naturalized-Swiss/behaving like Swiss drivers moving with decorum. But the station... chaos!!! bikes cross every which way in hordes; crowds of pedestrians swarm around them like gnats flitted by a hand. Cars edge through, sometimes diverted around the entire station. Bern is getting a facelift and tummy-tuck to come up to the glamour of the Euromeisterschaft 2008 Schweiz-Österreich, the European Cup 2008 Switzerland-Austria. And the glamour will come. I can't wait!
My first day at the ISPM. Dr. Egger and Dr. Low (although I have to stop myself from calling them so and push myself to use their first names) introduce me to my life's labor for the next three months. "Are you sure you don't want something else, because this project is very important." I am overjoyed that I agree with them and promptly start the necessary dive into meta-analysis and its inner-workings. My pile of books grows with Statistics, Meta-Analysis, and Epidemiology primers while my pristine desk (although dusty by Swiss standards, but hey, who's complaining) finds happiness in a bath of research articles, data extraction sheets, literature search summaries, teamugs, pens, my handy swiss Natel/Handy (cell phone) and spoons and spoons of lactose-free yogurt (mmmm, peach...).
It's a long haul from knowledge-base big fat Zero, what is a chi square please?, to ah, yes, make sure you have independent study selection and that you extract follow-up time, population size, and as many raw numbers as possible. My patience grows thin as my confusion grows fatter, but Nicola and Matthias check on me often and Nicola sits through my questions and feeds my growing epidemiology brain.
Weekends are sublime. no work. new place. exploration is a plus. With a Gleis 7 i travel free on the Swiss train system SBB (Schweizerische Bundesbahner) from 7pm-5am, and with my "half-days" card i pay half-price on swiss train tickets to anywhere in the country. ANYWHERE. what does that mean? Why am I still sitting here in Bern with only a few Swiss destinations checked of my "to-visit" list? ah, yes, i must work and work well. ah, yes, i must lead a semi-normal life, try to sleep at night, and have some down-time to let my travel-weary body rest.
3 weeks later and here's what I can count:

One amazing hike up the Niederhorn via Beatenberg
Two incredible friends from work
Three stops from Bern and back: Zurich city tour-Zug birthday party-Einsedeln monastery town and proud bakers of a molded bread which looks nice but turns to styrofoam on the palate
Four moves from my first apartment to eventually a colleague's house
Five hours on the road, in St. Gallen, and back for a sunset bbq in a friend's apartment
Six hours to Stuttgart and more to Hamburg for a weekend with my uncle and cousins
Seven days a week to think of my family at home, the friends I haven't seen for such a while, and the amazing time I had in Freiburg with more of my family.
Many moments a day to thank God for keeping me intact through the whirlwind of the last month. craZY! and let's skip ahead in the count...
30 days of unending, put me in a hole and dont forget to wring me out when it's over Regen. La Pluie. La Ploggia...Rain.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Here in Prilly

I am Katherine Filip, I am a junior from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN studying Clinical Neuroscience and Philosophy. I am studying schizophrenia in Prilly just on the edge of Lausanne. I am assissting on project examining the first episode of phsychosis and a protein defiecy that exists in these individuals. I am currently working with patients and will soon begin looking at an animal (mouse model). I will spare you all the boring details ( because I think they are fastincating and will not stop talking about them). Switzerland is so beautiful. I have never been to Europe or even out of the United States more than a day trip to Canada or Mexico. One can only imagine how thrilled I am to see Lake Geneva and the mountains just outside my window. I feel a little bit silly here because I have been looking all around like an excited child. Eveywhere I look there is a beautiful fountain or sculpture or landscape that takes my breath away. I cannot believe how relaxing everything is in Switzerland, especially the people and scenery. I have never seen such beautiful buildings as they have in Lausanne. The medival cathedrals and towers are awe- inspiring against the background of Lake Geneva and not to mention the Alps. I arrived not realizing how poor my French was, but everyone is very patient and kind. I am learning very quickly. I am very excited about being able to see more patients and attend more lectures by visiting researchers, but I cannot wait for the weekend to go bike riding in the countryside, by the vineyards just outside of Lausanne and hopefully a visit to L'Art Brut, an art museum with only the untrained and mentally ill artists.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

An update after my first week (in Basel)

I met with the professor with whom I am conducting research at the University of Basel last week. Our first week together went great! He fully informed me of the studies he has conducted in the past, is currently working on, and future ideas for research. He provided me with different options for studies that I can work on with him. There are two studies that we will be working on together. One is on the abstractness of Money and how it influences people, and the other study is on the abstractness of language and how it influences people. Over the next few months we will design a study or two for each of these topics and gather data. I am sharing an office with two other ladies. They both speak little English but I speak some German so we are still able to converse. The building is located just off campus and is easily accessible. It is comforting how easy it is to get around the city. I wish Arizona had public transit systems like these.

