A Summer of Research, Fun and Unforgettable Memories in Germany

I can still remember my first two weeks in Leipzig. The excitement of being in a new place, the foreignness and unpredictability of venturing into a new city alone. The thrill of meeting new people, and most importantly, the nervousness of working in a lab and messing everything up. From my first night, it was an adventure as my roommate invited me to a dinner at her friend’s place but since I didn’t have a bike yet or cash to catch the tram, we would have to make a forty-minute walk to get there. Fresh off my four-hour train ride, I probably should have said no and went to bed, but with all the excitement, I couldn’t possibly sleep. It was an interesting evening as I met a lot of amazing people, had good laughs and conversations, and got a lot of curious questions about my hair including whether it was mine or not.

Overall my experience through the RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) 2017 program was a crazy mix of fun and work. My project topic was the impact of environmental pollutants on obesity development in infants which I got permission to use as my Honours project for my biology degree at Acadia. It took place at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, where my first couple weeks in the Environmental Immunology department consisted of getting situated in the lab and my shared office (which was really nice). I learnt cell culture, PCR, and how to use the program STATISTICA. I learnt a lot about obesity and other metabolic diseases, along with pollutants like BDE-47(flame retardant) and BPA. While I did not get to know all of them, my coworkers were all wonderful people and the few that I ate lunch with (including my supervisor) every day became some really good friends of mine.

I also got the opportunity to attend two sets of seminars. One was hosted by the institute that incorporated many different environmental research areas. And the other was “The Clinical Basis of Obesity” where I learnt more about the metabolic diseases and the strategies used to help obese patients. I even got the opportunity to attend a bariatric surgery (one of the coolest things I have ever seen).

Outside of the office, I spent a lot of my time with my roommate who became one of my best friends. During my first couple of weeks, we went to the manmade lake called the “Cospudener See” (Cossi for short) at least twice a week. I loved that place as it was the closest thing I would get to a beach for the summer. We also got tortured together by an outdoor fitness class that we snuck into. We went to a few musical concerts and birthday parties of her university friends. The most memorable experience for both of us was probably when she invited me to her hometown in Hamburg for her mother’s birthday weekend. Her parents were wonderful hosts and really made me feel at home and part of the family (they bought me cheese). Saturday night was crazy and after dinner with her family, we drank potentially spoiled two-year-old beer and then finally made it out to the Reeperbahn, where we checked out different bars and clubs and we didn’t go home until 6:30 am. And for those of you that don’t know, Hamburg’s night life has quite a reputation, and boy did I have an experience. I also got to visit Prague with a great friend, Berlin during its Pride Festival (that was interesting), and a small city called Regensburg to visit a friend that I had made on my exchange to Norway in 2015. I was also afforded the opportunity to have dinner with a wonderful Christian family that really welcomed me into their home and made me feel part of the family.

My supervisor was another person that made my RISE experience unforgettable. She was such an amazing supervisor and friend. In the lab, she was very supportive and a great teacher who was present when needed, but gave me a lot of freedom to do my own thing. Outside of work we also got along really well, doing fun things like canoeing, and escape rooms. I even got to celebrate her birthday with her.

Another memorable weekend both socially and academically was the DAAD RISE conference in Heidelberg. This crazy weekend actually started off on a Thursday night for me as I was invited to a Karaoke birthday party and therefore didn’t make it home until 2 am, even though I had a 7:30am train to catch the next day. Then on the Friday, I caught a series of delayed trains with my fellow RISERs (that is what we call people that participated in the program). After our six-hour journey (it’s normally only supposed to take four and a half hours to five max), we scrambled from the train station to the hostel as we really wanted to make it on time for our free lunch (priorities eh). The rest of the weekend was magical. We got to meet a lot of other participants from Canada, USA and UK, and hear about a few of the projects going on in various cities in various math and science disciplines. Then on Saturday, we go to go on a tour of the city Heidelberg which included a fun cable car ride to the top of the mountain where the castle was located. To top off the weekend, we had the opportunity to celebrate with the locals in the Heidelberger Schlossbeleuchtung (Heidelberg Castle Illumination) which had the most magnificent firework display I have ever seen.

I had such an amazing experience in Leipzig, Germany this summer thanks to both the Canadian awards program Mitacs and the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) program in Germany that sponsored my RISE 2017 experience. These are just a few of my wonderful experiences that I will cherish forever. This experience was definitely life changing both academically and socially. I was afforded this amazing opportunity to experience international research and meet people from all over the world.

The DAAD-RISE program is offered to undergraduate students residing in North America, Britain and Ireland. This competitive program offers internships at leading German universities in the fields of biology, physics, chemistry, engineering or the earth sciences. Scholarships covering all the research expenses and most of the living and travel expenses are offered by German and Canadian research programs to all students who are offered a spot. This past summer 2017, Acadia had three students participate in the program. Speaking German is not required. To find out how to take advantage of this fantastic experience for summer 2018, visit https://www.daad.de/rise/en/rise-germany.