Summer Research Program Alumni Say…

Neeraja (SRP student at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg):

This experience was definitely life?changing for me, both personally and professionally. I learned so much about the field of research. At the same time, I was able to experience a completely different culture and meet new people. Through this trip, I have made so many friends and was able to travel to so many places.

I was officially a member of the IMTEK at Freiburg University, the institute for microsystem engineering, for two months. A fundamental project that I was involved went by the ‘codename’ Plan OS. In a nutshell, this program focuses on the development of polymer?based micro?optical components. This technology can be applied in a medical diagnostics, structural health monitoring, for determining aerodynamic surface conditions and in textiles. As a student assistant, my typical day consisted of reading through research materials and past published papers, preparing and conducting experiments and as a bioinformatics students, I was also assigned the task of writing Graphical User Interface (GUI) based applications through the widely used Mat Lab program. One of the Mat Lab applications that I created was a surface tilt correction tool. The environment in Freiburg University was very different from that of Western University. Every week, there would be a board meeting in which each member of them would report their progress to the professor through presentations and provide future plans for their projects. In my opinion, this was a great way to communicate with your peers, ask for opinions and keep you motivated. The students and professors there were so understanding and helpful.

Apart from work, living in the city of Freiburg was an incredible experience. It was perfectly located in the middle of the Black Forest region and is famous for the creation of the black forest cake and cuckoo clocks. The city center has beautiful architecture, many of which survived World War II and in the center of the city is a cathedral called the Freiburger Munster. Another unique feature of Freiburg are little streams or Bachle which were built 600 years ago for water supply. To this day, children can be seen sailing their toy wooden boats in the streams. Even through everyone spoke German, they were very understanding when they found out that I did not speak the language, and most of the time, they tried their best to communicate in English. Furthermore, Freiburg’s location is right along the border of Switzerland, France and Germany, making travelling between countries fast and effortless. I was able to learn so much about the culture in Germany and in other European cities through my experiences there during this program. It was particularly fascinating being able to compare and contrast the difference between the way things are done in different cities, and how different the culture can be from one city to the next.

To me, one of the highlight of this program was being able to meet other students from Canada who were in the same program and explore Europe with them. Through this experience, I made friends that I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. It was nice being able to share my opinion about how something is done differently in Germany and finding out that someone else has had a similar experience. Another great advantage was that all the participants of the program were adventurous, so it was so easy to make plans to travel since we all had similar interests on what to do and where to go.

Overall, my experience in Germany was life changing and taught me a lot about the field of research. It was an opportunity to learn about a new field, apply knowledge, meet new people and experience the way of life in a different city. I would definitely recommend this program for anyone who is looking for a new experience and who wants to travel.

Cameron (SRP student at the Universität Stuttgart):

The opportunity OBW has provided me is one someone may get to experience once in a lifetime. I was able to gain valuable work experience in a Microbiology lab where I was taught innumerable lab techniques and practiced for hundreds of hours the scientific method from start to finish. What I learned is applicable to my studies in medical science at Western University and at the Ivey School of Business and will aid me in my future as I try to find a job that combines the duality of the two. The results that I produced not only aided in my labs understanding of bacteria in question but will go on to be published with me as a co?author. Up to two publications will legitimize my scientific background beyond what a bachelor’s thesis can do making me competitive in the workplace. Publications will enable me to sell myself as a dual degree student capable of competing with Masters Science students.

Working in Europe also provided me with a platform to discover Europe. Although I was sometimes working 60?hour weeks, I was able to find other Canadians, most of whom were from the University of Waterloo and also eager to travel and explore Central Europe. In total I went to 21 different cities from France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. The cultural experience was rich and the memories will last a lifetime. OBW gave me the opportunity to call Germany home for three months, I was able to stay four, learn more than I had dreamed of, have more fun than I had dreamed of and make friends that I prefer to call family from both work and leisure.

Listiya (SRP student at the Universität Hohenheim):

I had an experience of a lifetime here in Germany, as going to Europe was always a dream of mine. During these three months, I really learned how to be independent, trusting myself to make wise decisions as well as getting out of my comfort zone to talk with new people and making new friends. I really enjoyed myself living in Stuttgart and I am really looking forward to coming back!

