The Sanger Institute is a strange place for someone from “the outside”. Most of us working in genomics know a couple people in our labs doing somewhat sort-of similar things to what we’re doing. But when it comes down to actually carrying out our daily work, we tend to do it alone. BEING ALONE! That is what working in genomics is all about! At least that is what I had come to believe before I set foot in the great mecca of genomics research that is the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. Walking into the giant post-modern metallic building home to the Sanger should have been intimidating, in the same way I’d be intimidated walking into Dr. Evil’s evil headquarters, but instead I got the sense that I was coming home. Home to a place where *gasp* people were doing the same thing’s I was doing, having the same problems I was having, and most importantly solving the problems that I needed solving!
A giant metallic ball that shouts: “THE FUTURE!”
Backing up, I should also note that the Sanger Institute is all the way across the pond in a small town south of Cambridge, UK. When North Americans think of the University of Cambridge, we usually think of an uptight quasi-noble establishment that still runs on the same medieval structure it has for almost a millennium. This of course is all true. Yet despite the university being lost in a time capsule, the people who study and work in Cambridge have managed to modernize! This contrast makes for a very good atmosphere in a very cool historic place. As the Sanger isn’t actually in Cambridge, the institute sends buses to pick up hordes of genomicists from town, who are all packed into one giant double-decker bus. For a brief moment in transit, roughly 200 of the world’s strangest scientists (genomicists) are all packed into and forced to interact inside one giant tightly packed cube. A scary thought yes, but being a genomicist from the outside, I had to sit back and relish in the company. Surrounded by nerdy conversations about assembly, GWAS, custom scripts, and tonnes of other cryptic jargon; it was a truly welcoming moment..
Trinity College in Cambridge: Is that Issac Newton? Wait what year is it..
Unsurprisingly, my actual work with the parasite genomics team at the institute was extremely helpful and productive. At any given time, there was always someone in the very friendly and collaborative group who was willing to help with whatever problem I was facing. And as anyone who works in genomics knows, there is always a problem at hand. Thus I can say with confidence that having a place like the Sanger Institute to go to is an amazing opportunity for anyone “from the outside”. A trip like this is probably the best way to plug in and work with an insanely specialized group of people in one of the most cutting edge fields of the Life Sciences. It’s also a great opportunity to make some new friends. So if you ever have a chance to make a trip like this to work in a place specializing in your field, I say give it a go!