My name is Ana Luiza, I am Brazilian, and I am currently a PhD student at TU Clausthal, in Germany. My research area is mineral processing, but I'll leave this topic for the next blog post. Today I want to inspire you to do something out of your comfort zone, as I did when I applied to attend a Summer School.
If you are European, perhaps you are already familiar with Summer Schools, but if you are from another part of the world, maybe you are hearing this term for the first time, just like me, a few months ago. Things changed when a co-worker commented that she had attended a Summer School last year and it was a great experience.
After talking to her, I decided to get more information about it and I must confess that I found this idea challenging but, at the same time, also exciting! So, at the end of the day, I ended up applying for the TOPSTARS Summer School in Trento, Italy.
After living this experience I am here to share my experience and encourage you to do the same! But first of all,
WHAT IS A SUMMER SCHOOL?
If you search on the Internet for Summer Schools you will find that Summer Schools are short courses offered by universities (mainly in Europe), during the period of summer vacations of students. The courses can be designed for bachelor´s, master´s or PhD students (you earn credit points for your academic performance) and offered in any area of knowledge.
Summer Schools tend to be interdisciplinary courses, which mean that you will meet people who work in the same area as you (you will be able to exchange information on research), and you can also work with people from different backgrounds (an excellent opportunity to expand your network). The TOPSTARS, for example, was a business school, so very different to my background of minerals processing and it was amazing!
Summer Schools aim to attract local and foreign students, that means, you can travel to another country, learn a little more about another culture and visit towns and incredible sceneries, not to mention taste local cuisine. Taking my case as an example: I live in Germany, in a city that is cold during almost the whole year, and I attended a Summer School in Italy, in a city that, besides its beauty, reminded me of the 35-degree heat that is very common in Brazil.
Figure 1: Trento, Italy.
Summer Schools often involve the participation of companies, that means they can put you in contact with people who work at companies of your interest, with the great advantage of having this first contact in a more informal environment than normally would happen. Excellent, no? In the Summer School I attended, for example, there were 6 companies involved and each one presented a challenge they were facing, to be solved by us during the course.
Figure 2. Lecture during the Summer School (Photo by @Francesca.Dusini, 2019).
The course lasted 10 days and sought to develop skills that, combined with our technical expertise, would lead us to propose an innovative solution to the challenges. To serve as a basis for finding solutions, several lectures were held by renowned professors from the host university and partner universities. In addition to the the lectures, we had the support of mentors from different areas (business, technical, innovation) and representatives of companies, both always available to offer their help.
We were totally immersed in the challenge, searching for a solution to a real problem, and I would say that attending a Summer School is just that: immersing yourself in a parallel universe. During the days of the course, it was as if there was nothing more important for any of us than that. Solving those problems had become our "life goal".
Figure 3. Presentation of the solution my team have found (Photo by @Francesca.Dusini, 2019).
However, life is not just about work. As the saying goes: work hard, play hard! So Summer Schools also create moments of fun, so you can relax a little, interact with each other and recharge your batteries. In my experience, for example, we had a very pleasant evening at the edge of a Lake, where we sailed, played volleyball, danced. All of this, of course, was powered by a lot of pizza, after all, we were in Italy! We also had, on another evening, a guided tour of a museum and an amazing dinner in a castle! That makes it easier to engage, don't you think?
Figure 4. Relaxing moments at the Caldonazzo lake (Photo by @Francesca.Dusini, 2019).
I confess that this experience exceeded my expectations, developing both my professional skills and very useful soft skills for group work. It also made me exceed my own expectations, togo beyond what I thought I was capable of.
To make the most of the experience of attending a Summer School, I would say that it is important that you have flexibility in your way of working, an open mind to listen and discuss different opinions, and, last but not least, that you have a great desire to be there! It will never be as good as it could be if you are not fully involved! So go ahead and give your best, get your hands dirty! You will see that getting out of your comfort zone can be fun!
Figure 5. Farewell dinner at the Pallazo Le Albere (Photo by @Francesca.Dusini, 2019).
I hope you have gotten this far and if I managed to convince you to at least think about it, take a look at the websites below that I'm sure you will find very useful information about this topic.
Summer Schools in Europe
European Institute for Innovation & Technology