Navigating German culture on co-op

Prakriti, a fourth-year biology student doing a specialization in molecular genetics, shares her co-op adventure going overseas.  

My co-op resume

An image of Prakriti

My first co-op was working in a bioinformatics research lab with Dr. Andrew Doxey at the University of Waterloo. The joint project we worked on made me realize that I was interested in bioinformatics so I added a bioinformatics minor to my degree. I found it really interesting how you can study biology through computational processes.  

My second co-op was something completely different. I worked for the Faculty of Science at the University of Waterloo for the marketing and recruitment team because I realized a lot of my soft skills were missing and I wanted to develop those. I had an amazing experience and made some really good relationships with the people I worked with. It was a really fulfilling experience.


For my third co-op, I went to Germany to conduct microbiology research at Tekniche Universität Braunschweig. I worked on a few different projects for the Institute of Microbiology and the Institute of Biochemical Engineering. I was working with recombinant milk proteins and manipulating protein crystallinity.

Canada vs Germany 

I was quite surprised when I went to Germany because they tried to do their research practices based on what people in North America do.   

Everything in the lab was quite similar to what I've used here in Canada. I think research-wise I would say it's quite similar and there are not many major differences that I could notice.  

One thing I noticed culturally is they work a lot of overtime. For example, my supervisor would sometimes stay overnight because they wanted to collect probes every hour.  

The people I worked with in Germany were pretty straightforward. If they don't like anything, or if they think something you're doing can be done better, they'll tell you, they won't sugarcoat it. I think this is good because it gives you constructive criticism of how to improve your project.   

An image of Prakriti


I made sure to ask a lot of questions the first few days to make sure that I knew what to do and how to get around. The people I worked with were really nice. Someone offered me a bike on the second day to use for four months. There's a huge biking culture in Germany, nobody uses cars, even 80-year-old researchers biked to work. I was biking all the time, which was great. And I just felt that it was so nice that they didn’t even know me at yet and already offered me their stuff.  

My boss would give me a research project and I would do it on my own time. As long as I came in on time and did my work by four or five o’clock, I had the time to go out and explore.   

My workplace was super chill and they encouraged me to explore Germany. Whenever they had an event, they would let me explore and look around which was really nice.   

Language barrier in the workplace 

An image of Prakriti and her friend

The language barrier was hard but doable. I would go to restaurants and translate using my phone while pointing at the menu. For paying, I just learned how to say “Can I pay with the card” in German. That usually worked out because then they would just get me the machine and they could probably tell that I don't speak German.   

I would go to bakeries and just point at a bread I didn’t know anything about and they couldn't explain it to me. I found it fun as I would try new breads because Germany's famous for their breads and cakes. I tried so many new things and they were absolutely amazing.  

Most of the people I worked with speak English, but they don't like speaking English to each other. So, I would be the only English speaker there and they would all talk to each other in German, but I don't blame them.  

They would try really hard to speak in English whenever I was around, which was really nice. Sometimes there were some words they wouldn't know how to translate and would have to act it out.   


Everybody in my workspace, especially people involved in research, needed to know how to speak and read English. That's because all the research and literature they use is in English, so they're trying to adopt that and create a common space throughout the world.  

I think getting over that language barrier and finding ways to get through it added a fun experience to it.  


My employer enrolled me into a university for a month to learn German, which I enjoyed so much. The course instructor took us on excursions three to four times a week, sometimes around town or outside of town so I got to explore a lot around that area.  

Two other people from Waterloo went with me and I made many friends in Germany that I'm still in touch with. I shared an office space with another bachelor student working there and we became really good friends as well. I've made a few friends through summer school from the United States, Scotland and South Africa that I'm in touch with.  

An image of Prakriti and her friends


What a typical work day looks like 

An image of Prakriti and a blue mascot

I would bike to the research center at about 9 a.m. but they were flexible on start time. For example, if I was out late with the summer school, then I could come in late. As long as you do your work, they don't care when you come in or go out.   

Then I would do all the experiments I needed to do while maintaining a journal where I wrote every single thing I did during the day. I would talk to my supervisor at the end of the day about what I did and the results, if I had any and see how to go further the next day.  


I was involved in two different projects. One of them was working with bacteria to improve protein stability. The other one was working with beta-lactoglobulin, which is a milk protein, to develop drug therapies and better protein products. They were long-term projects and I was only there for a short time. But we found a few good things! Our crystals turned out great one time and I did a few tests that they hadn't tried before and we got good results.   

The end goal was to improve the protein credibility because if proteins are better crystallized, they're going to be easier to store. It will improve drugs and make better protein products for drug therapies as they are all around a better target molecule.   

A possible future goal is to make milk without cows completely. There's actually a facility in Denmark that is already doing it.   

Highlight of working in Germany   

I think my favorite memory would be once a year they have this day where everyone in the institute would go canoeing and have a picnic. Everyone had so much fun and it was a paid day! We sat and drank until like 11 p.m. Everyone likes beer over there. We had some snacks and just sat and chatted for a bit while eating pizza.   

That was definitely my favorite day, something I will remember forever. 

Tips for other co-op students?  

Just try it out! Before going to Germany, I was thinking of backing out because I didn’t know if I wanted to go that far away. I wasn't sure how I was going to do with the language. I almost declined the job, and I would have missed out on such an amazing experience.   

Take that leap of faith and just go for it. Because you don't know what experiences you might get and how those will help you with your future work terms or just life in general.   

I had an amazing experience. I would 100% go back in a heartbeat.  

What's next...   

An image of Prakriti

I definitely want to go back there! I was thinking of maybe doing my master's at the university my company enrolled me during the summer to learn German. It was an amazing experience because there were people from Scotland, United States, and South Africa. The culture is amazing, everybody was super nice. They like to talk to you a lot, even though they don't speak English, they'll try their best to get their point across and help you out.   

Going to Germany made me more open to traveling. I already have a co-op lined up for January. I am going to Alberta this time, for a research position with the federal government. So that is an exciting opportunity. 


I want to keep my options open and try to go outside the country whenever possible. It teaches you a lot culturally and how to expand your network and talk to people with different backgrounds. 

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