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!