Traditional Farmer's Markets and Neuroengineering: How I Fell in Love with Switzerland

It is hard to say goodbye to Switzerland. All the worries I had before my stay disappeared immediately in my immediate attachment to this wonderful place, and I already look forward to returning.

Over the course of my 2-month stay, I experienced 13 hours of lab work in one day; I also sometimes sneaked out early to enjoy the sunshine while wandering by the lake. I celebrated lab members’ submissions of their latest research papers and worked through the difficulties I faced on my Robotics project with my colleagues and friends in the lab. Every day I strove to explore the dynamics of drosophila locomotor behaviors and central pattern generators, along with ideas about how to improve uncertainty and sensitivity analysis. I also enjoyed Wednesday lab meetings, Thursday journal clubs, barbeques, and an endless list of other fun activities. I remember fondly the afternoon breaks, sneaking out for a cup of coffee, planning lab retreats, and the Color Run. The Neuroengineering Lab at EPFL is where biologists, mathematicians, physicists, neuroscientists, and engineers gather and interact. Scholars from diverse cultures who have had an array of experiences encounter and share their insights with one another. From being immersed in such a supportive environment, I gained inspiration, friendships, and life-long lessons. I am immensely grateful.

I regularly went to the local farmer’s market on Saturdays, buying fresh cheese and fine chocolates; I also used to jog through Lausanne in the mornings and at night. I went to the market so often that my favorite shop owner immediately knew the bread that I wanted; and when I ran by Ouchy, fellow runners would greet me with a hearty “Bonjour”. At those moments I identified myself as part of the city, not a mere visitor. I took in the mountain views in Vallorbe, walked along Jet d’Eau Fountain in Geneva, enjoyed the Rose Garden in Bern, and strolled through music festivals with dear friends. These experiences were unique and unparalleled. Without the generous funding from ThinkSwiss to support my travel to Switzerland, I could not have had the opportunity to form these new friendships and explore this fascinating place.

I was amazed by breathtaking natural views, intelligent vibrancy, and inclusiveness in Switzerland. I fell in love with this country and everything it represents. My friends and I made a promise to meet up again in Switzerland, and I have started to plan a return visit.

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Rongrong Liu
Cognitive & Computer Science – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) ∞ University of California, San Diego

A Tale of Interdisciplinary Research, Friendships, and Breathtaking Landscapes

The two weeks I spent at the University of Bern for the International Bachelor School program greatly exceeded my hopes and expectations. I was uncertain about what to expect, but my time spent in the lively city of Bern proved to me what may be one of the best decisions I made for myself. By working closely with groups of students and leaders from all over the world on matters regarding climate change, I had the opportunity to understand and engage in this matter from a range of disciplines. The interdisciplinary aspect of climate change, from science to policymaking, demonstrated how multi-layered this issue is. I learned very quickly that mitigating climate change and protecting the planet we live on requires all hands on deck.

I learned ENSO modelling using statistical methods to understand which types of models produced good forecasts for the development of El Niño in climates like the Southern Oscillation. The workshops led by group leaders encouraged problem solving, while a great deal of support and constructive feedback was also provided. So much was completed in a short period of time while fast friendships were also made along the way as we worked as a team and relied on each other. It was fulfilling to be able to present projects within two weeks, and have discussions on the different aspects relating to climate sciences and policies. Most of all, this experience encouraged me to speak up on issues confronting climate change to those around me.

The group of international students and the staff within the program also made my time in Bern as enjoyable as can be. This included the early morning lectures, outdoor lunches, after-class excursions to the lake, and the visit to the high alpine research station in the Bernese Alps. There was so much to see and much to learn! I look forward to returning very soon.

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Rong Gao
Physics – University of Bern ∞ University of Toronto

Unexpected Findings: Switzerland through the Archive

Although this summer began with international travel appearing close to impossible, as Covid-19 forced many plans to be cancelled or postponed, I was lucky to be able to use the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship to spend three months, from June to August 2020, at the University of Zurich (UZH).

At UZH’s Forschungsstelle für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, I sought to draw on the institute‘s strengths in 20th-century European history and seize the opportunity to discuss my burgeoning dissertation project on the history of the modern refugee with experts in the field. Upon my arrival, the wonderful staff at the institute made sure that I received my own workspace and facilitated access to university libraries and other institutional resources. Beyond logistical support, I received generous intellectual mentorship from Prof. Dr. Svenja Goltermann, my host at the institute, who was eager to discuss my initial findings and offered advice on historical context and interpretation.

I originally came to Switzerland to follow particular strands of in-depth archival research on the ways in which the very definition of the refugee, which was declared by the United Nations in 1951, had been influenced by then-contemporary theories and practices in the field of demography. Yet, I ended up finding much more than I expected. At the Archive for Contemporary History, which is housed by the neighboring Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), I spent many hours poring over boxes upon boxes full of notes by refugees, humanitarians, and bureaucrats. Reading through them, I was surprised to discover how controversial an issue the granting of refuge and indeed the assignment of “refugee status” was in 1940s Switzerland, and how much the perception of who fell into this category was intertwined with local counting and registration practices.

Outside of academic duties, I enjoyed the much-lauded Swiss lifestyle that persisted even in the midst of a global pandemic. I took daily advantage of the country’s superior bread, cheese, and chocolate offerings, which sustained me during long days in the archive. I enjoyed Swiss hospitality during socially distanced Grillabende in backyards and public parks. And I often floated down the Limmat on a rubber draft, which was a welcome reprieve during this year‘s hot summer days—a thought shared by many on August 1, Swiss National Day, which saw the river covered by inflatable parrots and unicorns.

Beyond Zurich, the picturesque train route along Lac de Neuchâtel and Lac Léman from the country’s north to its most western tip became familiar to me, as I prepared for future research in the Swiss city of Geneva, home to so many international organization that are pivotal to my dissertation. And despite having left Zurich at the end of August, I am certain to return to UZH soon, where I have been invited to discuss and present preliminary findings of my historical research as my dissertation continues to take shape.

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Anne Schult
History – University of Zurich ∞ New York University

From Political Science to Environmental Law: Changing the Outlook on Life

Very infrequently have I had an experience that has completely changed my outlook on life. I cannot stress how much the 2019 Bern University Climate Change Summer school was one of those experiences. As a political science major who wants to become a lawyer specializing in environmental law, this program could not have been better suited to my interests. Not only did I learn more about how current environmental policy affects climate change, I was also able to participate in a workshop focused on the World Trade Organization. Over the course of the workshop, I learned how its legal proceedings influence environmental trade and analyzed a legal case in its entirety. Even if I am not yet a law student, I feel much more prepared to choose a legal track that could help me reach my professional goals.

