Not only Science: from Milano to Birmingham
*CNR-ISMAC, via Bassini 15, 20133, Milano
A fundamental question in a scientist life is how the skills and the capabilities acquired in a lab could be exploited in a foreign academic environment, where everybody has a different background, speaks a different language, and all your knowledge, of which you are so proud (or maybe you are not) has to be proven. This study reveals how most of the scaring ideas everybody has before leaving are just an overacting, even if some discoveries of daily life happened to be more traumatic then the ones in scientific lives. In this paper I would like to emphasize the bizarre costumes of the people working and living in the cosmopolitan city of Birmingham, UK, it’s possible to run into.
KEYWORDS: Uno, Nessuno E Centomila1
The Italian researcher, around 30 years old, with a degree in a scientific subject and probably a PhD title round the corner, suddenly realizes that it’s time to start to seriously think about the future.
Putting, for the first time his/her head out of the lab, it is possible to find only a redundant and omnipresent word: CRISIS. No future or permanent positions available for anybody for at least other millions of years.
A solution is necessary, life requires a new experiment: to go abroad, in a foreign lab, with the aim to grow scientifically and personally.
The host lab, chosen after a serious analysis, was located in Birmingham. Far from the mundane, chaotic, distracting, fascinating, stimulating, wonderful London; far from the sea and the mountains to avoid that even the countryside could be a distraction, Birmingham is in the middle of nowhere. Here the most exciting activity of indigenous people is the Saturday afternoon shopping, in wide and inhuman (or subhuman) malls of the city center.
MATERIAL AND METHODS
Housing studies: The house finding was obtained by sampling a high number of apartments, using the www.gumtree.uk tool, a modern and fast method to keep in contact with people who wants to rent a flat, a room, a bike, a dog, or everything else you think it’s possible. The desired accommodation was found, calling for the most interesting advertisements and fixing appointments for the two days after the arrival in Birmingham. Before achieving the optimal choice, from 5 to 10 flats were checked. The receiving institute (University of Birmingham), provided for the accommodation in a hostel for the first days of permanence.
Wet lab samples preparation: The preparation procedure to leave the home country was: i) collecting as much literature as possible to be prepared to any scientific problem ii) All the samples hardly prepared in the home lab were cautiously stored in the luggage at room temperature, accompanied by a declaration of harmlessness and no commercial purposes.
Daily life preparation: To face the rainy, gloomy and doomy English weather, the best quality umbrellas and “Wellington boots” were packed, fulfilling all the space available in the suitcase.
City maps, public transportations time tables and prices where downloaded and printed, increasing the Amazonian forest felling.
No foreign currency was necessary; in England it was possible to find an ATM point everywhere and the credit card was the most common and easy way of payment.
A kg of pasta, one of Grana Padano, the real Italian coffee and the coffee-pot were provided by the real Italian mum.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
This work has been focused on two main interacting and complementary subjects: (i) Lab’s life; (ii) Birmingham’s life.
The first analysis was on the knowledge of the language.
Since landing every new input regarded a “partially” new language, every placard and direction signal were in English, and the most upsetting thing was that everybody spoke with you in what should be English but didn’t sound different from an ensemble of noises without any sense.
A first face to face contact with a Birmingham citizen was with the Asian taxi driver speaking a more understandable English.
After the arrival at the hostel, appeared to be necessary to buy an English mobile card to fix appointments with land lords and students, without spending all the pounds collected at the ATM point.
The first big discovery was that the majority of people living in Birmingham are not indigenous, more than 50% of the population are Asian and the rest are European students. The percentage of not indigenous English increased in the lab contest where less of the 5% of people were mother tongue speakers. This resulted in a definitively more comprehensible melting-pot language.
The second analysis was on the orientation skills around the University campus.
Bravery and Maps were not enough to avoid to completely get lost. The lab’s route wasn’t on the map and there were road works on it. Anyway, after a month, the researcher realized that nobody could find the lab location very easily, no carrier or visitor could found it at the very first attempt.
The third analysis was on how better survive in the inauspicious English weather.
The best brand umbrellas resulted to be unuseful against the wind that always blew in raining days.
The best solution against this natural calamity was to buy a K-way and a “resistant” umbrella in Primark, the cheapest English shop chain, for less than 3 pounds.
Wellington boots were in disuse in Birmingham, people, and particularly girls, tried to fight against cold and rain going around the city almost naked. Probably, the concept of this behavior lies behind the fact that less you dress less you get wet.
The conclusion derived by this experience showed that there isn’t the right/best solution to what to do after a PhD. Life isn\'t a motorway (straight and narrow). There are many different routes to explore. In his/her career a researcher can sample several possibilities in every country and find one that suits him/her at the right moment.
This research was supported by a short term fellowship from EMBO (ref: ASTF 41-2009).
1Luigi Pirandello, Uno Nessuno e Centomila, (Italian novel), 1926
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