After applying for research internships for months, the rejection emails were starting to stack up, and I’d resigned myself to spending another summer binging a JRPG or two and watching the grass in my garden grow. But at the last minute, my name had the fortune of being dredged out of the depths of a waiting list, and so over August, I had the pleasure of participating in the MCQST Summer Bachelor Program!
The program began with an introductory week in Oberammergau, a small town near some beautiful mountains, during which I had the pleasure of meeting my fellow participants from all around the world. We were a very diverse cohort, and the first week was a great way to get to know everyone, going on hikes in the area together and so on. Living out of college in my first year of uni made me have to really try hard to make connections, so this was the first time in a long while that I had the chance to meet new people in a way that felt “organic”. It was great to be in an environment where everyone was looking to make new friends.
After the one-week grace period, we returned to Munich and began working on our projects. I felt like I was thrust straight into the deep end- but in a good way. I spoke a little with a professor in my group who suggested I do a project based on a previous paper, I met my project supervisor, a PhD student, and then I was free to go nuts.
The independence ended up being one of my favourite aspects of the whole experience in the end, though- I felt like I got to experience what doing a PhD might be like, if just for 3 weeks. First I looked over the paper and asked my supervisor questions about it (that stuff isn’t light reading!) After the initial info-gathering stage, the rest of the days I spent programming in a Python library called Qiskit, designing quantum circuits which were simulated on a classical computer (AKA my laptop.) It all felt pretty intense, trying to simulate a many-body quantum system given certain parameters about the initial state of the system. Getting my head around the project, and various quantum physics lectures we were given was tough- I was the only person on the program who was fresh out of first year. Quantum physics is pretty heavy stuff when you know all the background information, let alone when you’re frantically trying to get your head around what the hell spin or a Hamiltonian is. I’m looking forward to actually getting that stuff in a year or two- having a bit of a taster is nice I suppose.
In between time spent working on the project, there was plenty of time to explore Munich and continue getting to know people on the program. This is what really made the month! Getting to know so many people who shared an interest in Physics was very rewarding, and living in the student accommodation in Studentenstadt gave me the uni vibes I felt I missed out on for so long living out of college this past year (dirty shared kitchen and all!) There were plenty of museums to visit, beautiful scenery to see on more hikes- plus karaoke!
At the end I had the chance to present my findings in a presentation. I’d psyched myself up for it all month, so I wasn’t really that nervous, but I still found it surprising at how hard it was to describe what you’d been doing for the past month when so many eyes are looking at you. Getting to talk about scientific work I did was fun, and a good skill to build. I got to talk to a few people about what I did afterwards in a poster session, which really did make me feel like I’d just finished the world’s shortest PhD.
The whole thing was a super-memorable experience- definitely a highlight of the past year for me, from the practical experience of doing a project to the incredible people I met. Sending off so many applications to so many different programs felt like a waste of time after being turned down by so many of them, but I’m glad I stuck with it. The only downside is that I’m going to be hard-pressed to find something as good for next summer.