New to Swedish academia? This beginner’s guide will help

The Young Academy of Sweden (YAS) has announced the publication on 14 September of a free digital beginner’s guide aimed at helping newcomers to navigate the Swedish academic and research systems and remove time-consuming obstacles.

Explaining the motivation behind A Beginner’s Guide to Swedish Academia*, the YAS stated: “As a newcomer to the Swedish research system, one is faced with a series of questions about qualifications, networks and practical issues. To make things easier, YAS has developed a guide to help navigate Swedish academia and remove time-consuming obstacles”.

The Swedish guide, authored by 10 members of YAS, and available in a printed edition from Wednesday 19 October, is modelled on a similar publication produced by the Young Academy of the Netherlands in 2018, which has proven to be of great use for both newly arrived young researchers and for the public at large.

Two of the Swedish guide’s authors – Ewa Machotka, a researcher in Japanese art history at Stockholm University, and Philippe Tassin, a physicist at Chalmers University of Technology – said the fact that the authors came from “many different fields and universities in the country, and several of us have also had the experience of establishing ourselves as newcomers to the Swedish academic system, [has meant that] we have both insight and good qualifications”.

“When we saw the guide developed by the young academy in the Netherlands, we felt that this is something we really wanted to do,” they said in a statement.

YAS is an interdisciplinary academy founded in 2011 as an initiative of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the most prominent younger researchers in Sweden. The academy is an independent platform that provides young researchers with a strong voice in policy debates and promotes science and research often focusing on children and young adults.

Unwritten rules and information

Sigrid Schottenius Cullhed, associate professor in the department of literature at Uppsala University, who also contributed to the guide, told University World News the aim was to “collect and address unwritten rules and pieces of information that may be difficult to access” upon arrival in Sweden as a researcher or student from abroad.

“For instance, although most Swedes speak English quite well, many [newcomers] have experienced that learning some Swedish is crucial both from an academic and social point of view,” she said.

“In the beginner’s guide, we introduce our readers to important aspects of research funding in Sweden. Researchers will eventually find that there are many such opportunities, but it takes time to understand the funding systems and their regulations.

“It is important to plan ahead since it might take time to get a visa and residence permit. One of our recommendations is that you apply for a personal identification number on day one, since you will need this for everything else!”

The guide contains information about temporary academic positions and gives important information on how the working conditions in these positions are regulated between the universities and the trade unions.

For many international readers it is important to know that PhD positions in Sweden constitute both employment and studies, and that these positions have salaries that can vary between fields of study and funding sources.

While international students pay tuition fees for studies at the bachelor and masters degree levels, doctoral studies are exempt and, together with the salary, this makes Sweden one of the most attractive doctoral study destinations in the world.

It also means that competition for many of these positions is tough and has led to a strong representation of international students in many fields of research, notably in the technological fields and natural sciences.

Chapter four of the guide deals with how to carry out research projects, providing information about more than 20 research funding sources in Sweden, notably including several private foundations which have a stronger funding function in Sweden compared with other Nordic countries.

The two last chapters deal with rights, social benefits, practical information and language. The guide also provides information on possible support systems for the partner of a young researcher seeking work in Sweden since that is an important factor for those arriving in Sweden with a family.

Positive reception

Agneta Bladh, former state secretary at the Ministry of Education and Research and former chair of the Swedish Research Council, who headed the government’s higher education internationalisation inquiry in 2018, welcomed the guide.

“As an earlier internationalisation reviewer, I praise this initiative,” she told University World News. “Everything that can facilitate the exchange of academics from different countries is of utmost importance.”

Bladh said the guide would help post-doctoral researchers, for instance, who often find it challenging in a new country, be it Sweden or anywhere else. “You encounter a lot of rules, both formal and informal. The informal ones in particular might be the most difficult obstacles,” she said.

“Up to now, people relied on having very good colleagues at your department who shared their knowledge and understanding … With this guide it will be easier to have those talks as well as navigating on your own to a large extent.

“Why was it not written earlier, you may ask … Anyhow, now it is here and is much welcomed.”

Andreas Göthenberg, executive director of the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT), told University World News it was a great initiative that would be very helpful for foreign researchers.

“Knowledge systems differ between various countries, and this guide will give them a softer landing in Sweden.”

He said it was important that “ethical aspects” are addressed in the guide. “It’s necessary that researchers also have an understanding of good and responsible practices when cooperating internationally, as the world is becoming more polarised and complex.”

Linnéa Carlsson, chairperson of the doctoral student committee of the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS), said the union welcomes the guide “as it recognises the hardship many junior researchers experience early on in their careers”.

*The 10 authors of the guide are:

• Linda Andersson Burnett, researcher in the history of science at Uppsala University;

• Frida Bender, associate professor of meteorology at Stockholm University;

• Lucie Delemotte, associate professor of Biophysics at KTH Royal Institute of Technology;

• Mia Liinason, academy chair and professor of gender studies at Lund University;

• Sofia Lodén, associate professor of French at Stockholm University;

• Ewa Machotka, associate professor of Japanese art history at Stockholm University;

• Sigrid Schottenius Cullhed, associate professor of literary studies at Uppsala University;

• Janina Seubert, associate professor of psychology at Karolinska Institutet;

• Ylva Söderfeldt, associate professor of history of science and ideas at Uppsala University; and

• Philippe Tassin, professor of physics at Chalmers University of Technology.