Monika (SRP student at the Universität Konstanz):

I can’t express how fast the summer went by. I was lucky to spend three months in Konstanz working with a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

My PhD student is studying the Dehnel phenomenon in shrews and I was able to help out in various ways from trapping in the field to mounting slides in the lab and conducting behaviour tests in the evening. This allowed me to develop diverse skills and experience different aspects within the realm of scientific research. My professor was very welcoming and the other students were very nice and eager to help if I needed it. Outside the lab, a few barbecues were organized and we had a lab outing where it was nice to spend time in a different setting. Even such, the conversations somehow often came back to research.

Konstanz is a beautiful small city located on Lake Constance and the Rhein. It is the perfect place to enjoy the summer as you can go swimming in the lake and river or enjoy sports such as stand up paddle boarding or canoeing. Konstanz is also right on the border to Switzerland, as such you can casually go for a walk to Switzerland! Additionally, there are many hiking opportunities in the Swiss Alps that are definitely worth a trip. Although Konstanz is relatively small, it has everything you might need during your stay. The best way to get around Konstanz is by bike and almost everyone has one. There are many bike paths everywhere making it a safe and appealing option. I did a three day biking trip around Lake Constance through Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, and visited a monkey sanctuary where I got to hand fed monkeys popcorn! Konstanz has direct bus access to many cities such as Zurich, Munich, Stuttgart, and Berlin. However, it may not be the ideal location to depart from if you are planning on doing farther trips every weekend. It’s not that you can’t, but it might take slightly longer to get there.

In terms of accommodation, it can be quite hard to find housing for only a few months. I was lucky to find a room through a facebook group and lived in a three bedroom flat in one of the university residences. I also looked at several websites that post rooms available for rent, but that didn’t work out for me. At first, my place looked like it was far from everything on a map, but I quickly realized that Konstanz is actually quite small and it is easy to get around everywhere!

It was great to meet the other students on the summer research exchange. I was able to connect with like minded people, who spoke English, and who were also looking forward to traveling on weekends. Some of us did a weekend trip to Berlin and one to Freiburg where we went skydiving over the Black Forest! This summer experience has made a large positive impact on me and I definitely recommend applying to it as it will be a summer to remember! Thank you OBW for this amazing opportunity.

Tara (SRP student at the Universität Hohenheim):

Outside of the lab I explored the fantastic area of Baden?Württemburg with new friends I met through either the Buddy program or within my residence. My favourite cities were Ludwigsburg, Heidelberg, and Tubingen. I grew to love Wickingerschach and the Swabian dialect and was beyond grateful for meeting people who let me tag along on spontaneous adventures like hiking in Maulbronn, a musical instrument museum in Stuttgart, and Wilhelma zoo. I’ve already started looking up Masters programs in Germany as I could truly see myself living here, so thank you very much for providing the opportunity to experience this absolutely phenomenal country!

Soo (SRP student at the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie):

Living in Germany and travelling around Europe for the past three months has been a remarkable experience. I met so many great people in this journey and was exposed to a lot of different cultures. Researching at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology was a fun learning experience. I already miss Karlsruhe, the city I was staying at and German culture. I did learn a bit of German and had a blast speaking it. Seeing how long I can go without speaking English was amusing. My piece of advice is to learn some German before arriving and in that way you can engage yourself even more in the culture.

I found that the abundant time I had by myself was a time of deep self-reflection and made me ponder on my goals and desires in life. You really get to know yourself better when you are in a foreign environment. This international experience has allowed me to see things in a different perspective and explore my interests. I made so many great friends who I miss dearly and still remain in touch with. Looking back to these amazing days in Germany, I can never stop smiling and I think to myself, “Wow, Soo, that was one wicked adventure, you have grown and learned so much from this international experience”

Until the next time, friends. Macht‘s gut! Deutschland, Bis bald!

