An early retreat from exchange in Australia

For his last semester, Swiss biomedicine master student Patrick Engeler, decided to go on exchange in Australia. While the beginning of the exchange started out as expected: travelling around, surfing waves, and doing research for his thesis, because of COVID-19, the end of the semester did not turn out exactly as planned.

Master student Patrick on the University of Sydney´s campus.
Patrick on The University of Sydney campus. Photo: Private

– I had to leave Australia two months earlier. That´s a bit sad, but I think I managed to do a lot of things while I was there, so I was very lucky. Many of the other international students I met had planned to travel after the semester. So, I am happy the way things worked out in the end and that I was able to come home to Switzerland.

What part of your studies are you in right now?

– I am currently writing my thesis in computational neuroscience. We measure brain activity and then we use computer programmes to see what the brain is processing. I will be finishing in about three weeks.  

When did you go on exchange and where, what university?

– I left Sweden end of December 2019 to go to Australia. Luckily, I was able to travel around a bit before starting at the University of Sydney in January.

Why did you decide on the University of Sydney?

– KI has a partnership with the University of Sydney and I really liked the idea of living somewhere that has nice weather and where I could go surfing after work sometimes.

Why did you decide to go on exchange?

– Many of my friends asked me why I was going on exchange when I am already doing my masters in a foreign country. But I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone again after living in Stockholm for one and a half years and get some more international experiences.

What were your expectations going on exchange?

– I wanted to do research so that I would be able to write my thesis about it afterwards. But also, work-life-balance is important to me, so I still wanted to be able to explore my surroundings and go on trips. Luckily, I was able to live up to those expectations during the time I was there.

How has the coronavirus affected your current studies?

– As I was measuring brain activity for my thesis, I was testing on people. But after cases of COVID-19 were reported in Sydney, we decided to stop testing people in the lab to prevent the spread of the virus and started to work from home as much as possible.

When did you decide to go home to Switzerland from Australia?

– It was about two weeks before I managed to actually get home. I had a flight that got cancelled because the layover country closed its borders, and there are no direct flights to Switzerland from Australia. I waited a bit and decided that if nothing happened, I would just stay. But then the Swiss government organized a flight to bring Swiss citizens home.

How does a normal day look like today vs. before the outbreak?

– I would usually go into the lab, test, maybe do some analysis and discuss findings and results with my supervisor. After work I would maybe go to the beach and meet up with friends and explore new places.

– Now I wake up, write my thesis, go for a walk in nature, write my thesis again and do some zoom meetings here and there. Maybe this structure is good to get my thesis done.

How do you keep yourself motivated during studies right now? Any tips to other students?

– I struggled in the beginning to keep my motivation up and to be productive during lock-down. But three main things helped me:

  • Stay active and do some sort of sport or stretching every day.
  • Plan my days in advance and try to stick to it (although in most cases I don´t).
  • Work while being in a zoom meeting with a friend who is also working. Then we can we put some pressure on each other to work, and it´s also nice to take breaks together and chat about other things. It´s kind of like you are in the library with someone

Do you keep in touch with your classmates, both from Sweden and Australia?

– I think it´s important to stay in touch. When I was in Australia it was a bit harder to keep in touch with friends in Sweden because of the time difference so we mostly texted, but now it´s easier. Now, I also stay in touch with my friends and colleagues in Australia.

What are your plans after graduation?

– I will be starting a job at a pharmaceutical company in Copenhagen, so if the border is open, I will be moving there in September.