However, the program offered much more. The city of Bern is one of the most beautiful and amazing cities I have been to in Europe. Every day, the group would eat lunch on the lawn of the University admiring the views across the city of Bern, and after class we did an array of fun activities such as swimming in the river. My favorite experience was the visit that the university organized to the Jungfraujoch (the top of Europe) to learn how the scientists at the Sphinx research center have been tracking a variety of data since the 1950s. The view was amazing, and I was impressed by how many countries and universities shared this space to learn about the environment.

Without a doubt the aspect of the program that blew my expectations was the quality of friendships that I made. Our group was an excellent blend of international students and Swiss nationals. Not only did I learn from other cultures, but I felt comfortable expressing myself in the environment that we cultivated. The people I met came from all walks of life, and I will always cherish the relationships that I made during the program, so much so, that I have no doubt that I will be organizing reunions soon in the future.

I was impressed by how well the Climate Change Summer School was organized, and I am deeply grateful to have received the ThinkSwiss Scholarship. Without the financial aid that I received from the program, traveling from the United States to Switzerland would have been impossible. I have no doubt that I will encourage all my friends at the University of California Merced to apply for this opportunity. I am sure it will change their outlook on life, as it did for me. Thank you, University of Bern.

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Leopoldo Navarrete
Political Science – University of Bern ∞ University of California, Merced

Domestic Implementation of International Human Rights Law

The Lucerne Academy for Human Rights Implementation at the University of Lucerne is a three-week program that focuses on the domestic implementation of international human rights law. Each year the academy is organized around a central theme, this year’s was business and human rights. I was incredibly excited about the theme as I only had preliminary knowledge surrounding the topic.

The academy is divided into three separate parts: course work, lunch seminars with professionals and experts in the field of international human rights law, and a moot court.

For the course work, students are enrolled in a mandatory introductory course and then pick three electives. Each student is required to take the introductory course on the European Convention on Human Rights, taught by Dr. Sebastian Heselhaus. This class took place during this first week of the academy and helped prepare us for our electives and the moot court, which involved claims under the Convention. This class also included case studies, so we could see how the European Convention on Human Rights is applied in practice.

In addition to the introduction class, I also took a class on indigenous people’s rights, human rights litigation, and business and human rights. Each class was incredibly unique and taught me something different that will be useful in my further studies. The class on indigenous people’s rights provided a thorough overview on the evolution and development of these rights in international human rights law, with a case study on the Awas Tingi case from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Human rights litigation was taught by Dr. Helen Keller, a judge on the European Court of Human Rights and a former member of the UN Human Rights Committee (2008-2011), who gave a detailed course on the admissibility criteria before the court and practical litigation advice for arguing before the court. As someone who wishes to pursue a career in litigation, I found this class very useful as it combined both the theory behind bringing the case to the Court and the practical skills necessary to successfully argue a case.

Lastly, the class on business and human rights provided an overview of how the issue of business and human rights has evolved in international law, beginning with the strengthening of investor’s rights in international investment law, to John Ruggie’s basic principles on business and human rights, and the development of a legally binding international human rights treaty on the topic. This class was taught by Dr. Olivier De Schutter, an international human rights law scholar who was the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2010-2016 and is presently a member of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It was an honor to be able to learn from esteemed members of the international human rights community.

The lunchtime seminars allowed us to hear from experts in different parts of the international human rights field, included academics, lawyers, and practitioners working with nongovernment organizations. The lunch seminars covered a broad range of topics, including corporate social responsibility, rights of gender and sexual minorities in Africa, and lawyers litigating cases in the field of business and human rights. The lunch seminars were also helpful as our visiting professors would sit and eat lunch with us. This allowed us to connect with our professors on both an academic and social level.

The moot court exercise was an incredible experiential learning opportunity. On the first day of class, we received a fictitious case, our team, and deadlines. We had ten days to write a memorial on five legal issues. This exercise allowed us to research the legal claims we were discussing thoroughly, including reading jurisprudence, academic articles, and doctrine on the topics. After we submitted our memorial, we had one week to prepare oral pleadings. We received individual coaching that allowed us to develop both the content of our arguments and our presentation style. During my oral pleadings, I remembered how much I love public speaking and advocating for victims of human rights violations.

Additionally, it was my first time working in a team of three for a moot court with people who have varying levels of experience. The experience improved my teamwork and collaborative skills. Not only that, but as I was the most experienced student on my team, I was able to improve my coaching skills and help my teammates develop their moot court skills. I have coached moot court in the past and this experience reminded me of how much I enjoy helping others improve their skills.

The Lucerne Academy also included excursions to Strasbourg, France, to see the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe, as well as a trip to Geneva to visit the Palais des Nations and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These trips allowed us to see for ourselves where the decisions that we studied in class were made. We were also able to hear from individuals who work at these institutions and see what a day in the life is like for a professional in the field of international human rights law.

I can truly say that the weeks spent at the Lucerne Academy were some of the best weeks of my life. Being able to participate in such an enriching academic environment while being surrounded by students from every continent was amazing. Living in residence with the other students, we became a family. Many nights we cooked dinner together and had meaningful conversation. Some of my most treasured memories from the experience include everyone gathered around our kitchen table and laughing as we talked about our days. In our spare time, we explored Switzerland together, from hiking Mount Rigi, visiting Mount Pilatus, and taking a day trip to Bern.

As a whole, the Lucerne Academy reinforced my desire to pursue a career in the field of international human rights. The program combined everything I love most about academic programs: engaging coursework and professors, experiential learning opportunities, and a moot court exercise. Each component of the program was equally important and made me a more well rounded individual in the field of human rights. Not only did I learn about current human rights issues; I also worked on the skills necessary to help advocate and improve the situation of human rights globally. I look forward to bringing the knowledge I learned to further education and a future career in the field.

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Emily Williams
Human Rights – University of Lucerne ∞ St. Thomas University

Protecting Vulnerable Populations against Diseases caused by Climate Change

My attendance at the 2019 Climate Change Research Summer School at the University of Bern, generously funded by the ThinkSwiss scholarship program, was inarguably the highlight of my summer. Upon arriving in Switzerland, I was overwhelmed by the Alpine landscapes and the beautifully conserved Swiss heritage – but the experience I would have for the following two weeks was much more than feeling like a protagonist of Heidi.

