Case study

Summer intern — Caitlin French

Caitlin is currently studying physics at St John's College, University of Oxford. She completed her internship at Perm State University (PSU), Russia after her second year of study

What were you looking for in an internship?

I was looking to expand upon my physics knowledge, while experiencing a completely different country and culture.

What attracted you to PSU?

PSU is one of Oxford's partner universities, so they run this internship every year through the Oxford Careers Service. I thought it'd be interesting to go to Russia, and PSU has a good reputation there.

How did the internship work?

The internship lasted six weeks and we had classes in Russian and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). The CFD classes covered five main topics: theory of fluid dynamics (mostly working through Landau and Lifshitz), using numerical methods to solve differential equations in Fortran 77 (using Microsoft Visual Studio), using ANSYS Fluent (a commercial CFD software package), OpenFoam (open-source), and parallel programming (using MPI and OpenMP). Many of these involved using parallel computing on a Linux server machine.

We had a different tutor for each topic, and they were all helpful and understanding. We were modelling laminar and turbulent flow, with example problems including water in a pipe, thermal diffusion, or the air in a fan. We would design the geometry of the problem, make a mesh, use the software to solve the relevant equations and produce contour plots of pressure, temperature etc. Once we had done this, we could change certain physical constants to see the resulting effect on the flow. Throughout, we were set homework involving reading, completing programming tasks, or informal presentations.

PSU organised the classes, provided us with accommodation, and organised weekly excursions for us. They went above and beyond to make sure we were happy and comfortable, and the scheme was well organised.

How did you find the transition from study to work?

There wasn't too much of a transition, as this was more like a summer school than a work placement. It felt like a continuation of my university work, but with the added challenge of studying in a different country.

What was a typical day like?

Around 30 other Oxford students also did this internship and we stayed in a hostel on the university campus, in dorm rooms of two to three people, with a shared kitchen and dining room. We were in a great location- it was only a three minute walk to the physics building.

We were welcomed as soon as we arrived by staff from the International Office. We then met with student volunteers (who all spoke very good English), who showed us around Perm, and would meet up with us throughout our internship. Each day we would have three hour-and-a-half classes in Russian, Physics, and Computing. In the afternoon/evenings, we had free time where we could walk around the city, do sport, cook or go out to eat.

The first week involved more cultural activities in the evenings, involving a trip to the opera to see The Barber of Seville, as well as a Russian cuisine workshop. We then had an excursion every Saturday, going to the Kungur ice cave, swimming in the Sylva River, visiting the Kungur hot-air-balloon festival, Khokhlovka museum and the White Mountain Monastery.

At the end of the internship, we were taken on a three-day hiking/rafting trip down the Usva River in the Ural Mountains, which was great fun.

What did you enjoy about your internship?

Before arriving, many of us had preconceptions about Russia and worries about the political situation with the UK and Russia. However, my experience was a very positive one. The people we met were very friendly and welcoming, and the students and staff at PSU went out of their way to make sure we were having a good time.

What was the most challenging part?

We did struggle with learning Russian, and not many people around Perm spoke English, however the student volunteers were very helpful in translating for us.

How did the experience benefit your career?

This was a unique experience to live abroad for six weeks. It gave me a useful insight into academia, which I am still thinking about as an option for the future. It has further inspired my love of travelling and experiencing different cultures, and I would be keen to return to Russia, especially to see more of Moscow, St Petersburg, and other cities.

Find out more