STEP Reflection

Name: Caroline Watt

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My STEP project was to work on a research project at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe Germany through DAAD RISE program. I also attended a two week language course my first two weeks in Germany. My research project was to synthesizing and characterizing nanoparticles that could be used for biomedical applications

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

I would say this summer led to 2 major changes in way I view the world and my future. One is that my career goals have changed, and another is I have realized how big, diverse, and exciting this world is and I should not limit myself to the United States for travel, work, or culture.

Living and working in a different country for 3 months with a different culture and language that I did not know let to plenty of challenges but so many more rewarding experiences. This summer I worked in a small research lab where I worked under a postdoc and there was only three other people in the lab. My post doc was extremely strict and had very high expectations of me. Since my post doc was so strict it made the office environment extremely tense and no one really spoked to each other. This was a big culture shock coming from Mid-west where we usually say good morning and have the occasionally small talk in the lab. This experience made me realize how important the people that are in your workplace make a job tolerable. I did not mind the actual work I was doing but I realized I did not realize I loved it either and this realization made me decide that I do not want to go to graduate school for a PhD in Organic Chemistry and that I will just get a job for now while I am figuring out what I actually want to do.

Even though I did not love my job this summer, being surrounded by different cultures and learning about the different opportunities for careers in Germany and in other countries in Europe made me realize that I do not need to limit myself to working in the United States for the rest of my life. Something else I realized this summer is how powerful knowing a different language is. I can only speak English and my whole life I thought I did not have to know another language and never cared to try to learn a different language. But most people I met in Europe knew at least 2-3 languages and it is such a powerful skill and opens up to some many more people you can talk to.

 What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

              Working long hours with an extremely strict boss and working in a tense office environment and not enjoying work at all most days and not finding much enjoyment in the research made me realize that pursuing a PhD might not be right for me or at least not a PhD with research focused in Organic Chemistry. Even though my boss was strict, I would get lunch with a couple of my group members throughout the summer and one of them was an exchange PhD student from Taiwan and he was one of the kindest people I have ever met and whenever I was having a rough day with my boss he would believe in me and encourage me to keep going. I also made good friends with people from my group and other groups from Ireland, Germany, and Turkey.

In Karlsruhe, I lived with 11 other students in a dorm on and half of them were Germany and the other were international students. The international students were from: France, Nepal, Romania, and Portugal. It was interesting living in such diverse community with people from different countries because I could hear stories what it is like to grow up in those countries and learn from their culture. Since all of my roommates knew 2-3 languages, it made me feel guilty that I only knew one and how useful it would have been to know German. There were so many conversations I was left out of because I did not know what they were saying.

I also traveled almost every weekend, and this was extremely transformational because I got to experience so many different cultures. I would do a city tour for a lot of the cities I went to and it was really interesting learning about the history of all of the cities. I mostly traveled with other people in my internship program that I either met in my language course or that were in the same city as me. I also did a few weekend trips alone. This trips really made me have to learn how to be confident because I would be walking around a city completely alone and would have make friends with random people either in a tour group or the hostel I stayed at. Traveling alone really force me to enjoy being by myself and to get to know myself.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

This transformation is valuable to my life because before this summer I never really traveled much and never even had a passport before. But this summer I fell in love with traveling and I am going to make a point to travel more and save money in different ways that I have not in the past in order to be able to afford to travel more and look for more opportunities to travel for work abroad. It also was transformational in the sense it made me realize what I do not want to do in the future for a job. I need to figure out what I actually want to do for the rest of my life but I know that traveling will always be a priority for me looking forward.