As a student of global health, it is important that I know about the current state of intergovernmental efforts to protect vulnerable populations against diseases due to climate change. From a broader perspective, it is also important to know what each government has to say about climate change. As a hub of intergovernmental institutions, Switzerland was a perfect place to meet and build connections with those engaged in similar conversations. I was able to attend keynote lectures taught by renowned professionals on climate change, including Professor Thomas Stocker, the former co-chairman of one of the working groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Professor Peter Van den Bossche, Director of Studies at the World Trade Institute. I was in awe of the obstacles they had faced in trying to convince decision-makers of the severity and consequences of climate change but was disappointed to realize that it would be impossible to meet the best economic and environmental solutions to climate change due to the various conflicts of interest.

The hands-on activities taught via workshops were also very insightful and provided me with skills applicable to other fields of research. As part of one of the ten workshops, I analyzed the discourse network of two administrations surrounding an important climate change issue. My task was to compare and contrast the discourse network of the Trump and Obama administrations surrounding the Paris Agreement; Obama signed the Paris Agreement, and Trump withdrew from it. By analyzing the density of the connections we had between the actors and concepts, the distance between the concepts, and so on, we were able to observe which actors and concepts about the Paris Agreement were shifting the dynamics of the discourse. I thank the summer school for inviting me to participate in this workshop, as these skills are valuable for any research on how individuals and concepts play a pivotal role in a topic of interest.

Finally, the one-day excursion to Jungfraujoch! This was certainly the most memorable experience of the summer school. We were able to observe the devastating effects of climate change and global warming at the tip of Europe, and see the state-of-art technology for measuring pollutants, greenhouse gases, and temperatures with minimal interference from urbanization. Researchers who had been at the research station for a number of years told us about the sudden and drastic changes in climate they had observed: they do not need to clean the roads every morning anymore due to the lack of snow, and the Alps occasionally surprise them with night rain showers, which is unheard of and outside of the normal pattern. I felt a great weight on my shoulders and the responsibility to be more cautious about the by-products of consumption, not only to preserve this overwhelming beauty of nature, but also to prevent the butterfly effect of a global temperature rise on local ecosystems and the global population.

I strongly encourage anyone who has an interest in learning more about climate change to apply to the Climate Change Research Summer School at the University of Bern. You will learn that climate change mitigation is much more urgent than you think, and that getting involved in this great cause would have a greater global impact than you might think. Moreover, you will make lifelong friends who are always there to share brilliant ideas about how to change the world!

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Suehyun Cho
Global Health – University of Bern ∞ University of Toronto

Computational Modeling Defining Developmental Mechanisms of the Lungs

This past summer, I was very grateful to receive the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship provided by the Embassy of Switzerland. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research at a top university in Switzerland has shaped my scholarly and cultural perspective of the world. 

I interned in Dr. Dagmar Iber’s Computational Biology Group at the ETH Zürich in Basel, Switzerland. My research involved combining high-end imaging technologies and computational modeling to define basic developmental mechanisms of the lungs (lung organogenesis). This experience contrasted greatly with my research in the US, which was in an oncology wet lab. Despite having had no previous experience in this research area, through the mentorship of the posdoc Dr. Aleksandra Sapala I was able enhance my skills in basic image analysis and computational modelling, and also learn about the mechanics and physics behind cellular growth of lungs in just 3 months!

By the end of the internship, I was able to give a technical presentation on the work I did to the lab group and I feel more confident in taking on the challenges of graduate school. 

In addition, I was drawn in by the kind and welcoming nature of my lab group and the D-BSSE Department of ETH Zürich. We frequently met for lunch, walked to the local Coop supermarket for ice cream on hot summer days, and even held a barbeque outing. To share my own cultural tradition, I made Texan-style breakfast tacos for my lab group—and they loved it!

On the weekends, I would travel with my other fellow scholars in Switzerland and explore its picturesque and breathtaking landscape. My most unforgettable trips were touring the vineyards of Lausanne, hiking with Swiss locals at Lake Oeschinen, conquering an 18km hike near the Matterhorn in Zermatt, having a picnic with a view of the Bernese Alps in Mürren, and the ThinkSwiss Scholar Retreat in Bern and Mt. Titlis. 

Thank you to the amazing ThinkSwiss Program for providing me with an experience I will never forget!

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Alay Shah
Computational Biology – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETHZ ∞ University of Texas, Austin

A Swiss Science Soirée and the Fine Art of Frolicking with Failure

On clear summer mornings the turquoise lake burst out from below the rippling deep green hills, its circumference sprinkled with the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Burnese Alps, as I whipped around the bend and zipped downhill on my bicycle.

Sound like a rêverie? This was just my daily bike commute from my dreamy residence at the hilltop Neuchâtel Botanical Garden Villa to the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Photovoltaic Laboratory (PV-Lab) during my ThinkSwiss 2019 Internship. The sizzling sunbeams that beat upon me during my ride were the same sort of sunbeams that I summoned with semiconductors that summer.

Sunrise (or set?) over Lac Neuchatel – a watercolor by Swiss artist Frank Vindayer depicting my morning commute view (none of my photos came close to depicting the beauty, so this will have to do)

PV-Lab is a world-class facility, not just in the tools it possesses but in the expertise of its scientists, who come from all corners of the world. It’s been around since 1984, and many of the staff have pioneered breakthroughs in the field of silicon heterojunction (SHJ) solar cells and, more recently, in perovskite silicon tandem solar cells. As a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley studying new materials for solar energy technology, I took this internship as an opportunity to dive into something new and interact with experts in the SHJ community—my research group at home in Berkeley studies computational materials science, but doesn’t specialize in PV. At PV-Lab, I aimed to better understand the greatest challenges facing PV science and engineering today, while gaining hands-on experience that could inform my own research in other types of PV and my STEM outreach pursuits (see below!).

Frolicking up Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps overlooking Mts. Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.

My project at the lab was to investigate new transparent “hole-selective” contact materials for SHJ solar cells, under the supervision of Dr. Angela Fioretti and Dr. Mathieu Boccard. Absorbing sunlight with silicon has been very well optimized, but extracting the photo-generated electrons and holes (i.e. missing electrons in a semiconductor) without efficiency losses is trickier. That’s why we need better selective contacts. I had proposed to grow and optimize a material called boron phosphide using plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) in the cleanroom, and determine whether it could work as a contact material.

Me as a lab rat in the cleanroom that was closed for renovations, a sputter plasma changing colors as I introduce nitrogen gas into the vacuum chamber, and some oversized gloves holding almost finished solar cell samples.

Well, we would not find out. I failed to incorporate a good contact into SHJ. Instead, I’d discover something a bit more personal.

