Report From My Time in Germany

I came back from Germany over two months ago. I just sent the report I wrote about my time there to the Engineering Department’s industrial placement coordinator. To add some variety, I have decided to publish the report here. Originally, the report was for the DAAD, who organise the RISE internship scheme that I was on. (That is the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, which is German Academic Exchange Service.)

RISE Internship Report

For six weeks I have been working in the University of Lübeck’s Institute for Signal Processing. Back home in England, I am between the second and third years of studying Engineering at the University of Cambridge. In Lübeck, I have been working with my supervisor on the topic of speaker-independent feature extraction for automatic speech recognition systems. Jumping right into this specialist and advanced field was a fun challenge. In the first week of the internship, my supervisor gave me a crash course on speech recognition. I really love this kind of stuff.

The work I did boiled down to implementing algorithms in Matlab to try out new methods. That is a simplification, but it is not far off. I love programming so I thought this was great. Previously, I only had extensive experience with the C language, but my supervisor found me resources to bring me up to speed with Matlab. It is easy to work with and powerful once you get your head around the way Matlab works. There is no better way to learn a programming environment that using it all day, every day. I am certain the knowledge of Matlab I picked up will be useful.

My work took place within a research group in the University. I found this a fascinating mix between a company environment and what I have previously seen of university life as an undergraduate. There was a definite friendly, collaborative spirit to the workplace. I was working in a student computer lab. Supervisors would often be in there giving advice and chatting with the students about their projects. Cake was brought in and shared on birthdays. Every week on Friday morning, there was a graduate seminar. These talks were usually in English and given by one of the members of the group. I learned a lot about the other research projects going on in the group through these seminars.

The group I was working around was very diverse. I would guess that about three quarters of the people in the group were from Germany. The remaining twenty-five percent were from all over the world. A real mix.

The language I used for the work was English. From what I could hear, English was spoken almost as much as German within the research group. I used my German outside of work, although I did not use and improve my German as much as I expected to. I don’t mind this too much as my time in Germany was useful in so many other ways. My previous experience with German was up to GCSE level and then two years of learning a little on the side at university. One could easily have managed on the RISE placement with less German experience that I had. At least GCSE level I should think, but not much, if any, more.

When I arrived in Germany, there was a risk that the University of Lübeck would be shut down! I believe the local government wanted to merge the universities of Kiel and Lübeck. The members of the University of Lübeck were not having this: huge protest marches were organised and the yellow protest t-shirts were a very common sight on the campus. The efforts were successful. Before I left Germany, the university was deemed to be safe for now.

The University of Lübeck is very different to Cambridge. For example, Lübeck is very specialised: over fifty percent of students study medicine. The university in Lübeck is very condensed into its campus, which is dominated by the enormous Zentralklinikum (hospital). Buildings of Cambridge University, on the other hand, are scattered out across the city. I appreciated the ten minute walk from the University Guesthouse to the building where I was working. Much easier than my usual walk in to lectures.

Overall, Germany is not very different from England. The buildings look different. On that front, Lübeck is an intriguing blend of the old and the new. It is a very historic town, but much was destroyed in World War II and has since been rebuilt. The quality of the rebuilding is impressive as you often can not distinguish the new from the old.

There were many highlights and benefits of my time in Germany. I have more confidence about fending for myself: Germany was a step above university. This is invaluable. The research group’s annual day out with canoeing and a barbecue was just marvellous. I travelled around north Germany a bit at the weekends which was a lot of fun. Berlin and Hamburg are essential visits. I met a lot of people in Lübeck and while travelling. This leads onto the top highlight: Heidelberg.

The greatest part of the six weeks was the RISE meeting in Heidelberg. Two days, three hundred people to meet, everyone was awesome. The hardworking RISE team did a fantastic job filling the two days with plenty for us to do. The biggest event was the company visit. I was with the group that went to Daimler and saw their Mercedes-Benz production line. With so many robots and big bits of metal this was bound to be good. The tour of the town and castle was interesting and the banquet was a terrific event. In between these things, there was time for playing in the children’s playground, going to German pubs and eating lots of ice cream. Splendid.

To say it briefly, my time in Germany was just fabulous. Much more fun than working in some company close to home. More useful than just travelling, and much cheaper thanks to the DAAD’s scholarship. I can’t think of a better way to spend six weeks of the summer break.