That is the great question that faces the majority of people who work or study in London. I, unfortunately, could not escape this dilemma.
During the first year of my PhD it was my first time actually being in London, on a daily basis anyway. It therefore didn’t take me too long to conclude that I definitely wanted to live in London, no matter what. Besides, I had commuted to university in Sheffield from Lincoln for my very first semester in my undergrad (don’t ask) and I absolutely hated it!
I had big dreams of the city, where everything was just a short whirr of a tube journey away, and I would spend every weekend gallivanting round the trendy markets and shops of London. I was surprised then, as you can imagine, when I had to get the bus most places (including to and from the lab everyday) because an annual travel card for the tube was out of financial reach, yet the bus only cost £530 (a year!) with my student discount, and I spent almost every weekend visiting or being visited by my boyfriend in Cambridge.
Even though I got the snail-paced bus most places, I did really enjoy the freedom that living in London brings. Being able to hop on a night bus that will take you pretty much all the way home after one too many drinks, is something that you simply can’t do if you don’t live here. You have to factor in last trains, and thoughts such as, ‘is it even worth going out?’
Despite all of this, I’m now living in my second commuter town. I first moved to Welwyn Garden City, where I lived for a year, and it took 1 hour 20 minutes from front door to desk. Now I live in Bishop’s Stortford, and even though I have a longer walk from the station, the faster train makes it 1 hour 15 minutes, if there are no delays!
Sometimes I miss the magic of London, but I think the time was right for me to move. As an undergraduate I hated commuting, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, but as a postgraduate I think it definitely has its perks. Commuting by train means I have a dedicated time slot to read or write, and I even get a little desk on the back of the seat in front of me! If I didn’t have that hour or so to read (scientific papers, by the way!) I know for sure that I wouldn’t make that time up during the day. Besides, lab work is just too busy sometimes.
My bank balance obviously suffers a bit of a blow once a year when I have to fork out for my annual season ticket, but I’m rewarded with remarkably fresher air than in London, a cheaper cost of living, and an actual house. That’s right, two whole floors that actually belong to me and my boyfriend. We even have a garden! Compare that to the one room I rented in one of the flats in a converted house in north London, for almost £200 more per month, and I’m laughing.
You may have grasped this already, but despite the allure of the big city, I would commute into London any day. This is obviously just my opinion, but as a postgraduate with choc-a-bloc days, I vote commute. (Unless of course you can afford to live within walking distance of uni/lab, but for me that would be sacrificing too much money, space, and dignity. I don’t want my bedroom to be a converted living room, thanks!). Besides, if the city beckons, I can use my annual season ticket to go gallivanting at the weekend!