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

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!

Jevon

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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

© ThinkSwiss 2019