Practical Research Experience Program at TUM (TUM PREP)
"I really felt like challenging myself"
You arrived in Munich on July 02, so you've already been here over a month. How do you like it so far?
I like it very much. At first I was a little worried that Munich would be too quiet compared to London and that there wouldn't be enough to do. But that's turned out not to be true at all. After I go to the university I like to walk in the Englischer Garten or run along the Isar.
Do you have a favorite spot in Munich?
That would probably by the permanent wave in the Eisbach with all the surfers. I think that's really cool. And I also enjoy the university quarter in Maxvorstadt, where there are plenty of nice shops and cafés.
So you've already become a real Munich fan. What were your first days in the city like?
I was assigned a "buddy" by the TUM PREP program. She picked me up at the airport and brought me to my dormitory. It was a great help to have somebody with me who was familiar with the city. She also showed me around the neighborhood, for example where the nearest supermarket is. One thing that really shocked me: Everything is closed on Sundays here! I arrived in Munich on a Saturday and had to go shopping on the same day so that I'd have some food to eat.
Professors, academic staff and doctoral candidates still have until August 21 to submit short descriptions of their project ideas for consideration as part of the 2023 TUM PREP program: TUM PREP Project submission
Sounds like a little stress. And how was it coming in to TUM for the first time?
Well, the first three days at the university felt like an entire week. There was so much to do: First there was a tour of the campus, then we played some games to get to know one another. In the evening there was a reception in the university's roof garden where we met our supervisors. Then on the second day there was a tour of the city and in the evening we went to the Tollwood festival. It was good to be able to really arrive before getting down to work.
What research project are you working in and what are your assignments like?
My direct supervisor and contact person is Barbara Lechner, who holds the professorship for Functional Nanomaterials. Her research group investigates the dynamic restructuring of functional nanomaterials under realistic conditions. I'll try to explain it in more simple terms: Professor Lechner's work focuses on using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to make high-resolution images of the individual atoms on a given surface.
How exactly is the STM used?
The research group concentrates on applying the STM to heterogeneous catalysts, composed of tiny metal clusters which are then deposited on an oxide support surface. Our objective is to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to the stability and activitiy of metal clusters, by for example determining the optimum pressure and temperature conditions. And I do my best to make a useful contribution to all this.
That's highly complex science. How much can a sixth-semester student contribute to a process like that?
The work I do on any given day changes constantly. But usually it involves preparing the STM and the respective samples. This means I put the microscope's probe in the right position or cool the equipment with liquid nitrogen. Then I perform measurements and analyze the results using data analysis software. And of course I'm learning a lot about the general way in which the STM works, as well as about setting up and maintaining the equipment. This is actually highly complex, since the machines operate in an ultra-high vacuum.
What made you decide to spend your summer vacation in a university laboratory?
My university offers several programs for students in which we travel abroad during our third year. I found out about the TUM PREP program, in part also because I spent my school years in Luxembourg and as a result I had a certain connection to Germany. So I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to spend two months in Munich and polish up my German.
And your academic motivation?
A large portion of my studies has been overshadowed by the Corona pandemic, so I had only very rarely been in the laboratory. That's why it was so important to me to use the summer to have a closer look at practical work in a research lab. On top of that: I really felt like challenging myself by getting to know another academic system. And the fact that TUM has such a good reputation made my decision even easier.
Could you imagine working abroad in the future? Maybe even in Germany?
Yes, I think I could. Life in London is much more fast-paced. People there literally work around the clock. It's fairly normal to receive e-mails from someone at midnight. I've noticed that the work-life balance in Germany is much better. The people here take time for themselves on the weekends, they do things together with their friends or their families. And then they don't go back to work until Monday. Working hours are more structured.
Are there other things you noticed which are different here?
Talking to other students I've noticed that the nature of university studies is apparently a little different. At TUM the year's classes are often very large in the beginning and then shrink towards the end of the degree program because people quit in the meantime. And it sounds like there's a lot more independent studying than is the case in England. In the United Kingdom the student gets help when it comes to staying in the program and not dropping out – but on the other hand the obstacles involved in getting admitted to a university in the first place are much more substantial there. I feel that being able to experience these different systems up close and in person is highly enriching.
You're a foreign student who has to settle in to completely unfamiliar work methods and team structures for two months. Why are you still so satisfied?
Well, one big reason – and this might sound a little odd – is that our team eats lunch together every day. My colleagues have made me feel very welcome and have integrated me in the group as a matter of course. I think that's really great, because I've felt like a full-fledged member of the group from the very beginning.
- Moving comes naturally for Nereida Abad-Yang, age 21. Born in Ivory Coast, she lived in Tunisia for two years before moving to Luxembourg at the age of four. She attended primary school and earned her Baccalaureate there, and in the meantime spent two years in South Africa.
- She could imagine working for example in medicinal chemistry in the future.
- This year students from Imperial College London are taking part in the TUM PREP program for the first time. In the past, participants only came from North America.
- Practical Research Experience Program (TUM PREP)