In the land of the engineer

After seven years at UNSW Engineering, jumping straight out of his undergraduate degree and into his PhD, Jonathan Horlyck decided he needed a change. It was time, he thought, to visit Germany: the land of the engineer. Find out what he discovered during his semester on exchange.

Jonathan Horlyck

Fourteen Semesters - seven years! That’s how long I’ve been at UNSW now. I’m basically part of the woodwork. But having finished my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Chemistry and jumping straight into a PhD in Chemical Engineering, I confess I find myself yearning for a change in environment. It’s time, I thought, to spend a semester on exchange.

As the birthplace of top engineering companies, such as Volkswagen, Siemens and BMW, Germany was an obvious choice. Who better to learn from, than the country which prides itself on its quality engineering?

Organising an exchange semester is a little different as a postgraduate student; but it’s not difficult. I talk to my supervisor, draft a research proposal, contact the research group I want to work with, set a start date, and off I go. Goodbye Australia. Hello Germany – or rather Guten Tag Deutschland!

I arrive in Bremen excited but nervous. Will I survive without being able to speak the local language? A language, I’m reliably informed, that sounds like an angry man coughing up a hairball! Lucky for me, most Germans speak great English, otherwise the renowned German bureaucracy would be impassible. Much of my first week in Bremen is spent standing in lines, filling out forms and scanning documents to get my student visa sorted, but, finally, I’m ready to get stuck into my research.

At UNSW I’m completing my PhD in Chemical Engineering with the Particles and Catalysts Research Laboratory, where I’m researching the development of catalysts to convert CO2 into sustainable liquid fuels. My area of focus lies in the production of unique materials via a process called flame spray pyrolysis and investigating their catalytic performance.

In Bremen, I’m working at the Institute of Materials Engineering (IWT, or Institut für Werkstofftechnik) where research focuses more on the production of materials and characterising their physical and chemical properties. Being on exchange allows me to take advantage of a research collaboration, so I’m able to broaden my work to simultaneously carry out in-depth characterisation in Bremen and performance testing at UNSW. This is incredibly useful because I can access machines and equipment at UNSW which are not available at the University of Bremen, and vice versa.

As a research student, the majority of my time is spent in the laboratory or at my desk. A typical week consists of running experiments and characterisation tests, research meetings with supervisors, seminars from visiting researchers and reading scientific literature. These activities are all common to Bremen and UNSW, but other things such as having a thesis defense (regardless of whether it be a Bachelor, Master or PhD thesis), free enrolment in classes and working in a different language environment are all new experiences for me.

As a postgraduate student, I’m no longer required to attend classes, but I enroll for two anyway – maybe solely because they are free for all students. German universities have many English class options, so there’s no need to be fluent in the language before you arrive, although I would recommend learning a few basics because the locals really appreciate a simple ‘please’ (Bitte) and ‘thank you’ (Danke) when you order your Bier! I decide to do one class in English and one in German.

Living in the heart of Europe makes Germany the perfect destination for travel and exploration. There are endless potential weekend trips just hours away, whether it be exploring Edinburgh, living it up in Lisbon or sharing an Oktoberfest beer with the masses in Munich. But, there is no need to travel by plane every weekend because most states in Germany offer students free travel on public trains, buses and trams. This makes cheap day trips to soak up German culture in surrounding cities a highly affordable option. But whether it be drinking mulled wine at the Christmas Markets, soaking up the atmosphere in a sold-out Bundesliga match or getting dressed up to celebrate Karneval with the locals, I certainly discover there is so much more to Germany than beer and bratwurst.


Fancy going on exchange?

If you’re interested in going on exchange, check out the UNSW student exchange website. There are over 200 partner universities to choose from, including 19 in Germany. So why not apply for a semester in Berlin, Hamburg or Munich? 


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