Porträttbild av Ylva Engström. Foto: Eva Dalin
Ylva Engström. Photo: Eva Dalin

In the spring and again now, in late autumn, what I have found most impressive is the great commitment and loyalty of the entire teaching staff (including course assistants), who sprang into action at short notice, setting up and conducting all our teaching in digital and other new forms. I hope that the approaching holidays will provide rest and recovery, even if things aren’t quite as they normally would be. 

Teacher recruitment

After nine years as Vice Dean, it is now time to step down and hand over the mission to future deans and work committees. It is natural to reflect on what we have worked on and accomplished in the area management, and how the area has developed during my time in this position, which I have occupied for nearly a decade. The recruitment of teachers is among our most important tasks, as it builds up the staff and Faculty of Science of the future. The dedicated work of the teacher proposal boards, with excellent support from the faculty office administrators, has proved to be very well-functioning. Together we have succeeded fantastically well in recruiting strong researchers and committed teachers across the entire breadth of our four sections. At the level of assistant professorship, to date we have recruited 47 teachers under the “old” regulation with four years between employment and promotion, and 9 under the “new” regulation with six years of employment. Despite some shortcomings in our tenure track system, it has nevertheless been a very effective and serviceable reform. 

The promotion process

Overall, the promotion process that we developed a number of years ago has proved to work very well and we have now promoted 18 associate senior professors to senior lecturer positions. Unfortunately, some employees have not fulfilled the high standards necessary for promotion, or have chosen to terminate their employment prematurely for various reasons. But my overall conclusion is that as early as the recruitment process, we selected very strong researchers and teachers, who then, with good support from their departments and heads of department, and above all through their own very hard work, consolidated their roles as prominent and established colleagues in the research community. In addition to being passionate about their research and in many cases also its applications, many of them have competed successfully for external grant funds, which is one of the assessment bases for promotion. But it has also been striking to see what a great commitment many in the “new generation” have to teaching and the quality of education. That bodes well for the future of our university!

Increased gender equality

Despite the success of our teacher recruitment, there is also potential for improvement. Above all, I refer to the fact that relatively few women apply for our advertised associate senior lecturer and senior lecturer positions. Although employment statistics show that a slightly higher proportion of women have been recruited compared to the proportion of applicants, a few years ago the number of female employees landed at around 35%. Happily, this number has recently increased, and of a total of 56 recruited associate senior lecturers, 41% are women. But despite this increase, this means that women will continue to be under-represented within our faculty for a long time to come, as these are our future professors. A working group on gender equality, led by Berit Olofsson, Section Dean of Chemistry, has highlighted a number of proposals for further improvements, with an important component being the creation of a headhunting team for each announced teaching position, which will have the special task of “scouring” the field for candidates of an underrepresented gender, and contacting and encourage them to apply. It will be interesting to see if this increases the proportion of women seeking the advertised positions — I hope it will!

Student recruitment

When it comes to recruiting students to our education programmes, there is also potential for improvement. We need to get better at communicating how great our programmes are and what excellent opportunities for future employment in many parts of society a science education can provide. And there are certainly numerous examples of education programmes that have a high number of applicants, e.g., in the environmental field, mathematics programmes and some of the teacher training programmes, especially the so-called KPUn (Complementary Pedagogical Education for Teachers) for those who have completed their subject courses.

Antagning av masterstudenter till Molecular Techniques in Life Science
Molecular Techniques in Life Science

Another example is the master’s degree programme in “Molecular Techniques in Life Science” that was launched in 2015, with links to SciLifeLab, which is a collaboration between KI, KTH and SU. From a mere six students in the first class, the number of applicants has now grown and consistently tops 300 applicants each year, and it has been possible to fill the 24-30 places with ambitious students with excellent prior knowledge. This has also led to a very high proportion of students who receive passing grades. I am convinced that this concept can be further developed and that we can create more international master’s programmes within the Stockholm Trio, which attracts many talented students. 

Finances in Balance

The finances of our faculty and departments have changed rapidly in recent years. While too many funds once went unspent and resulted in sky-high administrative capital, we have now seen rapidly decreasing capital and a reduction in the departments’ financial room for manoeuvring. Together with the very worrying forecasts about rent increases and other rising university-wide costs, the past year was largely marked by the “Finances in Balance” project. As we expected, the heads of department have also taken this challenge very seriously. Many of the departments have already managed to turn the boat around in this limited time — perhaps not entirely, but still in the right direction. Nevertheless, it is worrying that our financial room for manoeuvring and opportunities for recruitment at all levels (including PhD students) will be limited for a few years to come. However, one bright spot are the positive signals that came in the Swedish Government’s autumn budget, with statements about reinforcements to universities, research councils and not least to national infrastructure. At the time of writing, the “research bill” has not yet landed on our tables, so there’s still some uncertainty, especially with regard to the distribution between the universities, but things still look promising.



My role as an “Integration Director” at SciLifeLab has been one of my major tasks in recent years, one which I have fulfilled in very good cooperation with Mats Nilsson, DBB, who has served as “Scientific Director”. The development of SciLifeLab as a national infrastructure and within the research centre at Campus Solna has been outstanding, and was emphatically praised by the international advisory board during their visit just over a year ago. In particular, the SciLifeLab Fellows initiative has gone out fantastically well, and it has been really fun to track the progress of SU’s Fellows, of which four of the eight recruited by SU have now been promoted to lecturer positions. Despite its success, Campus Solna has also struggled with some “growing pains”; it is not surprising that the creation of a new campus divided between three universities - the Stockholm Trio - has presented a great many challenges. Last spring, a Campus Solna Director was recruited and the assignment went to Per Ljungdahl, former head of department of MBW, SU. Together with a working group, a 2-year action plan for Campus Solna has now been formulated to further develop the local research environment, and to streamline organisation and management. Mats and I are now pleased to hand over our batons to the next Integration Director, Lena Mäler (DBB) and Scientific Director, Christos Samakovlis (MBW). 

SciLifeLab is now also entering its second decade, which was cemented at the end of last year in the publication of the SciLifeLab Roadmap 2020-2030 strategy document. In October it also became clear that the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is making a major investment in “Data-Driven Life Science”, and that the investment is to be channelled through SciLifeLab. SEK 3.1 billion will be invested over the course of a 12 year programme spanning basic research in areas such as cellular and molecular biology, evolution and biodiversity, contagion and infection biology, precision medicine and diagnostics. SU, together with nine other universities and
the Swedish Museum of Natural History, will benefit from the initiative through generous grants for the recruitment of associate senior lecturers. Later in the programme, doctoral schools, PhD positions and postdoctoral programmes will also be announced. It will be extremely exciting to follow the ongoing development at SciLifeLab — something I will definitely continue to do, albeit at a little distance.

Thank you!

My years in faculty management have left me with a wealth of fond memories — too many to mention here. However, I would like to express my particular gratitude to the excellent and professional support that we receive from the “Science Office”. It would have been difficult to fulfil my responsibilities for teacher recruitment and promotional matters without the knowledge and competence of our colleagues there, whose advice can always be trusted and who are often available 24/7. My personal contacts have been an invaluable and stress-minimising asset, as well as a great joy. I hope to maintain them with occasional coffee dates once the pandemic is over. 

A final word also to the Board of Science and, in particular, to the Working Committee — both its current and former members. Our intensive meetings — with discussions characterised by wisdom, selflessness, and a desire to improve the circumstances and conditions for high-quality research and education at our faculty — will be the most positive and lasting memory I take with me from my time as Vice Dean. I wish the future Board of Science and Working Committee all the best in their continued good work, carried out in true collegiality!