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From Bremen to Oxford

Stanford, Oxford, or Cambridge? Since finishing his degree in chemistry, the 21-year-old Jacobs alumnus Robert Hein has received offers from numerous prestigious universities around the world. He has decided upon Oxford.

Decisions can be hard to make. Even when the occasion is quite gratifying. A few months ago, Robert Hein faced the agony of choice: After finishing his Bachelor Degree, he had applied to several doctoral and graduate programs at universities of world renown. In his email inbox, he then received distinctly more acceptance letters than he had expected. Stanford and Cornell Universities wanted him; Canada’s McGill University, and even the British universities of Oxford and Cambridge, too. Robert has a self-confident and pragmatic air, but when he talks about it, there is still a mild hint of astonishment. “Of course, I hoped that one or the other of the universities would accept me. But I never expected so much choice,” he says. In deciding upon Oxford, he finally just went with his gut. “I found it an exciting prospect to study at a university so rich in tradition. In addition, I believe I might like the British lifestyle.” At Oxford University, he now has the opportunity to skip the master degree and start immediately working on a doctorate.

Robert prepared his application marathon carefully, noted the submission dates, got recommendations from his professors, and wrote cover letters. Robert is a planer. Someone who likes to approach things in a structured way and not leave things to chance. It was that way even while he was still in school, he says. “Nowadays I have loosened up a bit,” he adds with a little, self-deprecating grin. “I learned that from some of my fellow students. They showed me that it is also possible to carry out some plans by approaching them in a more relaxed way.”

Even while in school, Robert, who grew up in Frankfurt / Oder, was interested in chemistry. “I find it particularly exciting that this is an area in which it is quite possible to try out what you learn practically. In addition, I like it that the things being discovered and researched in chemistry have very practical uses in everyday life – such as medicines for serious diseases.” As a schoolboy, Robert successfully participated in the Chemistry Olympics multiple times. Today, he himself is a point of contract for students from Bremen and Lower Saxony who participate in the  Chemistry Olympics. This year he even accompanied the German national school team at the International Chemistry Olympics in Georgia as a kind of coach and mentor. As he says, he would like to pass on some of his own enthusiasm for the field. Furthermore, he supports a competition for students in the eighth to tenth grades with the fitting name of: “Chemistry – that’s right!”

The fact that the decision to study chemistry was the right one is something Robert realized in his first year at Jacobs University. “I was integrated in research projects at a very early point. That is one of the big advantages of the small classes at this university. The professors here know each of their students. As a result, you get very good, individual support.” Robert quickly noticed that research often has less to do with mental inspiration and eureka moments than with perseverance and endurance. “You develop lots of hypotheses, but only a few of them stand up to practical testing.” Looking back, he is glad that he had this experience so early. “That quickly gave me an idea of what I was getting myself into by becoming a chemist.” It did not scare him off. Robert can imagine career as a scientist at the university very well.

Thanks to a cooperative program between Jacobs University and the tradition-steeped Cornell University, Robert was able to spend a semester in Ithaca, New York, in the USA during the second year of his degree program. “I thought it would be a great adjustment for me. But in the end the differences weren’t all that big. The organizational structure and the procedures were a lot like those with which I was familiar in Bremen. I did know in advance that Jacobs University was a university based on the American model. But I was still surprised that things were so similar.”

The graduation from Jacobs University in June marked the end of Robert’s course of study at Jacobs University. Ceremonious robes, enthusiastic speeches, the traditional throwing of the mortarboards, and the party mood of the evening at the great final ball.  A great celebration after the stressful weeks of exams, which left Robert with a dream grade of 1.15. A look back at three exciting years. Taking souvenir photos. Graduation toasts with friends.  For Robert, it was a nice, but also somewhat sad day. “Nice, because the stress of the preceding months was behind me. Sad, because I realized what a great time was coming to an end that day.”

While studying, a lot of opportunities opened up for Robert – and not just in an academic sense. He got to know people from the most different parts of the world. On campus he made many friends. And he noticed how exciting and enriching it is, when people from the widest variety of cultures deal with the same questions and challenges during their course of study.

Now he is using the summer months to go on vacation and will then pack his things and move on to Oxford. He is looking forward to what awaits him there. He has a good feeling as he looks back at this three years in Bremen: “The time at Jacobs University changed me a lot. I have become more open. For other people, for other life plans, and for new challenges.”