A controversial move to central London for the Medical Research Council's flagship lab will have career repercussions.
The five-year discussion about relocating the UK Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) has had its fair share of controversy. The decision announced last December that the centre will move from its historic home in the suburbs of London to a site in the heart of the capital will cost some £500 million (US$990 million) and will see animal labs hosted in an urban setting (see Nature 450, 926–927; 2006). As the dust settles, it is time to consider what the move might do for scientific careers.
The biggest question, career-wise, is whether the new facility will create more jobs. The centre will hold 1,500 people — roughly double what the NIMR site now serves, even though the suburban location sprawls over 19 hectares and the urban one will squeeze into 1.4 ha. But researchers from University College London and Cancer Research UK will also occupy the building, so it is unclear whether the new site will justify its price tag merely in terms of employing more scientific personnel.
Still, there is a chance for job growth and expanded career opportunities if the facility meets its goal of fostering translational research. If it discovers improved treatments for, say, cancer, then auxiliary jobs will emerge in intellectual property, clinical-trial management, regulatory affairs and marketing. The proximity of the centre to other London universities and hospitals will also help raise the city's research profile, resulting in more investment and status as a global 'hub'.
But it will be hard to assess which new jobs outside the centre have been created, at least in part, by its existence and proximity to other London research entities. If the new centre creates more scientific jobs overall — rather than just shifting positions from old sites to new — it will have been a positive move. But if there is no net gain in positions — and the centre costs more to operate, in less space, and with increased concerns about animal and virus containment — then the opposition's arguments will be justified. The investment is an expensive gamble. It will take until well after the facility's scheduled 2013 opening date to see whether the bet pays off, in terms not just of jobs but of overall scientific performance.
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Smaglik, P. A controversial move to central London for the Medical Research Council's flagship lab will have career repercussions.. Nature 451, 217 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7175-217a