‘If you can stand the weather, it’s brilliant here.’ One often hears statements like that about Edinburgh. In fact, things here are not that bad really, just different. I feel that being able to adapt to these and other (cultural) circumstances is an important requirement for any scientist.
Since October 2008 I have been at the University of Edinburgh in the working group of Robin Allshire, working with the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe to explore the structure of centromeres. My decision to go abroad was taken about a year earlier, as soon as my wife endorsed my plan. Since I am very bad at foreign languages, my only choice was for an English-speaking country (although it may be debated whether people actually speak English in Scotland). The fact that the group here works on chromatin plus their list of publications commended them to me. While attending a conference on fungal genetics here in Edinburgh I met Professor Allshire’s Group for an interview, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The main difference to the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, where I studied and acquired my doctoral degree under Joseph Strauss, is the size of the department and of the university itself, which has a strong impact on infrastructure and bureaucracy. Shielded from bureaucratic burdens by the lab manager, I am free to benefit from the infrastructure and from access to techniques and equipment.
As I am not the only foreigner in my workplace I enjoy the contact with people from around the world of very different cultural backgrounds. Everyone has their preferred way of living and working, and you quickly learn to accept and partly understand these differences. I for one find this kind of environment very stimulating.
When my wife and I arrived here, the credit crunch was at its height and the local media acted as though the end of the world was nigh. Since the Wellcome Trust, which funds the centre where I work (Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology), suffered strongly from the crisis, there was palpable tension at the centre itself as well. Having adjusted to the situation here rather quickly, I must say, however, I feel very much at home here. The food in our canteen is more or less comparable to the one at my university in Vienna, and only those who have tried it can understand just how terrible that is; well, I exaggerate, it’s not as bad as all that. Otherwise Edinburgh is a very cosy city with many pubs, restaurants and cultural events, most notably the Fringe at the Festival in August with a great number and variety of acts (comedy, dance, music and theatre).
I would like to conclude with a comment on the cultural angle. As soon as I had become used to life here in Scotland (and developed at least an inkling of understanding for Scottish English) I soon realised that while the UK may be part of Europe, there are some major differences to Austria. I have made it a habit not to judge these differences, but simply respect them. I think as a scientist one has to acknowledge that not everything lends itself to immediate understanding, and I guess that is very true of the behaviour of human beings in general and of Scots in particular.