Over the summer, I undertook 3 months of research at the Laboratory of Nanoscience for Energy Technologies. My project explored photoluminescence in ultra-thin, monocrystalline, gold flakes.
The lab I was working with was incredibly welcoming and friendly. I was actively encouraged to ask questions and also enjoyed a lab hiking trip.
The first few weeks involved reading research papers to familiarise myself with the territory and understand the contextual background of the group’s work. Following this, I had training sessions so that I would be able to work with the laser and custom microscope apparatus in the labs. I was then able to operate independently and conduct the experimental work.
My project also involved a computational component; I programmed a theoretical solution from a peer-reviewed paper and was able to compare this simulation to my experimental data and found it to be a good fit.
Outside of the lab, I took advantage of the summer to spend most of my time enjoying the mountains and lakes of Switzerland’s awe-inspiring landscape. Each weekend promised a fresh, new hiking adventure spanning several of Switzerland’s cantons.
Although the main language in the research group was English, I was also able to practise my French by making friends outside of work. This has now inspired me to take up a French course in Cambridge in order to undergo some more formal training.
Overall, the summer was wonderful for exploring both new academic and cultural horizons and I am deeply grateful for the support EPFL, E3 and LNET were able to offer me in this endeavour.
After a long time spent at home, and previous planned internships cancelled due to the pandemic, I was overjoyed to be able to come to EPFL to carry out a summer project in prof. Severin’s lab – the Laboratory of Supramolecular Chemistry.
My project was focused on conjugating a fluorescent molecule to a range of thiols, so I did in fact do a whole lot of shining light at my compounds to check whether my reactions worked as expected. My work was largely experimental, and I had a lot of opportunities to not only get more practice at techniques I have done before, but also to learn new ones and operate pieces of equipment I was never allowed to even touch as an undergraduate student. I was really surprised at just how well equipped the lab was – for example, it is rather unheard of to have an NMR machine assigned to just one lab, and that availability helped me streamline my work a lot. I also learned a lot about the academic publishing process from by lab colleagues – while I had read some academic papers before, I definitely wasn’t fully aware of the amount of work and admin that goes into publishing one.
The work environment was also incredibly welcoming – not only did I learn a lot from my direct supervisor (not only in terms of purely academic skills, but also career planning etc.), but I also felt included in the day to day life of the lab. Getting lunch together at the Banane, group trips and aperos were some of the moments I look back to with most fondness.
This stay was not my first experience in Switzerland, as I actually have family in Switzerland whom I visit quite often; however, it was definitely an opportunity to experience it more fully in a day to day life. It was quite an adjustment for me to get used to all the shops closing at 8 pm at the latest – no more late night trips to the grocery store! Echoing some of the previous posts, definitely make sure to get a half fare card and/or a 7/25, as visiting other Swiss cities is really worthwhile, and the train connections are really well developed, so travel doesn’t take long.
If you’re still on the fence about applying to the program, stop hesitating and go for it! You have nothing to lose and lots of new friends and experiences to gain.
Basia Kraus, University of Cambridge
Laboratory of Supramolecular Chemistry (LCS), EPFL
Hi reader! This summer I got the chance to work in the High Energy Physics Laboratory (LPHE) at EPFL, under the supervision of Prof. Lesya Shchutska. Coming to Switzerland, I expected to obtain a very valuable research experience, this internship however gave me much more.
At LPHE, I worked on the geometry implementation and digitization of the Scintillating Fibre (SciFi) Tracker for the SND@LHC experiment at CERN. SND@LHC is a compact experiment that is currently in the installation and commissioning phase and is intended to be ready for the Run 3 of the LHC. Since the LPHE is strongly involved in the production of the SciFi, I got to see the detector planes in real life and communicated with the researchers working on this technology throughout my internship. My work was exclusively software based and I mostly worked in Python, C, C++ and ROOT. This is however not a rule, and it mainly depends on the tasks assigned to you. You could also have a hardware-based internship here if you wanted to, as some of my fellow interns did. I found my project very rewarding as I could see a major improvement in my computational skills, my overall confidence and got to be a part of the particle physics collaboration.
