Categories
Pages
-

Intern Abroad

Kategorie: ‘Chemistry’

Research Stay in Dublin

January 19th, 2024 | by
  • Chemistry M.Sc.
  • Ireland, Dublin
  • University College Dublin
  • 11/2023 – 01/2024
  1. Application/Finding an internship

My experience in this department might be less useful, as I received an offer from my professor in Ireland, rather than looking for an internship myself. However, I have understood from the other visiting students there that finding an internship was not the hard part about planning their stay in Ireland – generally, they have researched the groups with topics aligning with their interests and applied directly to the head professors of those groups. Afterwards, the process ran smoothly through the school manager, who explained how I should sign as a visiting Erasmus student on the UCD website and I received a student number and card, testifying my status as a visiting student. That also meant I got access to all the facilities and privileges a student would.

  1. Accomodation & Living expenses

Finding accomodation might be the most difficult aspect of planning an internship in Ireland. Dublin suffers from a veritable housing crisis, which makes finding a place, especially for a short stay of under one year, extremely difficult. Aside from that, prices are high, and average around 900 to 1000 Euros a month if you don’t want to share a room. Probably one of the best options is finding a host and living in their house – not only is this option cheaper, but it also allows for deeper, personal connections with your host and the possibility of getting tips from them on the best things to visit/experience in Ireland.

This was, in fact, the option that I chose. I met my host through a previous Airbnb visit in Dublin and contacted her again for this internship. Airbnb is a safe option to find accomodation for a short-term stay, and I highly encourage you to reach out to Airbnb hosts and ask them whether they can offer longer stays. It’s a great opportunity, since you do not have to pay any deposit this way, and much more secure than many other apartment-finding websites. In fact, a fellow visiting student got scammed with his first apartment, so contacting your professor to check the validity of your apartment offer is something you should do if you have the chance to.

This entire segment might seem rather disheartening, but I assure you that the hassle is worth it. Apart from the housing expenses, which the Erasmus scholarship mostly covers, the other living expenses are very much comparable to Germany. ALDI and LIDL are readily available, and even the restaurants in the city center are very much affordable. Once you clear the hurdle of finding a place, the rest is smooth sailing.

  1. Everyday life/The internship

One cannot forget that Dublin is capital, and, as such, is accordingly crowded. Taking the bus at peak hours can mean your commute might be as long as two hours – thankfully, the universities are also aware of this conundrum, for which reason the PhD students start at 10 o’clock to avoid the insane morning rush. That also means, however, that your work is done around 18 o’clock, by which time you get to experience the city lit up for the night.

In my experience, everyday life is comfortable – the bus connections are fairly good and frequent, and a 90min bus ride totals up to one euro if you order the youth card online (note that it must be ordered to an Irish address). There’s something quite rewarding about watching the city from the upper level of a double decker, like you’re about to conquer the day or you’re being rewarded for your hard work. Supermarkets are always close by and offer a wide variety of semi-cooked meals that you can easily bring into work for lunch. All in all, the daily needs are met with no problem – provided that, of course, you don’t forget to bring a power outlet adaptor, just as you would if you were to visit UK.

The university staff at UCD and the students I came in contact with were another highlight of my stay in Dublin. They’ve all been exceedingly nice and friendly, and any question, whether personal or science-related, was met with a helpful response. In one word, I would describe the people as warm – as soon as my first day, lunch discussions drifted towards restaurant recommendations and folk stories, so it’s fair to say that I have felt accepted into the group very fast.

In fact, my entire research felt like a collaboration. There was a constant exchange of ideas with the other students, and they were always ready and happy to help. I must, however, note that the scientific department was in the middle of reorganizing, so some of the facilities were harder or slower to access.

Another thing to notice is the clear difference between a PhD in Germany versus Ireland. In Ireland, the PhD is a four-year endeavor and no more – you are considered a student, and as such have a contract for only these four years. Regardless of the results you’ve obtained or how much progress you’ve made, your project time is up after four years, and there’s not much pressure to publish scientific papers. This, I’ve come to understand, is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the atmosphere is much more relaxed and much less competitive than other academic experiences I’ve had. On the other hand, there’s not a general drive to improve, which may shackle you down if you do not have the support of your professor.

  1. Free time/Tips

Dublin is truly a charming city. Just taking a walk through the city center reveals centuries of history in its layered architecture, from the Middle Ages to the beloved pubs and more modern bubble tea shops. It’s fascinating to experience – as soon as you step into the city, everything is red bricks and old, authentic facades. It might be one of the most beautiful capitals I’ve seen so far, and one that offers much to do in your free time.

If you’re inclined to visit museums, there’s no shortage to choose from. From Dublina, which explains the relationship between Dublin and Vikings, to The Little Museum of Dublin, which takes you on a time travel back to the Irish war of independence and, most importantly, the Whiskey Museum – Ireland is so culturally diverse that you have no chance of getting bored. There’s a particularly strong drinking culture in Ireland, so apart from the Whiskey Museum, which serves as an entrance guide, there are more Whiskey Distilleries to visit than you can count. I ended up at Teeling, and absolutely loved the tour and the complementary whiskey plus cocktail.

If there is one word often associated with Dublin, however, that is beer – they are more than proud of the Guinness Brewery, and it is worth a visit just for its impressive size if panoramic view from the top restaurant, even if you aren’t much of a beer enjoyer. If you are, however, you’re in luck, because Dublin is bustling with dozens of pubs, where you can enjoy a pint of beer while listening to live music and eating an Irish roast.

