Henrik Cederquist. Foto: Niklas Björling

Current events and some final words from a resigning Dean
A few weeks before I retire from my assignment as Deputy Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Science, I would like to once more strongly emphasize the importance of the departments/equivalents supporting and creating good conditions for university teachers and researchers to apply for external research funding. The faculty is certainly very successful in this work, which I will return to below, but there is still room for improvement. It is important to be active and apply for grants, but sometimes it is perceived as a major problem that the overhead take-up is lower than desired, and also that the coordination of large collaborative projects can be challenging. I will address these aspects again later in the text.

Recruitment and promotion  –  our most important decisions
The most important decisions we make at the Faculty and the University are decisions on the recruitment and promotion of university teachers. It is primarily the teachers, i.e. our associate professors, senior lecturers and professors, who lead the development of our research and education. Of course, the recruitment of other staff is also of great importance, but in the end it is the scientific and pedagogical skills of the teachers that determine the academic level of our activities. Strong academic environments also attract other talented professors, researchers, doctoral students and other employees to Stockholm University.

When it comes to the recruitment of students to undergraduate and graduate levels, the standing of the intended education on the labor market is important. For our field, it has been challenging to communicate that a large majority of our former undergraduate and graduate students have a bright future – in most cases on the labor market outside the universities. This applies to both general and professional graduates. Alumni surveys show that the employment rate of our former students is very high and that they often have professions where they use skills acquired during their academic studies.

As far as university teacher recruitment is concerned, the majority of these are at the assistant lecturer level. In the near future, the Promotion Board at the Faculty of Science will have reviewed the vast majority of assistant lecturers recruited under the "old conditions" where the assistant professor has just under four years to qualify for promotion to associate professor. Indications suggest that about 80% of the 50 or so assistant professors recruited in this way will have been promoted to associate professors in our Faculty some have been recruited to other universities while a few have been denied promotion.

Successful applications for research funding
We have recently been informed that no less than eight of the twelve candidates nominated by Stockholm University in the 2023 call for Wallenberg Academy Fellowships have been appointed as Fellows. This is a great success, not only for the young researchers who are appointed, but also for Stockholm University, which was awarded 8 of the 31 grants that the Foundation awarded this year - in the natural sciences we received 5 out of 13, in technology 1 out of 6, and in humanities, both of those appointed as Fellows are nominated by Stockholm University. SU usually does well in this particular call and over a ten-year period we are at the top in the country.

The same applies to the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation's calls for research projects of high scientific quality
– the so-called large KAW projects. Here, SU has the opportunity to nominate 15 projects and 15 groups are currently working intensively with the support of the Faculty to meet the deadline of 1 January 2024. I believe that early internal deadlines, which give the applicants the possibility to reflect on their proposals in several rounds, combined with good support from colleagues both near and somewhat distanced from the field of study, are key to this success. Together with further indications that SU's scientific research is of high quality, the success of WAF and KAW projects has probably been important for our ability to also participate in several of KAW's larger strategic initiatives, such as WISE (Wallenberg Initiative Material Science for Sustainability), DDLS (Data Driven Life Science) and WINQ (Wallenberg Initiative on Networks and Quantum Information). Stockholm University has so far not been quite as successful in attracting Wallenberg Scholarships, but we hope for an improvement here as we have nominated nine very strong candidates for the 2023 call after a thorough internal prioritization process. The outcome will most likely be announced during the spring.

New PhD and Postdoctoral projects announced within WISE and DDLS
In this context, I would like to take the opportunity to remind you that calls for so-called academic PhD and postdoctoral projects within WISE, and PhD projects aimed at both academia and industry within the DDLS program are now open for application. In both cases, those who are interested in supervising such a project must apply  in the case of WISE, it is an internal process with pre-applications with a limited number of nominations per university, while it is open to all qualified principal investigators to apply directly to the DDLS program announcements. Within WISE, Stockholm University has been allocated SEK 135 million for the development of new or existing technology platforms for materials science for sustainable materials.

As discussed above, research in natural science at Stockholm University has received significant resources via KAW's various programs and it can also be noted that a large part of the recently completed and ongoing teacher recruitments are financed in this way. It is important that the research subjects that are not covered by these initiatives or belong to strategic research areas (SFO areas) can also be developed through the recruitment and promotion of teachers. In my opinion, this will be an important challenge for the elected Board of Science to address.  One could also, even if this would act in the opposite direction to what I just mentioned, reflect on the possibility of reducing the rate of teacher recruitment somewhat in order to be able to invest more in each  recruitment. Such efforts are made in the various KAW programs and for our SFO Fellows at the Science for Life Laboratory. Teacher recruitment with strong starting packages has mostly been very successful, but there are of course many other aspects to consider before one could decide to grant larger recruitment packages more in general.

