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Erica Tsai ’16: Summer research in Montpellier through International Internship Program

Uncategorized- - By Erica Tsai

My research took place at CBS (Centre du Biochimie Structurale) in Montpellier, located in the south of France. During my time here, I was part of the Bonnet research group. I discovered this research position through IIP (International Internship Program). My project was in the field of synthetic biology. I was involved in the construction of a synthetic DNA transcriptional regulator for use in bacterial strains.

Erica Tsai’s research lab bench

The personality in my lab was absolutely wonderful. Of my many memories, there were moments in which three different conversations were taking place in three different languages simultaneously, a friendly rivalry over whose aluminum ball (made from recycled aluminum foil) weighed more, an events calendar composed of printed pictures of various lab members, and a ceiling-high tower of empty filter tip boxes. After work, we often went out for dinner or drinks, or played some pretty intense games of basketball.

In addition to a beautiful Switzerland trip poster (made by a fellow intern), I took away knowledge of an amazing number of techniques for biology research, as well as a familiarity with the research environment in France. There is a clear separation between work and life; most researchers do not work beyond a standard 9-5, five days a week (if that).

I’ve grown so much as a person, from having to navigate foreign countries without knowledge of the language to chasing down would-be thieves. The latter, though not a great experience, it was definitely an enlightening one! My French has improved (ever so slightly), and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the culture here. I was able to travel on the weekends (to Italy, Spain, Switzerland) and have to say that my time abroad opened my eyes to many different cultures. Each of the places I visited was a wonderful experience.

I strongly recommend spending some time abroad to any student considering the option, whether it is through a summer program like IIP or electing to study abroad for a semester!