Another must is enjoying a cup of tea and a scone – it doesn’t matter where, because you’ll find them everywhere. Just like mince pies, these are remnants of the 800-year long British occupation. If you go to the port, Howth, you’ll be able to not only enjoy the amazing hikes, but also fresh fish and chips. Despite this strong British influence, Ireland is the very definition of a multicultural city – people from so many walks of life have settled here that you can find virtually any cuisine you’re craving, be it Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Korean or Italian.

Ireland is also known for its nature – if you rent a bike, it’s worth taking it outside of the city to see the beautiful landscape. If you don’t, however, you can still rent one in Phoenix Park, another must-visit on your list, if only to see the deer. You might have to search a little for them, and the park is extremely big, but definitely worth a visit.

  1. Conclusions

All in all, I would rate my experience at UCD, and in Dublin, in general, as positive. UCD was well-equipped from a scientific point of view, and depending on the research field that you want to deepen your understanding of, it might make a great experience to add to your resume. The people were very helpful, even though the general level of research-motivation was below what I was expecting.

The city itself was wonderful. I was lucky enough to be there around Christmas and enjoyed Dublin in all of its festive glory. The atmosphere pulls you right in, and it makes it easy to forget that you’re far away from home. The people were very warm and friendly, and I was lucky enough to have a pair of wonderful hosts that I would engage in many a conversation with. The openness to foreign visitors and the ease with which I was accommodate made it so that Dublin is now one of my favorite places in Europe, and I can’t wait to return as a tourist.

Wonderful Erasmus stay in Madrid

January 3rd, 2024 | by
  • Chemistry M.Sc.
  • Spain, Madrid
  • Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC/INTA)
  • 09/2023 – 12/2023

Application/Finding an internship

I wanted to go for astrochemistry. That’s the one thing I had in mind when going through all sorts of research institutes in Europe which promised somewhat better weather than Germany. Then, a warm autumn night in Spain must be the perfect addition for stargazing. Eventually, I wrote an email to the Center for Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid, where I reached out to the Head of the Interstellar and Circumstellar Medium Group. He happily accepted my application and offered me to stay for a research internship in his group. The CAB is a subdivision of the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial INTA, a state institution. There, lots of paperwork and filings were required, but eventually, my stay was official and my badge was ready. Now let’s go, from Aachen to Madrid.

 

Accommodation & Living Expenses

The campus of INTA and CAB, positioned in the far outer circles of Madrid, and more close to the smaller towns of Alcala de Henares and Torrejón de Ardoz, made me take a 45-minute bus ride from Madrid every morning. I could have chosen to live in the smaller towns. but would I want to miss, living in the centre of one of the biggest metropoles of Europe? Definitely not! I got myself a flat via the local agency viveyestudia.com, which focuses on accommodations for international students. I had a good correspondence with their agent and got a good comparable price(485€ per month). I went to live with 3 other students from all over the world and immediately made good friends with them.

Madrid itself is huge. I may repeat this, Madrid is huge. Even if the Madrid Metro system is one of the best I personally know, it is still good to live in a well-accessible area. My flat was close to Plaza de Manuel Becerra, a crossing of two highly important Metro lines (2 and 6) and a lively but not hectic area. Perfect to reach everything and still not drowning in the noise of the city. Additionally, the metro is wonderfully cheap and extremely powerful to get everywhere, even far outside of the city with no further expenses (Toledo, El Escorial or the Sierra de Guadarrama) Get yourself a Personal card (TTP) as early as possible and pay 8€ or 20€ per 30 days to get pretty much everything!

To taste some of the best local Spanish culinaries I often went out to pay the extra money but never felt overwhelmed by any prices for food or drinks. Especially for buying groceries and cooking in our own kitchen seemed wonderfully inexpensive (at least in comparison to Germany)

The general culture in Madrid is perhaps the best aspect regarding money and expenses, as most museums, palaces, or other cultural sites are either free or highly subsidized.

 

Everyday life/ the internship

The Glass Palace
© Timon Francis Kielgas

Every morning, during weekdays, there was exactly one bus to get me to CAB. 7:15 in the morning gloom, was when I hoped on to snooze for another bit until I started my day in my Lab at 8. My days either consist of planning or analyzing data from experiments or emptying cups of coffee while letting a simple question about space evolve into a one-hour discussion remotely tangential to my research. Then, perhaps my biggest personal cultural shock, we had lunchtime at 2 p.m., way too late in my opinion, but that’s the Spanish way I was told.

On days when I was absent from the CAB, the weekend and luckily lots of Spanish holidays late in the year, I was adamant, that it is impossible to see everything in Madrid in just three months. After three months this still held true. I spend days on end wandering through Retiro Park, the Prado Museum or the endless bars and tapas places of Malasaña, always finding something new.

 

Free time/tips

One of the most important things, and as said before, get a Personal card (TTP) for the Metro, as early as possible, because it is that damn good to get around with. To get a great first impression of Madrid I highly recommend the Faro de Moncloa, a tower with a breathtaking observation deck, from which all the important sites of Madrid and its surroundings are visible. Another thing is the Gran Via, which itself is no secret tip because it is THE tourist hotspot. But you have to look up the dates of some special occasion when the Gran Via is closed down for cars to have pedestrians walk all over the place. It’s a wonderful way to observe the vibrant road in a completely different way.

While walking the streets of the Spanish capital, at no point you will go sparse on Spanish European culture. Especially then you have to keep in mind that Madrid is also strongly connected to all the other countries in the Spanish-speaking world of Latin America. If, like me, who has not been to South America before, Madrid is a wonderful place to dive into these cultures as well. Order some Pisco Sour in a Peruvian bar, get a plate of the best Columbian dishes to fill you up or try all the empanadas you can find.

