The Big Lab Move – a Bumpy Road

It seems quite timely, given the fact that two large research groups from our chemistry department here at Nottingham have just left for pastures new, that the Nature Jobs website have posted this article about lab moves, and their difficulties.

It’s a tricky situation that very few employees in other sectors have to consider – when your supervisor decides to move, you have to move too.

Indeed, I can think of no other obvious role that would require an entire team and instrumental setup to be relocated simply on the decision of the person in charge to pack up and move on. In academia, however, it seems surprisingly commonplace. Here at Nottingham we’ve not only had two large groups move this summer, but over the past year or two we’ve had several researchers come to us – and bring their students with them.

It’s certainly not an easy experience for the PhD students and post-docs involved. Many have moved partners with them and settled down for at least the next few years together, only to be told they have to be uprooted all over again. Some have even purchased houses where they study/work, and have to go through the lengthy and often difficult process of selling up and moving.

Moving can be a particular problem for bioscience researchers, as it involves moving live animals and cultures, but chemists can have their share of problems with transport, too. One of our ex-professors had to arrange the transport of a significant number of Uranium compounds, which required extensive risk assessment and paperwork to be completed.

Practicalities and logistics of moving aside, there’s also the impact of this significant interruption to your work. For some students, their research can simply be halted and picked up after the move, but others may lose access to valuable equipment, resources and expertise, have issues with funding or find work needing to be redone, or new courseworks to complete.

It would seem, from the experiences shared in the article, that moving can be character building, with the stresses and challenges faced leaving researchers more confident and able to take on problems in the future. Nevertheless, they offer advice to anyone about to take on the hassle of moving labs, including to keep lab staff in the loop – an issue which comes up time and time again as supervisors keep their students in the dark for months before announcing an imminent move. Researchers are also advised to create back-up plans and resources – in case something unexpected happens to precious cargo en route to your new place of work/study.

Certainly, a move to another lab – whether to a nearby town, another county/state or another country altogether – is often an unwanted surprise. However, they don’t happen for nothing – often the move isn’t only enhancing your supervisor’s career, but can move you onto bigger and better things as well. A new challenge is often a new opportunity, so make the most of it!

Have you had to move your research to another place? How did it go?


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