Friday, March 19, 2010

A month in Melbourne

I realized today that I've been in Melbourne for exactly a month, so I thought it would be a good time to answer all those "so, what's it like?" questions.

Maybe I'm still in the honeymoon phase, but so far, everything's great. I like the city, like the job, like my flatmate, love my apartment and the neighborhood, love riding my bike, and I've made a few friends and joined a soccer team. I think after finally emerging from a soul-crushing six year stint in graduate school, I felt the need to press the big ole reset button on my life, and a new job in a new place seems to have done the trick. The big and obvious downside is that Australia is so very far away, and the massive time difference does make it seem even further.

So...time for some compare and contrast! Melbourne is a little larger than Boston and definitely has a bit of a chip on its shoulder in regards to Sydney, similar to how many Bostonians feel about New York. People here love good coffee and dress in a very unique style, which has inspired me to ditch the Old Navy grad school duds and pick up some new clothes (um, once I finish paying for the moving costs). For some reason, Americans have the impression that Australians are super friendly. They certainly aren't mean or anything, but they're not, well, Nicaraguan friendly. It's rather nice to live in a foreign country where you aren't noticebaly a forgeiner. Until someone says "How are you going?" (the standard greeting) and you pause and look confused before mumbling "Huh?...Oh! Good! You?" (This happens approximately six times a day.) The driving on the left thing isn't that big of a deal (especially since I haven't driven yet), but this is not the city for Boston-style jaywalking. Cars will not stop for you, and if you get hit, the general attitude seems to be that it's your own damn fault for being in the road.

Although I normally don't blog about anything job related, I know my science friends want to know what the lab is like, so I'll break protocol a bit. Like in the US, research laboratories tend to be very international, and mine is no exception- in addition to Australians and me, my group has members from Malaysia, Singapore, and Germany. The biggest difference is the overall lack of funding here- reagents cost more, and there aren't any big NIH grants to be had, which changes the general tone of the lab. Experiments are planned extremely carefully- it's better to take your time and do something right the first time to minimize costs than rush through to get a quick and dirty result that will need to be repeated. Every order is closely scrutinized, and labs cut costs by racking their own tips and reusing things like weigh boats. In some regards, it's a more thoughtful and less wasteful way of doing science, but on the downside, it would be nice to have more reagents and equipment available. On the plus side, despite the poor funding, academic scientists get paid much better here than they do in the US. It still baffles how labs in the US will spend millions of dollars on equipment and reagents but pay postdocs less than 40K a year (for a full rant, just ask JR). Aside from the funding, the other significant difference in the laboratory environment is that we are located smack dab in the middle of a hospital, and a children's hospital at that. All day long I see kids and their parents headed towards various doctor's appointments- it's poignant reminder that the institute where I work does have the overall goal of improving child health through research.

Okay, that's enough nerd talk for one night. Coming soon- more pics of the apartment and the neighborhood. And lastly, I've come to the realization that I hate Ikea.

Lastly, happy 30th birthday to my little sis!


J.R. said...

Yo Reen-O the transition sounds well underway. The international approach to science is truly an eye-opening experience. It's a big ass world, and there are lots of people in it, and lots of ways to do things, which has been cool to see.

I am extremely jealous of your bike. I haven't figured out how to get one yet.

Suldog said...

Heh. Love the comparison of driving/walking habits. Glad to hear all is going well. I've finished "Chatterley" by the way. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, I also hate Ikea except for the food, which I like!

Carolyn said...

when i was shopping in the grand bazaar in turkey, all the vendors ask you where you're from and a few asked if i was australian. i asked one of them why he thought i was australian and he said because i was friendly and that i stopped to have a conversation with him, unlike most americans. maybe the vendor was just trying to woo me into making a purchase though!

Kevin said...

Glad to hear you're enjoying life in Melbourne and things are going well. We wish we could visit you, but impending baby arrival prevents that. Oh, and also that big cloud of volcanic dust that is confining us to this small island in the north Atlantic.