 

Conclusion

Madrid is a beautiful city, with beautiful weather and wonderful research and researchers. Perhaps my most ambiguous but most remarkable impression was, that everyone I met was super friendly and a joy to be with. While the culture is bright and interesting and the city life is vibrant and beautiful, it was the people I got to work and live with, who made this whole stay the best. I can not tell if it is the field of Astrosciences, if it is the attitude or the people there in Spain, or if it is just pure coincidence, but doing research in this group at CAB just felt good!

I hope others will come to Madrid, have a wonderful Erasmus stay, and share my experience.

Internship in Romania

November 23rd, 2023 | by
  • Chemistry M.Sc.
  • Romania, Bucharest
  • National University of Science and Technology Politehnica Bucharest
  • 09/2023 – 11/2023

Application & Search for an internship

Romania is home of many inventors and known for its research in many scientifical fields. I am studying chemistry, so naturally I wanted to get to know and experience

Corvin’s Castle
© Andreea Maria Rânea

the scientifical research in the capital, Bucharest. Since I went for a two-month research internship, the process of applying was different and simpler than going for lectures. I searched for scientific topics of interest and started first looking at University Politehnica of Bucharest, as it has a good reputation. This is how I came across the National Center of Micro and Nanomaterials. My application was done three months in advance, directly to the director of the center, who happily accepted me. As for the bureaucracy, I only had one formular to fill out for my internship to be recognized at RWTH. Romania is part of the European Union, so no visa is required, and if you have a German health insurance, your stay is covered under the European Health Card.

Accommodation & Living Expenses

The University offers all students a place in the dorms, which are near the main campus. In the rectorate, located in the main campus, there is a cafeteria on the top floor (on the terrace) with a look over the campus and with fresh traditional Romanian food. The price of a full meal was around 3 Euros, and you could also have traditional soup for 1.4 Euros. Alternatively, the biggest mall, Afi Palace Cotroceni, is situated 10 minutes on foot from campus, so the possibility of eating at different restaurants can also be taken into consideration.

The University is easily accessible- you can take either the metro, buses, or tram to the University gate. There is a common card which you can use for all these transportation means and the metro fare for example was 1 euro/ 2 trips.

Palace of the Parliament (under light show)
© Andreea Maria Rânea

Groceries are also relatively cheap, so if you wish to cook for yourself, you can find high quality bio vegetables and meat which you can buy directly from the producer. There are many weekly markets with producers from all over the country too.

Everyday life/ Internship

Romanians are generally very welcoming people and usually make it their mission to include new people and make them feel at home. I could feel that especially in my laboratory, where every member would constantly come to me, ask me my progress, if I have any difficulties, if I want to grab lunch together, the list goes on. Even some of them with different expertise and research than mine would sit down with me and brainstorm reasons to explain my results when I needed help. Furthermore, as we sat down one day with the director and another professor, we got to hear stories about their youth and university time, which was quite different from university today. I was surprised to also hear stories about Romanian chemistry figures like Costin Nenițescu and get so familiar with those times. I think it was very nice to befriend the professors and other members like that, instead of only keeping a distanced professional relationship. Going to the laboratory daily felt warm and welcoming.

After I got my safety and general introductions of the laboratory, I could start to work right away. My research was on the synthesis and doping of hydroxyapatite for medical applications. For this synthesis I first used a microwave assisted reactor for hydrothermal method. I also got to personally use the X-Ray Diffraction spectrometer and assist experts for the Scanning and Transmission Electron Spectroscopy. The laboratory was equipped with new generation devices for the best analysis results, as well as all necessary materials for my research. I also got to work again with cells for viability and cytotoxicity tests since my bachelor’s thesis. The bio-safety laboratory was placed in a new building, also on the main campus. From

The Triumphal Arch Bucharest
© Andreea Maria Rânea

September to November there was very good weather in Bucharest, with temperatures even exceeding 30 degrees Celsius at times, so the walk through the campus between the buildings was a nice change of scenery during work. With the start of the semester in October it got livelier, also since most students spend their breaks outside (the line in the cafeteria got longer too unfortunately). Another endearing fact was that the group had three aquariums with fish and turtles in the common room, which personally lifted my spirit every day, as the turtles would always come forth to greet you.

During my time there, I was invited to join the Conference of the Romanian Electron Microscopy Society which was held in Cluj-Napoca. This conference was attended by many Romanian and foreign electron microscopy specialists, as well as well-known electron microscope producers like Zeiss, Jeol and Thermo Fisher Scientific. It was a great experience for me, as it was the first scientifical conference of this type that I attended, and it gave me meaningful insights for my future career. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to attend three PhD thesis defenses, also a first for me. The tradition there was that after the presentation, the new doctor would organize a catering for the group to celebrate. There were also a lot of emotions involved and praises coming from the jury, which was formed interdisciplinary, with professors from chemical and medical faculties.

Free Time & Tips

Outside the laboratory I would generally meet friends and walk through the city. We would go down the Victoriei Boulevard and grab some ice cream at one of the best shops I visited (Gelateria La Romana) and then enjoy the George Enescu classical music festival in front of the Royal Palace. Another beautiful sight was the Palace of the Parliament, which is the second largest administrative building after the Pentagon, as well as the heaviest building in the world. The materials used for its construction are almost entirely of Romanian origin, with thousands of tons of crystal and millions m3 of marble, wood, and woolen carpets, as well as velvet and brocade curtains with silver and gold embroideries.

