Elana Stennett graduated from The College of Wooster with a BA-ACS certification in Chemistry in 2010. In 2015, she completed her PhD with a focus in biophysical chemistry at Arizona State University. After a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at The College of Wooster, she accepted a tenure-track job at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY, as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Loving the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, she enjoys hiking (during the summer) and knitting (during the winter).
Our DAAD network is a vast and global net of connections between DAAD award winners, ambassadors, alumni, grant holders, future applicants - all united by their love for study and research abroad and all things German. We asked Elana few questions about her work and experience:
1. What research project are you currently working on?
My lab group is studying water purification. Specifically, we are interested in the interactions between biological molecules that hinders membrane-based water purification techniques. Using model systems and combining techniques, we hope to gain a clearer understanding of biofouling mechanisms.
2. What sparked your interest in Germany?
Europe has always fascinated me because there is so much history in such a small area. Also, I was particularly intrigued when my undergraduate advisor told me that in the past, chemists were encouraged to learn German as it was one of the main languages in the field.
3. How did you hear about RISE Germany? Why did you decide to apply?
My undergraduate institution sent out an email every once in a while where they shared opportunities they wanted students to know about. I had been doing research with a faculty member and she was the first one to tell me about doing research over the summer, particularly as a way to test out potential graduate schools. When I saw in the email that there were opportunities to conduct research abroad, I was very excited. Being a Chemistry major, I couldn't find a way to work going abroad into my academic semesters. I was really interested in traveling and seeing places, so I was intrigued by the chance to go aboard and learn some new science.
4. Where in Germany have you been? What research topic were you working on? Are there any details you would like to share?
I went to Chemnitz University of Technology in Chemnitz, Germany. My research project involved conducting solubility tests and UV-Vis measurements on seven pyridine ligands in acetonitrile. Then, we used cyclic voltammetry to determine the reduction and oxidation potential of the compounds while Gaussian calculations were used to find the lowest energy structures and the electrostatic potential energy surface of the molecules.
5. What was one of the coolest experiences you had while you were in Germany? One of the most challenging?
Most challenging is easy: I spoke no German at all before going abroad. I tried to learn a little via Rosetta Stone and working with my PhD student, but I didn't know much. I did not want to let that stop me from traveling, even if I couldn't find someone else to go with me. One weekend, for example, I went down to Munich and I didn't realize that there was a festival going on. There were so many people walking around that I felt overwhelmed and got lost in the crowd. However, I was eventually able to find my way, get around the city, and enjoy the festival.
My coolest experience - this one is really hard because I had so many things that stood out. I got to travel to Berlin with my PhD student to attend a day-long research symposium. We also got to do some traveling around the city and see some museums; Berlin was definitely my favorite German city. I also really enjoyed the chance to travel to Salzburg and Basel. The rail pass that DAAD gave us allowed us to travel to those cities as well. It was really nice to see how similar and yet different they were from German cities.
6. Have you been back to Germany since?
Unfortunately, I have not been back. But I hope to! I did not get to see a lot of northern Germany while I was there, so I would love to go back to see areas around the North and Baltic Seas.
7. What advice would you give to students who are considering an experience abroad?
Go for it!! It was one of the best experiences during my undergraduate career. It also really opened my eyes to see how research is done abroad. I got to meet some really great individuals while also learning about a different kind of science than I would have at my home institution.
8. Do you have tips or words of advice for students who are thinking of applying for RISE Germany in particular?
You should do it! My advice would be to see all the different areas of research that are available. Find some that you have a bit of expertise in, but also that can provide you a chance to learn more. Also, don't overlook the universities that are in smaller cities. Chemnitz is in what used to be East Germany and it had a completely different feel than other cities I visited that were in West Germany; I would not have thought to go see a place like that on my own, but there was a lot of really cool history about.
9. Which pictures, plants or unusual objects are there on your desk?
My desk is actually overflowing with papers; it's organized stacks that I mostly can find what I'm looking for. Besides that, I also have a picture with my family from my PhD graduation and pictures with former research students over my desk.
10. Can you cook a German dish without a recipe? If so, which one?
No. But I remember very fondly the street vendors selling bratwurst ... it was the best! Nothing quite can match it here in the States.
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