We arrived in Scotland, as planned, in September and have spent the last month settling in to our new surroundings.

My first few weeks as a lecturer have been hectic.  I still don’t have any computer equipment at work, which is making accomplishing anything substantial a tough task.  An unexpected complication of my lack of computing facilities was the knock on effect it had on my ability to engage in the bureaucracy and form-filling that I knew would take up much of my time.  These tasks are rendered even more complicated without a printer, and resulted in me having to pay the local public library a visit in order to use their facilities.

Budget 2010
Image by The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr

Amidst all my frustration at not being able to hit the ground running, I know I am very lucky.  I have landed a permanent position at one of the most uncertain times for British Universities.  Talk in the corridors is of the 80% cuts to teaching, significant cuts to research and abolition of capped tuition fees that are expected in tomorrow’s Comprehensive Spending Review.  The coalition government is extricating itself from the higher education system and this will have inevitable ramifications; in the form of university closures and privatisations.

I am lucky and I have to hope that I am also lucky when it comes to getting grants.  Research councils will have their budgets slashed and there will be huge demand for what little funding they can make available.  fMRI research certainly isn’t cheap, and if I am going to carry on with it here, as my job title ‘Lecturer in Neuroimaging’ would suggest I should, I am going to have to secure external funding pretty soon.

Tomorrow will be tough in anticipation of the lean years ahead.  Nevertheless I certainly won’t be the hardest hit by the cuts, and for that I am thankful.

Whilst Windows easily copies lots of data, it struggles when you ask it to copy lots and lots and lots of data.  Teracopy is a neat file copying utility that provides peace of mind as you transition from copying gigabytes of data to terabytes of data.

In order to get my fMRI data from St. Louis to St. Andrews, I have embarked upon the somewhat arduous task of copying everything to a portable hard-drive.   After a few attempts that ended in the failure to copy a file or two, seemingly at random, I lost faith in using the standard drag-and-drop copy in Windows, and searched for alternatives.  The command line option seemed fastest, but I didn’t want to bring the server down for everyone else for a few hours whilst I did my copying.  Then I found Teracopy.

A picture of TeraCopy
Teracopy in action (Image via Wikipedia)

Teracopy (freeware) is a straightforward utility that improves upon the Windows interface in a number of ways.  Copying is (apparently) faster and it certainly seems more reliable than the standard Windows approach.  One very nice feature is that it allows you to pause and resume your copying for when you need to free up system resources temporarily.

download Teracopy

So far I have copied close to a terabyte of data onto my portable hard-drive with no problems.  Now all that remains is to check it all with another utility (Windiff) to make sure all my files really did get copied successfully, and to actually transport my hard-drive without banging or dropping it.

Brookings Hall, an icon of Washington Universi...
Image via Wikipedia

In just under one month, I will be leaving Washington University in St. Louis and moving to Scotland to take up a lectureship at the University of St. Andrews.  It’s another big move for me, both geographically and professionally, and it’s what I was hoping would result from my time as a postdoc here in the Dobbins lab.  It hasn’t all been fun and games though.

Back in 2007, my experience of applying for post-PhD jobs in the UK was desperate.  I loved my area of research, deja vu, but struggled to get short-listed for anything other than jobs directly in that field e.g. researching temporal lobe epilepsy and memory.  Even when I was shortlisted for jobs I didn’t do well at the interview stage, I suspect, because my exposure to anything other than deja vu research had been rather limited.  I was also keen to start using fMRI in my research, but hadn’t the foggiest idea of how I might do that, and who would give me the opportunity.  I still look back on most of 2007 as a bleak time of struggling to keep up with the demands of writing my thesis alongside firing off job applications, the quality of which declined the more desperate I became.

I had been keen on a postdoc, but during my search in 2007 they seemed few and far between.  I did get interviewed for one in Exeter, but I was so out of my depth it was ridiculous.  It was around November that one of my PhD supervisors forwarded me a call for postdoc applications that he had received (on the MDRS mailing list, I think).  My supervisor’s comment with the e-mail read something along the lines of “I know this is probably too far away for you but…”

I e-mailed my CV and from then onwards things started to move very quickly.   Within a few days I had a phone conversation with Ian Dobbins and we organised that I would visit Washington University – it would take me a few more days to realise that the university was neither located in D.C., nor on the West Coast, but slap-bang in the middle of the country, in a city I didn’t realise still existed.  Within weeks I was giving a talk in St. Louis to memory researchers whose work I had read about in undergraduate textbooks.  An arduous J1 visa application later, I started my postdoc.