In this lab you will really feel like a part of the team. All the lab members are very friendly, open-minded and approachable people that will not hesitate to give you advice. Almost every day we would either go for lunch, have a cup of coffee or just meet up after work. Overall, I was very excited to go to work every day. Thanks to this, I also gained an insight into what it would be like to be a PhD student in this lab (great!).
As you probably read in some of the other articles, Lausanne is one of the most breath-taking places to be. As soon as you arrive, you will notice sky-high mountains at the other side of the lake. Some say that you will get used to this sight – I never did. A few of my favourite activities were swimming and paddle boarding in the lake, or just reading a book on the banks. The city is full of small bakeries, shops and interesting museums. I also loved the time I spent with my fellow interns from the program, I could not have hoped for a better bunch. Finally, my tips for trips would definitely be Lauterbrunnen (The valley of 72 waterfalls) and Lavaux (Vineyard Terraces).
I am very grateful that I got to be a part of the Research Internships Program and LPHE in particular. It has been one of the most insightful and exciting experiences of my life and I would recommend it to anyone!
My stay in Switzerland this summer was truly unforgettable, especially after a year of remote learning and travel restrictions. I worked with Professor Athanasios Nenes in the Laboratory of Atmospheric Processes and their Impacts (LAPI), and my project focused on how aerosol acidity and macronutrient deposition affect plant growth and ecosystem health. Throughout my internship, I conducted hands-on fieldwork (at a remote forest site on the shore of Lake Geneva, close to Lausanne) and learned how to extract samples of inorganic atmospheric compounds and analyze their composition using ion chromatography back in the lab. I then used a thermodynamic model to predict variations in aerosol pH and regional gas-particle partitioning. I am especially glad I was able to get a taste of atmospheric chemistry modeling and connect that to my experimental work from earlier in the summer.
I am also grateful for the guidance of the PhD students and postdocs at LAPI for welcoming me so warmly into the group. Collaborating with my postdoc mentors was an invaluable learning experience, as they patiently taught me how to handle both hands-on laboratory techniques as well as chemical software programs. Although I certainly built up my science and engineering knowledge in our research group meetings, I also learned so much about the different career pathways and life aspirations of my group members during our lunch breaks, apéro conversations, and hiking trips. I have been inspired by their advice and stories, and I hope to pursue similar international collaboration opportunities in my future studies.
And of course, Switzerland is a lovely place to explore. I still sometimes cannot wrap my head around the fact that I was able to so easily hop on a train to a different city or hiking destination during my weekends and experience such beautiful sights. From chocolate and cheese-tasting in the town of Gruyères to hiking in the mountains of Villars to frequenting the many bakeries in the heart of Lausanne, there was always an adventure to go on.
In all, I am thankful to have been a part of the Research Internship Program at EPFL and to have met so many wonderful people while living the spontaneous, vibrant Swiss life. It has been a pleasure!
Megan He, Yale University
Laboratory of Atmospheric Processes and their Impacts (LAPI), EPFL
Hey reader! If you are here I imagine you are either thinking about doing a summer internship at EPFL, or have done one and want to make sure that your blog post is still the best one (else, what are you doing here?). For the first category: to avoid wasting your time, I will immediately tell you that my internship was in Geneva – and not in Lausanne – because this is where the Laboratory of Neuroengineering (LNE) is.
The Laboratory of Neuroengineering (LNE)
At LNE, I worked on the processing and analysis of cortical recordings obtained while testing state-of-the-art visual prostheses, under the supervision of Prof. Diego Ghezzi. In short, I was on Matlab most of my time. Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean that that’s what you would do if you were there, the lab members form a very multidisciplinary team, including material scientists, computer scientists bioengineers and so on – and they do amazing work (check them out at here). One strong aspect of this lab was definitely the team. They are accessible, friendly and open to help and answer questions. I actually wanted to go to work each morning – and I did 95% of the time, even if we could work remotely! I also had the opportunity to present my work twice, once to the lab, and once to the entire Research Internship Program cohort. If you get the opportunity to do this, seize it, it will not only help you understand your work better but will also enhance transferrable skills. Highly gratifying.