Right before my internship started, we learned that the cleanroom where I’d need to conduct planned experiments had to close for renovations. All summer…. So we quickly shifted our focus to another material system using a vacuum deposition method called “sputtering” that I was more familiar with (backup plan #1). But when I arrived at the lab, manufacturers informed us that the necessary sputtering precursors were delayed at least five weeks, more than half of my two-month visit. Thus began a continuous cycle of brainstorming new backup plans (6 in total!) and handling hiccups. It was almost comical.

Science research is a game of adaptation. Conditions change, and sometimes the experiment you planned to do gets derailed due to broken equipment, renovations, unexpected delays, personnel shortage, illness, personal life stuff, or the entire country of Switzerland shutting down its supply of nitrogen gas (yes, this actually happened). Sometimes the experiments do work, but yield results that counter your expectations and leave you baffled. You have to give up what you thought was constant.

Embracing failure as a tool for growth is something that is not talked about enough in science. It is so important to experience letdowns in the lab, not only because they are realistic and happen to everybody, but because they provide an opportunity to zoom out, realign with your goals and priorities and, if necessary, revamp your approach and start fresh in a new direction. To practice adaptability, flexibility, and versatility.

So despite the six-layer cake of backup plans and multiple false starts, my real discovery was my own versatility as a researcher. I decided to stick with the resources I had, circumvent the fluctuating conditions in the lab, and address my research questions using an alternative method that would still allow me to conduct an investigation even if the entire lab somehow shut down. That is, computational simulation of SHJ contact junctions (aka backup plan #6). My supervisors and colleagues were incredibly supportive throughout, and a postdoc in the group kindly helped me get up to speed. Simulations have their limitations, in particular because we have to make a slew of iffy assumptions, but the method I pursued could still give me insight into the physical mechanisms at play in solar cells.

Chowing down some classic Neuchâtelois fondue (aka Fonduechâtel) with PV-Lab colleagues!

All-in-all, I was fortunate to accomplish most of the goals I came into my ThinkSwiss Internship with: I got to connect with experts in the field and participate in-depth conversations about solar energy in society (as well as fondue gobbling sessions!). The head of the lab, Professor Christophe Ballif, generously donated SHJ solar panels to sponsor my STEM outreach organization Cycle for Science (I biked across the Netherlands with two professors and a masters student, teaching hands-on solar cell demos to kids along the way! Check our blog posts and an article from EPFL with a shoutout to ThinkSwiss!). The series of “failures” led the way to a simulations-focused manuscript that I am currently writing with my colleagues at PV-Lab (incorporating bits of backup plans #5 and #6!).

3/4 of Cycle for Science’s Netherlands team pictured with EPFL PV-Lab’s solar cells

Despite the frustrations, it was hard to be disappointed with a summer in magnificent Switzerland. At lunch I’d plunge into that turquoise lake visible from my bike commute, letting the clear water clear out any residual stress. Living in a botanical garden for the summer was incredible. I discovered the symmetry of seeding mustard plants, read papers beside the shimmering lilypad pond, and took in countless sunsets over the sea of flowers from the hammock draped across the balcony. The Jura mountains were quite literally my backyard, and my bicycle and I got lost swirling through their steep slopes after work. And those snow-sprinkled mountains in the distance? Well, they became my weekend escape. Between the labs and blabs I was able to squeeze in three trips up: hut-hopping and backpacking around Mt. Eiger, scampering up Roches de Naye, and ascending the Appenzeller Alps.

And more-over, I was able to experience and practice the Swiss mentality of being active and truly present in the natural world. This mindset allowed me to refresh and recharge, and gave me the clarity of mind that I needed to confront the ebbs and flows of failure and success that are inevitable with science research. It also deeply reminded me of what I am fighting for with my solar research: a renewable energy future and a healthy sustainable world for all.

My home for the summer in the dreamy Jardin Botanique Villa! And biking through my backyard, the Jura.

Alp-hopping with Professor Rafaella Buonsanti of EPFL, a collaborator from my past job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Roches de Naye)

Scenes from an Alpsolutely stunning summer (Appenzeller, Bernese Alps)

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Rachel Woods-Robinson
Materials Physics – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) ∞ University of California, Berkeley

A Life Changing Experience

With the support of the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship, I spent this past summer in Prof. Dr. Johann Kolar’s Power Electronics System Laboratory at ETH Zurich. Power electronics are ubiquitous to our modern, electrified economy, yet remain largely unknown to the public. They are the “brick” that charges your phone and laptop, the key to integrating solar and wind power into the grid, and the foundation of both electric vehicles and cloud computing. In short, every single electric device, in some way, relies on the efficiency, size, and reliability of power electronics. Over the summer, my work focused on power supplies for data centers (which are expected to consume 20% of the world’s electricity by 2030), the physical properties and limitations of next-generation materials for power semiconductors, and circuits for solar inverters and electric vehicle motors.

Prof. Kolar’s group epitomized my ideals of Switzerland – the students, staff, researchers, and faculty were all incredibly welcoming, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and, in the end, made Zurich feel like home to this foreigner. The attention to detail, technical rigor, and drive to excel place the lab at the top of our field, and I was privileged to learn daily from experienced graduate students and Professor Kolar himself. The daily lab lunches, coffee breaks, presentations, and frequent outings were all opportunities to connect, learn, and lay the groundwork for future friendships and collaborations.

Among the best adventures were a Swiss National Day rafting trip on the Aare River, which fittingly ended in the capital of Bern with a view of the Parliament Building. Our Swiss colleagues also led tours to the Ballenberg open-air museum, where we checked out architecture from all generations and regions of the country, and to the Waldhusli of Zurichberg for a lab-wide barbeque, volleyball match, and fireside chat. On weekends without a lab event, I would hop on a Saturday morning train to explore another amazing destination, including Konstanz, Germany, the mountains and lakes of Wallensee, and a once-in-a-generation festival in Vevey on Lake Geneva.

The exchange at ETH Zurich – which could not have happened without the ThinkSwiss Scholarship – was, without exaggeration, a life-changing experience, professionally and personally. This summer will form the foundation for an ongoing collaboration between my home lab at Stanford University and Prof. Kolar’s group at ETH Zurich, and I anticipate working with many of my mentors and lab mates far into our future careers. In the next few years, I hope to return to Switzerland to live at some point, and carry home a new appreciation for the approaches to work, family, and community that I learned during the exchange.

