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2018 SIRI program Launch: 3 Alumni of the summer undergraduate International Research Internships (SIRI) from the University of Ottawa share their experiences

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The Universit de Lyon and the University of Ottawa have been cooperating since 2012 for student mobility through the SIRI program). For six years now, students from the University of Ottawa have been welcome in research laboratories of member institutions of the Universit de Lyon.

Sabrina Ahmad and Sadad Rahman, from the 2015 promotion of the SIRI program, and Jennifer Erlikh from the 2016 promotion have kindly accepted to explain us in which way their internships had an impact on their respective professional and personal lives.

Sabrina has done her internship at the Center for Sports Research and Innovation (now L-VIS) at the Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1. She is about to start a Master abroad. Sadad has done research in cancerology at the Centre de Recherche en Cancérologie de Lyon; he is now still studying medicine. After her internship in neurosciences between the WAKING laboratory (Centre de Recherche en Neurosciences de Lyon) and the hospital centre Le Vinatier, Jennifer has now graduated from a Health Sciences Bachelor at the University of Ottawa.

First photo: Sabrina Ahmad; second photo: Sadad Rahlan; third photo: Jennifer Erlikh

What made you want to participate in the SIRI program?

Sabrina Ahmad: I was interested in the SIRI program for several reasons. Besides it being located in the beautiful city of Lyon, my particular internship appealed to me as it expanded on research I had already conducted at the undergraduate level on a specific subject, but from a different research dimension. It was a fantastic decision!

Sadad Rahman: To gain research experience, travel to a new country and continent, and live within the French culture.

Jennifer Erlikh: There were a few reasons for this. First, I had a curiosity for working and living in another country – very different from the Canadian culture, lifestyle and food. I found France to be a good fit since it provided me with an opportunity to improve my French and work in a field I am greatly interested in.

What did you study during your internship?

S.A.: I worked in the Centre for Sports Research and Innovation (Centre de recherche et d’innovation sur le sport) at Université de Lyon Claude Bernard I. Our specific project examined emotional antecedents to the contribution of burnout amongst young athletes. I learned so much about the intersection of psychology and athletic performance; we studied factors like motivation and the role of competition on confidence in adolescent sports practitioners.

S.R.: I worked on cancer research.

J.E.: During my internship, I had the pleasure of working both at the laboratory and at the hospital. Generally, I analyzed the relationship between sleep quality, diet and glycemic levels in type 1 diabetic children.

What did/do you like about research?

S.A.: I appreciated that my experience at the lab exposed me to the many different facets of a scientific study. I enjoyed the literature reviews, meeting with the study subjects to hand out psychometric measures, and interpreting the data and drawing conclusions from them. I especially enjoyed interacting with the research participants, who were fun and enthusiastic. The experience also helped me better understand and recognize the enormous amount of work that goes into carrying out a research project.

S.R.: What I liked most of all was the amazing research team I worked with and the guidance they provided in helping me develop research skills, and also to become accustomed to life in France. My supervisor was very encouraging and pushed me to develop a lot of independence in the lab.

J.E.: Research is a very captivating and limitless field, as it gives the option to really answer any question you want. I find myself very fortunate to have been able to come up with my own research question and to focus my internship on that specific area. Although you hypothesize potential reasons for how our body behaves under certain conditions, in the end the discoveries gathered might open up new questions.

What do you retain from your internship, at a university level and at a personal level? What do you retain from working abroad in a lab? Has it been a plus for you?

S.A.: On the university level, it gave me an important glimpse into the level of commitment and work ethic needed to succeed in academia. In my lab, I worked alongside accomplished academics in their field, as well as students working on their Masters and PhD programs—all of them worked tirelessly and cared deeply about their research, which was inspiring to see. 

On a personal level, I learned about accepting cultural differences and embracing challenges as they come about.

S.R.: The internship has had a huge positive impact on my academic profile, and opened many doors for me in terms of applying to other research positions and postgraduate programs. At a personal level, I will always remember the amazing summer I had travelling in Lyon and within France with my amazing SIRI colleagues. It was without a doubt one of the most enjoyable summers of my life thus far.

J.E.: Lyon was a source of personal and professional growth for me. It opened up a new path and ambition for me in the health field. My internship provided me further insight on what I wanted to do as a career, and equally what I don’t want to do. This opportunity showed me how important research is in our world, as it is a vital source of development in medicine, infrastructure and quality of life. Living in Lyon was a very positive experience which I would do over and over again!

What are you doing this year? (work, travel, studies, else) ?

S.A.: In October, I will be starting a Master’s degree at the University of Oxford in England studying the Social Science of the Internet; it’s a departure from the subject matter I studied in France, but I am definitely looking forward to it. Until then, I am working as a Communications Specialist at a public policy think tank in downtown Ottawa, Canada.

S.R.: I am currently studying medicine at a university in Canada. I had always wanted to be involved in the medical field. My experiences in research both abroad and at home solidified my decision to enter medical school so that I could both see patients as a clinician and hopefully also partake in clinical research in my career to advance treatments.

J.E.: This past year, I was finishing my last year at the University of Ottawa. I am very happy to say that I will be continuing my studies in France, for a Masters in Public Health. My stay in Lyon influenced me a lot, in fact. I realized that I enjoyed the French life a lot, and that being a student in France would be a fulfilling and wonderful experience.

Would you want to come back to Lyon?

S.A.: I would come back to live in Lyon in a heartbeat! I have been thinking of work opportunities in Lyon for after I complete my Master’s degree in the UK, since Canadian citizens are eligible for a one- to two-year French professional youth mobility visa. The culture, the weather, the food, and the language of Lyon are all calling me back. 

S.R.: I would 100% want to one day visit Lyon again if I had the chance. It would also be very cool to do some of my medical training abroad at some point, perhaps in France, and even maybe in Lyon!

J.E.: I would certainly love to come back to Lyon. I think the people who grow up there are very lucky, because at the tip of their fingertips, they have so much to see and do. Aside from trips to Italy and Switzerland, there are many things that can be enjoyed in France itself. Lyon is so close to the Alpes, the sea, and Ardèche. My stay in Lyon was so memorable since I got to discover new areas every single weekend.