From June to December of 2012, I worked as a research intern at imec, an internationally recognized research laboratory in Leuven, Belgium. I came to Leuven as a part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Research Program along with a small group of exceptional undergraduate researchers from around the nation. I spent those 7 months working with Danielle Rand, a researcher in the Bioelectronic Systems department. Dr. Rand and I designed a method to quickly evaluate a wide variety of biomaterials for a number of projects and technologies being developed at imec. We studied the process of non-specific protein adsorption to the surfaces of materials implanted into the body, and designed an assay to distinguish between coatings based on their ability to prevent this adsorption of proteins. My work will be used in three larger projects currently in progress at imec: implantable neural prostheses, silicon biosensors, and CMOS microfluidics.
Imec was an exciting and intellectually stimulating place to work. There were scientists and students from universities big and small, technology companies local and global, and staff scientists from every corner of the world. Although it is undeniably true that English is the language of science – and the predominant language at imec – it greatly enhanced my communication skills just to be around such a diverse group of people. I gave bi-weekly presentations to both my project group and our collaborators from JSR, a global materials, polymer, and microelectronics company based in Japan. I received invaluable guidance and practice in the crucial skill of scientific communication. In addition, I also authored a scientific poster and presented it at an HHMI conference in Grenoble, France.
In addition to the invaluable training in professional communication, traveling around Europe and engaging with different cultures was a life-changing experience in and of itself. Whether is was the Olympics in London, the Vatican in Rome, or the restaurants and classrooms of Leuven, I always met fascinating people and learned something new about the world. As someone who is naturally quiet and reserved, it was a jolt of confidence learning that I could have engaging conversation with anyone I met, whether they were Belgian chocolatiers, Iranian college students, Japanese businessmen, or strangers on the streets from Norway to Italy.
I have already taken these lessons to heart, presenting on my research and cultural experiences to my laboratory group and to younger students in the LA-STEM scholarship program. I have also written a feature article for the LSU Academic Programs Abroad website. I will use the skills I learned at imec to create concise and informative presentations and become an engaging and personal speaker.