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Grayson Zulauf
Electrical Engineering – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETHZ ∞ Stanford University

Laboratory For Synchrotron Radiation

This fall I had the opportunity to spend three months working at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Villigen, less than an hour north of Zurich, in the group of Prof. Helena van Swygenhoven. Her research group has a few very unique capabilities that made my exchange incredibly productive, interesting, and beneficial to my PhD research. First is the custom built metal 3D printer constructed by PhD student Samy Hocine, which has the ability to print very small structures (less than 1x1cm) for research purposes. Second is the access to the Swiss Light Source, a powerful synchrotron used to study many different research projects. While in Switzerland I was granted beam time at the synchrotron for two different weeks: the first to use a larger x-ray beam to investigate the printing process through melting and solidification, and the second to use a much smaller, more focused x-ray beam to understand the spatial variation of the printing process. Between my offline and online 3D printing, I was able to further my PhD work and establish valuable connections with this team of experts that I will continue to use in the future.

In addition to my work at PSI, I got to travel through Europe for both personal and professional reasons. In September I traveled with my PSI colleagues to Goteborg, Sweden, for the Alloys in Additive Manufacturing Symposium. As it was my first conference ever, I met many experts in the field and presented my poster to PhD students and professors who I will certainly cross paths with many times in my career. And as it was my first time in Sweden, I was treated to beautiful sunsets, delicious fish (salmon! Shrimp!), and a boat cruise around the southern archipelago courtesy of the conference organizers. I also visited a PhD friend from Northwestern who is spending the year on an exchange to Perugia, Italy, and he took me to Rome, Florence, and Milan while introducing me to the beautiful architecture, art, and food of Italy.

I also had the opportunity to travel within Switzerland on the weekend. I explored Zurich and hiked the local mountain (Uetliberg); learned about antimatter and the future of the Lower Hadron Collider at CERN Open Days, an open house that only occurs once every 5 years; visited family friends in Lausanne, hiked in the vineyards, and enjoyed many kinds of cheese from the market; and spent a weekend in Basel and Colmar, known as “little Venice” for its many small canals. 

Overall I had a great experience in Switzerland and I am very grateful to the ThinkSwiss organization for providing me with this opportunity.

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Jennie Glerum
Materials Science and Engineering – Paul Scherrer Institute ∞ Northwestern University

Personality Assessment Research and Exploring Unparalleled Natural Beauty

Thanks to the Think Swiss scholarship, I was able to work with Dr. Willibald Ruch at the Personality and Assessment lab at the University of Zurich. This lab studies personality psychology through the lens of positive psychology and has a strong focus on test construction.

I joined two pre-existing projects and was also able to design and execute my own research project. The first study I worked onfamiliarized me with the process of test construction– this project sought to create a measure to assess an individual’s ability to accurately recognize character strengths in another person. Another study sought to measure the efficacy of character strength interventions, daily practices aimed at increasing overall well-being by targeting specific thought patterns and processes associated with each of the twenty-four character strengths. I was also able to design my own study, examining the character strengths associated with greater psychological resilience and lower levels of burnout in social justice activists. This was a particularly valuable experience, as the problem-solving skills necessary when designing and implementing a study are best learned via trial and error—I learned an immense amount from the small setbacks I experienced while conducting the study and feel much more confident in my ability to take on a leadership position with other projects in the labs I am involved in at my home university. The ThinkSwiss grant allowed me to get a glimpse of what graduate school will be like, and I was so lucky to have such wonderful doctorate students and post-docs in the lab to work with and learn from. The program itself also provided a great experience! The group trip to Bern and Lucerne was both fun and informative, as we got to meet and learn from Swiss government officials about all of the work Swiss embassies do with young researchers around the world.

Switzerland is also without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and I feel so lucky to have been able to hike and explore such dense natural beauty. I will never forget my time in Switzerland, the people I was lucky enough to travel with, and those I met along the way.

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Alexa Zielinski
Psychology and Creative Writing – University of Zurich ∞ University of Michigan

The Best Summer I Ever Had

The summer researching in Switzerland sponsored by ThinkSwiss is the best summer I have ever had. I gained substantial knowledge and skills, went on amazing hikes and travels, learned and experienced many cultures, and made so many great friends.

I conducted research under Prof. Dr. Laura Heyderman at the Laboratory for Mesoscopic Systems, a lab in the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and ETH Zurich, with most of my work done at PSI. My project was on an antiferromagnet (AFM)-like square lattice built from chirally coupled nanomagnets. I designed sample geometries and demagnetization protocols, used magnetic force microscopy and magneto-optic Kerr effect microscopy for characterization, and developed a suite of recognition, calculation and simulation MATLAB programs to understand the energetic contributions.

Combining experimental and simulation results, I demonstrated a correlation between domain size and lattice geometry, as well as the interfacial roughness mechanism for exchange bias. The work comprehensively characterized the energetics of the synthetic AFM system, contributed to the understanding of AFM domain formation and the source of exchange bias, and is useful for designing future spintronic devices based on synthetic antiferromagnets, which allows for denser data storage.

I loved my research group. Academically, I learned so much through discussions and even from just observing other group members and asking questions. They welcomed all my naïve questions and even ardently shared their tricks and insights on all aspects of research: how to identify research topics to pursue, how to keep track of data, where to draw the line for the conclusion of a project… I benefitted immensely from their insights, which helped me develop into a more experienced researcher. Beyond work, my colleagues were an extremely lively and fun group. We went on excursions, cooked and had dinners together, floated down the Aare river next to PSI, had fun at Züri Fäscht… They were also extremely diverse, in terms of culture, background, hobby, everything. Our group members came from 12 different countries across the whole world, and that helped us bond together readily and tightly. We picked up different groups of people from all over PSI campus for lunch every day and sit together around a long table, we all gathered in a PhD office for coffee after lunch, we went together after work to watch a group member’s choir performance or to celebrate a member’s paper being accepted by Nature…

Besides at work, I also made so many great friends in my leisure time. The PSI guesthouse was my home for the summer, a lovely living space I shared with interns, students, and scientists around the world. We had so many fun and eye-opening discussions on science, culture, sports, hobbies, and I found myself learning something new after every random conversation. We went running, climbing, swimming, and barbequing together, and organized transcontinental dinners where everyone cooked dishes or brought food from their own culture. It was such a diverse and lively experience that I miss dearly.

And of course, the nature. There are no words that can describe the spectacular mountains, rivers, canyons, caves, and glaciers in Switzerland. I went on so many hikes across the country, and every single time, I felt an urge to cry out loud because the scenery was so beautiful.

