This week I was able to get to know the lab in which I will be working. I have learned a lot about graduate education and Switzerland and a little about higher education and college/university ‘sports’ in Europe in general. Please, just note this is from ‘word of mouth’ and personal experience. Take what you will from it.
The first thing I noticed about the 3 labs I have seen here is that they have MANY instruments that are well taken care of (Such as the HPLC above. I also had a picture of the LC-MS, but it doesn’t look that great in the filter I have been using :P). The group should be congratulated for their system of training newcomers. They have individual grad students responsible for training one or two instruments and step by step instructions typed up for the instruments that are available on their wiki page. I have been in a lab where there is a day of learning all instruments you will use briefly and then you are kind of on your own with a manual that often is written for three or more different versions of the instrument.This can result in inefficiency and ample mistakes. However, there are about 14 people in this lab, and it makes this sort of training system possible. The diverse instruments available here are the result of federal funding. ETHZ is one of two federal universities here in Switzerland. There are many other nearby universities though. In fact, the University of Zürich (probably canton funded?) has class requirements for certain majors that are through ETHZ and vice versa.
I was told by a lab mate that the way Switzerland’s education system works is you end up in tracks in middle school or high school that determine whether you will end up in an apprenticeship/trade, an ‘applied’ college, or a university. The state then covers most of the cost and there is about a 1400 chf charge per semester (for universities) that a student might have to pay depending on the money parents make. The general outlook here is that everyone (who meets the standards for that track I guess) should be able to afford a higher education. It is possible to switch out of tracks too. From what I understand, if someone ended up in a trade track and wanted to go to a university they are able to, but they have to work for it. I think this might mean a placement test. I am not sure.
I am sure, however, that it is possible to take classes here in both Swiss German and High German speaking only English and survive. That’s right. I did it. The caveat is that they were through ASVZ, a company that provides students (and people who pay for them too) in Switzerland opportunities to exercise. There are no competitive college funded sport teams here, as most people know. (Believe me, people care about professional sports though. The once quiet and refined streets of Zürich have exploded into World Cup craziness recently. It’s pretty entertaining!) When you get your student ID at any of the universities in the canton of Zürich (or most at least) you can go to any of ASVZ’s classes or ~8 diverse facilities dispersed within 30 minute tram/bus rides of ETHZ. Much like Purdue with the CoRec, all students must pay the fee for ASVZ. However, ASVZ has free classes in almost anything you can imagine. I wish I could understand them though. Maybe I will pick it up! I have already started learning numbers… Especially eins.