On the road

Cambridge encounterings

Chukwuma Agu
Chukwuma Agu exploring Cambridge Source: Chukwuma Agu
Chukwuma Agu
Chukwuma Allison Agu

When I started on my doctoral thesis I already knew I wanted to do my postdoc abroad. My aim was to gather experience in an English-speaking country. In order to decide where to go I first considered what place would offer the ideal environment for my scientific development and for establishing contacts with cutting-edge scientists. In Cambridge my working life has changed completely. I have already encountered a good many new things and developed in professional and personal terms. Work on my project is very exciting and Cambridge is an impressive town. This is a learning experience that will influence my entire life.

 Place of Research

The quality of the research centre was of course an important parameter in my decision to go to Cambridge. Since I have a family I also had to consider a place where it would be easy to make a home for them. I opted for MRC Cambridge since it is one of the largest Research Councils in the UK and a hatching-ground for renowned scientists and Nobel Prize winners in the 20th century, such as Watson and Crick (decoding of the DNA) and Max Perutz (myoglobin and the structure of proteins). Work at the Hutchison MRC is genuinely rewarding for me, as they always offer useful training for postdocs, including on topics such as “managing your research”, “grant and proposal writing”, “scientific writing”, “presentation skills” and many other issues relating to career development.

Still, the beginning was a little difficult, as I was in an unfamiliar environment and didn’t know anyone in Cambridge. Of course, I missed my friends and relatives in Austria. My wife and two sons have moved to Cambridge with me. When my children learned they had to leave their school and friends it sounded to them like a true nightmare. By now, however, they are happy again; they are in love with this small town and have made new friends. The new living context has been enriching for me in many ways. For instance I had to learn to adapt to the constantly changing weather and accept that you have to stand in the queue at the bus stop if you want to get along with other people.


I have always been impressed by Cambridge’s academic tradition, and that was what prompted my decision to contact the Hutchison MRC Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, where the atmosphere is very pleasant. I also appreciate the fact that here you always get praise and encouragement, even during bad spells. As many of my colleagues come from very different cultural backgrounds, the MRC is a very open and international environment. You not only learn about science, but also about other cultures. Our group leader, Guillermo de la Cueva-Mendez, comes from Spain, and we have already been to his home country twice for lab retreats. But I have also taken pains to keep in touch with my Austrian colleagues, for it is important to me that all the people I worked with in the past should be willing to work with me in the future.


Cambridge is a university town with a very cosmopolitan outlook and an international flair. People here are very open, polite, helpful and reliable. Alongside my work at the lab I am a true family man! On the weekends I spend lots of time with my family. It is a lucky coincidence that my sons and I share a hobby. Every Saturday we play soccer with my colleagues and their children at the famous Parker’s Piece in Cambridge, which is where the rules of soccer were invented in 1843. Sometimes we also go on family outings to the countryside, which we find very relaxing.

One of the special events I recall from my time in Cambridge is having lunch with Tim Hunt (Nobel Laureate 2001). The MRC Hutchison Graduate Society had invited Tim Hunt (himself an alumnus of Clare College Cambridge) to make a presentation. Afterwards, the MRC postdocs were invited to a luncheon with him. Talking to Tim was very interesting and motivating, and I was delighted by his sense of humor. That was a truly inspiring experience. I can only say that I am convinced I have taken the right step and that I have learned a great many things.

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