Must do’s in Geneva (and around it)
As soon as you arrive, get yourself either a half-fare travel card or the seven25 pass, which you can get at the station. The first allows you to travel by train and public transports for half the price and the latter allows you to travel for free between 7pm and 5am (7am on weekends). Trust me it will save money even if you only do one or two city trips.
Which leads me to my second point. Do city trips. You are 1 hour away from Lausanne, 2 hours away from Bern, 3 hours away from Zurich (my favourite) and 45 minutes to 3hrs away from breath-taking mountains.
Tiny plus that I didn’t know where to add, buying a second hand bike was useful for me.
Okay, now back to Geneva. My top 5 were: 1. Les bains des Paquis, One of Geneva’s city beaches, a place also full of cultural events and good (cheapish) food. 2. Going down the Rhône river: Chack that other people are bathing , make sure you know where the last exit is and then you are safe to jump in the river and let the current transport you (there is also a popular bar at the last exit) 3. If you are there in August, Les Aubes , the festival from 6 to 7AM where locals gather to see the sunrise and listen to music. 4. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, very well done and everything is also in English. It’s actually just next to the United Nations so go check that out too. 5. Join a local sports team (that is if you like sports, any other local activity will do). It really helped me making local friends and feeling like I was part of the place.
The Research Internships Program is a great framework for a research internship (wow) and will allow you to meet interesting, multicultural people. Overall, I recommend. Good luck!
Livia Soro, Imperial College London Laboratory of Neuroengineering (LNE), EPFL
This summer turned out to be quite a story, and good stories usually have a running theme. This time, such a theme was scale.
Throughout my internship, I contributed to the PhD project of one of the lab members – and unlike all my prior projects, doctoral research takes years to complete. Having done a lot of exciting – such as devising new assays to image the synthesis of protein from the RNA template in human cells, using machine learning to interpret the experimental data, and more – I could still see this was just the beginning of the road. The actual scale of the effort required in scientific research may be a bit intimidating, but it also means there is so much more to discover and learn than it seems!
Then, there was the scale of the world around me. Mile-high mountains, millennia-old cities, castles and churches – Switzerland never ceased to amaze me with its numerous wonders that sometimes feel larger-than-life yet never crushing or oppressing. It may be just the opposite: the comfort of knowing that these titanic works of nature and humankind will exist way beyond our current hassles might be exactly what many of us need in these turbulent times.
An even better story usually has subplots, too – and my favourite one was people. The entire Naef Lab crew was extremely welcoming and helpful, guiding me through the tricky steps This being my first time doing research outside my university, the Research Internship experience has really helped me overcome my reservations about coming to work in a new environment and a new country. Now, I feel much more confident about trying new experiences and sending out PhD applications to several labs across the world – among which, for sure, are some at EPFL. Moreover, meeting other students from the programme and being exposed to so many unique perspectives was just as crucial to opening up my mind.
P.S. As a final argument for the thematic consistency of my internship, I should state that I also used analytical scales to weigh out some chemicals – see, it all checks out!
Despite all the situations going on with the pandemic, the past three months definitely have been the highlight of my year full with enjoyable experiences and inspirational people.
My internship project was about optimising ligands for palladium-catalysed enantioselective reactions. Therefore, it mainly consisted of benchwork. The usual routine was to work up the reaction in the morning and set up an overnight reaction in the afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed my work and learned a lot of practical techniques and skills. The environment in the lab was very friendly and welcoming, so I did not experience any difficulty in adapting into a new working environment.
For me, the world of academia seemed very far and vague; up to now, I had absolutely no experience of working in a research lab. Thanks to this opportunity, I could learn a lot about how it works; the process you need to go through before publication and how the project initiates and navigates through. In the lab, we always say ‘you never know before you run the reaction,’ and this mindset of the group was very inspirational to me.
