When Your Lab Has to Move Out

Alessandro Stirpe
PhD student in the Schalch lab. Affilated with the Department of Molecular Biology, Faculty of Sciences. Now in University of Leicester.
Research Focus: Structural biology of heterochromatin; the role of ubiquitination in chromatin regulation.

canva-photo-editorIt’s not uncommon in science for professors to move their lab from one university to another. That’s what happened recently to the lab of Thomas Schalch. But what do the other members of the lab do in this case? We’ve contacted Alessandro Stirpe to comment on his situation. Few months ago we all saw him at the Uni Mail stage taking part in Don Giovanni piece. And now he is doing his experiments in Uni  Leicester, UK. What happened in between?

– Hi Ale! Just to give a time reference: in which year of your PhD you are now?

Hi everyone, I am currently in my fourth year of PhD, which will probably be my last year.

– When did the moving out rumours start? And when was it actually confirmed?

The rumours about a possible move started about one year before the lab actually moved. At about that time, my supervisor was being evaluated for both a tenure position at the University of Geneva and a similar position at the University of Leicester, where we currently are.

– Was it known what would be the destination, if the lab had to move out?

Yes, the destination was clear since the beginning. As soon as my supervisor decided to accept the position at the University of Leicester, he communicated it to us.

– What were your options and why did you choose to follow Thomas?

The possible options were three. First, I had the chance to remain in Geneva and keep working on my project, but this under the supervision of a different PI and Thomas’s co-supervision, whom would have been based in Leicester.

The second option was to switch to a different lab and change PhD project, an option that I did not consider at all. The third option, and the one I chose, was to remain enrolled as a PhD student at the University of Geneva but moving to Leicester with my supervisor, officially as a visiting PhD student. I preferred this for two main reasons: first of all, moving meant keeping the same project and having a expert supervisor on the topic; second, since we are a structural biology lab, the University of Leicester provided a better environment and infrastructure for these kind of studies.

– Between the moment it was decided and your final landing in Leicester: what needed to be done and how? 

As I said, I knew one year in advance that the lab would have moved. About six months before the move, an approximate date was already known. The exact date was decided together with the moving company, and this was communicated about one month before moving. The whole relocation process was quite smooth, this thanks to the help of my supervisor. Since a good part of our lab equipment was to be shipped to Leicester, I had the chance to move my personal stuff along with it. Moreover, my supervisor hosted me while I was looking for a place where to live, and this made the whole moving much easier.

– What were bureaucratic steps you had to go through in Geneva?

It took a while to figure out what I had to do. After having visited several offices, it turned out that the University had a specific protocol for cases like mine. I had to request a period of secondment to the University of Leicester. This means that I am still an employee of the University of Geneva, but I am abroad for a defined period to continue my studies. To do so, I had to officially apply for it at the University of Geneva. The requirements and the instructions for the applications can be found here: https://memento.unige.ch/doc/0317.

– When and where will be your defense (approximately)?

I should finish my PhD sometime in the next summer and my waiver will be in Geneva. As said before, I am still a student of the University of Geneva.

– What was your original reaction to the relocation and how do you feel and think about it now? Do you feel settled?

Well, I cannot say that my reaction was good. When my supervisor told me about the relocation, I was not happy at all, simply because I did not plan to move before the end of my PhD, especially not during my last year. Nevertheless, while the overall moving plan unfolded, I became more and more prone to accept it, and I was finally convinced when I visited the institute where I am based now. Workwise, I feel completely settled; I have been working in the lab since three weeks after we moved.

Regarding my social life, that is a different story. Like many other PhD students, I have moved many times to other cities, and we all know that is never easy. Moving means leaving many friends, and I left a good part of me in Geneva. I am slowly settling in Leicester, and now I am starting having a social life, but it is not as easy as it was in Geneva when I arrived.

There are two main reasons for this.

First, many PhD students in the institute where I am now are from the UK and have either been living in Leicester for some time or they live in different cities, therefore, they already have their friends and social lives.

Second, there is nothing that can be really compared to our “TGIF event”, which creates an environment for socializing and discussions about scientific problems between the students in the programme. The lack of a mean to meet fellow PhD students in an informal way limits the interactions within the PhD students community, and this makes it a bit more difficult to feel settled here. To conclude, I want to encourage everyone in Geneva to join any social events organised within the PhD community, because it will make you richer in many ways.

– Anatoly Kozlov, Reiner Prosée

3 thoughts on “When Your Lab Has to Move Out

  1. This was an elightening report – glad to hear a move mid-way through a PhD can go smoothly. Thanks to the authors for sharing the procedures of moving abroad. I’ll add them to the FAQs for current PhD students.


  2. “Second, there is nothing that can be really compared to our “TGIF event”, which creates an environment for socializing and discussions about scientific problems between the students in the programme.”

    You have a chance to organize something similar over there. 🙂


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