Why did you choose CERN?
In my opinion, the question would be “why not”, at least, that’s how I see it now, and to be more clear, I will explain how it led to this and start with “THE TURNING POINT”: Summer 2018 and The Hajj Hackathon experience.
Before this, I’ve never been outside the country and didn’t have any experience other than the events I attended or organized with CSE (Club Scientifique de l’ESI), but the Hajj Hackathon experience changed me, and probably a lot of people (especially Roaa winning the 3rd place ). That was in the beginning of August, and in September, I got accepted in Canada’s biggest hackathon: Hack The North, where I probably spent more time on the plane than on the event. This is what they call the “Snowball effect”, because when get on the rails, everything you do at point A, will help you get easily to point B, and that’s what happened in November, when I got accepted for another hackathon, this time, in a place I could never have imagined I’d visit at some point : Oxford University, attending OxfordHack.
At this point, you gain enough courage to face any application form for any opportunity, and to get back to our main subject: I had the chance to apply for CERN a year before (2018), but I didn’t do it because I saw it as something that would never happen, just because I always thought less of myself, but now I’m glad I did apply for this year’s edition, and I thank god for being accepted.
Before going to CERN, I had little knowledge about it, except for general information you could find on the internet. I never knew what a “particle accelerator” or “what the different LHC detectors like ATLAS and CMS, would look like”, and having the chance to be there and see them with your own eyes, is something you cannot describe.
What did you learn during your internship?
So to start, I will describe the program since it’s not an internship only, but you have also some lectures for fundamental physical concepts they deal with at CERN, to help you get familiar with the vocabulary used there.
There are 2 separate programs, yet quite similar, the only difference is that one of them is for Computer Science students only, and it is restricted to 40 student called CERN Openlab Summer Student Program, while the other program is the CERN Summer Student Program that groups students from different fields such as physics, engineering and CS students, and they picked less than 300 out of 4568 applicants around the world for the 2019 promotion.
I was a part of the 2nd program, you can apply for both, but since they happen simultaneously, even if you get accepted in both programs (because if I’m not mistaken, it’s not the same selection committee), you have to pick only one. I will give some more details later.
My internship part consisted on making a Python version of the current probing tool for the disk storage system used at CERN called EOS, and send the availability status to Snow
to be used later by the dashboards (Grafana or Kibana).
What is the added value of this program in your career and life?
It is so unfortunate that I didn’t keep a journal of thoughts, because I wouldn’t know from where to start now, and maybe to give you a version of me that was still living that experience, I invite you to watch my presentation , and see how I was.
For the life aspect, I would say that it helped me discover the very different cultures that exist, I knew people from the borders of Russia to Latin America, and you see how we share a lot of things too. Moreover, it was a kind of “european-life-internship” for me, because I had to get familiar to this model since I was going to pursue my studies in Paris after that.
For my career, having CERN in your CV is probably a good thing, and my network has grown and expanded a lot, to cover more industries and profiles. The project I did was very helpful, because I had the chance to see a language that I’ve been using before, from another perspective, and take every chance I had to improve my knowledge.
What kind of challenges did you meet?
The funny thing is that I’ve been asked the same question at the end of my presentation that I showed you before, and I didn’t know how to answer the question “what were the challenges”.
Personally, I think that one of the challenges was to get used to the vocabulary used, actually, the two vocabularies: Physics & IT department. Since my project was an IT project, I had to deal with new, and internal technologies that are used only at CERN, on the other hand, during lectures, and since I didn’t come from a physics background, I couldn’t tell what the professors were saying most of the time if I didn’t “google” it.
Another challenge was the work/life balance, because I was trying to take advantage of my weekends by going on trips, but I had to make sure to get enough rest, to keep up with the work during the weekday, plus I had to cook for dinner and tomorrow’s lunch (it was a choice I made, you can always buy cooked food).I know that it is typical, but when it’s your first days in a new environment, it’s not that obvious to maintain a high rhythm.
Maybe another thing is that sometimes you feel that you are not productive, at all, and when this happens, you have two choices: either you keep waiting for “an energy rush” to help you pass that point, or you actually do something about it, and for me, it was to write down a plan, even if you won’t do anything productive that day, but at least it will give you a feel of control, and you will at least have a starting point the next time.
Another challenge, that wasn’t specifically faced by me, but is good to mention, the integration process: Since we are coming from different countries, English is the common ground, but for me, knowing French, was a big plus, because in my team there was many cool French guys, and we bonded from day-1, plus, in Geneva, the official language is also French, and it will help you whenever you get lost or need information.
Could you tell us about the application process?
To start, you need to check this link Summer Student Programme (Member and Non-Member States), it has a description of the program, qualifications needed (as you can see, there aren’t a lot of conditions), and how you can apply.
Usually, the application form opens during January, then, in my case, I applied on January 26th, and got an answer on March 26th (exactly 2 months), this can give you an estimate of how long it could take.
Then, since CERN is between France and Switzerland, you can apply for one of those VISAs, I applied for the Swiss side, but it doesn’t matter which one you choose, since you can use any of them to circulate. Because, in my case, my hotel was in the French side and CERN is located in the border, at the Swiss side, and technically, you are traveling between 2 countries every day.
For the VISA, I had an appointment at the Swiss Embassy on May 15th ,2019 the VISA was ready by May 28th ,2019(2 weeks).And for the last part, actually “going”, I flew on June 29th ,2019 since the contract was from July 1st to August 23rd.
What are your tips to CERN applicants?
To find CERN opportunities, there’s no place better than “careers” but you need to check the qualifications, since most of the opportunities are for member states citizens only.
My tips may be a little generic, but I think that most people forget or ignore the basics in a lot of things, and that’s what makes the difference.
· The 1st step is to ask yourself: “Why do I want to go?” This question is crucial, because it will determine whether you will have the best experience in your life, or just 2 paid months of vacation. The intentions are something important, because they will help you stay on the track, and focus on the goals that you came for, but in any case, there’s no shame in having fun and travelling, but it shouldn’t be your main purpose, because you may be taking a place for someone that could’ve been dreaming of it specifically.
· Picture yourself there already, and even if you don’t make it, at least you had a brief moment of enjoyment applying. I use this trick all the time, and it helps me get motivated.
· Build a good CV, and for that you need to be “goal-oriented”, and by this I mean, if you think that you are lacking some skills, you need to make a change about that, how ? we call it a development plan, it’s kind of guidelines or a short term specific plan made by you for the next upcoming months, and try to fix aspect by aspect, for example, if you are not good with programming, try to follow an online course/tutorial that builds a project from scratch, and commit to that, and evaluate yourself, on a weekly basis for example.
· Once there, try to enjoy and discover the CERN facilities, the organizing team may take you to some of them, but it’s your job to try and get access to most of them by yourself, and for that, you need to get to know people who work at CERN, don’t be shy, they don’t bite !
· Plan your weekends in advance, whether you will go on a trip, or just do your groceries/laundry, try to plan at least 2-3 days before, because on weekdays, you will be busy, and you won’t feel how the days go by, and the weekend will be wasted in your room.
· If you don’t make it, for sure you won’t be happy, but you don’t need to be upset, if you see the cup half full, it was just the 1.0 version of you applying, may be the 2.0 patch will make it.
Bonus : And since “part of the journey, is the end”, I feel that when you leave CERN, the policy is to “check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
I followed Amine Riad Remache on Social Media during his experience at CERN.
I wanted to bring his passion and motivation to Salma Share J
Thank you Amine for being my guest today .