Exchange report - Student at KI
City view from Arthur´s Seat
Home university: The University of Edinburgh
Study programme: Biomedicine (Master's)
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Autumn semester 2021/2022
Name: Jara Villar
Email address:


Much as I could not be happier in Stockholm and I highly valued the education and training at Karolinska, I wanted to seize this opportunity to experience a different way of working and doing science. The major reason I picked the University of Edinburgh (UoE) was the great research opportunities it provides (particularly in Neuroscience, the field I am most interested in), the strong stem cell network, and closeness to the clinic. No need to say, it is an incredibly beautiful city, and the possibility of having both sea and mountains was certainly appealing. Everyone I knew that had been there fondly spoke of its vibrant atmosphere and strong student community, so I was tempted to give it a go myself!

By January I sent my application together with the requested documents (motivation letter, CV, recommendation letters…) to the International Coordinator at KI. I got the nomination from BIONK beginning of March and shortly after, received an email from University of Edinburgh with the link to the online application and steps to follow (always check the spam folder!). Much as I was going there on exchange for my Master´s Thesis, the application form I had to fill in was for an undergraduate student, due to the nature of the exchange agreement. This was quite confusing, but the International Coordinator at UoE was very helpful. I would highly recommend contacting the corresponding coordinator (Biomedical Sciences Teaching Organisation) for any enquiries and keeping them updated with the application process. Thought to be done with all the fun paperwork, I got reminded about Brexit and Visa. Luckily, as an exchange student that is staying for less than 6 months, I could opt for the Standard Visitor Visa, which only requires you to save your boarding pass in and out the UK. The reviewing of the application by the host university took for ages, and only got their confirmation of admission mid-December, (I was moving to Edi in January!), which made it tricky to move forward with other arrangements and accommodation search. With the student number, I could finally register in Euclid/MyED  (similar to Ladok) and upload a picture, so that they could prepare the student card before my arrival.

As I was going on exchange for the fourth semester of my master´s programme, I soon started checking the different research fields and potential supervisors. Early July I got in touch with the Lab I was most interested in, got interviewed, and did not give it a second thought, as it gathered everything I was seeking technique-wise and I found the field fascinating. By the beginning of the third semester, we had jointly discussed the project, and written the project description.

Arrival and registration

Prior to the start of each semester, there is an introductory week, where various events are organised for freshmen and international students to explore the city and get to know each other. I personally did not attend those, as the Individual Research Project Presentation at KI was ongoing those days. Much as these events are great, do not panic if you cannot make it, as there are endless opportunities to meet other people throughout the semester.


I arrived in Edinburgh around 4 days before my start in the lab. I would say this was more than enough to pick up the pre-made student card from the main library, sort out anything missing in the accommodation, and enjoy the city for a bit before starting the hard work.


As an exchange student, I was assigned a personal tutor (a researcher from UoE) that ensured everything was working fine with the supervisor and I was integrating well in the lab. Even though we only met once, and had no issues whatsoever, it is quite comforting to know you have a contact person if needed.



Overall, life expenses in Edinburgh were somewhat lower than in Stockholm, but I would not go as far as to say it was way cheaper. In particular, for groceries, LIDLE was the cheapest go to, while Sainsbury/TESCO were better if seeking greater variety, and every now and then I would go to Mark&Spencer to cook a more special meal (most expensive of all, but can find more delicacies).

Many bars and restaurants across Edinburgh offer student discounts. Additionally, while working at the Royal Infirmary Hospital, the canteen offers discounted meals (vegetarian/fish/meaty option) for people based there.

As for transport, a single journey was worth 1.70£, but the monthly Lothian ticket (around 50£) might be worth, if taking public transport daily to the lab. This pass includes all transport bus/tram/shuttle to the airport. In my case, I got a second hand bike from a store. The bus ride from my flat to the lab would almost take 1h, with buses always late (to the point it was almost predictable!), stopping every 10 meters, and taking as much twists and turns as possible. Thus, as soon as the weather was slightly better, I started cycling every day, which would only take me 25 mins. Must say Edinburgh is rather hilly and not the most cyclist-friendly city, but still worth it!

On a brighter note, I was very happy to learn that entrance to most museums was for free for students (ideal getaway for a rainy Sunday!).


The acceptance from University of Edinburgh took longer than expected, and by the time I got it, most of the accommodations were unavailable and house hunting was a real challenge. Thus, I would highly recommend searching for it beforehand, without waiting for the confirmation. 

It is very difficult, not to say impossible, to get University Accommodation, as they already state international postgraduate students are last in their list of priorities. However, many privately rented University Housings are available (e.g. iQ Student Accommodation, CRM Students, Unite Students, or Vita Students). Usually very modern, great facilities, but pricier (can amount to £180 per week). 

Alternatively, shared flats can be found in Spareroom (, with decent rooms for £300-500. Many students rent out their rooms and post the offer on Facebook groups as well (e.g. Edinburgh Student Accommodation, Edinburgh University Students, Edinburgh: Rooms and flatmates). I think moving to Edinburgh, getting an Airbnb for a week, and arranging the flat from there is probably best, both to avoid scams and because most landlords/flatmates prioritise people they meet in person. 

