Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NCCR Climate Summer School

It’s my last night in Switzerland. I’m sitting here at the X-tra Hotel in Zurich, thinking about all my experiences in the last two weeks. I applied to the NCCR Climate Summer School last winter. It sounded fantastic: a conference/short course for young scientists, focusing on my research area, and it was in scenic Grindelwald, Switzerland! Some of my scientific heroes-Ed Cook, Nick Graham, and Bette Otto-Bliesner were going to be keynote speakers, too.

Once I found out I was accepted, I decided to spend a week before the conference exploring a little bit of Switzerland, along with my Mom. I enjoy the city and the outdoors, so I planned for a couple days in Zurich and then staying in Interlaken for a few more days, using the town as a base for some outdoor adventures.

I spent two hot, sunny days in Zurich. The city was out and about, sunning themselves along the river and lake, and enjoying cool beverages at the many cafes that dot the riverside. I really liked the public designation of waterfront space. Everyone should be able to enjoy the water, but, as I was discussing with a colleague at my summer school, in the states, most prime waterfront space is privately owned, so only the select few can enjoy it.

summertime Zurich

Generally, I found Swiss food very tasty. It’s much like the ‘comfort’ food in the states-warm, filling, and homey, like something you would order at a mom-and-pop diner. One particularly memorable meal was the dinner I had at Zeughauskeller in Zurich. The sausage came in ½ meter and meter lengths, which I found amusing. The potato salad was also amazing! I’ll have to try and recreate it at home. I didn’t get to try any of the higher-end restaurants during this stay, but some of my most memorable meals were just fresh bread, a local cheese, and some Swiss strawberries. Mmmm.

Interlaken was very picturesque and served as a nice base for day-time trips. We made full use of our SwissPass, travelling on the trains and buses up into the mountains for hikes. I am envious of the amazing public transportation system in Switzerland. It’s so simple to travel, and the trains, buses, and rail stations seem clean, efficient, and…punctual! It will be tough going back to car-centric America knowing about the Swiss transportation system.

Hiking the Niederhorn

The summer school was really well done. A mixture of keynote lectures, discussion, poster presentations, workshops, and of course, a field excursion made everyday interesting. I got great feedback on my poster and learned useful statistical techniques in the workshops. The best thing about conferences aimed specifically for young scientists is that the more relaxed atmosphere puts you more at ease, and provides an opportunity to bond more strongly with fellow students. This may sound unimportant, but these will be the colleagues I’ll likely be collaborating with in the future.

This was also my first European conference. I kept noticing little details that made the summer school nicer than the American conferences I’ve been to in the past. We had good coffee (and I got chastised for trying to pour it myself!), and real glass and ceramic dishes. I always though it ironic, in a sad way, the large amount of plastic and paper waste that must be generated at American conferences focused on environmental and sustainability issues.

Summer School participants enjoying the view during our field excursion

I left the summer school feeling very intellectually satisfied and re-invigorated. I can’t wait to get back to Tucson and start working on my dissertation projec
t! I can say that it’s likely that I will return to this wonderful country in the future. I would love to do some more hiking and backpacking in the Alps and spend nights in mountain huts. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be back for a post-doc?

No comments: