From June till August 2015 I worked for the German Aerospace Centre in Berlin with the help of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund. As a scientific assistant within the Institute of Planetary Research I had various tasks, starting from preparing presentations for science talks to developing numerical codes to simulate the gas production rate on a comet. What may sound rather complicated was indeed challenging at times. Before leaving for Berlin I was afraid that I couldn’t live up to the standard of the Institute, but none of the problems posed were insurmountable due to the help of a great (and patient!) supervisor and friendly colleagues. Not only did they always find time for a cup of tea and long conversations about the world of space missions, they also came from the most impressive walks of life.
The Institute was very international and I got to know people from the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden and many other countries. Besides the internationalism, I could also travel Germany in their company, visiting Jena for a science talk directed at teachers and the ESOC (European Space Operations Centre) in Darmstadt for a Space Awareness Workshop lead by the German Astronaut Thomas Reiter! This was definitely one of the highlights of my work placement. Seeing how everyone cooperated together with expertise and determination really sparked my enthusiasm at being part of the space exploration happening right now. However, I noticed that I was one of only a few women in the audience, in accordance with the underrepresented number of females studying STEM related subjects at University. More young women should be inspired by space agencies, such as ESA (European Space Agency), which offer exciting and international opportunities after graduating with a science degree.
Besides the educational side of my experience I got to live in Berlin, which was exciting enough in itself. Being one of 3.4 million people living in the capital, it was hard to feel alone, be it in the local train aka “S-Bahn”, at the dozen lakes in and around Berlin or on the weekly market in the Mauerpark, a busy place on Sundays with many artists and vintage stalls to explore. Because of Berlin’s growing popularity in Europe and beyond, it was no surprise that I ended up sharing a flat with a Spanish guy working for the computer game industry. Being introduced to his friends from the Spanish community confirmed that Berlin is welcoming to all and accommodates different cultures and lifestyles. This I discovered when taking part in the Christopher Street Day celebration in front of the Brandenburger Tor. Everyone was dancing, dressed in crazy costumes and extremely open and welcoming.
Living in Berlin was a pleasure and extremely beneficial both academically and personally. I learnt how to discuss scientific problems and solve them independently, as well as navigating my way through Berlin and familiarizing myself with its many sites of interest. In future I might be visiting for longer thanks to the relationships I built with the Institute and its employees. I will return!