A summer of research in Switzerland | SciTech Summer series


By Vilhelmiina Haavisto, SciTech Editor

I was fortunate enough to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Programme (SURP) at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in Switzerland this past summer. Without exaggeration, it was one of the best summers of my life. I got to work on a research project in a microbiology lab and met so many interesting, fantastic people.

One of the absolute highlights of the programme was meeting university students who are also interested in life sciences research. There were 15 of us on the SURP programme, selected from over 200 applicants. The group was highly international, with people from countries including Bulgaria, India and the United States, to name just a few. We were housed together with participants of a similar programme at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), which meant even more international friends! Some of my fondest memories are from evenings spent just hanging out in our flats, watching movies or cooking together.

The UNIL campus metro stop, part of my daily commute. Epigram / Vilhelmiina Haavisto

I met my lab supervisors on the first day of the programme. They introduced me to the rest of the group over lunch, showed me around the lab and explained their plans for my project, which involved looking at the coexistence of bacterial strains isolated from the honeybee gut. I was given the opportunity to use many different techniques and pieces of equipment that I had never used before, which was an exciting learning experience. I also attended weekly lab meetings, where I got to hear about what other members of the group were working on.

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We also had the opportunity for lab visits every Friday afternoon. This meant that you would either visit another SURP participant’s lab, where they gave you a tour, or you would give a tour yourself. These gave us an opportunity to get a broader picture of the research going on at UNIL, and to practice explaining our work in preparation for the poster session at the end of the programme.

Yours truly working away at her bacterial DNA extraction. Epigram / Vilhelmiina Haavisto

Though lab work took up most of our time during the week, the weekends were entirely free. My friends and I used some of them to travel around Switzerland – the stipend awarded to participants by the SURP was generous, and more than enough to cover budget train tickets. Other weekends were spent by the lake or on trips closer to Lausanne. One scorching hot Saturday, we rented a pedal-boat with a slide for an hour on the lake – would definitely recommend.

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The programme also organised joint UNIL-EPFL activities, such as a hike in the on the first weekend and a trip to CERN in Geneva. These were fantastic opportunities to get to know everyone. The hike took us to Lac des Chavonnes, where a few brave souls took a dip. Afterwards, we were treated to a fondue dinner as we watched Switzerland’s golden boy Roger Federer lose out to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final on the restaurant’s TV.

Lac des Chavonnes Epigram / Vilhelmiina Haavisto

The main reason I applied to the SURP was that I wanted to get more hands-on research experience. I figured that it would help me decide whether I would want to pursue research as a career – as it turns out, I do! A bonus feature of the programme is that participants are given a stipend for food and other living expenses, accommodation and public transportation within Lausanne are paid for, and travel to and from Lausanne is also reimbursed. I cannot recommend the SURP highly enough to those interested in life sciences research.

Featured image: Epigram / Vilhelmiina Haavisto

Applications for the SURP 2020 at UNIL are open now!