"Communicating with a wider audience has taken me out of my bubble"

Trisha Stewart, 17, is one of around 170 young people doing an apprenticeship at ETH Zurich. She is currently involved in research into the immunology of yeast cells. The third-year biology laboratory assistant has also given online lectures on botany.
Biology technician apprentice Trisha Stewart feels part of the lab where she works. (Photo: Trisha Stewart)

Trisha Stewart: "I have integrated well into the research group and I feel listened to when I propose ideas. I work with a PhD student and we are studying the immunology of yeast cells. In the morning, we discuss the plan for the day, with all the manipulations to be done. For example, we introduce plasmids – small circular strands of DNA – into the cells in order to determine the genes that influence the defence mechanisms. We then discuss the results together. This project could of course be done without me, but I think it would take much longer. I will stay in this research group for a year before I change. These changes make our work very diversified. Apprentices like me are really involved in the research, and we are often mentioned in the acknowledgements of the paper or in presentations. It's important to me that our work is acknowledged.

«Apprentices like me are really involved in the research.»     

I have been interested in science since I was a child – at the age of four I was already collecting rocks and later I often watched the science programme Galileo. I could have gone to a gymnasium, but I wanted to do something practical, not just theory. When I realised that you could do research without going to university, I looked for an apprenticeship as a laboratory assistant. I spent a few afternoons discovering the three fields of study - physics, chemistry and biology - and I liked the latter the most, as it is the field that covers the most knowledge for me. There aren't many apprenticeships in biology in Zurich, so I did everything I could to get into ETH Zurich. When you grow up here, you know about ETH Zurich, of course, but you don't necessarily think about apprenticeships – many friends think that I'm a student, not an apprentice!

During spring 2020 semi-lockdown, I got involved in the Lernarena project, a platform run by the apprentices at ETH Zurich. We offer online support for secondary school students and introductions to scientific topics for young apprentices. I gave two lectures per Zoom on botany, explaining, among other things, the transpiration of plants. I really enjoyed this experience! I had to learn to communicate complex concepts to a wider audience; it took me out of my bubble.

After my apprenticeship, I would like to work for a few years before studying perhaps. I am interested in the fields of forensics and diagnostics. It could be at ETH Zurich or at a university of applied sciences, it depends on the profession I aim for. My research experience will be valuable anyway. The beginning was sometimes intense, but I have already learned a lot. And I have only just finished my second year!