Katie Sawvell, Erasmus + internship at Institute of Genetics and Development (IGDR)

Katie has spent an Erasmus + internship at Université de Rennes 1's IGDR, the Institute of Genetics and Development of Rennes (fall semester 2018)

Katie and her research team at Université de Rennes 1
  1. Katie's research experience : profitable and challenging
  2. Everyday life in Rennes : self-improvement and immersion in a foreign culture
  3. A fruitful partnership leading to STEM-IRSEP and Erasmus + ICM (International Credit Mobility) grants

Katie's research experience : profitable and challenging

During her internship, Katie worked directly with Thierry Madigou (PhD, IGDR) and Maude Bizot (lab technician), and Gilles Salbert (PhD, Life science department), who was her team leader. Her overall experience at Université de Rennes 1 has led her to feel confident about her future career:
Not only was I offered the chance to return to Rennes to complete a Masters or a PhD with funding, but my proven capacity to relocate and adapt encourages me to seek opportunities and apply for positions all over the country and even internationally
Katie in her research lab at Université de Rennes 1

 

I worked daily with Thierry and Maud, and had access to Dr. Salbert every day as well. In addition, Dr. Salbert met with me and my direct supervisors multiple times during my internship to discuss my results and adjust protocols, etc.

Although I already had some experience with many of the methods and machines used in the lab, there was no shortage of support and help from my supervisors and everyone else in the lab. They were incredibly patient and helpful which I believe allowed me to become autonomous in the lab more rapidly.

I was able to apply concepts and techniques I had learned in lectures and labs over the past 3 years. However, this project required a very in depth understanding of the human genome. Furthermore, the protocols used needed to be constantly adapted in the face of discouraging results which challenged me to think more critically about procedures used and allowed me to adjust my techniques accordingly. Therefore, I would say that the project was both relevant and challenging for my educational background.

The educational aspect of my internship and semester in Rennes left me more prepared for a future career in science. The complexity of my project required me to study something very specific in depth. I improved my capacity to read and understand complicated publications and I learned to use these publications to fuel and improve my own experiments.

I gained valuable experience writing scientific reports and received priceless advice and mentorship from accredited, published scientists. I learned a lot from the advice given by my mentors, but also through trial and error. I was extremely independent and learned to better manage scientific experiments, especially in terms of organization and consistency. I was able to not only learn new skills in the lab, but had to perfect other skills as well.

The experience made me more confident in my ability to work in research following graduation, and makes me a more competitive applicant for jobs and graduate programs. Furthermore, I believe this experience has expanded my opportunities for the future; not only was I offered the chance to return to Rennes to complete a Masters or a PhD with funding, but my proven capacity to relocate and adapt encourages me to seek opportunities and apply for positions all over the country and even internationally

 

Everyday life in Rennes : self-improvement and immersion in a foreign culture

"My team included me in team-building events, picnics, afternoon activities, etc. Furthermore, Rennes is a city rich with activities specifically for students and the university does a great job of informing students of upcoming events. In addition, UR1 organizes many events specifically for international students [...]

Most of these events take place during the semester. In fact, the city appears much emptier in the summer months. During my first part of the internship, between May and July, the main source of information about local events came from my research team. Therefore, students completing only a summer internship will need to seek these events themselves and may find that there is not as much going on in the city during this period."
 

Sainte Anne Square - © Destination Rennes, Franck Hamon

 

" The most challenging aspect was definitely the language barrier. Even though I had some experience in French, I found myself understanding very little and struggling to express myself a lot. Of course, this improved over time and now my comprehension of the French language is something I am extremely proud of. However, at first, this language barrier caused a lot of anxiety and may discourage students from trying new things, or even leaving their rooms. I was lucky enough to have another student with me who spoke fluent French; he was able to help me with opening a bank account, getting cell phone service, applying for a bus pass, etc., but without his help, it would have been a lot harder to do these things [...]

The social and personal aspect of my internship allowed me to expand my awareness and improve myself. My comprehension of the French language increased rapidly and gave me a plethora of new resources, ideas, and ways of expressing myself. As an American, the importance of learning a new language was never stressed to me, but I feel like this is where I have gained the most from my internship. The time I spent with French students and French families gave me insight into a culture which I have familial ties to and allowed me to see my own culture in a new light. As an individual, I have been inspired to continue exploring new cultures and learning more languages. In addition, adapting to a completely new environment also required me to face new challenges daily, overcome my anxiety of making mistakes, and taught me to be comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

The challenges I faced were difficult, I often felt embarrassed and ignorant, but in the end, the rewards far outweighed the discomfort and I learned to see this discomfort as a necessary step to self-improvement. Additionally, I believe such a drastic change in environment and routine can be very helpful in encouraging individuals to look more closely at their life and to more readily make changes or create new habits."

Learning French in Rennes
Learning French before coming to Rennes

Getting around Rennes

The bus/metro system was extremely easy to use and I had no trouble getting around the city. I highly suggest buying a Korrigo Card and loading it for the entirety of the internship (rather than having to re-load it at the beginning of each month).
(More information about Getting around Rennes on the International Student Guide of CMI, or on the Tourism Office website)

 

A fruitful partnership leading to STEM-IRSEP and Erasmus + ICM (International Credit Mobility) grants

In order to carry out her Internship at Université de Rennes 1, Katie was awarded an Erasmus + grant, as well as a scholarship from the Transatlantic Friendship and Mobility Initiative supported by the French Embassy in the US, as part of the STEM International Research and Scholarly Exchange Program (STEM-IRSEP),  a programme allowing STEM majors of Northern Kentucky University to study abroad.
Katie was one the first students to take advantage of this new funding, which is the result of a fruitful partnership between NKU and Université de Rennes 1:

Dr Isabelle Lagadic

Our French partners selected us due to our five-year collaboration in the exchange of STEM students to conduct research internships or attend classes

said Dr. Isabelle Lagadic, associate professor of Chemistry and STEM-IRSEP coordinator.

Katie graduated from NKU in May 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with minors in Chemistry and Neuroscience. She now works in a prominent research lab within the Brain Tumor Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.