Posted by: jackterrett | March 7, 2010

Week One: Welwyn Garden City

I arrived at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 mid-afternoon and made my way over to the Underground fairly easily (with a slight distraction as they were giving away free samples of Toblerone in duty-free shopping).  The route to Welwyn Garden City, where I’ll be staying for the next 11 weeks, was pretty simple – Piccadilly line to King’s Cross Station, then train north to WGC.  I got into WGC in the evening and met up with Chris, the man I’ll be lodging with for my stay in England.  His house is only about a 15 minute walk from the station or a 5 minute drive, so it’s very centrally located.  I moved in quickly, had some dinner, and then watched Canada beat the US in the Olympic Ice Hockey Final!  Go Canada!

I started work the next morning, and thanks to my stay in Berlin, I wasn’t too jet-lagged.  Nevertheless, a 7:30am wake-up is a little rough, but with a 9am start time, I can’t complain too much.  I wont write too much about the actual work I’ll be doing at the company yet, as this first week was a very slow start.  I spent the first day meeting everybody, learning their names, and then immediately forgetting them.  A lot of time was spent on health and safety – I had a meeting on lab safety, toured the facilities while being shown all the first aid kits and  various safety equipment, and spent hours upon hours reading documents about lab safety.  The people I’m working with are all friendly and welcoming, which is fortunate, although their first impressions were that I am very American – I will need to remedy that!  There are lots of interesting US/UK differences I’ve noticed by working in the lab such as words and expressions that I’ve adopted from the US as well as English ones that are very strange to hear.  I’ll address all of these “insights” in a future entry.

The biotech company I’m working for is called Heptares Therapeutics, and is located in Biopark, Welwyn Garden City, a 15 minute walk from where I’m staying.  The Biopark building is huge (BiHall-esque, except much older and depressing) and used to be owned by Roche.  Today, it’s divided up in about 20 companies, each of which has portioned out little parts of the building to themselves (a lab here, an office there, another lab here, etc).  Each company seems like a squatter in this building as they’re spread sporadically around the building, and in between companies there are disused rooms and labs that are left totally deserted.  Funnily enough, the chemistry lab at Heptares (where I work with six other chemists) is located up on the 3rd floor (4th floor in the US) while the rest of the company (biology labs, offices, kitchen!) is down on the 1st floor.  The stairs and the elevator is at the other end of the building from where the company is.  Understandably it takes a while to go from my lab to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee or tea, so that’s a great way to kill time on a slow day!

Welwyn Garden City is not the most exciting of places, but it does seem to have all the amenities I need.  There’s a local supermarket (Sainsbury’s), a shopping centre, a train station, Fish & Chip shop, and I’ve even found a McDonalds!  There’s a sizable Athletic complex (complete with track, velodrome, and dry skislope!) where I got together with 9 other guys from work last Thursday evening to play football (the English version).  There’s a pretty competitive running club that has practices there, which I’m going to look into joining.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even be able to fit in a track race at some point.

This week has been a lot of adjusting, but it looks like I’m beginning to settle in.  Going to work each day is getting fairly routine and I’m starting to get more and more out of them.  I had a surprise on Wednesday when my Dad showed up unannounced at work – he was over in England for the day (one day!) and decided to swing by to see how I was doing!  I spent the best part of this Saturday at my Grandparents house in Mill Hill, London catching up with them as I hadn’t seen them for over a year.  It was good to see them as well as get more experience with the local train system (only one hiccup as I got the wrong train that didn’t stop at their station, but otherwise fine).  So that’s one week complete, ten to go!

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