EPFL and Switzerland – A Place to Work and Live

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.

The visualisation tool Chemiscope

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.

A schematic diagram of the PyTorch model

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.

People at the lab

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.

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