Intern Abroad

Writing my thesis at the Imperial College London

June 6th, 2023 | by
  • Chemical Engineering M. Sc.
  • United Kingdom, London
  • Imperial College London
  • 10/2022 – 04/2023


Preparing for my time in London was simultaneously very easy and very stressful. For context I had 2.5 months time between my acceptance to the Erasmus scholarship and ICL and the beginning of my time in the UK. For most topics, such as getting a visa, finding a RWTH advisor, getting to London, etc. it was fairly simple to organize every thing. The most difficult task was in fact finding an apartment in London. As this probably takes the most amount of effort, I will start here.

Put simply, the London housing market is very expensive and the number of people searching for apartments seems to far outweigh the number of apartments available. Depending on the location and the size of the room, apartments seem to typically cost between £700-1200 per month, with the average being around £860 based on what I saw and heard from others. I had the most success finding an apartment via the websites Spareroom  and Spotahome . If you already have a bachelors degree, Gradpad  is another good place to look for apartments. The best method is to start messaging potential landlords early and to try and not be too picky with the offers you get. Many landlords are flooded with requests and will frequently not answer. In such a large city, it is normal to have a commute of 20-30+ minutes to the university, but due to the great public transport, living farther away from the campus should not be too much of a problem. The ICL campus I was located in is found in South Kensington, so I would base my search in the surrounding boroughs (districts). A cheap way to get to university is to take a bike, and the tube is also always a viable (although somewhat expensive) option.
I lived in Battersea and took a bike to and from university everyday which worked really well for me, although cycling in London is not quite as comfortable as cycling in Aachen.

For the duration of my stay, I was informed by the ICL International Student office that I needed to enter the UK under a standard visitor visa which allows a student to study in the UK for a period of up to 6 months. As a EU citizen and German national, I was not required to go through any formal applications or receive any formal documentation as there is an agreement which allows EU citizens to enter the UK as standard visitors without a visa.

Filling out the Traineeship agreement was fairly simple, I wrote a draft version for the agreement myself which I believed best fulfilled the requirements and sent this to both my RWTH and ICL advisors. I would recommend do this yourself and then possibly correcting the agreement as opposed to waiting for this to be done by someone else.

Finding an internal RWTH advisor was done by getting in contact with the Erasmus team from my institute (AVT). I then sent a description of the work which I wanted to do at the ICL (which had been agreed upon with my ICL advisor) and then a suitable advisor was found.


Getting to London is fairly simple. There are a large number of airports to fly to, although it is likely the most comfortable to fly to London Heathrow. If you want to take a train, there is also a good train connection to get to London from Aachen. I personally drove my car to London via a ferry from Calais to Dover which allowed me to take a few more things with. This was also surprisingly easy. Important if you choose to drive in London: there is an Ultra Low Emission Zone for which you need to pay to be allowed to drive in London. By simply googling the Ultra Low Emission Zone and how to pay for it, you can save yourself from being fined. As usual with any sort of travel booking earlier is always better.

Living in London

London is a wonderful city to live in full of exciting things to do. No matter what it is you want to do, there is guaranteed to be at least 3 different places where you will be able to do it. There are a lot of opportunities to go out during the day or in the evenings with your friends. Sports, bars, clubs, museums, parks, the list goes on and on. Three things I personally took advantage of were the great selections of musicals that you can visit for a relatively affordable price, the great salsa/bachata dancing scene, and the wonderful green parks.  However, being such a large city with so many things to do also means that traveling between locations often takes a significant amount of time (I felt like everything was always at least 25-30 minutes away from wherever I was). My way with dealing with this was to ride a bike between locations and then jump on the tube as necessary. Riding a bike in London requires a certain amount of confidence in your biking skills. The drivers in London are not very good and they tend to pay less attention/respect to cyclists than in Germany. So people won’t be running you over, but you also should be confident in taking space as it is available. Otherwise cars will try to squeeze by you which can become dangerous. That being said, the city is always improving for cyclists and there now exist a number of bike lanes which significantly improved the safety of riding through the city. I rented my bike from Swapfiets which was a great deal for just £19 per month with all repairs etc included, however there are also many Santander rental bike stations spread across the city with which you can also travel.

My impression of living in London is that the city has a lot to offer, and it is up to you to take advantage of it. I was almost always busy thing evening plans. But if you don’t actively look for things you want to do and make plans to do them, then London can quickly become a oversized and anonymous city which is not the best to live in.

Studying at ICL

As a Master’s student writing my master’s thesis, I was left with a lot of independence on how I wanted to study at the ICL. I worked in the Sargent Center for Process Systems Engineering and I was immediately integrated into the center as one of many other researchers. PhDs in the center work in large office spaces with individual desks, which gives a nice mix between social interaction amongst colleagues and still the privacy of your own work space. I was treated no differently from a PhD student and had my own desk from which I could work.

Being at a foreign institute, you are forced to take a lot of responsibility and initiative into your own hands. The professors at the ICL are some of the best in their fields, however they are busy people and expect you to be able to make steady independent progress. I had a weekly-biweekly meeting with my advisor where I could show my progress and get input on problems I was having. But as one would expect of a Masters student nearing the end of their degree, it is mostly up to you to solve small problems and come up with the direction of your work. I found this style of advising similar to my experiences in Aachen, so I do believe that RWTH students are well prepared for this style of work.

It’s important to keep an eye on what you need to do for the RWTH, such as the Erfassungbogen, etc. as the professors in Imperial will likely not know about these things and you will have to help shape your thesis so that it still fill the expectations of the RWTH.

Final Impressions

Overall I absolutely loved my time in London. Imperial is a world renowned university and things I learned have certainly helped me develop in new ways beyond what I learned in Aachen. I would highly recommend anyone thinking about traveling to London and the Imperial college to do so.

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