Wishing Ovomaltine and Mango Fanta was sold in the States

Well I've now had plenty of chances to tour around Zurich, and I think I've done most of it. There were some nice churches in the downtown area, and around the city there are plenty of hiking trails with viewing towers. I have not eaten out much; with today's lousy exchange rate it seems like a bad idea to do so. I was really surprised when I got the bill for a seemingly inexpensive meal at a back-alley restaurant in the city. So I'm mostly buying "Aktion" groceries from their big discount store, Migros, which is just one bus-stop away from where I live. I've tried the various foods which I'm told are characteristic of Switzerland, and so far I've enjoyed all their meats, cheeses, rosti, and of course, the various malted chocolates, my favorite.

As for research, I've spent a lot of time shadowing the graduate students and seeing all the neat equipment they have. All the machines are very high quality; I used to think only industries could afford this caliber, but I guess my home-school just doesn't spend enough of it's own huge grant on research equipment. Anyway, I have a fairly good idea of the project I want to do using nickel nano-wires that I made back in the US, on a setup similar to one being done here at ETH now using carbon nanotubes. Which reminds me, the department I'm with had it's annual Industry Day last week, and there we heard speeches from various big industries (ABB, Siemens, etc.), and also from Dr. Iijima, who is pretty much the Dr. Watson of nanotechnology as he is credited with discovering the carbon nanotube. So that was exciting. That and seeing all the projects here has actually made me seriously consider applying for a Masters degree or more here at ETH. That is if living in Zurich becomes more affordable for students!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My first day in Basel

I arrived in Basel today! The city is SO beautiful. I spent the last few days in Paris and took a train through the countryside this afternoon to Basel. I will meet with my researcher for the first time tomorrow. I will be working with a professor at the University of Basel for the next three months on Influence studies in Psychology. When I find out more specifics on our studies, I will post them. We have been corresponding over the past couple months on working together on this study. I’m excited to meet him and begin my research here in beautiful Switzerland!!

Grüsech, mitenand!

My name is Suzanna Attia.  I'm a rising 3rd year in Baylor College of Medicine and a graduate of Rice University.  My hometown is Houston, TX, although now I can claim a smidgen of Bernese identity as I am in the midst of my 2nd month of 3 months here in Bern, Switzerland's unassuming capital city.  Right now I am, in general, doing a meta-analysis of HIV transmission in serodiscordant couples as part of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern.  I work with epidemiologist and medical doctor Nicola Low and ISPM director and epidemiologist/medical doctor Matthias Egger.  
More specifically, right now I am developing my extraction sheet, a questionnaire that is applied to each study destined for analysis, and I am also learning about the simple wonders of EpiData, a (free!) program which can store extraction sheet/questionnaires and can check independent researchers' extractions against each other. Soon to come in this process is the extraction of data itself in parallel but independently from a fellow medical student and researcher, Monika Müller, and then the analysis of the data and its assimilation into a useful, readable, interesting paper for review and hopefully, ultimately, publication in a major medical journal.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Arrived in Zurich

Hello, my name is Ryan Pei and I am a rising junior at Rice University in Houston, Texas, majoring in electrical engineering. My hometown is Los Altos, California, and for 3 months of the summer I will be doing research at ETH Zürich with Dr. Hierold of the Micro and Nanosystems group. I arrived in Zürich Monday, flying from San Francisco, and began working yesterday. From first impression, Zürich seems like an amazing city to live in. The city itself is very beautiful (I will try to include pictures later once I get a better internet connection), and the public transit system is convenient. The weather is nice; I’m glad that I did not come in the winter. The people are friendly, and everybody I’ve met so far speaks English. I was afraid that I would have trouble since I do not speak any German, let alone Swiss German. It actually amazes me that Switzerland manages to be one of the top countries in the world for technology and science when they have to also be able talk about their work in so many different languages.

ETH itself is a beautiful campus, located on a hill overlooking the city and the lake. It has buildings throughout the city, sort of like the universities I’ve visited in Boston back in the US. I live about 30 minutes away from where I’ll be working in a “Studentenhaus” on the outskirts of town, and there almost everyone speaks English as well.

There is a lot of advertising for the upcoming 2008 Euro Cup. They seem pretty serious about their football around here. It’s a good thing the Olympic Games in Beijing will be held later in the summer, as I think people here would actually rather pay attention to the Euro Cup matches if they had to make a choice between the two.

I can’t wait to see the rest of Zürich. Apparently there is a work holiday this coming Monday, so I will probably use this longer weekend to explore the city.