RISE Worldwide: alumni tips regarding a research internship

  • 2021-08-10
  • Christina Pfänder
  • Comment
two researchers in the greenhouse
Gaining practical experience abroad: a discussion between DAAD Alumni. © Getty Images/SDI Productions

Making new contacts, getting to know new occupational fields and exploring opportunities: there are numerous reasons for gaining initial work experience during your studies. The DAAD’s RISE Worldwide Programme funds research internships undertaken by German natural science, life science and engineering students, even if these have to take place online due to the current corona pandemic. Listen in to a discussion between two mathematics students, RISE alumna Maresa Schröder and scholarship holder Niclas Popp. 

Niclas Popp: I had actually planned my internship for summer 2020. I was just about to graduate and had already been awarded my via the  so I planned to conduct research at the University of Edinburgh for my bachelor thesis on biomathematics. But then along came the coronavirus and I couldn’t fly to Scotland. Now I’m completing my internship purely online. That is of course a pity. As a maths student, however, I am mainly concerned with the question of how the internship will benefit my career prospects. This is also possible online. Other practical aspects are that I didn’t have to find accommodation or deal with the UK's entry requirements. I’m also able to continue working as a tutor at the Technical University of Munich alongside my internship.

Maresa Schröder:  I was able to personally attend my internship in Wales. My conversations with international colleagues from Pakistan, Iran and Turkey were especially important to me. They taught me a lot, including about other cultures and ways of life. We would all go to the pub in the evenings or spend our lunchtime together – that made us bond as a team. We still remain in contact with one another. Our common kitchen in the halls of residence was the scene for many discussions, including with Welsh students from whom I heard a wide variety of opinions on Brexit. People from Wales have a unique mentality, which is simply not comparable with the English mind set. That surprised me.

Niclas Popp: That interchange, in particular the small talk during our common breaks, is unfortunately all too infrequent in my online internship. I do however gain many insights into biomathematics, especially gene expression. This deals with how genetic information is expressed or affects a phenotype as the final effect. The team in Edinburgh is getting close to gene regulation using mathematical models. The challenge so far is that it hasn’t been possible to solve numerous equations. I really wanted to learn about this field of mathematics, as it’s completely new to me.

Maresa Schröder: That sounds interesting. I also used my time in Wales to become familiarised and to collaborate on an app relating to neurological disorders. The project was designed to be transdisciplinary and was affiliated to the Institute of Computer Science. My job there was in the field of data science: I conducted time series analyses of sensor data sent by a smartphone or smartwatch when a patient is walking. People who have Parkinson's disease, for example, or those who have suffered a stroke, have a different stride pattern than healthy people. A doctor can use the app to detect this difference or to identify whether medications are continuing to have a positive effect. This is especially practical for people who live in rural areas. We were in contact with researchers and doctoral candidates from various disciplines regarding improvements to the application.

Niclas Popp: I initially read up on my own and investigated existing models and the latest publications. I’m currently performing my own calculations to find an approximate solution. This is really exciting for me, because my studies have not yet taught me anything about stochastic differential equations, which combine common differential equations with probability theory. I can organise my work with flexibility. Only once a week is there a fixed appointment where we discuss our latest findings in a video conference with the research group. I spontaneously share my ideas and calculations with the doctoral candidates and my professor – via email, messenger or video calls.

Maresa Schröder: My experience was similar. I was free to schedule my daily activities and turn to the team members if I had any questions or problems. We only had a strict timetable on individual days where tests with patients were planned. We have to travel to lots of different regions, so I had the opportunity to see a large part of the country during our car journeys. I was also allowed to take part in a training course and a multi-day conference dealing with strokes in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. It was fantastic to be away with the team and it was also a nice change to working at a computer.

Niclas Popp: That must have been a great experience. I’d have liked that too. It would also interest me to know how such research is conducted, particularly in the UK. I’m the first in my family to conceive of working as a researcher at a higher education institution – all the others are employed as craftspeople, engineers or in other practical professions. I haven't unfortunately seen much of the research work yet. That’s because I can't just peep over the shoulders of the doctoral students or my professor as they work. This also makes me realise how important personal contact and normal togetherness can be. Even online, though, I’m benefiting a lot from my internship. I’ve learned a lot about this branch of mathematics, which is at the interface with physics: a topic that will continue to engage me during my masters.

Maresa Schröder: New horizons opened up for me back then – including the unique Welsh landscape. Albeit I did have to get used to the rainy weather: 11 degrees Celsius isn’t exactly ideal for a summer excursion. I did nevertheless travel a lot by bicycle or by bus and train, to small towns, to the unique cliffs or even across the border to England. That alone made the trip to Wales worthwhile.

Niclas Popp:  I would also of course like to get to know Scotland and my research group. I can’t currently predict if there will an opportunity for me to do so once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted. I'm going to Sweden for the first time at the beginning of August: I’m attending the  in Stockholm to take the first year of my double master’s in Mathematics and Physics. I’ll then spend my last two semesters at the Technical University of Munich.

Further links

* mandatory field