By Alayna Callanan ’14
Nine undergraduate students, Kristin Abramo ’15, Kevin Allan ’14, Alexandra Born ’15, Sarah Koniski ’14, Louis Papa ’14, Robert Rietmeijer ’15, Jamie Strampe ’15, Zhongwu Shi ’15, and Qianli Sun ’15, spent up to three months this summer throughout Germany with the DAAD-RISE program. The program allows undergrads to pursue research in the natural sciences and engineering with advanced doctoral students at universities and research institutions within Germany. The students conducted their research individually but many met up for weekend trips and the group convened at the annual RISE conference in Heidelberg.
Allan spent 11 weeks in Langen, Germany at the Paul Ehrlich Institute, continuing prior research on HIV, specifically studying gene therapy and vaccines preventing infection. Allan’s research this summer led him to Dr. Harris Gelbard’s Lab at the University’s Medical Center, where his current work with neuroAIDS is a perfect culmination of his neuroscience studies, lab work, clinical interests, and research in immunology and virology. He’s hoping these experiences will help him prepare for Medical School. Allan also is currently enrolled in a German language course, and has hopes to return to Germany through the DAAD-RISE Professional Program.
Many students, like Allan, wish to study abroad but struggle to make the time for an entire semester abroad. As an active member on campus with a busy semester, a summer in Germany was perfect opportunity to gain an international perspective. He was able to visit many European cities including Paris, Munich, Berlin, and Amsterdam using the convenient EuroRail during his busy program. Cultural differences ranged from day to day experiences like language barriers between colleagues in the laboratory—Allan used a mix of German, English and even drawing for communication—to other experiences like a German waiter being shocked at an American male not finishing his French fries at a meal. Everywhere we travel we are faced with cultural differences as well as being representatives for our country.
Other differences Allan noticed were how the German researchers he worked with were more detail oriented, rather than focusing on the process within their research. It may have been largely in part to working at a public institution, but Allan found that the Paul Ehrlich Institute had very strict regulations, though their facilities are top-of-the-line.
Robert Rietmeijer agreed. “There is a joke that a German scientist does not begin an experiment until he has considered as many reasons to conduct it as to not conduct it,” he said.
The rigidness of experiments in Germany was not a damper for students though; Allan, Rietmeijer, and Alexandra Born were highly impressed with the research facilities. A joint human MRI-PET machine, one of just three in the world, resides at the Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research Institute at the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf, where Born studied.
The students had some unconventional benefits from their time abroad. “I was able to overcome was my own speech impediment: I talk way too quickly,” said Born, who was forced to speak slowly so Germans and other non-native English speakers could understand her. Her family and friends noticed a difference in the pace of her speech upon her return to the States. She gained both confidence and independence during the program and is more certain in her post graduate plans to pursue pharmaceuticals.
Louis Papa, a Rochester native, feels he will be more confident going to graduate school next fall because this program forced him to adjust to a brand new environment in the city of Jena, devoid of familiar faces. Rietmeijer experienced some culture shock upon arrival but enjoyed the challenges and overall experience so much that he is considering post-doctoral studies or beginning a start-up company in Germany.