Getting a chance to pursue meaningful work in one of the most beautiful places in the world is only a dream for most people. For geology and geophysics master’s student Clint Miller, however, that dream became reality when he lived and worked on the campus of the National Taiwan University for two months last summer.
“National Taiwan University is kind of like the ‘Harvard’ of Taiwan,” Miller explained, “only one half of one percent of the students in the nation go there. The students I worked with were very intelligent and great geochemists.”
Miller was one of 24 students from across the United States chosen by the National Science Foundation to participate in the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes Program in Taiwan. He received a grant to study arsenic contamination. After only a brief orientation in Washington DC in March, Miller was flown to Taiwan.
While in Taiwan, he worked in the lab of Dr. Dar Yuan Lee, a former classmate of Miller’s advisor at Texas A&M, Dr. Bruce Herbert. The two attended the University of California – Riverside together as graduate students in the 1980s.
“I stayed in a dorm on campus while I was there. It was exactly like an American college dorm, very small and cramped. And it smelled just as bad as the guys’ dorms at A&M,” he laughed. “It was nice to be on campus though because I would just get up in the morning and walk to the lab.”
In what he called an “interesting situation”, all of the graduate students Miller worked with in the lab were women.
“I was a little bit of a celebrity,” he said. “They’d take me around everywhere and show me all the best places to eat and all the cool sights. One of the fun things we’d do is that the whole lab would go to lunch together. That’s something I think we should probably do a little more here because it helped us get to know each other better.”
“One of the things I’ve been working on as a graduate student is our ability to measure arsenic in ground water,” Miller said. “Arsenic is a toxic chemical, and when it gets in ground water it can cause lots and lots of toxic effects and is actually very difficult to measure. You can’t just take a cup and dip it in the water and say ‘Oh this is toxic;’ you have to have a specific technique that can measure it in ways that matter.”
Miller’s trip wasn’t all work. On weekends he travelled the island and saw some of the most beautiful sights in the world.
“One weekend we went to Orchid Island, which is southeast of Taiwan. We got to snorkel and ride scooters around the island. The camping and hiking was really fun too because Taiwan is a volcanic island so it has a lot of good topography.”
Overall, Miller said that the Summer Institute Program was almost perfect, and that he would recommend it to any science student. The time he spent in Taiwan cemented Miller’s desire to pursue a career in international environmental consulting.
“And Texas A&M has a very good reputation internationally,” he added, “so that helped make everything a little bit easier.”