Dispatch: a move from London to New York City

Eight months after moving to New York City to start a postdoctoral position at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Jessica Sharrock offers advice to others considering an academic move abroad.
Jessica Sharrock is a postdoctoral research scholar at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, working on natural-killer cells and their role in cancer, viral infection and metabolism. Twitter: @jess_sharrock

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The New York City skyline.Credit: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty Images

Since moving from London, I’ve been in New York City for just over eight months. My experience won’t be the same as yours, but here are the main pieces of advice I would give to others considering a move to a new city for their postdoc position.

Get help with housing

Bear in mind that searching for housing in a new city can be a challenge, particularly when you conduct that search from a different country. And in a city such as New York, apartments move off the market extremely quickly.

Postdocs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) are allocated subsidized housing nearby, but that is not the case for all institutes. I have now moved out of that accommodation (to a more lively part of the city) into a privately rented apartment. Moving can be a tough process, so try to work out where you want to live, be organized and be willing to decide quickly.

Reach out to your new supervisor, other graduate students and postdocs to ask about the accommodation options. Some institutes also have staff to help with the search.

Be prepared to budget

This might be a more relevant piece of advice for those moving to a place where housing and living expenses are high. I keep my budgeting pretty basic, but it’s definitely something I have to think about. I ensure rent is paid each month, enjoy being in New York City as much as possible and try to save a little bit each month — although it’s not always easy.

I have to repay a student loan in the United Kingdom, which must be paid from a UK bank account. So, although transferring money between foreign bank accounts is simpler than it once was, it is still an extra thing to consider each month. Other readers might have similar restrictions and commitments.

Do as much research into your banking options as possible — it can be difficult trying to open a bank account in a new country.

Living is not like visiting

After living in a few different cities since finishing my undergraduate degree, one of my favourite things is the transition from a tourist to a local. After eight months, New York City feels like home, and I am so glad I decided to make the move. My biggest pieces of advice would be to embrace it, head off the tourist trail, get lost and enjoy yourself.

Being an international postdoc in a new city also means you get to meet many different people, from many different walks of life, without even leaving the institute.

For me, however, making friends outside of the lab was extremely important. I’ve made some great friends at MSKCC, but I was also aware that I had an incredible new city to explore with 8.6 million other people. I tried to be proactive as soon as I arrived, and joined sports classes and various other social events around the city, which have all given me extensive opportunities to make new friends. After a few months of being in the city, I moved into an apartment with two other girls. House shares are a great way to quickly meet lots of new people.

Things feel different

Academically, the United Kingdom and the United States both produce a wealth of great science, but I do feel like I am under an increased amount of pressure now that I’ve moved. Whether that’s because of my step up to postdoc level, or because I’m in a different cultural environment, I still don’t know.

During my PhD, I worked at both King’s College London and Imperial College London — two powerful research universities — but in the United States, the pressure feels a lot more intense than it ever did in London.

Here, the academic bar feels so much higher, not only for postdocs but also for graduate students. My advice would be to work hard, create a comfortable work–life balance early on and maintain good mental health. Be sure to ask for help when you need it, and remember that a PhD prepares you for so much, so be sure to use and transfer the skills you have acquired. Just because you’re in a different laboratory, location and time zone doesn’t mean that your knowledge and skills become meaningless. If anything, they become even more valuable.

Outside of academia, I don’t think I personally feel that much different after moving. There are obvious differences between London and New York City, but culturally, New York City is very similar to London (and other cosmopolitan cities), so maybe if I had gone elsewhere in the United States I would feel different. Planning to move for a postdoc position, whether overseas or closer to home, can feel like an extremely daunting experience, but explore as many options as possible and be open minded and honest about what you are looking for personally and academically. In the long run, it can be an incredibly rewarding process.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06941-w

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