A semester abroad had been on my to-do list ever since I entered Princeton. Scotland was a clear choice for me after consuming much of its familiar yet foreign culture, from Robert Burns to Trainspotting. I decided upon the University of Edinburgh due to its world class academics and its location at the heart of a historic city.
It is important to note that institutions around the world can have very different academic systems compared to what we’re used to at Princeton. At Edinburgh, I take Chemistry 3 and British History 1. The curriculum here is different in that all chemistry majors take essentially the same classes at the same time. Chemistry 3 is listed as two courses but is actually divided into multiple modules, each covering a different subject and taught by a different professor. Topics include statistical thermodynamics, molecular spectroscopy, and targeted organic synthesis. Perhaps the biggest difference to get used to is the fact that the only graded assessment is the final exam. I’ve found that classes are comparable to Princeton in terms of rigor and that, fortunately, professors are just as approachable.
For my junior independent work, I perform research in the lab of Prof. Dominic Campopiano. Having had positive experiences with Princeton study abroad students before, he was more than willing to host another at his lab. My research involves studying the biocatalytic possibilities of the bacterial enzyme BioA for transamination reactions. The ultimate goal of the project is to understand the basis of the enzyme’s substrate selectivity and eventually engineer it to use a cheaper substrate and to catalyze more efficiently. Much of the work consists of setting up reactions under various conditions and using UV-vis spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to check for any indication that a reaction is taking place.
Of course, learning while abroad doesn’t only take place in the lab and lecture hall. There is much history and beauty to absorb in Edinburgh itself, my favorite being a windy climb up Arthur’s Seat for a panoramic view of the city. I’ve also taken trips further north to Loch Ness and Balmoral Castle, as well as south to Lake Windermere in England, with excursions to mainland Europe forthcoming.
As students and scientists, academic work abroad provides us an education that cannot be found in textbooks or research articles. As science increasingly becomes an endeavor of international cooperation, I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned by seeing and experience firsthand how things are done outside the orange bubble.