Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My final post -- an end to the greatest summer I have had

I am back to the US now with a myriad of beautiful and enriching memories and experiences from the land of chocolates and cheese. I have some soveniers and a bunch of pictures which will always remind me of those wonderful months spent in Switzerland.
Let me share with you for the last time my experience which I hope would help the future participants in preparing themselves.

• Overall impression – Did your stay meet your expectations?

This was my first time in Europe and I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to the most beautiful place in the world for 3 months. The experience was far beyond what I had expected.
The stay in Lausanne for 3 months was superb and exceeded my expectations. The time flew really fast and even before I realized it, I was packing my bags to fly back to Chicago. Work at EPFL was very productive and I learnt new stuffs. Moreover it opened up a new approach to what I was already doing. The lab I worked in is very well managed and has some excellent faculty as well as phd and post docs.

• Three positive points?

At EPFL I got a chance to work in a lab (the biomedical imaging group headed by Prof Michael Unser) which has produced some of the pioneering works in the field of biomedical image processing and houses a very multi-talented gamut of leaders as well as students. I worked with Dr Dimitri Van de Ville which was an enriching experience in itself and I hope to be in touch with him in future and we plan to publish some of the results that we got out of the work I did there. Although I do not work with images, but analyzing a problem from a different perspective can potentially produce fruitful results.
Working in the lab, I learnt new techniques in the field I am working in, I got to interact with people from different countries in Europe(which is not very common in the US) and I was exposed to a new culture. Apart from work, I visited some very beautiful places in Switzerland over the weekends and it was a perfect balance between work and vacation. I was amazed to see how well maintained the country is and how precisely the trains are on time. The public transport was well above my expectations. I fell in love with the coffee, the cakes, the pizzas and the paninis which I am terribly missing out here in Chicago.
Finally I would say that this was the best summer I have ever had and I would take this opportunity to thank Thinkswiss for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

• Three negative points / challenges?

I would not say that there were any negative points, rather shortcomings on my part as I was not aware of them before.
Firstly I had a some problem in communicating with people for the first couple of weeks primarily because I didn’t learn any French before going which I should have and secondly because I lived in Crissier, which is a small town and most people did not speak English. However, I overcame this problem once I knew my way around and where to find stuffs and managed to skill the art of communicating without actually speaking the language. The first few days I would go around with all the maps I could find and writing down stuffs and asking people to read that and help me as they would not understand my accent even if I tried speaking a French word.
The second challenge I faced was the financial scenario. I was not aware that I could actually ask my lab for extra funding as I thought the thinkswiss funding would be sufficient. But its quite expensive out there and I would spent atleast 1500 CHF per month just for my living and then I spent another 500CHF or a little more per month for travelling. Getting a demi tariff was a wise decision on my part as it cut down train,bus and boat fares by 50%.
The third challenge which was not that big an issue for me was the closing times of the stores. If I had to do groceries, I would have to leave the lab early. Every store would be closed on Sundays, so that made groceries impossible on weekends as Saturdays were mostly devoted for travelling. However its not very difficult to get used to the system.

• How well were you coached and integrated in the research team?

I worked with one of the project leaders of the team. As far as research was concerned I primarily interacted with him. However that did not bar me from interacting socially with the other team members. I joined them for the lab aperos as well as a barbeque on the beach. My supervisor, Dimitri was extremely helpful and a great person to work with. I learnt a lot from him and we would still be corresponding for publishing some results of the work I did there.

• Comparison (advantages and disadvantages) between your Swiss and your U.S. research lab, research mentality and team.

I really didn’t find a lot of differences between the research lab here in Chicago and at EPFL. The lab at EPFL was much bigger than the one here. People are more relaxed in their work and would go out for lunch together almost everyday and spend some time over coffee which is not that common here. I didn’t find any notable differences in the research mentality. I would love to work in either place.

• Do you consider going back to Switzerland for studying, a Ph. D. program, work or on vacation?

I would definitely apply for a post doc in EPFL and ETH Zurich, if I plan to do one. I would also certainly love to go back for vacation with my family if I get a chance to.

Kind regards
Ishita

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