The work life balance is very well established; everyone is expected to take a rest over the weekend, and people rarely work late in my lab. This clear separation between work and life gave me much relaxation compared to the intense term time at the university.
I took advantage of the half-fare travel card and explored different places in Switzerland such as Geneva, Bern, and Interlarken. Honestly, even though I don’t really enjoy hiking, Switzerland is a wonderful place to live and travel around. Also, there are many small specialty cafes in Lausanne, and I loved to explore them on Saturdays. Cycling along the lake and the beach with Publibike was another thing that I really enjoyed doing over the weekend as well. Also, there is a fair selection of museums and art galleries in Lausanne! My favourites were Platform 10 (contemporary art) and Collection de l’Art Brut.
Moving away from where my home university is made me realise the fact that there are a much wider range of opportunities that I can reach; this definitely helped expand my world and broaden my perspective of career and future decisions. With my origin being outside European countries, I felt more comfortable with the cultural diversity around EPFL and also in Switzerland itself.
It is hard to believe that this journey has come to an end, and I will surely miss this wonderful people and environment here.
Najung Lee, University of Cambridge
Laboratory of Catalysis and Organic Synthesis (LCSO), EPFL
I am Jakub Lála, studying at Imperial College London, but originally from Prague, Czech Republic. I worked in the Computational Sciences and Modelling Lab with Professor Michele Ceriotti. Below, I am giving you some of the most influential points I learned this summer, hoping to persuade you that EPFL is a great place to spend summer at!
Note, that before coming into Switzerland, I had no expectations whatsoever about both the internship or the Swiss life. It was, therefore, a wonderful surprise to fall in love with the mountains, the lake, the work, the university and the people – both the colleagues from my lab as well as the other summer interns from across the globe. So although I will hype up everything about EPFL/Switzerland, remember to keep your expectations low in order to truly appreciate the beautiful aspects of the experience only later on.
Firstly, in terms of my work in the lab, I have spent the first five weeks working on a visualisation tool called Chemiscope, improving its website and implementing a Jupyter Notebook integration. For the rest of the internship, I worked on a PyTorch model to optimize coupling parameters, which can reduce the amount of elemental information required for material structure datasets, and so improving the learning rate of machine learning models afterwards. Such a diverse combination of tasks showed me the key juxtaposition of software engineering and actual modelling science in the arena of modelling computation.
Although this will vary depending on the lab, I am extremely grateful that my direct supervisor was a PostDoc, who was almost always available, meaning whenever I felt frustrated, or I was stuck in terms of progress, he would easily step in and helped me with valuable guidance. Posing stupid questions to him was not an issue, giving me the potential to learn a lot and advance fast. On the other hand, when he went on a summer vacation, the internship highlighted that one also needs independence during work to develop the necessary problem-solving skills without there being someone senior fixing his problems for him.
Secondly, the Swiss way of living is just a delight to look at; and a delight to live. Coming here has truly allowed me to taste both the work and societal culture of Switzerland. This has not only given me important insight that may become helpful once applying for future jobs or PhDs abroad, but it also widened my perception of global opportunities by demonstrating that it is conceivable to get involved in impactful work all around the world, in all sorts of fields. More importantly, by talking to PhDs or PostDocs in the lab, you are getting invaluable information that will help you decide on your future career. For me personally, I realised that an academic career is definitely something I do not want to pursue, but going for a PhD interlinked with industry might be somewhat lucrative and exciting. Moreover, as EPFL hosts a very international community, one gets an immensely diversified portfolio of perspectives on life. During various chats I became aware of key insights into issues posing our global society nowadays including the mental health crisis, the current health of the population, or the effect of gender roles in the workplace.
All in all, it’s amazing how an internship spent at a university turned into a relaxing, yet meaningful summer vacation. I have met many new people and seen many new places. The weekends have become a completely separate instance of life, where one can truly enjoy the luxuries of the modern world, taking a train to the other side of the country and hiking in high mountains with an app that leads the way.
