Adventures in Greensboro

I am Mari, currently finished a second-year as a master’s student in Kruve Lab. I spent the last semester (Spring 2018) in Greensboro, North-Carolina as an exchange Graduate student in Chemistry. Besides taking classes like every other exchange student, I could also do some fascinating research in Dr Cech Lab.

I have always wanted to see how different educational systems, universities, faculties and research groups work and thus last August I applied to become an exchange student in the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). Since UNCG is one of the partner universities of The University of Tartu, I could go there with an inter-universities agreement that allowed me to study without tuition fees and also included a stipend for housing and meal-plan. I really appreciate that our university has these kind of agreements so the students can get some extra educational experience.

The semester taught me a lot. To start with, living on campus was something new for me since in Tartu the University is situated all over the town, not in one campus area. I think it gave the students a very good motivation to study, since living on campus helps to grow the spirit of friendship – friends live together, they play sports together, cheer for uni’s sports teams and organise and take part in various events (concerts, plays, festivals, conferences, etc.) held on campus. As an exchange student, I met many other students from countries all over the world and made good friends with them as well as American students and my lab mates.

Next, the classes were organised more or less in the same way as in Estonia – there were lectures, seminar-type courses and lab courses. Depending on the course, there were in-class individual or group-work tasks, but what I think was the most different was the amount of homework given. In UNCG I had more homework and tests during the semester than generally in Estonia.

The faculty of Chemistry in UNCG was a bit bigger than in Estonia, but organised more or less the same way. What I really liked about studying and doing research in the States were the opportunities given by the size of the country. There was a lot of collaboration with different groups of similar field of research and the faculty had weekly seminars where scientists outside UNCG were asked to give lectures. These lectures were all very interesting and motivating, since all of them started with their story how they became a scientist. I could also take part in two exciting conferences. One was called Medicinal Natural Products Chemistry Research Symposium that covered lab to clinical research in that field. Another, Creating and Performing Stories in the Humanities and Sciences, was a cross-disciplinary discussion-type symposium where the participants were encouraged to tell how important is storytelling in presenting the data in both Humanities and Sciences.

Finally, I am very thankful to Professor Cech and her lab members for allowing me to do some research on Orbitrap Mass Spectrometer, for teaching me and broadening my mind on Natural Products Chemistry topics.

This was an exciting semester where, I am sure, I learned a lot more than I understand at the moment.