After two years and four months of postdocing in Seattle I’m finally back in Europe. It’s been quite the adventure so I’ve decided to recap my experience, partly for the sake of posterity and partly in case anyone out there finds it useful.
Two years and four months
By the time I left I spent two years and four months in Seattle, which has been a difficult but appreciated experience and I still can’t decide if time has flown by or dragged on. Moving to a new country can be an alienating experience, and the US certainly felt substantially different than any other place I’ve lived, but I don’t regret having had the experience of living there. My life in Seattle has been made particularly difficult by living apart from my partner for most of that time and not made any easier by not making many friends, leading to a life largely restricted between home and work. Winter darkness made this even worse and I regret allowing myself to be dragged down by these personal issues to the point where I wasn’t fun for others to be around me.
But in retrospect I’m content with how I chose to handle my personal issues. When I came to Seattle I had not cycled for close to 20 years. As I left I’m pretty sure I must have cycled 3,000 or 4,000 (if not more) kilometres around Seattle’s surroundings and commuted to work almost every day, despite crashing my bike pretty badly a year into my stay. My twitter followers will also be aware of the 1,000 km bike trip through Lithuania I did last summer too. That would not have happened if I hadn’t gone to Seattle. I also didn’t play any instruments before I moved and though I’d argue that I still can’t play any instrument I certainly learned how to make sounds with the guitar and am looking forward to improving those skills in the future. I’ve never homebrewed beer before Seattle either, yet as I left my spreadsheet indicates that I’ve made nearly 270 litres of the good stuff in a variety of styles and flavours. Depending on how you count I’m leaving Seattle with either 100% or 50% more tattoos than when I arrived, courtesy of one of the best tattoo artists in town. So overall, I feel like the person who left Seattle a few days ago is ultimately an improvement on the original material arriving back in March of 2016.
The things I’ll miss
There’s a handful of things I know I’ll miss from Seattle - I got a chance to hear music veterans like Mayhem, Satyricon and Reverend Horton Heat, bands I had only recently started listening to like High on Fire and Sleep, even obscure bands that are usually low key, like Reverend Beat Man, came out to Seattle. Keep in mind that I honestly thought I’d never get to see any of these bands live, so I’ll be forever grateful for Seattle for that.
I’ll also miss all of the food varieties available in Seattle - tacos from Tacos Chukis, tortas from Tortas Condesa, dumplings from Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar, arepas from Arepa Venezuelan Kitchen, Caribbean food from Pam’s Kitchen, greasy burgers from Dick’s Drive In, even greasier burgers from Triple-XXX Diner, Thai food from Wedgewood, etc. Though Europe and other places have good food too, the US approach to food has been a uniquely delicious experience. I’ll also miss the varieties of Seattle beers - Sumerian’s pilsner, Postdoc’s blonde ale, Rogue’s bock, the ever-dependable Rainier, Alaskan amber, the numerous beers from Sierra Nevada, even the wince-inducing IPAs from time to time. I’m sure I’ll miss the cycling infrastructure and the long bike rides out to breweries too eventually.
Getting the personal stuff out of the way I should say something about the lab too for anyone looking to join. By now I’ve seen a number of groups and departments, largely in the US and Europe, and the one thing I’ve found lacking in most places (other than the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Edinburgh) was a healthy social atmosphere. Lacking a department-wide community, Trevor has managed to assemble an impressive cast of kind and bright people in his lab and (with a bit of my help) cultivated a healthy social atmosphere that’s rarely seen in academia these days. I can’t say I’ve seen another lab during my travels that’s hung out together as much as the Bedford lab. Trevor has also been exceedingly successful in managing a rapidly growing lab working on a relatively limited number of study systems without anyone stepping on each other’s toes. More than that, what I’ve appreciated the most is Trevor’s flexibility with different work styles. I’ve found that I am at my best when working independently with a small group of people and Trevor has been very kind in indulging me.
If unlike me you happen to care more about work than a healthy work environment then you’re in luck too. When it comes to the Bedford lab the publication record speaks for itself and there’s very little to add. I’ve personally published three papers during my stay at the lab (one of them split between Edinburgh and Seattle) and contributed to eight others. The lab holds scientific values of openness and reproducibility in high regard, so if you intend to publish without sharing your data and code publicly the lab’s probably not for you.
I’ve been asked a lot about what’s next in life for me. Well, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be breaking new ground with some remote part-time working/consulting opportunities with the usual academic and some unusual suspects. I’ve been inspired by James Hadfield in this case, who like me is dealing with a two-body problem. I did not want to infringe upon my partner’s career by going for a PI position somewhere inconvenient for a good portion of a decade, and since my partner got a job in Sweden it seems like the current compromise is ideal. I’ve always wanted to try living in Scandinavia and this seems like the best opportunity I’ll get to see what all the rage is about. There’s still a number of things to work out with my new-found job situation, but I’ll write up my experiences as I go along if anything of interest comes up.
In the meanwhile look out for updates on twitter about my adventures in Lithuania. I’ve not lived in Lithuania for longer than three weeks for the last decade or so and much has changed since, so this summer should be a fun adventure of rediscovery. I’ll be cycling across the entire country again, this time in a more relaxed manner and through places that are better off and more abundant with cultural heritage, so either enjoy the daily photos of the Lithuanian countryside and architectural heritage or block me on twitter for the next two months to avoid inadvertent spam.