When I found out that I had the opportunity to come perform research at EPFL this summer, it seemed like a miracle. After so long without traveling, the hopes and expectations I had for my summer were outrageously high. Somehow, it turned it out even better than I could have imagined.
I spent 3 months performing research at BioRob: a laboratory that focuses on biomimicry and bio-integrated robotics. I had the opportunity to design novel motion-mechanisms for an increased mobility wheelchair. I loved being able to follow an idea from initial sketches, to CADing, to prototyping and testing. One of my favorite parts about being at EPFL was that everyone around me was always working on something amazing. It was so easy to get coffee with different lab members each day and feel inspired to go back to work afterwards. The research gave me the autonomy to make design and manufacturing choices and taught me that things often can go wrong during research (but that’s okay): sometimes the 3D printer refuses to work, or that part you spent weeks designing just does not fit how it’s supposed to. While these problems sometimes seemed impassible in the moment, they taught me how to seek creative solutions and to look at a problem from different points of view.
When I wasn’t working at BioRob, I was meeting people and exploring. Switzerland has quickly become one of my favorite places because of its diversity: the mountains and lakes, the thousands of adventures that are often only a 20-minute train ride away, and the opportunity to learn foreign languages. This summer I was able to go on my first mountaineering trip, learn how to make “real” carbonara sauce, and most of all, meet amazing people. It’s the people of my lab who gave me confidence, ideas, and affirmations when I wasn’t sure what to try next. It’s the people of my apartment building who shared their morning coffees with me and the Mountain Club members who showed me that it’s important to laugh sometimes when you feel lost.
My advice to future interns would be firstly to not be afraid to sound silly in a foreign language (having an accent makes you more interesting anyways). Go to the events you’re invited to, even if you don’t know anyone. Get up early to go on that hike, eat way more chocolate than you should, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you missed your train or you melted your only plate on the stove. Those are the memories you’ll look back on most fondly.
My summer at EPFL was all I could’ve hoped for, and then some. The skills I learned, the people I met, and the experiences I’ll take away are invaluable. I can’t wait to go back!
The research internship at EPFL marked one of my top experience during my college life. I was able to devote myself into rigorous academic research while enjoying things in Switzerland. I was most impressed with Swiss style work and life balance.
The research project I worked on is in operation research lead by Professor Weber, in the Chair of Operations, Economics and Strategy and his PhD student Michael Mark. The problem we tackled is about credit (debt) collection and machine learning algorithms to learn the optimal action for example, sending reminders, writing letters, making phone calls and or initiating a lawsuit in order to maximize the collection amount. A problem with the learning algorithm in our problem is that the machine sometimes returns uninterpretable policy which may not be understandable or even usable by human decision makers. We proposed a modified algorithm that incorporates a constraint during the learning process so that the algorithm will be adapting an interpretable policy.
I was able to join a few lunches with other PhD students from different academic area and learn about what they study and their personal experience. It’s fascinating to me that people from different places, speak different languages but are working on the same thing in EPFL. It was such a diverse environment that helps facilitate mental engagements.
Aside from lab, I was able to balance my life, enjoying living in Switzerland. I frequently biked around Lake Geneva, made stops by many of the old castles in places such as Morges and Montreux. I have also been to the Alps Mountain for hiking and skiing. I was lucky that there was abundant snow, which is not something common California (where I am from). I would like to highlight one of my visits to a not so popular place but I was really impressed, Les Mines De Sel, the salt mine at Bex. The salts here are dug from stones in a mine. The place was a ocean millions years ago, after the shell movements, part the ocean was enclosed by the Alps mountain and as a result, the water evaporated and left the salt into the mountain. For the past hundreds of years, people have been digging this “white gold” and supplying it for Switzerland.
Again, I would like to appreciate EPFL, Professor Weber and everyone for having me during this experience. It was a wonderful experience in terms of both academic and life! I will be back!
Here is a picture taken during my hike!
Kyle Huanxi Liu, University of California San Diego