Friday, December 5, 2008

In Conclusion

I was planning on posting twice, once about the work and once to post the first part of my final report for ThinkSwiss. I got wrapped up in writing my final report for work, though, and haven’t really had the time. I think that I can combine the two here without compromising too much.

Wrapping Up

I “officially” finished last Friday. As time wound down, I was getting a better idea of why the Ph.D. students stay there for three or four years. You can only get so much done in three months, but as my report grew longer and longer, I was surprised to see just how much work I actually did. As I said in the beginning, I had two main projects: one focused on analyzing a potential experimental feedstock, the other on developing a catalyst screening method. I left them at very different levels of progress.

The analytical project went rather smoothly, but don’t mention confocal Raman to me any time soon. . . . The project was good practice for someone that claims to be part chemist but had little practical experience with analytical methods. I stress practical here, because working with real materials is rather different from the majority of our labs at school. Not only did I get some lab experience, but I also had to put all of my data together and draw coherent, sensible conclusions. This synthesis was by far the hardest part, but it was quite rewarding in the end.

The other project is nowhere near finished. Thankfully, there was a breakthrough in the last two weeks that answered one major question, so I got to leave with some closure. There is still plenty of work to be done and many more questions to answer; I’m going to try to stay in touch and see where it leads after I’m gone. Research like this moves in spurts. For this reason, project timelines are on the order of years, and it can be hard to make progress when you have people rotating in and out every few months. I have a singular appreciation for this fact now, and I am grateful that they let me work on such a project.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed the collaborative nature of my work, and the work that I saw others doing. The projects at PSI all feel like group efforts with contributions from students, advisors, and technicians. I had access to any equipment that I wanted and help operating it. I learned how to apply several techniques that I learned in labs at school and that I thought would never use again. I learned some new methods of analysis as well. I worked with minimal oversight, but with as much advice as I needed, which suits my work style perfectly. Best of all, I was exposed to graduate-style research, and this has allowed me to make better-informed decisions on my future education. I have to say something about Swiss culture as well, or this report would be woefully incomplete. If the stores were open later, I would never leave. I enjoyed the food, the outdoors, and the arts that I experienced, and the Swiss seem to relish these just as much. You should be able to tell how much I enjoy travelling, hiking, and museums from my blog posts. If not, let me say that these are, ahem . . . . a few of my favorite things. Switzerland is a wonderful place to be because they combine so much of this into such a small space.

While I enjoyed my stay, not everything was peachy. My chief frustration was the location of the Institut. I lived in the on-campus guesthouse, which made my commutes convenient but traveling on the weekends was slightly more difficult, and going out after work was nearly impossible. If I were to do this again, I would have moved into a city apartment. The only other big issue I had was with the weather. I don’t like cold and the cold, rainy season started as soon as I got here. This started to get on my nerves after about two weeks. I hear the spring and summer are nice, so I'll have to come back. The last issue was financial. I was working with only the scholarship for financial support, which is not enough for both living and travel expenses. I knew about this well in advance though, so I came prepared, but it was still a bit of a bother.

I can’t really compare this fall to my previous work because this was the first real research I’ve done. I learned a lot about the academic environment (and some of the incumbent politics), and my field in general. I seriously considered applying to ETH for my graduate studies. In the end, I decided not to, but I will keep it in mind if I want to do post-doctoral work. I would enjoy working here after school, too. Several companies in Switzerland employ engineers in my field, and I have plenty of incentive to move to Europe (six weeks of holidays?!). If it turns out that I don’t come back for work or study, I will be coming back for vacation as soon as I have the means. I still have to go skiing, and there are plenty of other things to do, outdoors and in.

I would like to finish by thanking everyone that contributed: my advisor and colleagues at PSI, the staff at the Swiss embassy (especially Andrea and Muriel), and all of the people that provided support from home. This was a great opportunity and a wonderful experience. Vielen Dank!

Goodbye, auf Wiedersehen, adieu, and ciao.

2 comments:

JEby said...

Just in case this bothers anyone, I DO know that The Sound of Music takes place in Austria.

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