The wandering path of my unconventional scientific life is about to shift yet again. It’s with mixed feelings that I report another lab move – same Division, another new campus. The retro digs in Bloomsbury, with its polished hardwood trimmings, were always meant to be temporary – even more so when the entire street was slated for imminent destruction to make way for High Speed Two (along with parts of Drummond Street, Camden’s famous curry street, and the incomparable Bree Louise Pub). But instead of rehousing to a newly refurbished, high-concept building on Riding House Street as originally planned, this June my team will be squeezing into a friendly existing centre in the Royal Free Hospital.
Mixed feelings? I am very happy about the move in many ways. Our current set-up is just as isolated as the previous, seeing as how we are still the sole biomedical researchers in residence. The building also lacks permanent infrastructure, the sort of kit and facilities that are traditionally shared amongst entire departments: ultracentrifuges, decent microscopy, darkrooms, cold rooms, shaking incubators. To record the results of ethidium bromide-stained gels, the rest of the known universe uses dedicated digital imagery. Not us: we slap the gel onto a second-hand UV box (circa 1978, recently taken from a skip, only one of four tubes working) and snap pictures with our phones through a protective piece of scratched perspex:. To isolate bacterial DNA, we put our stuff in a box and take the Underground to another institute in Mornington Crescent. There are no handy colleagues next door to bounce ideas off or to borrow chemicals from. It’s lonely and disruptive, and I’ll be happy to see the back of that sort of lab life.
But moving, twice in two years, also take its toll. It can eat months off the progress of a PhD student, especially one who relies on specialized long-term tissue culture models. It is psychologically disruptive. The first few weeks, you feel like a houseguest from abroad who doesn’t know where the sugar is stored or how to find the nearest corner shop.
It will all be worth it, I know. My soon-to-be colleagues are a vibrant bunch of basic scientists and clinicians working on a broad and diverse range of systems and diseases. I already see dozens of potential opportunities for collaboration. I like the idea of being a small fish in a big, nutrient-rich pond. It will be good for my career, good for my PhD students, and good for the science. So bring it on.