A high success rate for applications to the Swedish Research Council this year too
The breadth  and high quality of our research can be seen from the high success rates  for our applications to the Swedish Research Council's call for so called free project grants. This year we had an approval rate of 31%, which is slightly lower than the average of around 35% in recent years. This is well above the typical national average of 21-22%. I sometimes half-jokingly say that the faculty is working hard to reduce the success rate. What we have in mind is that more people should work on developing their project ideas and applications and also that the support for this work should be further strengthened. The Research Council’s free project grants are our most important external grants, as it is the researchers' own proposals that are assessed and as they are open to all science. This fits Stockholm University's profile quite well as we mostly focus on independent basic research and independent applied research. Access to appropriate high-quality research infrastructure is crucial to further develop the quality of our research. Here, it is important to ensure that the largest national infrastructures and Sweden's participation in international infrastructures do not consume all available resources at the national level. During the year, we have carried out a thorough evaluation of our own so-called core facilities and made decisions on how they should continue to be funded and we have also indicated desirable developments for the next evaluation in 2026.

Successful "boot camps" for ERC applications
The Research and Collaboration Support Department (Avdelningen för forsknings och samverkansstöd in Swedish) has developed a "boot camp" activity for those interested in applying for ERC grants at different levels. From my understanding, this activity has been much appreciated and I would like to thank the teachers and researchers with experience of ERC application work – as successful applicants or evaluators – for their support. These initiatives have led to a doubling of the number of applicants compared to previous years, so we have reason to hope for an even stronger ERC outcome in the future, hopefully starting as early as 2024!

New principles for the distribution of FUF funds
To return to the aspects I mentioned in the introduction, I would now like to mention that “Områdesnämnden” (i.e the Board of Science), at an extra board meeting on 6/11, decided on new principles for the distribution of funds for research and doctoral education, so-called FUF funds. The most significant news is that we are introducing a so-called overhead compensation system, which means that participating departments/equivalents are allocated funds in direct proportion to how much external grant funds, from funders that do not allow full cost coverage, they have used in the previous financial year (the financial statements for 2022 form the basis for the allocation in 2024). The allocation is regulated automatically and does not require the filing of a request to the Board. The overhead compensation allocation is independent of the maximum level of OH withdrawal allowed by the funder and also of the actual OH charged by the department. The new FUF distribution principles have been used in the budget decided by the Board of Science at its meeting on 30/11 and there is reason to return to the question of how large the allocation to the OH compensation system should be in the future. The provision made for 2024 is relatively modest in relation to the fixed and performance-based allocations.

The main reason why we decided on the overhead compensation system is that we want to avoid that teachers or researchers, for budgetary reasons, do not get support from their department/equivalent for applications for prestigious grants without the full coverage of costs. If, despite the possibility of OH compensation, the department does not consider itself able to allow an application with reference to the financial situation, the department/equivalent must consult with the dean (Please read the Guidelines for co-funding of externally funded research projects). The so-called excellence grants, which usually do not allow full cost coverage, are of great strategic importance to Stockholm University as they contribute strongly to the positive development of our academic environments. I believe that such grants are not only a great asset for research and activities in general, but also in most cases are positive for the economy in the long term, even without a single SEK in overhead. 

My six years as Dean of the Faculty of Science
My six years as Dean are rapidly coming to an end. It has been a fantastic time, certainly with many difficult challenges, but also with great success and joy. I have appreciated the cooperation with department heads and directors and with all the staff - we are currently around 1 700 in the faculty. This number is somewhat lower than when I took over as Dean, which has to do with the economy-in-balance project and the economic realities behind it (sharply increased rents, etc.). This has limited recruitment opportunities for all types of positions and especially the recruitment of PhD students. The latter is unfortunate, but we are pleased to see that doctoral recruitment now is increasing again.   We have also moved the activities that were part of the Department of Mathematics and Science Education to the Faculty of Humanities. Here, the Faculty still has a major and important task in ensuring that we have a strong and appropriate training of teachers in our field for primary and secondary schools.

It is with great joy that I look back on my time as Dean of the Faculty of Science and all that has come with it in terms of cooperation within the university and Board of Science and the many parts of the area's activities that I have come into direct contact with during the six years. The cooperation between the Faculty  and the Central University Administration has developed and improved over time, although there are still challenges and areas where our objectives do not fully coincide. However, I believe that cooperation has improved considerably and especially in the very recent past. An example of this is the premises optimization project, where we are fully aligned in our ambition to reduce university rental costs and thus create more space for education and research. 

Finally, I would like to extend a very special and warm thank you to the Office of Science for your outstanding support and for your professional and competent handling of thousands of cases of a very diverse nature. I could not have done this without you! We now will have a new Board of Science that will be led by the current Deputy Dean, Lena Mäler, in her new role as Dean. Martin Jakobsson will be the new Deputy Dean. I wish the new management and the entire Faculty of Science good luck in the future!

Once again, I thank you and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!