Catching a wave in Italy

CoSM student Becca Ewing on her study abroad research experience

Dual Physics and Mathematics major Becca Ewing is passionate about helping fellow students to have a good experience in math. She works on campus as a TA for the math department and as a tutor in the Math Learning Center. She also serves as a member of the Dean's Circle, which is a group of student advisors who are selected based on their academic achievement and leadership skills. Members meet regularly with the dean to discuss college-related issues. In addition, she has enriched her academic experience last summer by participating in a 10 week summer internship in Italy.

Below she shares her amazing internship experience and her advice to other students interested in study abroad, "just go for it". 

I was abroad for about 10 weeks in the summer for an internship. It was a National Science Foundation funded REU (Research Experience for Undergrads) where I got to live in Italy and work at the University of Trento on a research project associated with gravitational wave physics. I didn't take any classes while I was abroad. Aside from learning technical stuff about gravitational wave physics I learned what it's like to do research in physics in a field that's very collaborative and international. It was really cool and challenging working with a group of Italian researchers and learning how they approach the subject. I also learned that in Europe it's very unusual for undergraduates to have research experience - most people assumed I was there working on my PhD! Whereas, in the states many STEM undergrads have research experience or internships. 

image of student Becca Ewing at Pisa

CoSM student Becca Ewing made time to enjoy the sites at Pisa


As I mentioned, my internship was on gravitational wave physics. I got to analyze real data from an experiment conducted on-board LISA Pathfinder (LPF). LISA stands for Laser Interferometer Space AntennaLISA is a European Space Agency (ESA)  mission, which contributed to the technology that will be used to build a future space observatory for gravitational waves. My job was to analyze the noise associated with two independent test mass discharging schemes and determine which method would be best for the forthcoming LISA mission.On a day-to-day basis I would write code in Matlab, communicate with my advisor and the other researchers in my group to ask questions or get guidance, and attend group meetings where progress was discussed. 

I know that going abroad is not necessarily typical in STEM but I would say to anyone interested to just go for it. You don't have to go abroad for an entire semester, or a year, to get a great experience. My internship was an amazing opportunity - my flights and housing were paid for and I got paid all summer to work on an interesting project, eat pizza, and travel around Italy! I never thought I would actually get this opportunity but I applied anyway and that's what I would tell anyone thinking about it to do. It can't hurt to apply for an amazing opportunity even if you think it's a long shot. The friends I met during this internship and the things I learned were absolutely life changing so just take the risk and apply!

My biggest take away from the trip was just how much I want to continue to travel. I got to see and do so many amazing things this summer but it also made me realize how much is out there that I haven't seen or done yet. This trip taught me that incredible things can happen when you take risks and get yourself out of your comfort zone.