Andrea (SRP student at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg):

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Germany to learn and develop lab techniques. I had the chance to work in Dr. Vogel’s lab, a well?known neuroscience lab in Freiburg. I must admit I was scared; I had never been far way from my parents for such long periods of time. However, this experience allowed me to become independent and grow into a more mature and responsible individual. Furthermore, living in a country where I did not speak the language taught me to be more adaptable and resourceful. I learned some basic German that allowed me to get through every day life, but I became a master at charades, as I often had to act out what I wanted to communicate. Aside from these amazing skills I developed, I met incredible people through out my journey. Both the friends I made from Germany, Canada and other parts of the world helped me adjust to live in a different country. My German friends took the time and effort to show me around, I was truly pampered by them. They were often excited to teach me the language and cook traditional meals for me, and often told me to tag along to all their adventures including music concerts, hiking trips, camping, and movie nights. It was an incredible and amazing gesture for them to allow me to be a part of their group and immerse myself in the German culture. Living in Germany gave me the opportunity to develop personally, and to learn about a different culture; however, OBW allowed me to work in an amazing and renowned lab so that I could improve and learn new techniques that I am now, currently using in my own lab in Guelph.

Working in a different lab than my own was a wonderful experience overall. In Germany I worked with a project that was completely different from the project I was working on in Guelph. Due to the difference of the projects, I was able to develop my cell culture skills as I had the opportunity to work with stem cells and nurobalstoma cells. I also learned various techniques such as immunofluorescence, immunoprecipitation, proximity ligation assays (a fairly new technique that only a small number of labs are working with) and many others. Apart from the various techniques that I learned, I also had the opportunity to work with people from a different culture than my own. It was nice to see that researchers in the lab were all close to one another forming a tight?knit family. As a lab group, we would always go to lunch together and go to grab drinks at beer gardens after work. I was often invited to lab bbq’s and get?togethers at their homes, and even the principal investigator of the lab hosted a few. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to attend a lab retreat where the whole lab went hiking through the Black Forest and tour a farm where they produce cheese. Working with this lab in Germany was an unbelievable experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Mariana (SRP student at the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie):

Before starting my OBW experience, I was very scared and intimidated about living in another country for three months. My family and I had travelled a lot before I went to Germany, so I was used to being in another country, however I had never been so far from home for so long. I was nervous I didn’t speak one word of german and that my knowledge in microbiology wouldn’t be sufficient enough to undergo a meaningful project in Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, where I was going to be working. My worrying, however, was a waste of time. I couldn’t have asked for a better three months!

At the beginning it wasn’t so obvious this summer would be amazing. The jetlag made it hard to get up early to go to the international office, which closed before lunchtime, and the office itself was very unhelpful. The woman responsible for taking care of me was ill, leaving no one to help me register and adjust smoothly. Furthermore, I was thrown into the university’s residence, where I had to learn to cook for myself, familiarize myself with the rules of the floor ASAP, and learn to navigate to and from the city and university. Nevertheless, students, peers, and faculty members helped me get settled in and by the second week, I felt at home. Looking back on it now, those hard first two weeks were crucial to my trip. It taught me how to be independent very quickly, giving me the self-confidence and courage to explore Germany on my own.

Another reason for my trip being great was my lab. The PhD student I was working with, Sina, ended up being one of my closest friends. She was beyond patient, kind, and understanding with me in the laboratory. A lot of the equipment I had to work with was new to me so Sina had to show me how to use them. Additionally, many of the experiments she wanted me to conduct were new to me, so I had to be taught those too. Again, at the time I had to learn everything, it was overwhelming; however, looking back I would rather have to learn a lot than already know everything so that I can fully expand my skills. I am confident to say the skills I gained in the laboratory will help me during my undergraduate.

Of course I travelled a lot during my three months in Germany. I went to Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Edenkoben, Munich, Neuschwanstein, Berlin, Mainz, Konstanz, and Freiburg. On top of that I also went to France, Netherlands, and Portugal. Every weekend I left my city to visit another one. By the end of my stay, I was exhausted, but the places I went to were breathtaking.

