In this Alumni Profile, we introduce Adrianna Warren, a student in the Graduate Diploma for Community Health at Memorial University of Newfoundland and an alumna of DAAD’s RISE Germany program. RISE is among DAAD’s most popular programs and provides summer internship opportunities in Germany to undergraduate students in the natural sciences or engineering.
Can you please tell us about your study programs and how you became interested in RISE?
Adrianna Warren: As a cell and molecular biology major with a minor in biochemistry I was pretty eager to take advantage of research opportunities, and I had just begun my first research placement in a molecular biology lab at the beginning of my second year. Around that same time, I saw a poster for an information session on opportunities for study in Germany, held by a RISE alumni. I grabbed a picture of the poster with full intention to attend but honestly, I had accidentally missed it! In my disappointment, I decided to reach out to the student holding the event to see what RISE was all about. He agreed to meet up, we had a coffee, and there he shared his experiences working in an organic chemistry lab.
It sounded interesting, but I was not completely sold until the internship application portal opened and I got to read the internship descriptions for myself. I ended up finding an internship focusing on the biochemistry of the eye, which was perfectly aligned with my research interests in vision science!
What was the application process like?
I found the application process to be thorough but not overly challenging. The internship description portal is super fun to read through, and it is organized by discipline so that you can easily find opportunities that are most in line with your goals and interests. I spent about a month and a half working on my application from start to finish. The part that took me the longest was crafting my motivation letters to the top three internships that I applied for.
(ed. note: The RISE application database is open from November 1 – December 15; during that time students can register with the portal, view the internships and file an application.)
How much support did you receive from your German host(s)?
My host (Specifically my PhD Candidate supervisor) provided support before and during my stay. Before my stay, my supervisor helped me find affordable housing in the area and was kind enough to meet me at the airport when I arrived.
After arrival, my supervisor directed me to the International Office at the University which arranged a “buddy program” for new students. I was matched with another local student based on age and interests and she ended up being such a great resource in the beginning and a wonderful friend. My supervisor and other members of the lab helped me find my cherished second-hand bike and were always happy to help if I reached out.
Did you speak any German prior to going over?
I did not speak any German before going.
Was that an issue in the lab? In everyday life?
Not speaking German in the lab was not a real issue as the working language was English. Sometimes things would be labelled in German but there was always somebody around that I could check with to make sure I was using the correct supplies.
In everyday life, not speaking German was certainly a challenge for me where I was staying in a relatively small town. I think the degree of challenge you will face is largely dependant on where you are. For example, I got myself into a bike accident and broke my finger. Checking into the hospital was somewhat challenging, and after being initially treated and referred to a hand doctor, I had accidentally cancelled one of my appointments due to a miscommunication with the secretary, oops! You can certainly survive and have a wonderful experience without any German, but your experience will be enriched if you take the time to learn at least a little bit of the language before you arrive.
Was the internship a valuable experience for you? If so, why?
Yes! I would say that my internship was an invaluable experience personally but especially professionally.
In the lab, I felt very engaged with the work I was doing and the independence I was given helped me become more confident as a researcher. In my three months in the lab, I got to present to the working group twice which was a valuable practice in presenting my data. Since returning, both hard and soft skills that I advanced while in Germany served me well in all aspects of my academic life. From being competitive for other internships and scholarships to having adapted a stronger work ethic, handle on the scientific method, and ability to present.
It goes without saying that the internship was rich in fun also. The memories I made and the people I met while away are very dear to my heart.
What sort of tasks did you do as part of the internship?
In the lab I would conduct my own experiments using common molecular biology techniques with guidance from my PhD supervisor and other members of the lab. The techniques I used were varied, with some that I was familiar with from my previous research experience and others that I learned as part of my internship.
What surprised you about the experiences in Germany? In the lab? Outside of it?
Something that surprised me in the lab was the amount of funding for lab equipment at my university. The lab that I worked in had all their own equipment, where I was used to having communal equipment spaces shared among a faculty at my home university.
Outside of the lab, I think there were a lot of cultural differences that were surprising to me, but this was a valuable part of studying in Germany and learning to understand the culture and appreciate these differences. An example (that is more funny than anything) is the amount of times that I got pulled over by police on my bike. I was not entirely sure of all the biking rules and had accidentally broken them three, maybe four times. Getting pulled over on a bike is something that has never happened to me in Canada!
Did the internship experience help shape your plans for the future or did these remain the same?
This internship did not change my plans for my future, but it helped solidify them and served as a foundation for other opportunities that were related to my field of interest.
Would you recommend that students apply to RISE? If so, why?
I would recommend that students apply to RISE if they are passionate about research and want an enriching landscape to support that, while also getting the benefits of experiencing Germany for all of it’s others wonders outside of the lab.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
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