A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Many people in Leiden often ask me why I decided to do my Erasmus placement at Leiden. Having come from a university considered amongst the British powerhouse of academia and ranked regularly in the world top 10 by THES it may have seemed like a lazy exchange choice. But make no mistake, the Chemistry faculty at Leiden I have found is no slouch and it’s science faculties boast a proud history of great names to go along with their scenic settings.
My choice actually was a heavily educated one. Imperial College has exchange programmes with some of Europes top institutions: ETH (Zurich), École Polytechnique (Paris), EPFL (Lausanne), the list goes on. So how did I differentiate between these choices? I obviously used my cunning resourcefulness to speak to students in the year above me who had all just come back from such placements. The students from Zurich complained about working long hours and extremely expensive living standards. Going to Paris was never really a realistic option as although French was not an academic requirement, unlike the in the Netherlands, living in France and not speaking French would be a huge disadvantage in every aspect of life. The Laussanners (as I shall choose to call them), said they had a great time but only because they spent every weekend skiing. If that was the only activity on offer then I guess being a worse skier than most inhabitants of the carribean, Lausanne was not so tempting anymore.
The one girl who had happened to have come to Leiden (in the past 5 years there had been only one!!) spoke of tales going to bed at 4am during weekdays due to parties and sporting commitments, spending weekends in quaint little towns and studying harder than Imperial! A work hard play hard institution I gathered – my kind of place! When I spoke with my personal tutor about Leiden, he actually told me that that particular student had produced one of the best thesis’ of her academic cohort. That simply hammered the last nail. I was Leiden-bound for sure now.
The research group I chose to join (BIOSYN) is world renowned, and heavily respected by the academics at my own home universities chemical biology section. They produce upwards of 25 publications a year, and manage all this with a pretty relaxed atmosphere. A paradox in itself! This is more than almost (I say almost) every research group at the Imperial on a yearly basis. Of course the whole logistics of the process bode favourably in my case too. No tuition fees, cheaper living costs, an extra 10 weeks to carry out my research project, an erasmus grant, being able to sit exams at more convenient times of the year (a major gripe I had at Imperial), the list goes on. Looking back, it would have been insane NOT to come to Leiden.
My project is actually one of the best parts of being here. I love what I do, which makes things so much easier. I’m currently working on Imino-sugars to treat Diabetes type II and Gauchers disease. The Gorlaeus Laboratory (where I work) isn’t too shabby either. The facilities are just as good as what you’d find at somewhere like Imperial (in some instances better), and there’s a good attitude amongst the researchers here. It varies from case to case but my supervisor (being Dutch and very straight talking) gives me a lot of independence and allows me to manage my own work load and timetable. There is of course a multitude of events organised my the lab group, but that’s a story for another time ;).