Webinar Report: The push for mobility

Why should you move to another city or country for your career, and what are the challenges involved?

Moderator: Jeanne Salje, Group Leader, MORU/Oxford University and member of the eLife Early-Career Advisory Group.

Speakers: Francesca Spagnoli, Group Leader, Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine, Germany; Verena Ruprecht, Group Leader, Centre for Genomic Regulation, Spain; and Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, UK.


Nearly all researchers move institutions at some point in their career, and it is increasingly common to spend some time working abroad. But it’s a big decision to make the move, so it’s important to consider the following.

Moving is about finding the best labs…

A major motivation for all of the panellists was a desire to work in the best labs for their research, in institutes that placed them in contact with the best researchers. The ability of working abroad to help you build a network of fellow scientists is particularly important to Francesca Spagnoli: “science […] is based on collaboration across countries, across cultures […] mobility facilitates communication”.

…but you can’t make a decision purely based on science

If your home life isn’t happy, you’re likely to be unhappy at work too. If you have a family who will move with you, their needs also have to be taken into consideration. Think carefully: what parts of your life are you able to adapt to a new environment (for example, would you be happy learning another language)? What are you not willing to change? What kind of facilities and surroundings are important to you and to your family?

Visit before making your decision

The best way to get a feel for whether you’ll enjoy living in a new city or country is to visit it. A visit to your prospective new institution will also help you find out how much support they’ll provide while you’re settling in. In particular, you should try to talk to researchers who are at similar career stages or have made similar moves recently to find out how much support they received.

What if you can’t move or don’t want to move?

Moving may not always be the best option. Maybe you’re already in the best institute for your field of research, or perhaps personal circumstances mean you need to stay in your current location. Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri has met many successful researchers who haven’t moved abroad: in her experience “those who don’t move become even more determined and seek out more opportunities than they might if they’d moved away”. There’s no one size fits all in science – you need to choose the path that will give you the most useful new experiences and allow you to build your networks.

Settling in

Take your time to adjust to your new location. You should also be prepared to “put yourself out there” to meet new people. It also helps to make friends outside of the lab – whether that’s through a hobby, or by meeting other parents at the school gates. These new relationships can form a valuable support network, particularly if you’ve moved thousands of miles – Sferruzzi-Perri describes her friends as a “surrogate family”.

When settling in, it’s also important to remember that things won’t go smoothly all of the time - Jeanne Salje estimates that it takes around six months to get things running at full speed after a move. However, facing and overcoming these challenges will make you a better scientist.

Most importantly… have fun!

Moving presents many challenges, but also many opportunities. Verena Ruprecht emphasises the excitement of moving to a new country: “It’s really a joy entering a new institute, being surrounded by new people […] it’s an incredibly intense period of your life when you can develop […] and experience a lot”.

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