Dec 1, 2016

The founding principle of all the activities of Zdenek and Michaela Bakala is, truly, the courage, which must, according to their belief, always go hand in hand with responsibility.
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Thibaud Ruelle - report


March 01, 2015 -- September 14, 2015


Harvard University


John Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science


Harvard provides an exceptionally privileged environment for education and research. It is a great opportunity to spend some time studying there, and you need to be highly motivated and prepared for a heavy workload in order to take full advantage of it.

Although quite expensive to live in, Cambridge and more generally the Greater Boston is a very enjoyable place. One has many opportunities to socialize in restaurants and bars, to practice sports and the ocean is just minutes away.



Once I had secured both my Master project in the Laboratory for Nanoscale Optics at Harvard, and funding from the Fondation Zdenek and Michaela Bakala, the only challenge left was to obtain a Short Term Scholar J1 Visa from the US embassy. Even though I am a French citizen, I was able to apply for it in Montreal, where I lived at that time, and apart from the extensive paperwork (remember to save your application code !), it was straightforward and fast.


Aside from a delay at the border due to a system breakdown (I had to sleep at customs ...), and parking issues caused by the meter-high snow, my arrival in Boston went pretty smoothly. I settled in the apartment I had secured during a preparatory trip, spent a few minutes filling paperwork at the Harvard International Office, got my badge, keys, and office number from the lab secretary and was ready to start working  


Since I arrived in Harvard in March, the university's housing website had almost no apartments available and was pretty useless. I resorted to scouring craigslist for a place I could afford (which is not easy in Cambridge ...). I settled for sharing an apartment with one roommate.

I met with the landlords and signed the contract during a preparatory trip one week before I actually moved in. I would advise to always try to have a real life contact with the owners of a place before committing to the deal.



The Laboratory for Nanoscale Optics in Harvard is honestly the most hard-working environment I have ever been in. It was not uncommon for me to spend 10 hours in the lab during a day, and I sometimes stayed as late as 5 am to finish acquiring data from a delicate experiment. As a result, my project advanced at a fast pace, and I was able to make significant contributions to the cutting-edge research conducted in the lab. A paper making direct use of my work is to be submitted in the next few days.

I also shared a lot with other lab members during the weekly group meetings, and had the opportunity to attend several talks / conferences.


Although my busy lab schedule did not leave me much free time, I still had a great time in Boston. I spent most of this free time learning to play hockey at a local rink. I found that hockey is an extremely demanding sport, and as such is a very efficient way to clear one's thoughts in a short time. Hockey being a team sport, I was able to bound with my teammates, some of which I sometimes met with outside the rink for a drink, and who I know count as my friends.

I also had some very enjoyable outings with labmates, especially a memorable day at the Boston Harbor Islands, and the amazing goodbye barbecue they threw for me. 


I would like to mention here that I was very satisfied with the service from Boston Organics, who deliver weekly vegetables boxes which are organic, as local as possible and for a great price. 

On the other hand, I would strongly advise not to subscribe to the Hubway bike sharing service, which I found very lacking (limited range, stations either empty or full, bad customer service). I recommend buying a bike instead.


© Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala