Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Imperial College School of Science, Technology and Medicine
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Spring semester 2017/2018
Name: Diana Cekatauskaite
Email address:


I have decided to go on exchange very early into my bachelor's programme. I knew that I wanted to use all the available opportunities to go abroad, try out different learning approaches and make connections that would help me build an international career. Although there were so many partner universities to choose from, I immediately chose Imperial College London for various reasons. First of all, the school has an world-class reputation in terms of their research quality. They are especially renown in the field of medical engineering, towards which I have been gradually shifting my focus. Secondly, I already had ties to several researchers there due to my previous work here at Karolinska and therefore I thought my thesis project could go much smoother in a more familiar environment. 

However, I wanted to go to a different department than the one listed having the partnership with, and at times I felt left alone by the KI administration due to lengthy gaps between emails and vague explanations. Imperial administration really helped me with all the documentation and happily arranged me being placed in a different department. So if anyone has found a dream research group outside of the Life Sciences' department (still has to make sense with your thesis topic though), do not be afraid to ask to be placed there. 

Arrival and registration

I arrived to London one day before the official start of the placement. Since I arrived directly to do my placement at the lab, the supervisors and the administrative staff took care of me, showed me around and gave a brief introduction of do's and don'ts. However, things were rather slow in the beginning and I felt certain bureaucratic procedures were holding me back. It was because Imperial College takes security very seriously and for each piece of equipment or room I needed to track a responsible person (which is not easy when working in a group of 60+ people), arrange and do the training. After that, the person needed to certify to other people to give me access to the room. This would take days and would literally leave me depending on other people to enter certain premises.


I am somewhat ambivalent about how expensive London is. I do think that living in Stockholm does in a certain way prepare you for London in terms of prices. Groceries, drinks and eating out in general are somewhat cheaper in London and going to a pub after working in the lab the whole week with your group colleagues will not leave you penniless. However, set aside the housing costs in London (which are absolutely and ridiculously high), the public transport in London is extortionate. A discounted travelcard only within zones 1-2 costs over 90 pounds/month, and if you live further away, the price can reach 130 pounds and more. Bear in mind that discounted travelcards can only be ordered via mail and therefore take about 10 days to reach you, during which you are not entitled to the discount. Cycling can be a good alternative if you manage to find a cheap bike though. 

Other than that, despite the fact that main attractions/events are not beyond-words expensive, there are so many things going on that one has to prioritise financially. There are quite plenty part-time job opportunities, so you think sleeping is optional, that can definitely be a saviour financially.


Since I was coming to Imperial College for less than a year, the College did not provide any kind of accommodation, neither did it help look for one elsewhere. Fortunately, I got lucky and managed to find a really nice room through a family friend. For London standards I was paying nothing - 450 pounds/month - and it was a tidy and lovely place. However, it was rather far away (1 hour commute each way) but since I was only there for 5 months, I decided not to look for anything else. In a city like London, good deals for accommodation get snatched in a couple of days or sometimes even hours, so it is very difficult to look for accommodation not actually living here. In general, the standard of housing is much poorer than in Stockholm and even extremely high rent does not guarantee decent quality. One must also be diligent when picking the neighbourhood because due to the city's size, it is rather 'decentralised', meaning that it is more likely that in your free time you are more likely to stay around your own neighbourhood due to the length of commute. The College sometimes does have vacant rooms in halls that are worth looking into, but to me they were too pricy despite their good location.

Studies in general

While I cannot comment on the formal teaching at Imperial College, since I was only exposed to their research, their facilities are outstanding (such as 24/7 library, loads of study space, great instruments). As for mentorship and my own work, it was a very complicated yet rewarding experience. Working in a highly interdisciplinary group of more than 60 people is not easy and it took a great deal of time and effort to find the right people and ask for help. Essentially, I had 3 supervisors: main supervisor, the principal investigator and a world-renowned scientist who I barely saw over the 5-month period; co-supervisor no.1 who was preparing to leave academia about the time I left, was getting married and travelling for his honeymoon; co-supervisor no.2 who was a mechanical engineer and was difficult to establish common ground with since he never thought he was going to have a student, in addition to also leaving for his paternity leave. Although in the end we all managed to pull ourselves together and deliver a really great piece of work, at times I felt like I needed a lot more guidance. I feel that at Karolinska, where research groups are generally smaller, there is a lot more of 'holding your hand' and not giving a lot room to experiment. At Imperial, it was a completely different story and although I felt extremely challenged and lost at times, I feel that I've learnt things outside of my main research question that I never thought I would. 

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI
I was just doing the experimental part of the KI course 'Degree Project in Biomedicine' for 30 ECTS. I did not have any formal assessment or teaching at Imperial and therefore unable to comment. I did attend a variety of group seminars and discussions and also received a lot of training for various techniques and equipment. I had to informally present my work before leaving back to Stockholm to my supervisors but it was only back at KI where I had to submit a formal report and defend it.

Language and Culture

My study programme at Karolinska was only English. Therefore it was not such a huge shock to be fully immersed in a completely English-speaking environment. However it definitely takes time to start feeling comfortable talking English to mostly native speakers, getting to understand their expressions and jargon. In general, the diversity in London is something that living in Stockholm cannot prepare you for. Everybody is from everywhere and they come in all accents, ethnicities, cultures, habits etc. It absolutely takes time to get used to that and learning how to establish common ground, be on the same and understanding other people. It is surely a very fascinating experience.

Leisure time and social activities

Since I was not participating in any kind of formal education, my exposure to other students was rather limited. The students that I met were mostly other placement students, PhD candidates and early stage researchers in my research group. Although there was an Erasmus group at Imperial, it was rather loosely organised. Perhaps this was reflective of the fact that British universities do not participate in the Erasmus programme as actively. On the other hand, the College has a society for virtually any activity imaginable. They are usually open for all students for a certain (usually small) fee. There is also quite a decent gym available and several really nice and cheap pubs on campus. However, since I spent most of my time in the lab anyway, I tried to diversify my free time and explore London instead. This will not come a secret but I was amazed with the variety of great venues, bars, restaurants, galleries and nightlife. One must prioritise extremely well because it is not possible to do/see all. 


My exchange was not like those typical Erasmus party-study experiences a lot of people talk about. To me it was definitely a very maturing and affective experience where I worked hard and reached good results. It did uncover a lot about me to myself and living in such a large city with barely anyone you know has taught me a lot. Both as a student and as a person I became a lot less afraid to actively pursue my goals and ask for help. Be outspoken and put your maximum effort were the two things that I am really bringing back with me. Although this research-intensive period has made me appreciate science even more, it also showed me that I need to take a step aside and explore other opportunities outside science before finally committing for good.