Incoming: Alexander MacLean, from the University of Waterloo
Alexander is following a Biomedical engineering Bachelor degree at the University of Waterloo. He arrived at the University of Bordeaux in May to complete a 4 month internship at the Laboratory of the Future (LOF).
Why did you choose to carry out part of your studies at the University of Bordeaux?
I’m currently finishing my last year of studies for a Biomedical Engineering Bachelor’s degree (4 years in total) from the University of Waterloo, and I chose to come to the University of Bordeaux for an internship as part of the “co-op program” which allows us to gain valuable work experience during our studies. I was drawn to the UBx for this opportunity to work as a “stagiaire” (trainee) for the summer at the prestigious Laboratory of the Future (LOF) in Bordeaux.
What are your objectives during your period here in Bordeaux?
Although I'm working at a laboratory focused on chemistry, my project is actually focused more at the intersection of chemistry and artificial intelligence. I am working with a team to create tools using software and robotics to improve the abilities of researchers in the labs to carry out their experiments. Specifically, I am working with them to investigate methods and algorithms to create tools for the ultimate goal of a “self-driving lab”. I've gotten a chance to investigate methods ranging from Reinforcement Learning to Bayesian Optimization, and hopefully it won't be too long before we can implement a proof-of-concept in the lab!
What has your work experience been like so far?
I am learning a lot from working with my international colleagues and really enjoy the challenge of working within a professional environment. Despite my student status, I feel that my input is taken onboard and it’s great to be able to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom to the “real-world”. Working at the LOF means that I have both academic and industrial projects to learn from in the same place, as well as many multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate with. It is inspiring to work with such diverse teams in order to reach a common goal.
What are your impressions of the University of Bordeaux, the people, the city?
I have nothing but great things to say about my time here so far. Everyone has been so helpful! The University helped me with the logistics of coming abroad, such as organizing the student housing with the Crous (an organization that deals with various aspects of student life in France) and opening bank accounts. And everyone is helping me with my French! I know I have already made “gavé” (huge) improvements.
Living in Bordeaux is a wonderful experience, especially during the summertime! The entire city is like a museum – there is so much history, art, and culture to explore and enjoy. I love being able to explore the regions around Bordeaux including St Emilion for the famous wine or the Dune du Pyla on the Atlantic coast. I also enjoy taking the opportunity to meet with others for language and culture exchanges, and I am actively involved in some local groups such as TripMeeters and BlaBla language exchange.
What have you learned with this international experience?
The working culture here in Bordeaux is very different from the other 5 internships I completed previously as part of the co-op program back at home in Waterloo. The French underline the importance of taking short breaks during the day and do not try to “look busy” all the time – I think these elements improve the quality of the overall work environment and I feel more productive than ever before. I'm so grateful that I took the chance of applying to and choosing this position, and that the University of Bordeaux and the LOF were willing to look over to Waterloo for students! I hope that others will take the opportunity to study or work here if they get the chance!