UW Alum Helps Create STEM Internships in Germany

Maria Spletter (BS ’03; Botany and Molecular Biology) is an Independent Group Leader at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Biomedical Center in Munich, Germany. She conducts research on alternative splicing and its role in muscle development. Since 2017, she has hosted interns from UW-Madison through the International Internship Program (IIP).

How UW-Madison influenced her career

Even before Spletter began her classes freshman year at UW-Madison, she had already secured a job working in a lab. By graduation she had worked consistently in two labs. These lab experiences allowed her to see research in action before learning the theories in class. Her mentors were not only active in supporting women in science but they also gave her the opportunity to explore in the lab. “From the beginning, I was encouraged to be independent and figure things out as I went,” said Spletter. “To learn you have to be allowed to explore and make mistakes for yourself.” As a mentor herself, she aims to provide the same constructive place for students to learn and make mistakes.

Creating Opportunities Abroad in STEM

When Spletter was an undergraduate at UW-Madison, there were not many international opportunities in her field of study. She was excited when IIP reached out to her about hosting UW students because she could provide STEM students an opportunity that she didn’t have as an undergraduate. As a host, she allows students to make a tangible contribution to her research by designing a project for the students to complete independently throughout the eight weeks that they are there. Spletter gave an example of previous intern projects that included established new imaging techniques as well as testing genes. Both of these projects “set the foundation for the work that we’ve continued doing.”

Cross-cultural experience in the lab

Spletter has noticed that her lab–which hosts many international students–has become a safe environment for students to come together and speak about their experience living abroad. She explained that, because “most everyone in the lab is foreign, we have all been through similar culture shock.” For students that have never lived or worked abroad before, this is a huge benefit.

Advice for students looking into international careers

“If you’re interested in an international career, you have to go out and ask and get an internship experience,” says Spletter. “You learn a lot about a country and how things work by doing an internship there. Never be afraid to ask [your supervisor] questions about the challenging parts of research abroad, what they like or don’t like, etc.”

Check out our database for more information on Maria’s and other research internships abroad. If you’re interested in hosting a UW-Madison intern contact us at iip@international.wisc.edu or check out our Partner Page.