Starting again

I’m sure, if you read my blog, that you’ve noticed a conspicuous absence of posts lately.  There were two main reasons for the “gap”.

The first is that I haven’t been blogging about bioinformatics because I didn’t want to blur my work with my blog.  It’s a challenging line to walk, and maintaining it requires a lot of late evenings, which have lately been sucked up by my daughter.  Only in the past week has that time started to be available again. (Thank goodness my daughter is sleeping well, finally!)

The second is that my family has been making some big decisions.  The biggest of the bunch is that we’ll be returning to North America.  Denmark hasn’t worked out for us, and this is really the only logical decision we could make.  Our original timeline was for three years in Denmark, but we’ll be cutting it down to one year.

Yes, that does mean I’m officially looking for a new job for the start of 2013, either in Vancouver or San Francisco – the two places that my family would be happiest.  If anyone knows of a company looking to hire a bioinformatician with experience in Next-gen sequencing in either of those cities, please let me know!  As I’ve discussed with my employer, I’ll be working in Denmark until the end of the year, but will be available in January.

For the moment, I’m making arrangements to do a post-doc, but I’m not sure that’s really a step forward for my career.

As for why things haven’t worked out here, I think it’s a combination of a lot of factors, but most obvious is that Denmark is really a hard country to find your way in.  The language is challenging, and with a young child, we haven’t been able to dedicate the time to the intensive language classes that are available, and we also haven’t been able to really find a social network that comes close to replacing the ones we’d left behind in Canada.  With our closest family members being a minimum of 18 hours away by plane, this just isn’t working well for us given that we have a young child.

Of course, there are other factors, ranging from the trivial (and silly) to complex, which include (in no particular order):

  • Accessibility (it’s much harder to get around in Denmark with a young child, compared to North America, particularly since Canadians can not get a driver’s licence here)
  • Availability (We’re forced to order from UK or further away to buy many of the products we need/want for our child because they’re just not available in Denmark.)
  • Comfort issues (Denmark doesn’t believe in bathtubs, for instance, and I haven’t had a shower in Denmark that didn’t involve either frozen toes or scalding blasts of hot water since arriving),
  • Pets health (still haven’t found a replacement food for the cat after searching for half a year)
  • Community (Everything shuts down on Sundays, which is devastating when you’re living in a “small” town and only have a handful of friends.)

All in all, however, I think these are simply things we take for granted in North America, and  a year in Denmark has been an expensive education in recognizing how differently Europeans and North Americans see the world.

Thus, I’ll be returning to North America with a lot more life experience and hoping that someone out there will want to put it to good use.

22 thoughts on “Starting again

  1. That’s too bad that things didn’t workout there… there’s always something you can take away from this experience both good and bad… Right now in the US, most of the bioinformatic opportunities are either here in Boston or SF… I know a number of Canadians working either in industry or academia (mainly MIT)… It is expensive here but I love working in industry and don’t plan on going back to Canada any time soon…


    • Thanks Steve. I’ve definitely learned a lot – and I think I’m taking a lot of life lessons away from the experience. If nothing is available in Vancouver, hopefully something in SF will pop up. I’ve never worked in the states before, but my wife has, so we’re not going in nearly as blind as we were for Denmark.

      • you might also want to look at Seattle… there’s some good science being done at Allen Institute for Brain Science, Fred Hutchinson, Sage Bionetworks etc… plus there’s critical mass from tech companies like Amazon, MSFT…

        • Alas, I have to deal with the two body problem, and while my wife would be able to find work in Vancouver or San Fran, there’s not likely to be much in her field in Seattle. Otherwise, you’re absolutely right that there is some fantastic tech coming from that part of the world.

  2. but you can get a drivers license in Denmark, right? (European have to pass driving tests again in the US to get a license)
    May I ask which products are not available in Denmark? (we live in the bay area and the products here are virtually identical to Germany, UK, France)

    • No, Canadians can’t reasonably get a license in Denmark. Their licenses are non-transferrable, and the entire licensing process is in Danish (written and spoken) with no option for English), so there is essentially no way to get the license without studying Danish for at least a year or two.

    • Sorry – I missed answering the second part of your post. In Denmark, most of the grocery stores carry only one brand of any product, if that. Some of the things that just can’t be found include:
      * White wines that aren’t dry.
      * Sausages or hotdogs that aren’t in the danish style
      * good cheeses (though there are some decent ones at Sailing downtown, which we recently discovered)
      * baby products (or, if they are available cost 100-150% more than anywhere else)
      * maternity wear (the selection is limited to a handful of items, all of which cost 3x what they would elsewhere.)
      * Anything cheap – it’s not that cheap crap is just expensive, it’s just that it doesn’t exist in Denmark. I know of the “Tiger” chain, but even they have a very limited repertoire. Consider that there is no equivalent to Walmart/Kmart/etc in Denmark, and no replacement for the stuff they’d sell.
      * Anything ethnic. There are two asian food stores here, but their selection is very limited.
      * Fresh foods – unless you specifically like carrots, potatoes and brocolli, the vegetables available here are highly limited. (You can get some, but then you’re paying out the nose for them because they’re imported from South America or something.)