Unirii Square Fountains
© Andreea Maria Rânea

The streets were always full until late, as the shops and restaurants close at 10 PM or later. On Sunday all facilities are open as usual, and you can always find a non-stop shop or even pharmacy. The Old City (Centrul Vechi/ Lipscani) is a glimpse of the old streets of Bucharest, which kept the old buildings and churches as well and is well known as an entertainment center, being home to various restaurants, bars, and clubs. A restaurant that you must visit while in Bucharest is “Caru’ cu Bere”, traditionally decorated and which offers traditional live music as well as traditional dance performances every day. If you are unsure what to order, some typical traditional dishes are “Mici/ Mititei”, “Sarmale”, “Ciorbă de burtă”, “Mămăligă (Polenta) with sour cream and cheese” and “Ardei umpluți”. I also recommend you make a reservation beforehand, if possible, as it is usually very busy. Besides the varied nightlife there are a lot of activities that you can do. Theater is also famous in the Romanian culture, and there are many theaters in Bucharest. I also got to see in premiere the piece “The Envelope” written by famous Romanian novelist Liviu Rebreanu. After the laboratory I would also go to the Dinamo Stadium for track and field training.

On the weekend I traveled to the mountains, to cities like Brașov and Bran, which is known for Dracula’s castle, the Bran castle. Dracula as known today was ins

University Politehnica of Bucharest
© Andreea Maria Rânea

pired by Vlad III Voivode of Wallachia, also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Drăculea (Dracula), his first nickname being related to his execution method and the second being his name in the Order of the Dragon. Finally, there were a lot of historical buildings and sites with a lot of stories to tell throughout Romania.

It is important to note that Romania has one of the biggest brown bear populations in Europe, and if you travel to the mountains, you might come across them. If you plan to go on a hike, you must pay attention to the signs and follow the set paths. Also, if you choose a hotel situated in or near the forest, you will get warned by the staff not to walk outside during the night, as you might just encounter one. Sometimes you get to see them from your window too, or on the side of the serpentines, just minding their own business.

In Poiana Brașov you can find two of the best traditional Romanian restaurants, which I totally recommend if you ever visit there.

Bucegi Mountains
© Andreea Maria Rânea

These are „Stâna Turistică Serghiana” and „Coliba Haiducilor”. Each has a different charm, and both have traditional live music and decorations. For the first one I recommend to eat outside, at the highest level for the best view, and for the second one inside, for the best atmosphere.

As I said before, Romanians are very welcoming, and you can notice this anywhere you go. Even if you don’t speak the language, the majority of Romanians can speak fluent English and usually other languages as well, like German, Italian, French and Spanish, Romanian also being a latin language.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my research at University Politehnica of Bucharest was a valuable experience for me personally as well as academically and offered me important insights to consider for my future career. Also, there are a lot of stories I could tell about my time there, as my experiences were very varied. The atmosphere is generally very warm and relaxed, and if you plan your research well, you won’t feel too pressured or overwhelmed. I am grateful for being supported during my internship by the Erasmus+ grant and to represent RWTH Aachen University and I definitely recommend a stay abroad in Bucharest as I had a wonderful time there.

Research Internship in Santa Barbara

October 25th, 2023 | by
  • Chemistry M.Sc.
  • United States of America, Santa Barbara
  • University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)
  • 05/2023 – 09/2023
  1. Application/Finding an internship

Studying Chemistry M.Sc. at RWTH Aachen University comes with three mandatory research internships which optionally can be completed at an external institution. Inspired by a talk at a conference I contacted the professor via e-mail asking for a research stay about nine months in advance. After her approval the administrative process including some visa guidance was handled by the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Applying early, I got the visa about four months in advance. The OISS at UCSB is an approved J1-sponsor. Several documents were required by the Department of Chemical Engineering and/or the OISS. I needed proof of health insurance, financial proof and a language certificate among others. The DS-2019 was issued by OISS at UCSB and is required for the visa application. Additionally, a SEVIS fee is required prior to the visa interview. In my case, the interview waiver applied which allowed me to send in my passport to the

Engineering Science Building
© Elisabeth Richter

consulate in Frankfurt and have it sent back to me once the visa was approved.

Applying early, I had plenty of time between the approved visa and my starting date so I could book my flight and look for an accommodation several weeks in advance. Since I was a visiting grad student not taking any classes I was not enrolled as a UCSB student and did not have to pay any tuition fees but also did not get the student benefits.

 

  1. Accommodation & Living expenses

    Recreation Center
    © Elisabeth Richter

Housing options are either student housing on and off campus or private housing in Isla Vista, Goleta area or Downtown Santa Barbara. The latter requires a daily commute by bus or car to the campus whereas the other options are within walking or biking distance.

As a visiting grad scholar, I was not eligible for student housing. I found a nice host parents arrangement living with up to two other students via a private housing listing provided by UCSB. Leasing or Subleasing is usually tied to the quarter system. In general, be aware of scams. Compared to Aachen, living expenses are higher in America and particularly high in the Santa Barbara area. For a single room about $1300 per month are common whereas doubles or triples are usually a little cheaper. Compared to Aachen, my expenses for groceries went up 1.5 to 2 times. Even though going out is much more common I had a lot of self-cooked meals. In general, fruits and vegetables are more expensive. For fresh, organic fruits and vegetables I recommend the farmers market which serves the best sourdough bread I had during my stay.

 

  1. Everyday life/the internship

    Campus Point Beach
    © Elisabeth Richter

Biking is the way to go around on the UCSB campus. The best chances to not get one’s bike stolen is in having a cheap bike and a U-lock. Used bikes can be purchased in a bike shop in Isla Vista or online. Outside of campus busses as public transportation are an option but depending on where to go cars might be the only choice.

