Toronto Times 8 – Technique Banff National Park

Toronto Times 8 – Technique

An MSc student biology is embarking on an adventure to do a research internship in Toronto, Canada. For nine months. A leap of faith into a new world. In nine short, monthly pieces, he gives an impression of what it's like.

When I moved to Toronto, I did so with a few goals in mind. Firstly: survive. Then, maybe meet some interesting new folks and, if all goes well, make some nostalgic memories — an internal instagram. Still, my primary motivation for studying abroad was a little more pragmatic. Simply said, I came to Canada to do scientific research. That was the crux of it. Learning new lab techniques. Growing familiar with methods that I was completely new to, but are useful to know – especially in a PhD, for example. Back in 2022, during my first conversations with my supervisor Jeff, I was told that I could get access to instruments and facilities not straightforwardly available in the Netherlands. Kinda liked the sound of that.

Fast forward to 2023, and I suddenly find myself in ‘America light’ with only myself to rely onto. Months passed, and I realized something. Becoming familiar with those ‘new techniques' applied not only in the lab but also in my daily life. I constantly had to throw myself out there to task myself with new things, solve problems, learn. Open a bank account. Get a new phone. Improvise a house. Social security number. Rent a car. Fuel cap won’t open. Credit card declined. Washing machine needs a coin. Reinventing grocery shopping. These are all things that – although often quite awkward to undertake for the first time – are invaluable soft skills to master in your adult life.

I think this lesson is one to carry with us throughout our twenties. It mainly comes down to the willingness to get uncomfortable. Embrace discomfort. Ideally, do it on your own. Because only when you are alone, do you have to propel yourself into the real world and explore the edges of your comfort zone. This can be achieved on various scales: it doesn't necessarily have to be an intercontinental internship. Work for some time in a new environment, choose a subject outside your regular curriculum, expose yourself to a new network. Just try something new. A new technique.


One final note: In Canada I got a taste of North American research culture — big thinking. I experienced an immense freedom to design my own experiments from the ground up. It was even possible to influence the direction of the research project as a whole. As long as I could justify that the project would be moving forward, my supervisor was fine with ordering expensive kits and materials. That academic freedom feels different from my experience in the Netherlands, where I felt research moved along in smaller steps, less freely, slightly confined even. I'm sure the reasons for this are manifold: funding models, the cultural attitudes towards risk, even the mere dynamics of the scientific community. Most importantly though, I feel that the overall philosophy and approach to research is different. Dutch research environments emphasize incremental progress and safe, methodical steps, while Canadian ones value bold, transformative progress. It was an honour to take part in.


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