Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Completion of Internship

Well, my research and traveling have come to an end now. Since my last post I have gone to many new places including Paris, Stuttgart, Amsterdam, Rome and various hikes in the Alps. I am now back in Utah getting ready for work and school to start up again next monday. It was nice meeting everyone and I enjoyed all of your company when we had a chance to hang out. I am not on my laptop, so i cannot post any photos of my final travels, but I will try to later on.

Here is my response to the questions the Thinkswiss program asks at the end of the internship.

Overall, my stay in Switzerland did meet my expectations in most aspects. When I applied to work there I applied to work in the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology (LSCB.) I planned on working with Stem Cells, but instead spent my two months working on a technique that will be used with stem cells once it is working efficiently. Although this was not what I planned to be working with, it was not a disappointment, and I enjoyed the challenges that came with this particular material science project. The laboratory environment was great, and the people were wonderful to work with. I think this was an absolutely beneficial research experience.
My time in Switzerland, and the rest of Europe, definitely exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t believe the diversity of landscapes that was accessible just a short train ride in any direction. The country has so much to offer in terms of culture, geography, and entertainment. I absolutely loved living in Switzerland for two months.
There were so many positive aspects of my stay. (1) The opportunity to work with individuals from all over the world was incredible. Meeting people with so many backgrounds and so many different ways of looking at life, politics and science was a new experience for me. In Utah, many people in the labs share quite similar perspectives on the events affecting us, but the lab at EPFL was a well mixed variety. Also, I loved being outdoors in Switzerland, no matter where it happened to be. (2) Taking a hike in the Alps or the Jura mountains, sitting by Lake Geneva, or wandering through the various cities, many (or all) of which were older than the USA, was such a great and accessible experience. It was such a cool feeling walking into buildings that have been around longer than any structure in my country. (3) The experience of the various cultures in the area was something I am really not used to. In the USA we have some cultural variation, but it also tends to be spread across much more land. In Europe it seems like culture can change drastically from one town to the next. It was great to see and experience this for several months. It was also great to see how every day life is in a different part of the world, which gave me a greater appreciation for some things in the US and also made me dislike some aspects of life back home even more haha.
Aside from all the great aspects of my stay, there were also some difficulties I experienced. (1) Everyone told me that Switzerland would be expensive, but I didn’t realize how expensive it would be. Prices for most things were 2-3 times more expensive and my three months worth of living expenses that I saved in the USA before flying out was simply insufficient for two months in Switzerland. At times, this made it difficult to enjoy myself and experience the culture just because I knew that my budget would now allow me to do so. (2) It was also difficult living in an area where I didn’t speak the local language. It seemed like a lot less people spoke English in Lausanne than I had expected. In many of the other cities (especially in the German speaking part) it seemed that most people spoke English, but in the French areas it was less common. This language barrier made the simplest tasks, such as buying groceries, quite frustrating and difficult, but after two months it was quite easy to get around and use a few French phrases to ask for help. Finally, (3) getting used to the “Swiss way of life” was difficult. The businesses in town were still closed in the mornings when I went to work, and by the time I came back to town they were already closed. In two months of me staying I only saw the business life of Lausanne maybe four times, which was disappointing. Also, Europeans take many more coffee breaks than I am used to in the USA, and found myself feeling guilty several times when my boss would walk by and I was having coffee with other colleagues; however, I know that it is pretty much expected there and it was just my “American mentality” that made me feel guilty haha.
My coaching and integration in the research team was reasonable. I didn’t receive a thorough training nor was I expected to read any standard operation procedures manuals. I was mostly just shown a brief overview of the project and sent to work. The PhD student I was working for was always around if I had questions, and others were always more than willing to help if necessary. The research team I worked with was really great and we all enjoyed each other’s company. It was a really pleasant research community.
I have already pointed out a few small comparisons between my US labs and the Swiss one. One difficult thing in the Swiss lab was deciphering some individual’s accents sometimes. I am used to being around all native English speaking individuals, and it took some practice to understand the English words concealed beneath some of the more intense accents. The Swiss lab operated for the most part similarly to the labs I have been in previously. There was a good sense of community, everyone was very cooperative, and they all seemed to be supportive of each other’s projects. I was glad to see that these characteristics are common within worldwide scientific communities!
I am definitely considering going back to Switzerland in the future. If I go for vacation it will not be until I have a job that can actually support the Swiss lifestyle. Since jobs in Switzerland pay significantly more than the same jobs in the US (I was told McDonalds will pay around 20-25 SFR there compared to less than 6 USD here) the cost of living in comparison to the wages earned is actually not that bad. Coming from US wages to Swiss prices was a big shock though. I would consider going to Switzerland for my PhD, but not for my Masters, again for financial reasons. Foreign students are not allowed to work the number of hours I would need to live there while also paying for my Master’s education, making it quite difficult for me to even consider applying until I have already obtained a masters here. The PhD programs pay quite well there though, and would definitely be an option. The research going on in Switzerland in all of my fields of interest is also quite incredible! I definitely see myself moving to Switzerland at some point in the future for a career in science. I love the country and think I would love living and working there.

For anyone considering going to Switzerland for the internship in the future.
1- Don't arrive on a sunday! haha, you can see why by reading mine and Alisha's first blogs.
2- get a place in town if you can. My place was downtown and was great, but I had friends who lived ouside of town (Alisha and others) who couldn't stay out too late due to the public transportation ceasing at midnight.
3- Make sure you understand that Switzerland is an expensive country, and once you are there you can count on spending much more than you would need to in the United States.
I found incredibly cheap rent that included cooking for 450/month, although I still had to buy groceries. Even with this great deal, i spent much more money than I had anticipated.
4- MAKE SURE you know how much the institute will really be paying you if they say they will. My budget was cut by 30% after I had already been there for over a month due to "overspending in the lab." Get an email or something stating your salary so it is official, otherwise, this can be a devistating turn of events in an already expensive country.
5- BUY THE 1/2 PASS AND THE VOIS (gleis) 7!!! You will save tons of money when traveling, and if you don't think you will be traveling much, buy them anyway, because you will find yourself exploring switzerland anyway!
With the vois 7 you travel for free after 7pm, and if you work your traveling out accordingly, you can save a lot. I only had the 1/2 pass and i saved a ton! (also, it costs about 100 dollars for a 1 month half pass or 150 for a year, i did the year pass as it costs less than two individual months).
6- Have fun, take advantage of the rail system, and bring books. It is incredibly reliable transportation system, and gives you time to read all of those books you never had time to read before while driving your personal car in the US :).

Thanks everyone,


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