Tuesday, September 29, 2009

final post

  • Overall impression – Did your stay meet your expectations?


My overall impression of my time in Switzerland was great. I improved my skills as a researcher, found a new area of Cognitive Science that is of interest to me and got to spend an entire summer doing what I love, both in work and in play. Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to meet up with any other ThinkSwissers, which is probably the only expectation my stay did not fulfill.

The research went really well. I honestly expected to get more done while over there but due to an array of different reasons, most of the work I did cannot directly be used. However, I did enough of the foundational research for the project that I am able to come back to Indiana and continue working with both Thomas Hills and a collaborator at Indiana, Linda Smith. It’s really exciting to come back with a project that is begging more questions than it has answers. It means it will be a long time before I can leave all that work in Switzerland behind!

Socially, the experience was rather difficult. I am rather fluent in German but that did not help me much in my stay. Though in lab everyone was very nice and spoke to me in high German. I was really expecting to come back able to understand Swiss German but that did not happen. I think the language barrier made conversations more contrived than normal and limited some of the subject matter that could easily be discussed. I often found myself visiting friends in Germany over the weekend because I didn’t know enough people in and around Basel to spend the weekend there. Even so, I made a few good friends that I plan to stay in good touch with. Not to mention all the lab friends I made that I will be seeing around at conferences and the such.


  • Three positive points?


The community within the lab was great. I have people in Switzerland I want to stay in touch with and nearly every one of them is from my lab. The lab offered not only research support but also the social network that I needed to become part of Basel life.

The 5 day work week is enough to make me consider leaving graduate school behind. Having a 40 (okay… usually a bit more) hour workweek doing what I love was wonderful and definitely hard to give up to return to Indiana and resume classes.

Having weekends free (as opposed to filled with a combination of work, research and homework) was amazing. I was able to travel quite a bit around Switzerland as well as around Germany. I also took a couple trips to other places to present at conferences and once for a vacation. It was great to be able to see so much of Europe and to get to know Switzerland really well.


  • Three negative points / challenges?


The language was probably the most challenging and frustrating thing. Being fluent in German, I expected to be able to apply and maybe even improve my German language, however the dialect in Switzerland is quite different than the high German I know.

Another challenge I found was dealing with the higher cost of everything. Food, beer, the movies, everything it seems, is more expensive in Switzerland, and with the dollar so poor… I felt more like I was living an even more extreme version of the poor student lifestyle I have become all too familiar with.

Leaving was probably the most challenging part about my stay. I was finally beginning to feel like I was part of the lab instead of just visiting. I finally found a group of friend. My project was finally moving forward and I finally felt like I knew my way around the city and the university. Not that I wasn’t ready to come home. But I could have easily stayed longer.


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


Everyone in lab was great. They went out of their way to invite and include me. It was the first place in Switzerland that felt like my home. I was invited to present my previous work as well as my summer research in the group meetings as well as attend workshops and lectures set up for the lab. The RAs (Hiwis!) invited me out with their friends and became my closest friends during my time in Basel.


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


The lab mentalities and even types of research are very similar. Ralph Hertwig, the principle investigator and professor at Basel also helped start up the Max Planck Institute on Human Development (headed by Gerd Gigerenzer) along with Peter Todd, my research advisor at Indiana. The lab in Basel is currently a little bigger than my lab at IU, which was great as there was more of a community in Basel. Also the role of the RAs in Basel is much different than at Indiana. The RAs in Basel seem much more integrated in the lab as well as the field.


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


I would consider going back to Switzerland for another short stay. I do not think I could do my Ph D program there as the field of Cognitive Science is still very small. I would love to work there again if money was not as much of an issue. I did a lot of traveling while in Switzerland but would love to travel some more. Getting out into the alps for longer than just a day at a time would be amazing.


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