Major food options on campus are in the UCen building serving sandwiches, burgers, and American Chinese food among others. In addition, there are cafes distributed throughout the campus selling mostly sandwiches and snacks.

The research group I visited provided lab space as well as a desk in the offices. Working with several colleges on a project I was fully integrated in the group during my stay. On average, I had biweekly meetings with my professor at UCSB discussing my research progress and giving valuable input. I attended the weekly group meeting taking turns in presenting one’s research progress and recent literature.

I usually worked in the lab on weekdays and used the evenings and weekends to explore the area. The recreation center offers intermural, fitness and dancing classes among others. The campus is right next to the ocean and always worth a visit. Part of the campus is the Campus Point which beach area is suitable for beginners in surfing.

One thing to keep in mind is that I stayed at UCSB during the summer which is way quieter than throughout the rest of the year. Same goes for the research group because of the lack of lectures but professors might not be available each week due to travelling to conferences or summer schools.

  1. Free time/tips

The campus itself is beautiful and a walk around the campus lagoon is a must. You can get a great view of the campus from the upper floor of the Davidson’s library both towards the mountains and the ocean. I highly recommend spending time at the ocean and watching a lot of sunsets. The surf class by the USCB recreation center is a lot of fun. They provide surfboards and wetsuits during the lessons and there is also a rental option at Campus Point Beach.

Campus and Storke Tower
© Elisabeth Richter

Going out there are some bars and breweries in the Goleta area to check out (beers can be purchased starting from about $7; remember the legal drinking age of 21) and even more options in Downtown Santa Barbara. The bus ride to Downtown takes 35 to 55 minutes. Alternatively, there is a 10-mile bike path connecting UCSB and Downtown Santa Barbara. Main attractions are the Santa Barbara Mission, the botanical garden, a walk on State Street and the waterfront. Ferries are connecting Santa Barbara to the Channel Islands National Park which is a great destination for hiking and camping. Whale Watching tours starting in Santa Barbara might go all the way to the Channel Islands seeing dolphins and humpback whales along the trip.

Both Goleta and Santa Barbara are connected to the Pacific Surfliner which goes from San Luis Obispo all the way south to San Diego. The train track itself is right next to the ocean giving this slow way of traveling an amazing view throughout the ride.

 

  1. Conclusion

My research stay at UCSB was a fascinating journey. I broadened my knowledge in Chemistry and gained a lot of new experiences on the personal level as well. Even though it took me some time to get used to the different culture I enjoyed the way of life. Within time, communicating in everyday English became natural and I understand and highly acknowledge the American humor by now. I met great people along the way to which I will catch up eventually. I highly encourage a stay abroad.

Research Internship in Dublin

October 20th, 2023 | by
  • Chemistry M.Sc
  • Ireland, Dublin
  • Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute (TBSI)
  • 04/2023 – 09/2023

Application and Preparation

I have thought about completing part of my studies abroad during my master’s degree in chemistry ever since the first semesters of my bachelor’s degree, and because Ireland has always been a very fascinating country to me that I have planned on visiting anyway, I chose Dublin as the place where I wanted to do a research internship. Additionally to the beautiful landscape and the friendly people I envisioned to encounter, Ireland has the advantage of being an English-speaking country with many excellent universities to choose from. During the master’s in chemistry at RWTH Aachen University, students are required to do several research internships in different groups and fields of chemistry, but we are free to select the location and the group, so I decided to do an internship in Ireland instead of a semester abroad where I have to take courses. Therefore, I began applying to different groups about six months before I wanted to start the internship, which is quite late in hindsight, and I would definitely recommend starting earlier. Unfortunately I had the experience that most professors did not answer when I directly applied with a CV and a letter of motivation via e‑mail, which is why I asked a professor from Aachen to help me out in this regard, and that ended up bei

The Trinity Biomedical Science Institute – my workplace.
© Hannah Höche

ng the solution to my problems. After finding a group where I could complete my research internship and agreeing on the duration of the internship and the topic I would be working on, I started applying for Erasmus funding and filling out all necessary documents like the Traineeship Certificate. In addition, I applied for a leave of absence during that semester, which has to be done during the registration period for the following semester.

 

Accommodation and Living Situation in Dublin

Before I start explaining how I found an apartment in Dublin, I want to mention that this city is very, very expensive compared to Aachen and it is a real struggle to find an accommodation, which I was aware of before moving to Dublin, but the rent and the general cost of living is even higher than I would have expected. I would recommend starting to look for an accommodation as soon as possible, since a lot of apartments and rooms are listed for up to a year in advance, so even though I was searching for apartments where I could move in in April 2023, I saw a lot of offers for the following year. I used the popular websites daft.ie and let.ie, where you can also filter options like the number of rooms, the price or the duration of the rent. A lot of apartments and rooms can unfortunately only be rented for at least one year. I also looked up the location of the building I would be working in so I could find an accommodation reasonably near to be able to walk everywhere. In contrast to Germany, where you can use your semester ticket for public transportation, in Ireland you have to pay for every trip, but more on that later.

