Moving lab is a challenge. Moving country is an undertaking of vast proportions that often requires months of logistical planning for everything from finagling visas and finalizing funding to transporting delicate cultures and mastering a new language.
Yet researchers move routinely – in the midst of their PhD programme, for a new postdoc or another fellowship, for the next new position. Science is a mobile enterprise and if you haven’t moved lab or country yet, it’s likely to be in your future.
So how do you manage the details, both micro and macro? What happens if your samples die during the move? How do you get housing? How do you make friends? Don’t panic. We’ve rounded up a lot of tips for you from move veterans who’ve travelled the globe any number of times. It may not be easy, but it’s doable, and it can even be fun. (Sort of.)
If you find yourself wondering in the middle why you’re even doing this, despair not. There is a significant payoff – studies have shown that researchers who move lab and country early in their career, particularly during their first or second postdoc, publish more papers than those who stayed put. The effect is greatest for researchers who move from economically disadvantaged nations to those that are more economically stable.
There are other benefits too. Not only does globe-trotting vastly increase your network – and thus the opportunities for collaboration – but it may also fatten your paycheck. In most European nations, moving lab and country is virtually de rigueur, where it’s common wisdom that mobility is crucial for junior scientists to get the opportunity to work with leading researchers in their field. Of course, when you leave your lab, you need to make sure you don’t let those connections – or the discussions around the research — lapse.
Mobility veterans warn, though, that the main imperative is to remain flexible – because disasters will happen. Your cell cultures or animal models might die off. Or you’ll have a lab fire. In all cases, when you’re planning your move, hire carriers who have experience with moving labs.
And don’t let yourself become isolated. In a new environment, where you may know no one, it’s easy to do – but working round the clock or sequestering yourself in your flat won’t help you and may even affect your work. Force yourself to accept every social invitation that comes your way. You’ll meet other people and once you’ve established a solid network, you can always say no later. Happy travels!