Each summer, EPFL’s School of Life Sciences welcomes students from all over the world to participate in hands-on research projects and career-advancing workshops, in a unique, two-month science experience known as the Summer Research Program.
Founded in 2006 by Professor Hilal Lashuel, the Summer Research Program (SRP) has so far hosted over 300 students. To be eligible, students must be from the top of their class, showing great motivation and potential for future research-oriented careers. The selection process is carried out by a dedicated committee of eight Life Science Professors representing the four institutes.
“Joining the SRP, I am assigned to the lab of Gregoire Courtine,” says Achilleas Laskaratos who is visiting from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. “It’s a friendly and vibrant environment, where I carry out intensive research on spinal cord injury having access to cutting-edge equipment.”
In addition to the support from School of Life Sciences Institutes and Teaching Faculty, the Program also receives support from a number of outside sponsors, including the ISREC Foundation, the McCall MacBain Foundation, ThinkSwiss, Novartis, and Baltisches Haus UAB (through the Mstislav Rostropovich Charity and Support Foundation).
All of the institutes of the School of Life Sciences participate in the SRP, making it a truly inter-disciplinary enterprise. By providing the students with “lab-immersion”, the SRP aims to help them gain hands-on experience in research, put classroom learning into practice, improve critical thinking, and prepare them to become independent researchers in the future.
“The SRP Program is amazing,” says Liza Kozlova who is visiting the lab of Philippe Renaud from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “I am learning a lot from the wonderful and brilliant people in my lab and working on a very interesting project; that could have been enough to make it a great time, but don’t think it stops there. I have also never been a part of such a great group.”
During their stay, the students participate in weekly workshops given by researchers from EPFL. The workshops aim to equip the students with necessary tools for pursuing a future career in science, so they cover multiple topics like presentation skills, grad-school preparation and even career orientation in science.
This year, the SRP includes 25 students, selected from over 600 applicants. The students are provided with housing around Lausanne, and are offered some financial support. The SRP usually runs from the beginning of July to the end of August, when each student presents a poster at the Closing Symposium of the results they obtained from their individual research project.
“I feel immense pride in witnessing the impact of such a program on these students,” says Professor Carl Petersen, the SRP’s Director. “Not only do they immerse fully into a top research lab but they also participate actively in workshops and seminars on themes that sharpen their ability to succeed in a research career. A vast majority of SRP alumni have found that their summer experience with us was pivotal in choosing their career path.”
But it’s not only work. There is a significant social component to the SRP, which adds its own value to the overall experience. It is perhaps not surprising that almost a fifth of SRP participant return to EPFL to pursue their studies in various capacities (Master, PhD etc).
“The social part of the SRP is unique,” says Laskaratos. “We are twenty-five strongly motivated, talented, enthusiastic students from all around the world, living together. We play sports, hang out in Lausanne, organize BBQs, swim in Lake Geneva, and have horizon-widening conversations every day. The first week of the program has already been a priceless experience!”
“We all come from very different backgrounds,” adds Kozlova. “But somehow, we can invariably understand each other and find so much to talk about, from human rights and spicy food, to problems of psychology. And as if things weren’t already perfect, we also live in a city where mountains are everywhere you look and people are ridiculously nice. To sum it all up, I am really, really grateful to EPFL for this summer.”