The Temple Bar.
© Hannah Höche

When finding a suitable apartment, I wrote to the landlord, but the reality is that they rarely answer, especially when the apartments have been uploaded to the websites for a few days. Therefore, I adapted my strategy and I searched for several times during a day to be able to immediately message the landlord when an apartment was uploaded – and I messaged a lot of people. It also helps to have a pre-written text where you only change the address. Sometimes they also offer online tours of the apartment, which is helpful when looking for apartments when still in Germany, but generally I had the experience that tours are in person. I also strongly advise to not just get an accommodation and transferring the money without having seen it and signing a contract, because there are rental scams in Dublin and even the websites of the different universities warn students to be careful. To be able to actually look for apartments and rooms, I would suggest to come to Ireland about one to two weeks before starting the internship or semester and then to actively go to apartment tours. I also prepared all the necessary documents so I could immediately express my interest in the accommodation. Generally, Dublin is divided into two areas by the river Liffey, and the south side is considered to be the “better” and safer area of Dublin. There are student accommodations, but they are also very expensive and generally hard to get, and my professor actually advised against trying to apply for the housing

Howth, a peninsular village and outer suburb of Dublin.
© Hannah Höche

program and instead look for apartments.

 

In addition to the high rent, groceries and other necessities are more expensive than in Germany, so definitely try to save up beforehand. The public transportation also has to be considered, but you can save some money by getting the so-called TFI Leap Card, or the Leap Card for young adults in particular (aged 19 to 23). Although you can get pretty much everywhere by bus or the Luas, especially busses tend to be late and unreliable (at least outside of the city center). In this context, it has to be mentioned that tickets for the busses have to be bought from the bus driver when not using the Leap Card, and only coins are accepted.

Furthermore, I suggest checking with your insurance company whether you are insured for a stay abroad. Regarding phone calls, I just used my existing contract, there was no need to get a new one. Getting Wi-Fi for the apartment was a bit more tricky, because most internet contracts are only for at least a year, so I had to get a “pay as you go contract”, where you pay a certain amount every four weeks before you can use the internet, and I also had to buy a mobile router for that. You generally do not need to carry cash in Ireland (except for the bus as mentioned above), debit cards are widely accepted – if not everywhere. A lot of people also use Revolut (or sometimes PayPal). What I highly recommend is getting a credit card, because a lot of the tours I booked or sights I wanted to see could only be paid using a credit card. The bus companies that are driving to the airport (like Dublin Express or Aircoach) also only accept a credit card.

 

The Internship

I can honestly say that my research internship was one of the best experiences I had so far in a group. My professor Mathias Senge was a wonderful mentor and supervisor, who gave me my own project to work on and I learned a lot of skills that are useful and transferrable to any lab I will be working in in the future. My work day usually began at 9 am and ended at 5 or 6 pm and consisted of synthesizing my target compounds and purifying them, as well as literature research and the usual lab work. We also had regular meetings where we either presented our own research or papers from the literature we found interesting and helpful. I even got the opportunity to visit a conference and present some of my work in the form of a scientific poster. My colleagues in the lab were all incredibly nice and welcoming and helped me with any questions and problems. As for the requirements of the internship, I had to give an introductory talk and a final presentation for both my professor in Dublin and the professor supervising my internship from RWTH Aachen University, and I had to turn in a research report. In addition, I had to write monthly progress reports, but that was expected from my professor in Dublin and may not be a general requirement.

 

Free Time and Tips for Ireland

A lot of the Irish people I met told me that I have not really experienced Ireland if I only visit Dublin, and I can absolutely confirm that, Nevertheless, I want to start with some of the sights of the capital that I really enjoyed. Some of the museums in Dublin (The Dead Zoo, The National Gallery, The Archaeological Museum) are free of charge and definitely worth a visit. There are also several beautiful parks (Phoenix Park, St. Stephen’s Green, …) to enjoy, as well as distilleries that offer tours and tastings. Of course the popular tourist attractions like the Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral or the

The Giant’s Causeway.
© Hannah Höche

Guinness Storehouse are also to mention, but they do cost money. A stroll through Temple Bar and along the river Liffey is also nice and free of cost. One of my favorite things was a visit to the Kilmainham Gaol, where I learned a lot about the history of Ireland – but tickets are very limited, so plan a visit 28 days beforehand to be able to get one (although there are sometimes returned tickets you might be able to get spontaneously). Lastly, a visit to any pub is pretty much a requirement and a lot of them have live music on the weekends, which makes a trip even more enjoyable.

 

Ireland has to offer such a wide variety of landscapes and nature spots, it is difficult to pick only a few. Not far from Dublin and reachable by the DART are Howth and Bray, where you can enjoy Cliff Walks and hiking trails. In order to comfortably travel, I recommend either the Irish Rail, bus services or booking trips from the popular tour operators, whereby the latter are quite expensive. Travelling by train is fairly straightforward and discounted tickets for students (a Young Adult Leap Card is necessary) are offered. The tickets can be bought online, but they have to be printed at the ticket machines at the train station (e.g. Heuston Station). Cities like Cork, Waterford and Killarney are easily reached via the train. Also, as a tip when visiting Cork, a little trip to Cobh, a seaport town and the last departure point of the Titanic, is absolutely recommended.

Cobh, a seaport town on the south coast of County Cork.
© Hannah Höche

In general, trips to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, Kilkenny, Glendalough or even to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland are an absolute highlight. The latter has to be one of the most beautiful spots I have seen, even though it is hard to pick a favorite. Even though a lot can be travelled by train or bus, some hiking trails or even cities and counties are unfortunately best reached by car.

 

Conclusion

I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a whole semester abroad completing a research internship. Not only could I acquire skills and knowledge in the laboratory and grow as a person and chemist, I got to make wonderful friends and see and visit the most beautiful spots I could imagine. My research internship taught me to work independently on my own project, which is very helpful as a preparation for both my master’s thesis and my aspiration to do a PhD. The only negative aspect about my stay abroad is the cost of living in Dublin, which would probably not have been possible for me to pay if I would not have had savings. Otherwise, I think it is an incredible experience to spend some time in another country and get to know the culture, and I would of course recommend Ireland as I really enjoyed my time there.

