It’s 2:00 AM on a hot summer Monday, and I’m still editing bits and pieces of a 70+ slides Powerpoint presentation. I need to present my results from the past 6 weeks of work to a team of 15 biologists including the lab’s head, each of them keen on scrutinizing the data I’ll be presenting. I’m facing barely more than 4 hours of sleep, and the thought that comes to my mind at that moment is that I wouldn’t trade this for anything else in the world.
It won’t be easy to describe this summer’s experience in this short blog post, but I’ll try. For my thirteen weeks stay in Lausanne, I worked in the Laboratory of Molecular and Chemical Biology of Neurodegeneration at the Brain Mind Institute of EPFL’s School of Life Sciences. I focused on Huntington’s Disease, the most common brain disorder with monogenic inheritance in the developed world. My project focused on the post-translational modifications of the huntingtin protein, the mutated gene product associated with HD pathology.
Even though our lab counted 25+ post-docs, students and technicians, I rapidly integrated into the team and got to know a variety of brilliant minds from various parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. All the while, I lived in student housing near the center of Lausanne, a bustling city with a surprising (and refreshing) level of multiculturality and a fantastic, vibrant atmosphere. The public transit system, namely the underground subway system, is extremely reliable and had me from Lausanne to EPFL in 25 minutes. I was thus able to enjoy both the inspiring working environment of EPFL and the bustling city-town feel of Lausanne. Furthermore, EPFL has a great e-bike system which allows you to use electric bikes for free for up to an hour. This made some of my trips back home that much more enjoyable. Of course, a stay in Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without hiking trips. I’ve included a picture of a ‘regular’ hiking trip in Switzerland. I think it speaks for itself.
Also worth mentioning is the great plethora of events and seminars held at EPFL. In my stay, I’ve attended an institute-wide Research Day, a PhD symposium, three barbecues and several lectures and seminars held by outstanding researchers from all around the globe. This made my stay that much worthwhile, all thanks to the opportunity given to me by this internship.
Lastly, since I was ‘across the pond’ as the saying goes, I could not pass on the opportunity to visit neighboring countries. Before the start of my internship, I spent ten days in Italy, starting from Rome and gradually went to the north of the country before taking a train to Switzerland. Bit by the Italian bug, I’ve gone back towards the end of my stay and spent a weekend in Venice. Having the freedom to change countries and visit an entirely different culture in the matter of a few hours by train is perhaps the thing I liked most of my stay in Switzerland. This internship will remain in my memory as a professional and personal opportunity of a lifetime.
Shadi Hadj-Youssef, McGill University
Laboratory of Molecular and Chemical Biology of Neurodegeneration (LMNN) , EPFL