Arolla, Switzerland

Last week I had the opportunity to attend an Evolutionary Biology Workshop in the Swiss Alps

(yet another perk of living in Europe – spending the week in the Alps, no big deal…).

In a nut shell, the purpose of this workshop was to aid people early in their science careers (aka me) in the process of grant and proposal writing. Basically, to survive in science research, and more specifically, academia, you have to convince agencies and governing bodies to give you money to do your work.  As you can imagine, this is no small task.  When you’re someone like me and that research involves a group of fish from central Africa, this tends to be a bit more challenging – the normal response when describing my work: “but why, who cares”?  With this in mind, off to Switzerland I went to gain every bit of help I could get!

Without going into too much more detail, the workshop was a collection of scienctists, both in early and late stages of their respective careers from all over the world.  This is by far one of my favorite aspect of working in science – people from all walks of life coming together with one common interest.  No one cares about where you are from or what you believe or don’t believe.  Everyone is just excited to meet other people and hear about their work.  That and talk about Donald Trump….everyone wants to talk about Donald Trump. Sorry world, it’s not a joke.

As I mentioned above, this workshop was really intended to help people like me develop their skills in grant writing.  So, to aid in that process, we were dividied into teams of 5 and tasked with creating our own research project, writing it as a formal proposal, and presenting it at the end of the week. Along the way, we were given constant feedback by 5 senior scientists in Evolutionary Biology, all of whom have had lots of experience with the granting process.   All-in-all, it was a great workshop!

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For the sake of those non-sceincetists reading this, I’ll stop with the science talk now and move onto the other exciting aspect of staying in the Swiss Alps for a week…the Alps! To say that it was incredible is an understatement.  In fact, the pictures that follow do not even do it justice.  It was amazing, so beautiful!  

To begin with, Arolla is not easy to get to.  It is a small alpine village at an altitue of about ~2,100m (~6,900 ft).  So, just getting there required a flight to Geneva, then a train from Geneva to Sion (~1.5 hrs), and finally, two buses to get from Sion to Arolla (~1 hr).  On the plus side, views are incredible the entire way.  The down side: a long trip and a bit of car sickness winding up the mountains on the bus.

As I said, Arolla is a small village…

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Kurhaus, which was orginigally built in 1896 but has more recently been upgraded to modern standards. The hotel was great!  It was full of memorbilia from early exporation of the Alps but, due to my lack of knowing French, I was not able to read too many details.  Nonetheless, very cool to look at the old pictures and equipment.

While the purpose of the workshop was to work and develop grant writing skills, it still allowed plenty of time to explore the local area and, for those interested, lots of hiking opportunites. And hike I did! This is something that I did not realize how much I miss.  Living in a flat country like the Netherlands, there isn’t much in the way of hiking.  Sure, people here go ‘hike’, but it’s not really what I have in mind.  To me, hiking is about elevation change, scenery, and getting away from everything.  The Alps provided all of these! The Alps also provided much less oxygen than I am used to when hiking….talk about a workout!

I won’t go into detail about every hike I did, but I will say that I certainly got my fill.  Luckily, there were two other workshop participants who also liked to hike so the three of us pushed it every chance we got.  Our longest hike (on our half free day): ~6 hours, to an altitude of 2,928m (+9,600ft), covering a distance of +17km (~10.5 miles).  Along the way, we crossed a galcier, hiked through knee-deep snow, went up and down ladders bolted to the side of the mountain, and even did some rock climbing.  It was hard and I paid the price for it later but totally worth it! My love of hiking has been re-awakened.  We will definitely be going back to Switzerland for more hiking!

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So, as I’ve said multiple times throughout this post: a great workshop and a great trip! I met amazing people, learned valuable tips on future grant writing, and enjoyed beautiful scenery.  What more can you ask for?

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In other exciting news, in about 10 days time the Wright clan will be coming to visit! Dad, mom, and Alex will be making the trek to Groningen, after which we will also visit Paris and Amsterdam.  To say that Whitney and I are excited is an understatement.  We love to travel and see new places, but it’s not so often that we get visitors! We have lots planned and will share the details following their visit.

Until next time,

Shane

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We are two Americans living in the Netherlands with our fat cat, Meatball. The Shwits is a diary of our time abroad!

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