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Creating scope for cutting-edge research with an international impact

A man standing in front of a building. Photo.
Computational science, which is an element in both research and education at several of the faculty’s departments, is another area that Anders Tunlid considers could be profiled and strengthened around the Knowledge Highway on Sölvegatan.

Several high-profile science researchers with major grants will be retiring in the next few years. In order to secure growth, the faculty, led by vice dean Anders Tunlid, is now introducing a new type of associate senior lectureship with benefits that will attract early-career researchers from all over the world.

After an intensive morning of meetings, Anders Tunlid, sporting a new haircut, welcomes me into his office. The whiteboard is filled with a mass of writing and the desk is covered with piles of documents. There is a lot going on at the moment. However, the Växjö-born biology professor hopes that he will soon have time to give a response on an article manuscript. Then he should really start to write that review text on the study in which Tunlid and some research colleagues examined the molecular mechanisms behind the breakdown of organic material in the soil.

“On paper, the vice dean assignment is 50 per cent. But in practice it is significantly more. So, unfortunately there is not a lot of time left to write research articles. I would need to take a week’s holiday”, he says.

It has been a hectic, but also stimulating, autumn for the Faculty of Science’s vice dean for research. Anders Tunlid has been working on an issue that he is passionate about: strengthening recruitment of the faculty’s future research leaders and teaching staff. This will now be done through a new initiative involving associate senior lectureships which – fully in line with the abbreviation-oriented office Swedish spoken at Sölvegatan 27 – has been given the abbreviation BUL, which stands for “biträdande universitetslektorat” and in this case concerns four newly established positions. What distinguishes the six-year-long lectureships is that they are not linked to a specific subject and researchers from all scientific disciplines can apply. The lectureships also have many benefits. In addition to a generous starting grant, both a postdoc and a doctoral student are linked to the positions. In other words, the conditions are in place for the recruitment of four new early-career researchers who can build up environments for leading-edge research at the departments.

“This idea has been percolating for a long time. I remember it was one of the first things I talked about with dean Sven Lidin when we started at the faculty in 2017”, says Anders Tunlid.

One source of inspiration was Umeå University, which recently advertised five similar positions within science. Applications were received from 500 researchers worldwide and the level was very high in general. It was the successful outcome for Umeå that gave Anders Tunlid the encouragement to fight for the four new associate senior lectureships.

There is a lot of talk about recruitment. And it’s the same old story the whole time. We are to reduce internal recruitment, become more international and offer better conditions. But not much happens. This is a step towards a new recruitment norm, says Anders Tunlid.

The research at the Faculty of Science is traditionally strong. But according to Tunlid, it is based to considerable extent on a small group of talented individuals who have been successful in obtaining grants from funding bodies such as the Swedish Research Council, Formas, the Wallenberg Foundations and the European Research Council. These researchers are currently spread through the faculty’s various departments, which is positive.

“However, we are also struggling with a wave of retirements. To maintain our positions, we need to bring in early-career research leaders who within ten years will have reached the top echelon in Sweden. I believe that the new associate senior lectureship programme is a way to attract those people”, says Anders Tunlid.

If everything goes to plan, the positions will be advertised in December with an application period until February. There will then be extensive sifting and evaluation work at the departments. A shortlist of the most interesting candidates will be drawn up in cooperation with a group of external experts. After a final round of interviews, the positions will be filled in the summer of 2022.

Of course, I wish that there were more than four positions. But thanks to our agency capital, we have managed to get four now and hopefully four in 2023. This is an initiative that will make us competitively stronger, says Anders Tunlid.

The RQ20 research evaluation conducted last year has also been important in the creation of the new positions. Several panels emphasised the importance of offering researchers better conditions. Initially it costs more, but is very likely to pay off in the long-term. Furthermore, the RQ20 evaluators stated that the faculty is to better utilise the opportunities that the major facilities at Brunnshög may offer for conducting leading-edge research. Therefore, at least one of the four associate senior lectureships will be oriented towards applicants who use methods or techniques that are, or will be, available at MAX IV or ESS.

“If we start to recruit in this way, I believe we will make the money back many times over in terms of future grants. My vision is to have research at the faculty that is at least as strong in 2030, when the group of pensioners has gone”, says Anders Tunlid.

But where will this research be conducted? In all likelihood, some will take place in the organisational units being built up in Science Village. However, the faculty’s establishment of activities at Brunnshög provides considerable scope for innovative thinking along the Knowledge Highway on Sölvegatan. Besides the associate senior lectureships, Anders Tunlid has recently spent a lot of strategic brain power on BioCIG. This Swedish acronym is increasingly heard in the corridors at Sölvegatan. BioCIG represents plans for deeper collaboration between the Department of Biology (Bio), the Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC), the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science (INES) and the Department of Geology (G). When parts of the departments of physics and chemistry move to Brunnshög, there will be greater possibilities for the BioCIG departments to collaborate or even move in together. At least CEC, INES and geology.

We must become better at profiling ourselves internationally and showing what the faculty is good at. Here is one area where the potential is not fully explored. I believe in creating a cohesive unit that will enable us to profile ourselves in research terms in the environmental and climate field”, says Anders Tunlid.

What would you expect to see in 10 years’ time?

“I would like to see a CIG department able to collaborate on research, teaching, infrastructure and administration. It would be able to share premises at Fysicum or the Centre for Chemistry where it has become a neighbour with the Department of Biology”, he says.

Associate senior lectureships (BUL), RQ20, BioCIG. There is a lot to talk about, but the interview is nearing its end. And we also need to take photos before Anders Tunlid has to get home to receive a cooker delivery that, due to the global semiconductor shortage, has been delayed for seven weeks – a test of patience for a vice dean with a passion for cooking. Anders Tunlid puts on his moss-green oilskin jacket and follows me out on to Sölvegatan, where we finally manage to find some flashes of colourful foliage in the otherwise steel-grey surroundings.

“A considerable part of the dean-related activities is about reacting to things. But there is also an opportunity to take the initiative on extensive changes in the organisation, such as Science Village and CIG. You get the chance to plant things that can continue to develop. We don’t hand over something that looks the same as when we first took it on”, concludes Anders Tunlid.

Text and photo: Johan Joelsson.