I was staying at an ensuite room at Arran House, with a shared kitchen and living room for 6 students. The building was brand new and Haymarket is a lively, while peaceful neighbourhood. However, if working at Little France Campus (Royal Infirmary Hospital), Newington/Meadows is probably best neighbourhood, close to both city and hospital, with frequent buses (all lines stop there and head south). I would recommend checking for the bus network to the lab when considering the location, rather than the kilometres, as this can be misleading as to how long it takes you to get there.

Studies in general

My lab experience was an extremely positive and enriching one. I completed my project at UK-DRI, Chancellor´s Building, Little France Campus. The lab was highly efficient, very well organised, multidisciplinary, and collaborative. Clinicians, biochemists, neuroscientist, stem cell experts, bioinformaticians and technicians, all working together with a common aim: making a difference to ALS patients. Everyone knew about each other´s research, thanks to weekly departmental seminars. This enabled the exchange of ideas, and to bring up problems, so that they could be embraced together as a group with complementing expertise. I was lucky enough to work with many brilliant people, as I had to learn varied techniques that were novel to me. Learning such advanced techniques from experts that do these routinely, willing to teach you their best tricks, and sharing their passion, was a true gift.

There was a great closeness with the supervisor, with frequent talks, without the need to schedule them. Thus, I would say, in this aspect, it was quite similar to KI. My supervisor would tend to challenge me, but in a very positive way. This meant that we would have a discussion about the experiment, I was shadowed the first time, and left on my own soon afterwards. Having to arrange and schedule all the experiments myself, and making important decisions gave me a great feeling of independence, while gaining an insight into the life as a researcher.  

I was part of a big group, with 5 other PhD students (no MSc though), which enormously contributed to creating this positive and supportive environment.  The lab would organise pub nights, dinners (we tried all Indian food in town!) and fund-raising hikes and challenges every now and then, which were great opportunities to socialise in a more relaxed atmosphere. We even held a gathering for all PhDs working in MND in Saint Andrews.

On the other hand, I did find the working load to be higher than at KI. I would work long hours in the lab, with a single break for lunch and coffee. No fika pause, nor leg strechers as at KI, much as I tried to implement those! The weekends, however, were free with some data analysis and maybe literature to do to catch up.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 4 at KI
I did not take any courses, as I was in Edinburgh during the fourth semester of my master´s programe, to collect data and write my master´s thesis (30 ECTS).

Language and Culture

Having studied both my bachelors and master´s in English, working in an English-speaking country was not much of a challenge. Funny enough, while the lab I was working in was very international, with varied accents, it was the Scottish one that took me the longest to get used to!


There was no big cultural shock in Edinburgh, and on the contrary, I quickly felt at home, and developed a strong feeling of belonging. I was pleasantly surprised by how open and friendly Scottish people were. It is quite likely that you will end up chatting with someone random in the streets, while waiting for the bus, or grabbing a coffee. This was rather different to Stockholm, but quite akin to my home country.


It was wonderful to learn about their own traditions, which they hold dear, and their strong identity, rather distinct from the English one. Amongst the most typical things, I would probably highlight their passion for rugby (watching a match at Murrayfield is a must, even if I had no clue about rugby!), haggies (a black pudding they eat even for breakfast), or attending a Ceilidh party (traditional Scottish dance). I must also say that the atmosphere is very diverse, with a great mixture of people, and nationalities.

Afternoon in the Meadows

Leisure time and social activities

The University of Edinburgh is very strong in student communities, and there is a society for literally anything you might come up with (, from more artsy (dance, choir, painting), sports-related, to groups addressing societal and political issues, and volunteering. I personally joined the Salsa Society, with weekly classes and socials, which was great fun, and I met many of my later good friends there. I was also part of the Hillwalking and Mountaineering Club, which organised weekend trips, as well as training on climbing/bouledering and various courses. This was an amazing way to explore greater Scotland (Pentlands, Isle of Skye, Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Isle of Arran etc.), and hidden gems. There is usually a couple of trial days at the beginning of the semester, I would suggest giving them a go!

As for Edinburgh, some of my favourite spots and highlights: sitting by the Meadows with the cherry blossom in the spring time and playing music, watching the sunset from Arthur seat, biking along the Union Canal or Water of Leith, strolling around Dean Village, reading a book or working from Waterstones café in Princess street, a winter dip in Portobello followed by an opulent breakfast at the Beach House. And if ever feeling Stockholm-sick, or suffering from a drop in cinnamon, the Kanelbullar at Söderberg (Swedish brunch chain) are a great therapeutic!

Nine Mile Burn Hike, Pentlands


All in all, I found my experience in Edinburgh to be a highly nurturing and enriching one. At a personal level, not only did I gain great independence, and fostered my confidence and determination, but it is also wonderful to look back and realise what a wonderful “family” one can build starting from scratch! Professionally, experiencing different ways of operating in the lab was very interesting. I would have never thought I could learn so much and master all those different techniques in such a short period of time. As a matter of fact, my exchange at Edinburgh has constituted a stepping stone to my PhD, in the UK, starting next October, something I did not contemplate before. Thus, indeed, these experiences can shape life!

In spite of the high workload, I found my everyday life there very vibrant, with plenty of opportunities to explore around Scotland, or enjoy the little shared moments in the city. Much as at first I thought going for the fourth semester and having no courses could be a perk, I found the full immersion in the lab to be very beneficial and no hindrance to meeting people.

For all of the above, I can only recommend the exchange in Edinburgh, an opportunity too good to miss!

Calton Hill