Research stay in Marseille

October 20th, 2023 | by
  • Chemistry M.Sc
  • France, Marseille
  • Aix-Marseille Université
  • 06/2023 – 09/2023

The possibilities for doing an internship abroad are endless. This made it difficult for me to decide, so I had to narrow down my choices. Thanks to my professor, I got in touch with iSM2 at the University of Aix Marseille in France.  It was a dream for me to live by the sea for once in my life and improve the French I

Climbing in Calanque de Sormiou
© Eveline Jagla

learned in school. I emailed my contact person at iSM2 and she was happy about my interest and offered me an internship right away.

I found my accommodation through the website “La Carte des Coloc”. For a room of about 14 m^2 in an 80 m^2 apartment with 4 bedrooms I paid about 530 € per month. The start was difficult because there was no wifi and no electricity when I arrived. We had no electricity for 3 days and I had to sign a contract with EDF myself. Luckily my contact person at iSM2 helped me with a 30 minute phone call and we had electricity. But the tale of woe with this apartment and the agency “Colivers” would not fit into this report. Short conclusion: I do not recommend “Colivers” to others…. The apartment was located in Castellane, a very good area to live. From Castellane there are two metro lines, one of the three streetcars, many buses going to Cassis, La Ciotat and Marseille beaches and 15 minutes walk to the city center “Vieux Port”. A lot of restaurants are also nearby: McDonalds, Burger King, Vapiano, Go Ramen (5/5!), Shuriken Sushi (5/5!), … The boulangerie is also across the street and open 24 hours. To buy food, there are the supermarkets: Monoprix (super expensive), Franprix (close, small and expensive), Carrefour and Lidl (further away, 10 minutes walk). Compared to Germany, food is more expensive: in the supermarket and in the restaurants. In a bar, beer costs 6-8 € (50 cl) and long drinks for the same price. For a meal in a restaurant you pay between 15 € (cheap) and 23 €. The younger people go to Cours Julien and La pleine. Here there are many bars and restaurants at a cheaper price.

A lab day was always between 9/10 and 17/18. I took the metro and then the bus, which took about 30 minutes. Unlike in Germany, the entrance to the university is guarded.

My Bedroom
© Eveline Jagla

The PhD student I was allowed to work with introduced me to her research and soon I was working independently. I was working on the catalysis of the degradation of cellobiose with LMPO-like catalysts. In a short time, I collected a lot of data using UV-Vis spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy and HPLC. During the group meeting on Friday, I presented my results. The group was mixed with French, Indians, Brazilians, Spanish, Americans and probably more, everyone is welcome, and I felt very comfortable. Since I was there in the summer, the lab was pretty empty, and so was the campus. Everyone was fleeing the heat. I was able to try touch rugby on campus during a couple of practice sessions. It was a lot of fun, and I was sad that the practice was discontinued during the hot summer months. For lunch, you could bring something and eat with the others in the break room, or you could go there while the cafeteria was still open.

In my free time I spent a lot of time at the beach. My favorite places in Marseille are Vallon des Auffres, Prado (very beautiful sunset and many different beaches), Maldormé and Plage Catalans is nice because it was only 15 minutes from my apartment. I spent a lot of time in the Calanques, especially in the Calanques of Cassis. And there, the Calanque Port Pin is my favorite place. Once you reach the beach, you hike and climb a bit on the right side and then you reach a rock where you can lie down. The calanques of the Côte Bleue are also very beautiful. There my favorite place in La Redonne is

Calanque des Anthénors in La Redonne
© Eveline Jagla

the port and the Calanque des Anthénors. To visit this place you can use the TER and with the Pass Côte Bleue you only pay 5 or 6 € and you can take the train all day. Many people also like Niolon, but I haven’t managed to go there yet, but I will on my next visit. Since I am very interested in sports, I tried climbing for the first time. I did it three times in the Calanques and I also bouldered in Arkose. It was so much fun and it is definitely a sport that I will continue to do in Germany. With Monde Vertical I discovered the Calanque of Sormiou and the one in Cap Canaille. The view of the different types of rocks and the sea was fantastic!

Since I was in a shared apartment, it was easier to make friends. But I also met some people through Bumble and the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). Unfortunately, the ESN didn’t offer any activities during the summer. But Marseille is so friendly and open that it’s easy to make friends even when walking around the city alone. I was also allowed to invite four different visitors so that we could explore the city together. I also had the opportunity to travel a bit. With a friend we went to Nice and Gordes du Verdon. Gordes du Verdon was fantastic and the Aqua rando where you float through the gorge was a lot of fun with an amazing view. Nice was a nice smaller town, but you could feel the different atmosphere. People were more well dressed and seemed more arrogant. We never had any really friendly service in the restaurants…. After our trip, we were very happy to return to Marseille. That’s what I love about Marseille. You can be who you want to be, and people don’t judge you. Some other tips in Marseille are: Bouillabaisse TURFU for a delicious

Calanque de Port Pin in Cassis
© Eveline Jagla

and small portion of bouillabaisse, Flashback at Vieux Port for a drink, co-working, lunch…, Green Meal for vegan and vegetarian food, Friche la Belle Mai as a nice event location, generally the metro card “la carte”, a visit to Cassis: a very cute little town, L’Art Haché: a hidden bar at La Pleine with jazz music (when we were there) and they only accept cash.

