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!
Olivia Plumb, Georgia Institute of Technology
BioRobotics Laboratory, EPFL