In all, what made my experience amazing was the people I met, the lab I worked in, and the places I visited. I have never drunk so much beer in my life or eaten so many schnitzels. My advice for anyone going to is try everything. Try every Germany dish, every German beer, and visit as my cities as you can. Also do something you never thought you would. For me, I thought I would never go skydiving in my life, and the last weekend before I left, I skydived over the Black Forest. It goes without saying it will be a memory I will always keep, just like these three months.

Emilie (SRP student at the Universität Konstanz):

My experience at the Universität Konstanz was an amazing one. I learned so much in my three months there and met some really great people. And of course, I got to see some wonderful sights in Germany, as well as Europe.

My main project was on syntrophic ethanol oxidation. For the non-­?microbial ecologists out there, I was studying a bacterium and an archaea that live together. In doing so, a reaction that would otherwise be thermodynamically unfavourable, can occur. The bacterium, Pelobacter carbinolicus, breaks down the ethanol, and the archaea, Methanospirillium hungatei, makes methane. These organisms are anaerobes, so the whole culturing aspect was different from what I was used to. I had learned about syntrophy in a class at university, so I was very excited to actually get to do research in this field. This program allowed me to work in a field that I would not have been able to work in at my home university, the University of Guelph.

Outside of working, I was invited to be a part of other activities with lab members. We often had movie nights, and would watch in German with English subtitles or vice versa. I was also around for the annual lab trip. We went hiking in the Black Forest, did a high ropes course, and saw the world’s largest cuckoo clock!

Though the university is a bit of a maze (almost all of the buildings are connected and named with a letter of the alphabet, but not in alphabetical order in terms of walking through them), it is a great place to come to every day. It is right by the Bodensee (Lake Constance). The Mensa has a great view across the lake. The lake was probably one of my favourite things about Konstanz. Whenever it was hot out, you could easily go swimming in the lake….

Because I was not taking any classes, it was a bit hard to connect with other international students. The international office at the Universität Konstanz organized trips for all students, and this was a great way to travel with other students. I traveled to Bregenz, Austria, to see an opera on a floating stage! OBW also organized a weekend for all of us in the Summer Research Program. It took place on a weekend in June in Konstanz, and the program covered meals and accommodations. This was a wonderful way to meet everyone else in the program, because we were all spread out across different universities. I became friends with fellow Guelph students that I had never even met before in Guelph. It was great getting to know everyone. We even organized other weekend trips. I traveled to Zürich, Freiburg, and München with others in the program.

The SRP was an experience that I will never forget, and I am very grateful to OBW for providing me with this opportunity.

Angela (SRP student at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen):

The past three months have been an incredible experience for me both as a student and as a person.

For my research, I worked in a microbial genetics lab where I mutated plasmids and transformed them into different strains of E. coli and S. aureus cells. It was exciting as a biochemistry student because I was able to apply many techniques that I have only learned in theory previously and see the results. Aside from science, my work has made me into a more organized and careful person too, because nothing was more terrifying to me than to be working with 500 ?l of clear liquid for the entire day and hope that two days later you will get the results you wanted. Everyone at the lab was extremely welcoming and friendly, and more than happy to help me whenever I needed guidance. I definitely did not expect to feel that at ease within days of arriving in Germany and looked forward to work every morning. I even went on a 3 day retreat with them to Kleinwalsertal in Austria, and it was one of the most breathtaking places that I have ever been.

Tuebingen itself is a beautiful, homey city. Everything is within walking distance, but public transportation is extensive, on time, and very convenient too. The little ice cream parlors in the old town serve, in my opinion, the most delicious ice cream favours, and I often spent my time after work by the river eating ice cream and drinking beer. The city also has fruits growing everywhere, a lot of the times I just picked apples, cherries, and mirabelles on my way home from work. If you like strawberries, there are farms located just outside of Tuebingen (and within walking distance) that will allow you to pick strawberries for free right after strawberry season ends. The university residences were spacious and clean. I was lucky enough to be in Germany during the world cup, and the energy in the student residences unbelievable. I did not have time to get involved in as many university activities as I had hoped, but I went to a Ceilidh class every Monday night. The class itself was free, everyone was extremely accommodating for me as I did not speak any German, the dance itself was ridiculously fun and strangely unifying, and everyone goes out for drinks at the end of the night.