Friday, July 25, 2008

Starting To Say My Goodbyes

During my research internship in Switzerland, I worked in the Psychiatric Neuroscience Center in Lausanne. The aim of the research was to investigate the genetic mutations, duplications, and deletions that may play a role in the development of Schizophrenia. Beyond gathering data in both a clinical and animal model setting, I was able to observe and learn techniques from other colleagues in the lab including the geneticists, electrophysiologists and biologists. I was given the exciting and truly invaluable opportunity to attend the Forum of European Neuroscience (FENS), which is the largest conference of its kind, located in Geneva. I was quickly and easily integrated into this setting and given the freedom to choose to work where I felt I would learn the most. I also had the opportunity to review the studies occurring in other labs and other European universities.
The lab that I worked in was about the same number of people as the lab that I had in the United States, but there were no undergraduate assistants to relieve some of the workload placed on the doctoral students and the post doctoral technicians. I immediately pointed out this difference as I saw my colleagues engaged in unskilled work related tasks that always seemed to be handed to the undergraduates in the USA. Also, the freedom and the training on techniques that I was given was far beyond what I could have expected to receive at any internship in the USA. The entire lab was more than happy to teach me anything that I had an interest in understanding. Also, I was able to contribute in a unique way; I was able to assist the staff clinician in learning the MATRICS, a battery of cognitive tests for Schizophrenia patients.
The country itself is an amazing experience approximately a third the size of my home state of Nebraska it happily houses four languages and many different cultural backgrounds. This has set the scene for a welcoming environment for those wanting to learn each culture, patience for those trying to learn the language, and joy in learning about different cultures. I was able to visit many places with in Switzerland including Bern, Zurich, Lugano, Bellinzona, Geneva, Locarno, Interlaken, Konstanz, and Montreux just to name a few. Switzerland also has an ideal location for those wanting to visit several European countries and I took advantage of this as well visiting Paris, Milan, and Prague. However, there was always more than enough to do in Switzerland and I was able to attend events such as the Jazz Festival in Montreux, the Jazz Festival in Lugano, and the public Euro football events. The most wonderful aspects of Switzerland stay here all the time. There are the beautiful mountains, the chateau de Chillion, medieval cities, the Roman Bridges in Ticino over crystal clear water.
I have been working over in my head if there is anything that I would have changed or that could have been better. I have really found nothing really. There is the high cost of living in Switzerland for which I was not entirely prepared. The language barrier, which was my greatest concern, was not truly a problem, but those considering studying a broad I will warn it is just a little lonely sometimes. I never got homesick for the USA, but I did get homesick for the English language, or maybe it was just laziness. I cannot emphasize enough how happy I was to be able to attend the FENS which gave me the opportunity to consider not just Swiss graduate schools, but the European graduate schools as well. I was able to learn as much about Neuroscience as could possibly have fit into the three month stay, and I loved every second of it.

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