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Interview with Dorcas Kwok

Student of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, who did a Internship in the working group plant physiology of Prof. Gabriel Schaaf


The interview was conducted by Deborah Schwarz


Dorcas Kwok and Prof. Dr. Gabriel Schaaf


How did you decide to come to bonn for an internship?

My professor in Hong Kong had a connection to the professor of the University of Bonn. He asked whether I could join his working group to learn some techniques from his lab. I wanted to experience another lab culture outside of Hong Kong.

Could you explain in simple words what you were doing at the internship?

I did my internship for three months and started in late May 2022. The working group aims at elucidating the underlying molecular mechanisms of phosphate sensing signaling pathway in plants, in hope of increasing the phosphate uptake efficiency of plant and reducing the amount of artificial phosphate fertilizer used. Mostly my mornings started with some molecular work. I was working in the lab as well as in the green house. I helped the lab members to clone some DNA. I also took care of plants tissues, I did some analysis on the plant´ phosphate sensing signaling path way. After lunch with my colleagues I was usually in the office and read some papers.

Which expectations did you have about your internship?

I expected to learn some new techniques - especially the skills related to greenhouse work as there aren’t many resources are devoted in developing greenhouse system in Hong Kong.The green house system in Bonn is more sophisticated than the one in Hong Kong and I wanted to learn more about how a green house can be organized. The green house in Hong Kong is organized on a small scale while the one in Bonn is very large and has a lot of plants. I also expected a large and clean work environment in comparison to Hong Kong, where its very crowded. In Bonn, I had my own work bench which was really big.

It’s nice to hear that your experience is Bonn matched your expectations! What did you like the most about your internship?

I think the lab culture was pretty good. The colleagues were really willing to teach me all the techniques they use. We were mostly speaking in English and there were also international colleagues, for example PhD students. Whenever I had a question they were willing to answer my questions. They were also willing to show any details of their experiments.

And were there also any challenges that you faced during your internship or in your working group?

The working culture was different. In Hong Kong the working culture means that people are very fast and very strict. They would comment on your work and say what you did wrong straight to the point. It is not common to say something positive at first before criticizing your work as I experienced it in Bonn. In Germany or at least in my working group everyone was very nice and would criticize me in a very subtle way. This was very new for me. After a while I found out that it’s a talking style to give for example a compliment before telling you what they really wanted to say in the first place.

How was your start in Bonn social-wise?

When I arrived in Germany my phone didn’t have any internet connection and I got lost because I couldn’t use google maps. I asked some random people for help and they were really nice and helped me to find my way to the hostel. The people at my hostel also welcomed me very nicely. They added me to their Whatsapp group and invited me for dinner several times.
At work my colleagues were friendly and helpful. We were having lunch together and they were also asking me sometimes to go out for dinner together after work.

How did you like the life in Germany in general? Was it very different to life in Hong Kong?

It was new for me that I couldn’t go to supermarkets on Sunday. I arrived in Germany on a Sunday and was really surprised that almost no shop was open. 
What I liked was the relaxed atmosphere. Germany has a lot of plants, lots of nature and also many low buildings. It’s even very bicycle-friendly. There are many bike lanes, that’s something we don’t have in Hong Kong.
Also the atmosphere at my home university in Hong Kong is a lot more stressful.
Besides that, Hong Kong has many restaurants and they are more affordable. A decent meal costs about 5 euro. Hong Kong has also many bars, clubs and entertaining activities that are open longer than in Germany.

So all in all, would you recommend your internship to other international students?

I think the internship at the University of Bonn is a very good choice if you are looking for a work-life-balance during the internship and would like to work more plant-related. Besides that, I really enjoyed the environment and the lab culture. I would also consider coming back to Germany for example for my postdoc one day. 
I would also like to add that the International Affairs Unit of the Faculty of Agriculture helped me a lot, for example with finding an accommodation. I think the help of the university is very important for international students and the International Affairs Unit did a great job for me!