Saturday, September 5, 2009

Final Report

I am back from Switzerland. I just returned on Saturday and am definitely missing it already. The three months more than flew by, and I’ve taken a few days to reflect on my summer there. As a whole, the experience went beyond and above my expectations going into it. For starters, all summer I was doing real, and significant research that will eventually be used to help write at least one paper by the student and professor that I worked for at the Swiss Banking Institute (ISB). My work schedule was steady throughout the summer and I was definitely busy everyday, but the student that I worked with all summer was flexible in giving me a couple of days off when I wanted to do a little traveling. Heading into this experience, I was excited to play an integral role on a research team, but also wanted to make sure I saw other parts of Switzerland and Europe. After returning to the US, I can say I accomplished both these goals to the fullest extent.

In terms of positives and negatives, I’ll list and briefly explain three of each. Positives were 1) The work I was doing was actually relevant to my undergraduate studies and also interesting to me. As I mentioned, our team looked at positive and negative occurrences at investment banks and how that either increases or decreases value at the bank. Having been a finance major, I almost couldn’t have asked for a topic that was more relevant. I think in this sense I was very fortunate, because it definitely made the work a little easier to do. This was important because when you’re doing research for three months straight things can become strenuous at times. 2) I couldn’t have asked for a better student and professor to be working for. They were both incredibly intelligent, easy going and an overall pleasure to be around. Again, I think my experience could have been dampened quite a bit had these people been difficult to work with. It was quite the opposite, and Evgeny, the PhD candidate, was so helpful the whole time I was in Zurich with helping me get around, sites to see when family and friends visited, etc.

3) I got to travel. Pretty simple, but this was a huge positive. I had never been to Europe prior to ThinkSwiss, and so I think it would have been foolish for me not to see other parts of Europe. I was able to take a couple weekend trips, and then travel a little towards the end of my stay. Again, Evgeny was happy that I was doing this, as long as I finished the work, which I did.
Negatives/challenges were 1) Budgeting money. Zurich is not cheap! This was a little hard to handle at first, but I definitely got better at it as the summer progressed. The best way to do so was buying groceries as often as I could, which really made things better. Going out to eat anywhere is expensive, which is why I almost never did it. I would definitely recommend having some money set aside if you plan on taking part in the program. 2) Communal living aspect of where I lived. I hadn’t lived in a dorm in about 3 years, and so where I lived in Zurich was like taking a bit of a step backwards in a sense. About 30 people shared the kitchen! This was definitely more of a challenge rather than a negative, but highlights the fact that my time was limited in regards to finding somewhere to live.

3) I also had one disagreement with the landlord where I lived. After I found out I was paying a couple hundred dollars/month more than the rest of the people living there, I politely asked if the rent could be lowered a little. After I asked him a second time, he said yes and told me how much rent would be the last two months. I got my second bill and rent had not changed, but he told me he’d take care of it. He then had one of his employees call up ISB to ask if I was receiving a scholarship, and they obviously told him yes. He then told me the rent could not be lowered because he was under the impression I wasn’t getting any kind of scholarship. This irritated me for 3 reasons. First, he basically promised me he’d lower the rent and went back on his word. Second, he went behind my back to find out about the scholarship when I obviously would have told him myself. Third, the total ThinkSwiss scholarship did not even cover 3 months rent at where I was staying! Not to mention that the scholarship is to help ease the burden of all expenses, not just rent. I tried explaining this to the landlord, but to no avail.
In terms of the research, I was integrated into the team well and certainly had a lot of responsibility, which I liked. Evgeny did a nice job of explaining what research I was doing, and how it was to be used in the future. He was also very helpful when I had any questions. I felt like I was making a real contribution because I was the only one doing this initial research. He will use it later as he pleases. Being a finance major, I didn’t really do a ton of “research” in teams/labs per se, but the biggest difference in the work I did was its independent nature. Evgeny was definitely there to help when I had questions, but I pretty much worked independently all summer, which I liked a lot. The fact of the matter was that the work I was doing was a very appropriate assignment for a summer research assistant, and so I think Evgeny and Professor Habib did a nice job in thinking things through when they decided to accept me for the summer.

Will I go back? I hope I get the chance to! Most likely the reason will not be to pursue a PhD; I suppose I’d have to get a master’s first. But I definitely would like to return to Switzerland for vacation, especially Zurich. I absolutely had a blast the entire time I was there, and think the city as a whole is fantastic. I feel I was fortunate because a couple of the cities I visited in Europe were fun for a few days, but then I felt like I needed to leave. Zurich was the exact opposite; I felt comfortable there the entire summer and couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

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