Alumni Spotlight: EuroScholars Research Abroad

ISA is proud to be the only North American recruiting and admissions partner for the EuroScholars program, which allows students to participate in ongoing research projects as an undergraduate. Students can research what projects are available and find something related to their interests, not only in traditional scientific research but also in many other disciplines. We chatted with Brenna K., a EuroScholars alumna, to hear why she enjoyed her semester conducting research and why she believes it was a strong move for her career.

Brenna on a hike to the summit of Faulhorn in the Bernese Alps.

Brenna, tell us a little about yourself! Where do you go to school, and what are you interested in?

Hello, ISA Today readers! My name is Brenna, and I’m a senior at the University of Kentucky (UK) studying biochemistry and French. I’m currently working as an ISA Global Ambassador on campus, processing a collection of nineteenth-century medical papers for the UK Special Collections Research Center, and completing the medical school application process. Like many ISA students, I have a wide variety of interests and often find myself trying to pursue all of them!

When were you a EuroScholar, and what project were you a part of? 

I spent the Fall 2017 semester conducting research in Geneva, Switzerland through the EuroScholars program. I worked in a laboratory within the University of Geneva College of Medicine’s Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, where I investigated the role of endoplasmic reticulum stress on the production of steroids in the placenta.

A pedestrian street in Geneva’s Carouge neighborhood.

How did you choose your research project? What criteria did you consider?

I understood early in my language-learning process that becoming fluent in French would require extended immersion in a francophone country. I also recognized that conducting biochemically-oriented research would play a crucial role in developing the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed as a student of biochemistry and as a physician. The experience offered by my research project aligned perfectly with both of my most prominent academic interests.

Your project was facilitated in French. Was this intimidating at first, and do you feel you had enough support to learn and improve your language skills? 

From the outset, I knew that I had to prioritize communicating in French. Most American foreign language learners speaking with a native speaker of the language have been asked, “Do you want to speak English?” It’s all too easy to accept the offer, so I worked with my supervisors to ensure that my experience would mirror their ordinary francophone research environment as closely as possible.

Before EuroScholars, I had never been the only native anglophone nor the only non-native francophone in a work environment. Learning to accept that I would make language errors and to ask for corrections was a major component of my experience, and I was grateful to have supervisors who supported my language endeavors!

Did your project help you decide what you want to do after you graduate, or did you change your plans after your experience? 

My project certainly reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in medicine, and it led me to explore other women’s health research projects. I had the opportunity to work on a second gynecological project this past summer, and the combination of my EuroScholars and summer projects have piqued my interest in specializing in gynecology and obstetrics as a physician.

Brenna at the gynecology department gathering for the Fête de l’escalade, a Genevan holiday celebrating a 17th-century military victory. According to legend, a Genevan woman poured a cauldron of boiling soup from her window onto invading troops to delay their advance, and her quick thinking is commemorated by the breaking of a chocolate cauldron by the youngest and oldest attendees of any Escalade event.

Why did you choose a EuroScholars program instead of a traditional semester abroad?

I learned about EuroScholars through an upperclassman at UK before I even began college, and I was immediately drawn by the idea of taking on a scientific research project and improving my French skills in the same semester. As a double major in Biochemistry and French, I was thrilled by the very existence of a program that satisfied all of my education abroad criteria, so I was sold on EuroScholars from the very beginning!

The MidStay Program is a big part of the EuroScholars experience. What is it, and what was it like for you?

During MidStay, EuroScholars students conducting research at six different European research universities have the opportunity to meet and present their work. MidStay is hosted by a different university each semester, and the program was held at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany last fall. Learning about the projects of other EuroScholars, comparing experiences with other American and Canadian students, and exploring Munich with new friends were major highlights of my EuroScholars experience.

Brenna and other EuroScholars got to visit BMW World in Munich during MidStay.

What would you say to students who are intimidated by getting involved in this high-level, semester-long research? 

Before working on my EuroScholars project, the concept of academic research was incredibly vague to me, and I had little idea of how the scientific method was used in a lab on a daily basis. In Geneva, I largely found supervisors who were patient and willing to explain techniques and concepts. Many European scientists are unaccustomed to overseeing undergraduates in the lab, so taking the initiative to ask questions and offer assistance can greatly improve the quality of a EuroScholars experience!

Anything last advice you’d like to share for someone on the fence about EuroScholars?

EuroScholars was an indispensable component of my undergraduate experience. My semester in Geneva grew my confidence, independence, and practical skills to degrees that I could not have attained at UK alone. I highly value my EuroScholars experience and would encourage any student interested in academic research in any discipline to learn more about the program!

Brenna on a day trip to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn.

If you’re looking for a program to give you both an academic and professional edge like Brenna talked about, be sure to consider a semester researching with EuroScholars.

If you want more information about the program, fill out the form below and we’ll reach out to you!

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