The whole experience, I loved it. But what I have been able to put down to words is nothing compared to what I felt. You have to live it to feel it. And hopefully I will go back some time in the future, to experience more, and to grow more.

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Xuequiao Wang
Materials Science and Engineering – Paul Scherrer Institute/ ETHZ ∞ Georgia Institute of Technology

Solving Ribonucleic Acids For Future Cancer Treatments

My name is Jevon Marsh and I am a Canadian student of chemistry. Over the summer of 2019, I was grateful to have received the ThinkSwiss scholarship, which provided me with the amazing opportunity to call Zürich my home and to contribute to the advancement of a really cool project. My research involved solving a unique structure formed by ribonucleic acids (known as guanine quadruplexes) using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy; by solving and characterizing this structure, we have provided a new therapeutic target that can be used to treat various forms of cancers in the future. From start to finish, my host lab provided oversight for my work and taught me important techniques and skills that will prove beneficial to my future career in research. I also spent an entire week at the International Conference in Biological Inorganic Chemistry (ICBIC-19) in Interlaken, which provided me with a chance to explore the many topics in my field, and network with professionals from all over the world. The kindness and generosity of the researchers in my lab and even those in the city really made my summer enjoyable… and made it feel like a home away from home!

My experiences in Switzerland enriched my life in many ways, from both a professional and a personal perspective. Not only was I given the opportunity to learn new and exciting things and grow as a researcher; I was also given the opportunity to become a part of a community of people that have since remained very close friends. The summer is all about research and learning, but it is equally as important to go on as many adventures as you can, and take full advantage of the unique opportunity you have been given. Almost every weekend I was either hiking somewhere in Switzerland to embrace the stillness of the country and to admire the beauty of nature that exists everywhere around you… or heading out to another town in Switzerland or another country with friends, embracing many different cultures and making memories! Of course I embraced Swiss culture, with as many hikes as possible, eating lots of chocolate and cheese.. and even waking up at 5am to paraglide off a mountain in the Swiss Alps… simply enjoying every single moment!

I highly encourage all future scholars to do exactly that: seize the moment, have many laughs and make memories with all of the new people you meet who will become great friends.

Challenge yourself with speaking a foreign language… try new foods (the raclette and fondue are amazing… and please try the salted caramel white chocolate from Läderach)… participate in everything you can (especially the weekend trips they organize)… just simply enjoy the entire experience you have been given. This scholarship is an opportunity for personal and professional development; an opportunity to be exposed to a new culture and experience the world we live in; an opportunity to build and become a part of an amazing community. I am very thankful for the scholarship and for the experience it has given me… I will be visiting Switzerland again very soon.

I wish you all an *amazing* experience in Switzerland!


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Jevon Marsh
Supramolecular and Biological Chemistry – University of Zurich ∞ Queen's University

Research on Kindergartners' Self-Regulation

My Think Swiss journey started two summers ago in Zürich when I was a co-facilitator of a workshop for a Special Interest Group conference with the European Association of Learning and Instruction. Within the first couple of hours of being in Zürich, I made a call to my parents to tell them that I had never felt so at home in a new city – and I’ve lived in a few cities! I told them that one day, I would live there. Only a few months later, I received an email with details about the Think Swiss scholarship. It was the first time I had ever heard of the program and I felt like it was made just for me.

After several meetings with my prospective host professor and countless drafts of my application, I found myself packing my bags preparing to move to Zürich for the summer. Over the course of the scholarship, I worked with Dr. Katharina Maag Merki and her team at the Institute of Education at the University of Zürich. As a relentless optimist who thinks she can do more with the time she has, I am notoriously the person who is 5 minutes late… With the stereotype of the Swiss people being extremely prompt and pragmatic, I was worried about how I would adjust to my new surroundings. I knew that the work ahead of me would be challenging, but if I remained open-minded, left 10 minutes earlier, and relied on the skills I had used to get there that I would be successful. And boy was I ever successful, though not only in the academic ways I had expected.

During my research stay, my projects included co-authoring a manuscript on kindergartners’ self-regulation and preparing a literature review on the function of routines in teachers’ instructional regulation. To complete these projects, I actively participated in team meetings to learn about the vast yet specific research backgrounds of each team member and dove deep into new literature, with the team acting as my lifeguards. We supported each other by providing feedback on our work, sharing papers that offered new perspectives and discussing future directions in educational psychology. This created a channel of sharing and equality that I have begun to embody more deeply with my own team at McGill.

Beyond the formal academic work, my stay saw me taking lunch and sipping coffee each day with the lab members whom I quickly began to refer to as friends. I had the chance to play Frisbee while swimming down the Reuss River with those friends, and to play the drums in a make-shift band we put together one evening. I quickly came to understand that the timely and pragmatic nature of the Swiss allows them to focus on the finer things in life: connecting with friends, usually while eating delicious food, and spending time grounded in nature. I’m grateful to know that I now have an academic family abroad who is cheering me on in all my endeavors.

Though this trip certainly supported the development of my academic skills, some of the most important things I learned and experienced were with the people I met and during the time I spent alone. I walked in my first demonstration at the women’s strike and met wonderful friends whom I later danced with at the many open-air festivals, and street parades. I explored coffee shops, pubs and clubs, and I’ve never seen so many cell phone-less tables at meals. I swam a lot and got comfortable with falling off my bike. I climbed a mountain to sleep in a remote hut, played alp-golf terribly, and acquired the worst blisters I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve seen colours of sunsets that are emblazoned in my memories, and I was gifted with an impeccable amalgamation of music that is the soundtrack of my memories. I’ve fallen in love with countless people, places and things but most importantly I fell more deeply in love with myself.

Although I’ve been working on withholding unsolicited advice, I’m going to offer some to this year’s applicants/awardee’s. My takeaway from the Think Swiss journey is that you don’t need to understand a foreign language to understand food or friendship. You will appreciate how hard some people will work to have a conversation with you in English. Be sure to tell them you appreciate it; their smile will be worth it. It’s fun to walk everywhere for the first week, but buy a bike – you’ll thank me later. You may find yourself feeling afraid to be vulnerable, but do it anyway. The worst thing you can do for yourself is not be authentic. Allow people to support you if you feel out of place, miss home or don’t know to order a coffee. It might sting when the time approaches that you must leave, but don’t run away from the feeling. Instead, reframe it; remind yourself that it stings because it’s worthwhile. And lastly, I can assure you that when you fall in love with Switzerland, you will take that love with you no matter how far away you should wander. 