What I found staggering at the time, was that my boss was willing to take a chance on someone with no fMRI experience, in what was going to be an fMRI-heavy position.  This worked out well for us both (I hope), but I know I was very lucky.  A combination of a PI willing to take a punt on an enthusiastic postdoc candidate, and a wealth of resources afforded by working on a well-funded grant at a prestigious private university, allowed me an opportunity that has undoubtedly paved the way for my next step to St. Andrews.  I can’t overstate how grateful I am.

Beyond the professional fortune, I was also extremely lucky that my circumstances allowed me to make the move from the North of England to the American Midwest in pursuit of a job.  That my wife was willing to uproot, that our family and friends were so supportive, and that we were able to gather the money to make the move were all huge factors, the absence of any one of which would have scuppered the done-deal.

St Andrews University.
Image via Wikipedia

The confluence of professional and personal serendipity has once again presented us with a fantastic opportunity to move back east across the Atlantic, this time necessitating three tickets rather than the two that sufficed for the westward trip we made in 2008.  I hope that in a few years time I can look back on this move too, as another lucky break that I was able to take full advantage of.  I also hope that at some later stage of my career, I can present similar opportunities to a new generation of budding postdocs.

In September we will be leaving St. Louis and moving back across the Atlantic to St. Andrews, Scotland.

Maersk Line Ship

Unlike when we made the move over here in 2008, my new job is contributing towards the cost of relocation, which means flights, temporary accommodation and the shipping of our personal effects should all be paid for.  Being able to take our stuff back with us is a huge deal.  In 2008, we paid for the move ourselves and as a result only shipped three tea-chest-size boxes (using Seven Seas Worldwide, an excess baggage company who I wholeheartedly recommend for small shipments).  These boxes contained only our luxury items – my mother’s old Nikon, some photograph albums, electronic bits and pieces and assorted Kiwiana – meaning that we still needed to spend a great deal of effort and money acquiring furniture, cooking utensils and other household essentials.  This time we can afford to be a little less conservative in what we decide to take with us, which should save us money when we arrive and provide our 19-month old son with a little continuity to his own toy-filled world.

Which is all great in theory.  But how do you go about organising an international shipment?

Googling “international shipping companies” provides you with a lot of companies who are willing to take your details and will probably hound you every week until you respond to their quotates.  But worryingly, all of these companies’ websites are filled with warnings about the fidelity of ‘other’ companies and worse still, many are littered with the sort of bad grammar and 90s webdesign that makes you think twice about clicking on anything other than the back button.  Google’s aggregation of these web-sites, rather than helping me compare them and find the best, only managed to make me mistrust them all.

After a few weeks of online stumbling, I finally hit upon a genuinely useful website – www.movingscam.com.  The first thing I read on the website was:

“The number one question MovingScam.com receives is “Can you recommend a good moving company?”. If the answer to that question was easy, then there wouldn’t be a reason for maintaining a web site called MovingScam.com”

That resonated with my state of mind at the time, so I read on, navigating to their international moving page.  Again there were warnings about what to look for in an international moving company, but this time there was a list of four companies recommended by users of the web-site forum.  I contacted them all and three got back to me with a quote.  We eventually settled on Sterling International, whose representative, Phil Aeschleman, filled me with confidence when he beat me to the name of my liaison at the University of St. Andrews (suggesting that he hadn’t been full of hot air, as I had cynically imagined, when he had earlier mentioned that they were in the process of organising another move from the US to St. Andrews).

We had our pre-move survey yesterday, with our move scheduled for early September.  The prospect of a team of professional movers packing our belongings is a little strange, but it should certainly be efficient.  I hope that in a few months I will be able to contribute to the movingscam forum with a endorsement of Sterling International.  Fingers crossed.