Summer in the Lab, a program run by EPFL’s Education Outreach Department, gives Bachelor’s students an opportunity to apply the theory they acquired in class, deepen their understanding of specific subjects and acquire or improve transferable skills. Students spend eight weeks conducting research in an EPFL lab under the guidance of a supervisor. Challenging the students in this way can really make a difference. “It’s not easy for students to grasp the full extent of what a research project involves,” says Ambrogio Fasoli, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Research. “So the more first-hand experience they can get, especially early on in their studies, the better. This will also help instill in them the approach we foster at EPFL: putting science and engineering to work for the benefit of our community.”
The 34 students who participated in this first edition of the research internship program were selected out of nearly 170 applicants. Through the program, they were able to explore their budding interest in research, see the different kinds of challenges involved, and better understand what careers in research and academia actually entail. Students also got to work directly with EPFL scientists and engineers at the cutting edge of their fields. The projects covered the following topics: microsystems, the human genome, algebraic topology, plasma physics and machine learning.
Learning both technical and transferable skills
Summer in the Lab also provided a unique opportunity for the students to follow a series of workshops led by experts to help students develop transferable skills. These skills – such as leadership and scientific communications – are essential for careers in research, as they allow people to work effectively on projects with different partners, better understand their own personality traits and those of others, work as a team towards a common goal, and tailor their message to different circumstances.
It is incredible what the students were able to achieve in just two months. We are very proud of them, and we hope this edition was the first in what will be a long series of Summers in the Lab.
The scientific communication skills were taught through exercises and role-playing games, where students learned the fundamentals of technical writing and public speaking. Here, the objective was to show students how they can adapt their research presentations to different kinds of audiences, from laymen to specific experts. And it was a perfect warm-up for the presentations they gave to the EPFL community at the closing ceremony.
A successful first edition
This first edition of the Summer in the Lab was supported by the Fondation du Domaine de la Villette and took place on Thursday, 29 September. It culminated in a ceremony at which a number of students were given three minutes to describe their projects.
The format was similar to that of My Thesis in 180 Seconds, a competition at which participants present their research findings in a way the general public can understand aimed at explaining research appropriately to a non-specific audience. Others displayed their work in poster presentations. Those attending the ceremony lauded the participants’ hard work and excellent results. “It is incredible what the students were able to achieve in just two months,” says Kathryn Hess Bellwald, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Outreach. “We are very proud of them, and we hope this edition was the first in what will be a long series of Summers in the Lab.” Plans are already under way to run the program again next year.
The students themselves were really pleased with the experience and everything they learned. “It showed us all the different aspects of research and the various career options available,” says Farah Briki, shortly after giving her presentation. “It also taught us some of the skills that will be essential in our careers, like giving research presentations and communicating about our research more broadly – what it entails – to the general public.” Applications for the 2023 edition of Summer in the Lab are now open and must be received by 30 November 2022.