Wishing you all the best of luck,

Kelsey Losenno

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Kelsey Losenno
Educational Science – University of Zurich ∞ McGill University

A Life In Three Months

Thank you to the Embassy of Switzerland for the incredible opportunity of a lifetime. During my stay at the University of Fribourg, I worked with Dr. Raphael Berthele collecting data for a project on narrative fiction and language. My research project examined whether reading a story in a second (foreign) language impacts narrative transportation, which is the extent to which an individual feels “transported” into a fictional world. Fribourg was the perfect place to recruit participants because the majority are native French speakers with German, Italian, or English as foreign languages. My host supervisor provided a fresh new perspective on multilingualism research. We had wonderful conversations about Open Science, the dissemination of research to the general public, and the importance of taking into account the linguistic context when conducting research.

The Institute of Multilingualism routinely held talks, workshops, and public lectures that were informative in guiding my research questions and served as networking opportunities. I was able to present my project to the research group during one of the “lunch talks”. I particularly enjoyed connecting with other researchers within the Institute and from abroad. What I found to be fascinating was that even though we were researchers from various parts of the world, the issues, critiques, and challenges we faced when conducting multilingualism research were very similar.

Coming from Toronto, a city that is very fast-paced, it was gratifying to take a step back and enjoy the beautiful landscape that Switzerland has to offer. With such an efficient train system, I was able to travel during the weekends to Montreux, Gruyeres, Lucerne, Interlaken, and Zermatt. I fell in love with the majestic mountains, the cheese (fondue), and of course the chocolate! Although the change in scenery definitely helped with the transition to living abroad for a couple of months, it is the people I met there who made my stay truly unforgettable. I will miss the board game nights, Monday night jam sessions, and hiking adventures. One of my favourite memories was attending a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the University of Fribourg. It was such an honour to hear her speak about her thoughts on the writing process, graduate school, and social issues.

On a more personal note, I was delighted to be exposed to multiple languages, including French, on a daily basis. In elementary school, I was enrolled in a school where the language of instruction was strictly French. After switching to an Anglophone school, I was no longer as comfortable conversing in French. My stay in Fribourg has motivated me to use French again and I am happy to announce that I will continue to do so when I return to Canada.

As one of my colleagues from York University said, “This exchange experience won’t simply be 3 months in your life, but a life in 3 months!” This statement perfectly encapsulates my journey! I am truly grateful for this unique opportunity that has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally. Without hesitation, I would recommend applying to the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship.

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Ashley Chung-Fat-Yim
Cognitive Psychology and Psycholinguistic – University of Fribourg ∞ York University

Nephrology, Friends and Exploration

This past summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to intern in a nephrology lab at the University of Zürich’s Institute of Physiology.

What immediately struck me was how open and welcoming my lab was. We all gathered to have lunch every day, had frequent brunches, and even did an outing to the Swiss Alps in Interlaken. The conversations I had with my colleagues at the lab also gave me a more global perspective and made me more aware of the importance of having cultural diversity in any setting. While there, I was able to take on a research project alongside other students and faculty from around the world and gained exposure to a plethora of new techniques and technologies. My mentor was supportive and willing to show me the ropes and answer my slew of questions. One of the lab members from our IT group also gave me weekly mini-German lessons, which were quite fun and helped me to integrate into the community.

Overall, everyone’s openness really enhanced the entire research experience, and I feel very appreciative of my lab for allowing me to grow both academically and professionally.

Outside of the lab, I spent my time exploring downtown Zürich, sampling chocolates, and relaxing by the lake during the week. It was great just hopping on a train to Uetliberg and taking in the city views, eating raclette, and chatting with friends by the water after a long day at work.

On the weekends, I bonded with other ThinkSwiss scholars as we travelled around Switzerland and to other European countries. Within the country, we enjoyed hiking around the vineyards of Lausanne, canoeing at Lake Oeschinen, picnicking by the Bachalpsee in Grindelwald, and watching fireworks during Züri Fäscht. Honestly, the whole experience felt surreal; I still miss connecting with all the awardees and cherish the memories we had together.

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Kathy Ding
Nephrology – Institute of Physiology – University of Zürich ∞ University of California, Berkeley

Working On A Potential Alzheimer's Treatment

I am an undergraduate studying computer science and biology at MIT. This summer ThinkSwiss funded my work, as a part of its summer research program, in the Gräff Lab at EPFL studying neuro-epigenetics. The work was interesting and varied—from computational analyses, to molecular validation techniques, to imaging. I learned a lot; and working on a potential Alzheimer’s treatment was very exciting! Everyone in the lab was welcoming and helpful—I couldn’t have asked for a better work environment. The ThinkSwiss program combined cutting-edge research, Friday afternoon seminars, and social activities. Living together with the rest of the students also fostered long-lasting friendships. From cooking together most evenings, to kayaking on Lake Geneva, to movie nights, to watching fireworks on Swiss National Day, our program really bonded together.

This was my first time in Lausanne, and I enjoyed my eight weeks in the city immensely. It’s small enough that you start to recognize people on the metro who have the same schedule as you, but big enough that there are plenty of fun things to do. I can’t count the number of times I walked by the Flon to see a festival in progress. Lausanne, and EPFL, are both very international so it was easy to feel at home. After all, Switzerland itself is a nation with four languages. Most evenings I would take a long walk through the city and was surprised by how much there was to see. The view of the mountains across Lake Geneva never gets old.

On weekends I usually explored other parts of Switzerland. So far, I have seen Bern, Luzern, Geneva, Lake Brienz, CERN, Lauterbrunnen, the Matterhorn (the mountain featured on Toblerone chocolate), Basel, cheese and chocolate factories and so much more… I’ve eaten lots of high-quality cheese, chocolate, and ice cream, but it’s ok because I also got into hiking since coming here (warning: hiking means something different in Switzerland than America!).

The beauty of the nature here is unparalleled. At first Switzerland did seem expensive, but if you plan ahead (and cook meals at home), it’s definitely manageable. Never in my life have I traveled to a different place every weekend! Thank you ThinkSwiss for the best summer experience!!

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Fatima Gunter
Neuro-Epigenetics – Summer Research Program – EPFL ∞ Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Confronting Climate Change – From Science To Policy

The Summer School program at the University of Bern organized by the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research and the World Trade Institute. Sounds pretty daunting right? I remember being both excited and nervous when I found out that I was one of the 36 participants selected to travel to Bern. Entitled “Confronting Climate Change – from Science to Policy,” the summer school consisted of a series of keynote lectures and workshops on various areas of expertise, culminating in a simulation negotiation. Meeting my fellow participants, who stayed in the same residential building, started off the two weeks on the perfect note. It was incredible to hear from people from countries including Italy, Canada, South Africa, the United States, Germany, and India. I strongly feel I made some friends for life. They made my experience thoroughly enjoyable.

