Into the woods of Mol Internship Report
After finishing my graduation project in the group of Bert Meijer, it was time for the final station of my study journey: the internship. I was always convinced to go abroad, however, when the time came I was not so convinced anymore. Instead I chose to use my internship to investigate my future preferences regarding Dutch or Belgian work culture. I took off to VITO in Mol (Belgium) for four-and-a-half months. Although Mol is only a fifty minute-drive from Eindhoven, I went for the full-Mol-experience and moved in with my boyfriend. Since a few years, I could be considered as a frequent visitor of Mol. So before my internship I knew already from the existence of VITO (Flemish institute for Technological Research) of which the headquarter is located in Mol. Via Bert Meijer I came into contact with the Biopolymers Group. This group is part of the Sustainable Chemistry Research department of VITO. Besides this, VITO has more research departments, which all have at least one thing in common: sustainability. The chemical department investigates the potential of creating new value chains for former waste products, such as biomass. In this context, the Biopolymers group researches lignin: the most abundant natural aromatic molecule that is produced as waste product from the pulp and paper industry. This group develops bio-based polymeric materials by implementing lignin and make use of its aromatic nature. My job during this internship was to develop a model to estimate compatibility and solubility of (modified) lignin with other materials. Microsoft Excel was the only (read: available and accessible) way to go. Additionally – to keep my MSMC heart still beating – I spent some time in the lab to synthetically modify lignin of which I could test
the solubility and compare with my model outcomes. So my project was a very nice combination of theoretical and practical research. Although VITO is a Flemish company, my direct colleagues were mostly internationals. Improving my Flemish was thus not so successful. Although the group mainly exists out of Post-Docs and PhD students, the environment differs from the academia. The performed research is more industry oriented. Most projects are in collaboration with chemical companies with the aim to apply the research as fast as possible to industrial projects. So doing a PhD in an institute such as VITO is a nice opportunity to have a gradual transition from academia to industry. What I experienced as the largest difference with university life, is that many things take more time. For instance, not all analysis can be done yourself, as I was used to do during my graduation project. At VITO there was an analytical team that performed certain analysis for you. The nice part is that you – as a lazy chemist – do not have to do it yourself. The down side however, is that it takes more time until you receive the results. Then you realize that you were a bit spoiled at university. Nevertheless, you easily
get used to it and you can do other things in the waiting time. To conclude, I fully enjoyed my adult-life-practice-session at VITO and (weirdly enough) look forward to start my working life in the near future. I have absolutely no regrets about my decision of going to our neighbouring country. I learned you do not have to go so far for an abroad experience. And let’s be honest; the Flemish language is the cutest thing you have ever heard, right?!
Lioba Heidendael Lioba wanted to share her insights on whether the grass was indeed greener on the other side of the country border.