Feedback: Before I came to Marseille, I seemed very happy in Germany and didn’t want to leave. In the first weeks I could not imagine life in Marseille. Compared to Germany, it is very chaotic and disorganized, rules have less importance, and it is very dirty (the city has a big garbage problem…). But once I got used to the city and the lifestyle, I started to love it. I had a fresh start and could be who I wanted to be. I made some friends and the scenery with the Calanques is just amazing! I was very sad to leave Marseille and the lab, even though I didn’t quite like the topic in the internship. I gained a lot of valuable experience, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be in Marseille and in the iSM2 lab! I am very sad to leave and if a new opportunity to come back to Marseille arises, I will be very happy.

My research stay in Oslo

April 21st, 2022 | by
  • Chemistry M.Sc.
  • Norway, Oslo
  • Universitetet i Oslo
  • 12.09.21-12.03.2022

 

Over the course of my studies, played with the idea of doing an exchange, though, for various reasons, I never went through with it. With the end of my master’s degree approaching, I decided to make use of this last chance and to complete my master thesis during a research stay at a university in another country. The planning for this started in May 2021, at the height of the second COVID wave. This narrowed my choice of countries down to all of Scandinavia, since the situation there was somewhat calm, though at this point the borders were still closed, and it wasn’t clear when they would open again. Nonetheless, I started planning.

After looking at all the major universities in Scandinavia, I found that UiO (Universitetet i Oslo) and UiB (Universitetet i Bergen) did interesting research that aligned well with my qualifications, but also with skills that I still wanted to acquire or improve. After contacting a professor at each university by e‑mail, Prof. Tilset from UiO was able to accommodate me for an interesting project in the desired timeframe.

At first, I tried to find housing privately on finn.no (Norway’s equivalent to eBay), but as a foreigner, a male, and someone staying for a mere few months, it is very difficult to find a place in shared accommodation. Thankfully, the Department of Chemistry offered to apply for researcher housing for me. Most of the student housing in Oslo is run by SiO (Studentsamskipnaden i Oslo og Akershus), a student welfare organization. Their housing is well-maintained and somewhat modern, though as a researcher you pay 20% more rent than students. Electricity, water, and internet access are included in this. This is still cheaper than the very expensive private housing in Oslo. I paid 4800 NOK in rent for a room with a shared kitchen (6 people), which is about 480 €. Having to pay more as a researcher was a recurring theme for my stay in Oslo, since I mostly didn’t get student discounts. As another bonus, you get housed with other students of Oslo’s universities, so you have ample opportunities to make friends. On the day of your arrival, it might make sense to make use of the hourly Ikea shuttles, which take people from the city centre to one of two Ikea markets (free of charge). This lets you buy the necessities for your room/apartment conveniently. The location and departure schedule can be found on Google Maps.

When staying in Norway for more than 9 weeks, it is mandatory to register with the police, where (if you’re an Erasmus intern as opposed to an Erasmus student) you have to document that you have enough money to support yourself (e.g. savings, the equivalent of 180.000 NOK per year, or less if you’re staying for a shorter time), a valid national identity card/passport and private health insurance. I did not know of the latter, but the worker at the police was kind enough to register

© Heiko Schiefer

me as a student when I showed her the signed agreement of the three parties and proof that I received funding from Erasmus (in my case a bank statement).

 

Oslo has good public transportation (Metro, Tram, Busses, and Boats), but the normal monthly ticket (800 NOK) unfortunately is constrained to the city limits, which nonetheless should cover most of your trips. Extensions can be bought in the public transportation company’s app, Ruter.

Since you will be paying in NOK, it also makes sense to open an account with a bank that charges no fees for paying in foreign currency, e.g., DKB. Credit cards are universally accepted, so there is little reason to carry cash.

© Heiko Schiefer

For leisure activities, the Norwegians are generally very fond of the outdoors, so popular activities are ice skating, skiing, or hiking, sometimes combined with a picknick. Outdoor equipment can be borrowed free of charge at one of the many Bua’s (a non-profit organization) around Oslo. During the winter, many people sit around campfires around lake Songsvann or atop the Vettakollen mountain. These are also nice places to try and get a glimpse of the northern lights. The Norwegian trekking association (DNT) organizes trips (e.g. mushroom picking or hiking) and rents out cabins for cheap. If going out to eat is more your thing, Oslo Street Food is worth recommending. It’s a cozy food court with lots of selection, but don’t expect to be served large portions.

Here it should be mentioned that the selection of vegetarian food is more limited in Norway than in Germany, and vegan food even more so. If you’re a big partygoer, beware: Alcoholic beverages are very expensive in Norway, and only sold until 8 pm. Anything over 4.7% is only sold in the state-run Vinmonopolet shops. If you’re more culturally inclined Oslo’s many museums might be of interest.

© Heiko Schiefer

Because I did not need to attend any courses, I could focus solely on my research and enjoyed lots of autonomy. The university is generally well equipped. I had my own lab bench and fume hood in a large lab with 5 other researchers (Bachelor/master students, PhDs, and a post-doc), as well as a desk in a shared office. Approximately half of the researchers were Norwegian, the other half from all over Europe. The direction and progress of my research was evaluated in weekly talks with my supervising Professor. In addition to that, there were weekly group meetings and biweekly section meetings, were people would present their research and the rest would give feedback/ask questions. The working climate was very pleasant, and I spent hours talking to fellow researchers about their or my research.

© Heiko Schiefer

In conclusion, my time in Oslo was a great experience, both professionally and personally. I got to do research abroad, acquired new skills, and refined those I already had. I met lots of new people and made friends and memories. While the cost of living is certainly high in Oslo and coming to Norway as an intern is associated with some challenges, the experience was certainly worth it.