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An internship in times of coronavirus

by Meike Will

By David Hötten

From the end of August until the beginning of October I was an intern in the POLISES group. Looking back, my time at the UFZ feels like a first glimpse into the work as a scientist and into the atmosphere at a scientific research institute.

When I searched for internship possibilities on the web in July, I didn’t know much more than that I wanted to apply mathematics (my B.Sc.) in an environment-related research field. Building mathematical models of ecosystems sounded interesting to me and thus I applied at the department of ecological modeling. I was quite surprised that only two days later I received a very concrete proposal for what I could do in my internship. I was asked to do “the” evaluation of the quantitative part of a mostly qualitative interview campaign of the BESTMAP project, which studied the motivation of European farmers to participate in agri-environmental schemes.

Having this responsibility for “my” evaluation clearly set out from the beginning of the internship was a big motivation for me. I had the feeling that if I do my best, I could give a small but important contribution to a research project with an objective (improve the agri-environmental schemes of the EU) that I support. This gave me a sense of purpose during my work. While my supervisor granted me a lot of freedom for choosing the methods of my work, there was always enough room for questions and explanations when I needed support. The other colleagues were very helpful and supportive too and they also gave me an insight into their own work as modelers of ecosystems.

Due to the pandemic, a large part of the department staff was working from home. This may have turned out to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage for me: In this way, the few people that were present, I got to know faster and more thoroughly. A very nice memory are the shared lunches that I had almost every day with the 1-3 members of my working group that were present. The campus at the UFZ is beautiful in late summer days and I enjoyed a lot listening to the stories about projects, difficulties and results that my colleagues and other researchers who sometimes joined us were happy to share. All this gave me an impression of how the life and work as a scientist might be.

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