An odyssey to paradise

You are running late in the middle of the night with an important validation experiment and an incubator is breaking down when you learn that your passport is expired. The plan was to fly to Israel the next day. That was how my trip to the Weizmann Institute of Science began.

As I was lucky being offered an EIPOD fellowship, I had to arrange my visit to Israel on rather short notice if I wanted to make a reasonable decision between the two options for my PostDoc: EMBL vs. Weizmann. One of the professors from the Weizmann, who agreed to invite me, kindly offered reimbursement of my flight expenses and covered the accommodation. I was planning to visit four different group leaders. With great help from them, their lab managers, secretaries and PhD students, the transfer was organised, presentations were scheduled and meetings arranged. When I called the National Police on Monday night to ask how the situation with my expired passport could be handled within the next 12 hours, I saw the prospects of 2 exciting days at the Weizmann already fading away…

In order to get a temporary passport valid for entering the State of Israel, I had to (pack my stuff, …) get up at 4 AM in the morning, travel to Frankfurt Airport and take a taxi to the Frankfurt Höchst citizen center. There were only two problems:

  1. The taxi driver (supposing he knew the address) dropped me off at the town hall and not the citizen center, which I only realized when I saw the descending back lights of the cab that was driving away.
  2. It was -6°C in Frankfurt Höchst and all the streets were covered with a 5 cm thick layer of snow while I was wearing my summer shoes ready for predicted 18°C and sunshine in Rehovot.

Thanks to Google maps on my mobile, I made my way through the freezing cold to the citizen center within 25 minutes despite all the luggage I had to carry. I arrived 15 minutes before they opened their doors, so I queued for admission. Finally, I was sent to counter #13. Only there I learned that my biometric photograph for the passport was too old. Needless to say, there was no chance to take another picture at the citizen center, neither was any professional photographer anywhere in the vicinity opening soon. My only chance was an ancient photo booth at the regional train station across the street, and I was super lucky to find it working (as people were also queuing there…)

Back at the citizen center with the creepy photograph of mine I had to wait for the official confirmation from Heidelberg for the passport to be printed. I took the time to check for the bus connections to the airport. Buses were running every 10 minutes, arriving after 22 minutes at the Terminal 1. It seemed I could finally save some time and money. Before that I had to pay 52 Euros, but having a valid temporary passport was priceless. After all, I arrived at the airport in time, made my way through all security checks and was about to start boarding. The aircraft to Istanbul, Turkey, was ready when I checked my email for the last time.

Dear author,

This is a short notification sent to all contributors to inform you that your manuscript MSB-16-7258RR entitled “Protein abundance of AKT and ERK pathway components governs cell-type-specific regulation of proliferation” has been accepted for publication in Molecular Systems Biology. Congratulations!

Five years ago, I told all my friends: “If I would complete my PhD with a first-author paper in Molecular Systems Biology, I were the happiest man on earth.” Now having achieved 50% of the task (as my PhD is not yet completed) I was dancing at the gate of the airport – with all Turkish passengers giving me strange looks. After arriving at the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport the taxi driver was struggling because he did not speak any English and shouting the address of the Reisfeld Residence in Modern Hebrew to Siri turned out to be of no help…

As we drove through the lightless desert, bent palm trees and silhouettes of illuminated cities were passing by, and I felt that this place was special. Within the next 63 hours of my stay I discovered so many pleasant facets of Israel and the Weizmann. I need to share these aspects because they compose an idyll for life and science.

In my eyes the atmosphere at the Weizmann is characterized by a unique openness. I was warmly welcomed (not only because it was 18°C and sunshine – “f***ing winter” as the Israeli put it). All people were very friendly and helpful to me. The research groups I visited publish extremely well in very competitive fields of science. Nevertheless, I did not sense any indications of stress or tension within the groups. Colleagues were obviously good friends with each other who enjoyed their work together. They succeed in science as a team. Of course, everyone has their own project – their “baby”. However, for a scientific story to mature many people need to contribute. This spirit becomes apparent within the groups. Besides, the Weizmann fosters interactions and collaborations between the groups creating one big family on campus. It seemed to me as if everyone knew everyone, and all were equal. No one was talking to me from above even though I humbly approached some professors due to my respect for their scientific achievements. But all these great minds pointed out to me that there is no hierarchy.

Instead there is freedom to do whatever you want to answer your particular scientific questions. This happens for instance when you engage in peaceful discussions despite all these pending deadlines. You sit on a green meadow in the shade of a lemon tree, purring cats around you, and your systems biology idols close: Uri Alon is having a chat just 20 meters away, Narma Barkai passes by for a run. That is when you realise that you might have been struggling on your way, but eventually you found the perfect place for your life and your science…

 

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