  3. Sorry to hear DK didn’t work out. I post-doc’ed at KU for 3.5 years and loved it. The language was certainly a barrier, but not insurmountable.

  4. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you but I’m glad you’re able to pick up and leave when you realise it’s not working.

    What annoys me about Denmark is when north American immigrants decide “this isn’t for me”, they get a poor impression of Europe as a whole.

    I could have written your list about why DK isn’t working for newcomers and I come from the UK. (Though they do call us the 51st state, don’t they?)

    • I thought Canada was the 51st state… and even gave Canada pre-approval in 1777 to join. Water under the bridge.

      Actually, I don’t think we’re leaving with a bad impression of all of Europe, though we didn’t get to see a whole lot of it while were here. (Although, you’re right, we are a bit Europe’d-out for now.) The reasons Denmark didn’t work for us are quite Denmark-specific, and we know that. We’ve been to Germany to buy things that are half the price and come in more than just one colour and shape. We’ve ordered stuff from And we just came back from a weeks vacation that included cities outside of Europe where we could eat out and not blow a full day’s salary on it.

      Clearly the rest of Europe doesn’t believe in the same lifestyle choices as Denmark. Alas, non-Danes in Denmark either have to buy into the Danish way of thinking, or they’ll fit in like square pegs in a round hole. :(

      Edit: that sounded pretty negative. Those aren’t specifically the reasons why we’re disappointed in our Danish experience – just a few of the little annoyances we encountered in the Danish way of seeing the world.

  5. Man, don’t you want to come in Italy? In Milan? I know a couple of (serious) institutions that would be happy to have you (ok, one is my current group…).
    Anyhow, good luck with everything!

    • Not much chance my family would be willing to relocate there – and wouldn’t solve the major problem of being too far from the rest of the family – but I’m sure Milan is awesome, and it would be pretty awesome working with you… I’ll keep dreaming, I suppose. (-:

      • Anyhow, since you will be in Europe for some (little) time, we would like to invite you to have a seminar here… If you are returning to NA, the chances of meeting will be very little, I would like to exploit the current geographical proximity.
        Take your time to think about it, you may want to contact me privately.


  6. Sorry it hasn’t worked out, but it makes a lot more sense to move forward now rather than trying to stick it out longer when so many of the issues you have listed are real and make it challenging to live comfortably here when you’re used to things like reasonable prices, reasonable selection of goods, etc. I knew coming here that these were going to be major issues for our family (with 2 small children in tow) and even though individually they aren’t big deals, something about the collective set of DK-specific challenges can make it extremely difficult to feel comfortable and happy here.

    I’m actually about to slog through the ridiculousness required to transfer my U.S. driver’s license to a Danish one — it is so irritating that 25 years of driving experience with a completely clean record in multiple major metro areas means nothing here. They do in fact have the option of letting you take the test in English (with a state-approved translator; of course you have to pay extra for that, as you would expect); otherwise I’m sure I’d just give up on the idea of driving here for the next several years. I’m not pleased at the idea of spending upwards of $500 and studying my butt off to pass their insane theory test (not sure if you’ve seen examples of it…talk about nuts) as well as the practical driving test, but I don’t have any other option. Grrrr.

    So far the best shopping experience we’ve uncovered in Aarhus has been the enormous Bilka outside of town, but that is not a reasonable option for you if you don’t have a car (and it’s still not great, but I find it so much more appealing than the typical Nettos, Rema1000s, etc. around here — they depress me and their produce selections depress me even more).

    Good luck with your job search. My husband works in the basic sciences and had to do more post-docs than we would have ever imagined, so while that option isn’t fantastic, at least it’s an option if needed. And finding a place to live where two people with very specific career options can both live and find satisfying work is no easy feat — I’m only able to manage here because I can telecommute for my firm in the U.S.

    Looking forward to hearing more as you wrap up your time here and prepare to head back to North America!

  7. I wish you and Elaine the best of luck. I dont know how I have managed to survive seven years here but it certainly has not been easy. I think its good that you realized it from the start and worked quickly to get yourself out of a situation that wasnt working for you. I wish you both the very best of luck with your future endeavours and I hope you continue blogging so I can keep abreast of your new adventures.

    • Thanks Paula,

      Hopefully you figure out your situation as well! I’m sure we’ll still bump into each other on the blogosphere. (I still plan to check out more of your recipes!)

      At any rate, I’ll return to blogging once we’re out of Denmark… 30 more days!


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