4. September 2023 | Magazine:

“I can imagine coming back at some point” Scholarship students from the USA visit TU Braunschweig

Students Sarah Winnier and Jen Nguyen from the USA spent an exciting summer at the Technische Universität Braunschweig. As part of their research fellowships, they studied the genome of cacao plants at the Institute of Plant Biotechnology and Bioinformatics. In the interview, they tell us about their impressions and experiences in Braunschweig.

Why did you choose TU Braunschweig as your host university?

Sarah Winnier: I searched the RISE Germany database for a research internship that matched my research interests and found Professor Boas Pucker’s research group. The topic was very similar to my work at the University of Texas at Austin, but the approach was different. That was very appealing to me. Honestly, I didn’t know TU Braunschweig until then, but I am very happy that I decided to do the internship here and received the funding from RISE Germany.

At the Institute of Plant Biology, Jen Nguyen researched the pigmentation of cocoa plants. Photo: Henrike Hoy/TU Braunschweig.

Jen Nguyen: It was very similar for me. I also came across TU Braunschweig online via the project announcement from Professor Pucker’s. Since funding with RISE Germany is only possible for one person per project, I realized the stay through a grant from my home university, the University of San Diego.

What did you work on during your time at the Institute of Plant Biotechnology and Bioinformatics?

Jen Nguyen: We studied cocoa plants and in particular the different pigmentation of two species. Our goal was to find out what exactly causes this different pigmentation.

Sarah Winnier: Exactly. In fact, we were able to identify a gene that may be responsible for this difference. We spent a lot of time on the computer matching genetic information to come to this initial conclusion. I will definitely continue to work on this back home in the U.S..

Was hat Ihnen an Ihrem Praktikum besonders gut gefallen?

RISE scholar Sarah Winnier during her lab research work. Photo: Maria Fernanda Marin Recinos/TU Braunschweig

Sarah Winnier: For me, it was a highlight that I was also able to participate in a course as part of the internship. It was a small course with only six students and we were able to try out many things in the lab. In addition, there was a network meeting for all RISE scholarship holders in the beautiful city of Heidelberg and we met the president of TU Braunschweig, Professor Angela Ittel.

Jen Nguyen: That was also a highlight for me. We talked to Professor Ittel during her “Campus Hour” and also told her some of our ideas on how TU Braunschweig could perhaps become even more attractive for students.

Sarah Winnier: Yes, for example, by offering more student activities not only on the main campus but also on the other campus areas.

Jen Nguyen: And for international students it would be very interesting if there were more summer schools where you can get to know the university. A larger range of courses in English would also be helpful.

Were there also challenges during your time in Braunschweig?

Jen Nguyen: Unfortunately, the enrollment process turned out to be quite difficult. This was mainly due to a problem with the health insurance. After that was taken care of with the help of the International House and I also found accommodation, everything went smoothly.

Sarah Winnier: For me, it was a little difficult to get a room in the student dormitory. Our supervisor, Maria Fernanda Marin Recinos, then helped me a lot because time was running out. But in the end, everything worked out.

Did anything about Germany or TU Braunschweig surprise you?

Sarah Winnier: At TU Braunschweig, I was surprised that the campus is spread all over the city. I didn’t know that from my university in the US. What surprised me about Germany as a whole was that everything is closed on Sundays and that people barbecue so much here. I thought barbecues were more of an American thing.

Jen Nguyen: Yes, that’s true. The quiet Sunday was also strange for me at first, but over time I found it very pleasant because everything is so slowed down. I was pleasantly surprised to see that many people in Germany are so intensively involved with the topic of sustainability. That starts here with waste separation and is also reflected in the fact that people ride their bikes a lot.

Have the expectations you came to Braunschweig with been fulfilled?

Sarah Winnier: Yes, definitely. I learned more than I could have ever hoped for. The work in the lab and especially the friendliness with which everyone welcomed us made the internship a complete success for me. I also really liked the city of Braunschweig with its many parks. I can even imagine coming back at some point.

The two scholarship holders gained a lot of practical research experience during their stay. Photo: Henrike Hoy/TU Braunschweig.

Jen Nguyen: I can only agree with that. I would definitely recommend coming here. For me, working with the cocoa plants was completely new and I learned a lot. I am sure that I will be able to use much of it in my studies. I am very grateful to our supervisors Professor Pucker and Maria Fernanda Marin Recinos for this unforgettable time. I can imagine maybe even doing a master’s degree in Germany.

Do you have any tips for other international students who want to come to TU Braunschweig?

Jen Nguyen: Definitely learn a little German before you arrive!

Sarah Winnier: That’s right. If I could do anything differently, I would also learn more German beforehand. I also used every weekend to travel and saw a lot of great places in Germany. I even ran a half marathon in Füssen – that’s a great memory.

Thank you very much for the interview!