We were split into 9 workshops, with each group assigned to a specific topic according to their area of expertise. Although intense at times, I found myself astonished at how simply the professors explained some complex concepts, some of whom even worked with the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Among the many highlights from the program, the trip to Jungfraujoch was one that will live long in our memories. We were given the chance to visit the research station at an altitude of about 3000 feet, where researchers from around the world conduct experiments and record data. To witness first-hand the impact of climate change on the glaciers there left an impression in our minds that is hard to shake.

The trip up to the glacier was extremely well organized, allowing us to fully take in the magnitude of the glacier itself.

Outside of the classroom, we were given the freedom to explore the city of Bern and all it has to offer. The river Aare and the immaculate public pools that surround it were one of our favourites. Hours of chatting, sharing stories and swimming in the pools would go by in a flash. I was amazed by how much the city had to offer and made the most of every opportunity. 

The Buskers Music Festival was another highlight. The streets of Bern were filled with people, music, food, and most of all, excitement. We settled on a South African band and danced our hearts out until 12 am. It was a moment every one of us cherished. We even got to take a picture with the band at the end!

All in all, this summer school was unlike any other I’ve experienced previously. It was incredibly well organized, informative, and most of all, enjoyable. There was so much to take away from the lectures and workshops that I can apply to my academic pursuits. These two weeks have impacted my life deeply and I will always be grateful for having been given the opportunity to be a part of this experience.

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Ananth Shankar
Confronting Climate Change – from Science to Policy– University of Bern ∞ University of Massachusetts Amherst

Six Weeks In Geneva Studying European Paleofloods

This past summer, I had one of the most enriching and memorable experiences living abroad for six weeks in Geneva, Switzerland where I was a guest researcher at the University of Geneva working with the Institute of Environmental Sciences C-CIA lab group. As a visitor to the C-CIA lab group, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Markus Stoffel, Dr. Juan Ballesteros Canovas, and an amazing team of PhD and Master’s students from all across the world. During my visit, I created a meta-database of European paleoflood case studies, which is a direct extension of my thesis research, “Holocene paleofloods and their relevance to flood mitigation, risk assessment, and policy.” This database will be a valuable resource to European hydrologists, policymakers, statisticians and stakeholders in making decisions about flood risk and mitigation in Europe. This data will also greatly improve and expand the Past Global Changes (PAGES) working group database on floods.

In addition to my work, I had the opportunity to enjoy Switzerland’s beautiful landscape, cuisine, and culture. I’ll never forget indulging in my first pot of hot cheese fondue at the Hotel Edelweiss in Geneva. My dinner was accompanied by live folk music played on the accordion and the alphorn, creating a stunning Swiss ambiance.

Over the Swiss National Day holiday weekend, I traveled to Lauterbrunnen, Stechelberg, and Grindelwald to enjoy the breathtaking beauty and topography of the Swiss Alps. This area of Switzerland was like no other part of the world I have ever seen, and I was captivated by the rugged magnificence of the mountain valley. This is easily the most gorgeous place I have ever traveled to. 

In my opinion, Geneva was a very easy city to live and feel comfortable in. The city is small but cosmopolitan, bustling with diversity and unique things to do like visiting the United Nations building, perusing art and history museums, partaking in weekend festivals, and enjoying plenty of food and drink options. There are a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and events happening almost daily in the summer. Plus, it’s hard to beat the scenery offered by the expansive Lake Geneva. Every night, I walked along the lakeside from the city center to my residence in Perle Du Lac, admiring the stillness of the pristine turquoise water filled with white swans and beautiful sailboats. One of the things I valued the most while living in Geneva was how safe I felt walking around exploring the town. Everyone is cordial, friendly, and exceptionally helpful to everyone, including non-French speakers like myself. The public transportation system is also very efficient, making it easy to get around the city.

Overall, I am incredibly happy and grateful I got the chance to embark on such a fruitful international research visit. I can’t express enough gratitude towards the ThinkSwiss program for supporting me financially, allowing me to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I strongly recommend the ThinkSwiss program to anyone looking to expand their own academic interests as well as their personal growth.

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Amanda Hefner
Institute of Environmental Sciences C-CIA Lab - University of Geneva ∞ University of Minnesota

Gaining Independence as a Scientist

This summer, I had the opportunity to work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) for 8 weeks as an undergraduate research intern in a biology lab. I am immensely grateful for funding from the SwissThink organization and from the Columbia University Center for Career Education’s Summer Funding Program.

The 2019 Summer Research Program consisted of fellow students from all over the world, including Turkey, Belgium, Pakistan, China, and Russia. Whether through deep conversation or through travel, every day included some form of cultural immersion. I also gained a huge appreciation for nature and the great outdoors. Some of my best memories included group hikes and water activities.

Over the course of my internship, I worked closely with PhD students, postdoctoral scientists, and faculty members. This close involvement significantly shaped my future career goals in scientific research. My project aimed to address an increasingly relevant question – how are bacteria able to cause disease when they enter a host? Using microscopy and genetic analysis, my lab strives to understand the factors involved in bacterial colonization. 

During this time, I gained a lot of independence as a scientist. Although my advisors gave me general guidance and provided me with background information, I was left with the autonomy to define the goals of my project and design my own experiments. I also presented my results regularly at group meetings. Ultimately, this experience gave me critical thinking skills, communication skills, and a sense of autonomy that I will carry throughout my career in science.

On the second week, our cohort toured Campus Biotech in Geneva. Home of Intel’s Blue Brain Project, their central goal is to create an interface between the human brain and the computer. We were able to try on their virtual reality and brain recording equipment. On our fourth week, my cohort traveled to Geneva and visited CERN, home of the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. We saw the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and spoke with physicists about their projects, which all aim to uncover the origin of our universe.

During my final week, I presented a poster of my work. I discussed my findings and conclusions with various faculty members and peers. My only disappointment was that the duration of the internship (8 weeks) was too short to complete a full research project. During the symposium, discussion of my work sparked ideas for future experiments that can only be followed up by future students. I am overwhelmed with excitement for future long-term projects that will span years.

My summer doing research in Switzerland has shaped my future career in scientific research tremendously. I learned to work autonomously as a scientist and take ownership of my project. Most importantly, I have made connections to fellow scientists and peers from all over the world whom I look forward to working with in the future.

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Allison Hung
Biochemistry – Summer Research Program – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology EPFL ∞ Columbia University

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