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Watercolour-painting limnologist wants to provide her staff with the right conditions

For a long time, Karin Rengefors struggled to choose between painting and biology, but in the end limnology took the upper hand. She is humble about her nomination for the post of deputy dean, and if entrusted with the role she will work hard to create the right conditions for the faculty’s staff.

Portrait. Photo.
Professor Karin Rengefors, pictured here outside the Department of Biology, has been nominated for the position of deputy dean of the Faculty of Science for the 2024-2026 term of office.

Professor Karin Rengefors welcomes us into her bright office in the Department of Biology. There are neat piles of theses on her desk, and the walls are hung with watercolours in soft pastel colours. On the pinboard are photos of family and friends. Karin Rengefors has been based in Lund since 2001. Her interest in biology, however, was piqued in her childhood, which was spent in Brazil, Italy, Chile and Austria, thanks to her father’s career as an economist with industrial conglomerate Atlas Copco.

“It was a nomadic lifestyle, but I learned a lot about different cultures, as well as several languages. It was not until I was 21 that I came to Sweden,” she says.

Her academic career began with her studying biology at Uppsala University, where she obtained a doctoral degree in 1998 with her thesis on limnology (the study of inland aquatic ecosystems). The subject’s environmental and societal relevance provided a more powerful draw than the genetics she had previously been interested in. After receiving her doctoral degree, Karin Rengefors took up a postdoc position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts – one of the oldest oceanographic research institutions in the world. In 2001, she arrived at Lund University to take up a post as an assistant professor. She successfully applied for a lecturer position in 2005, and in 2008 she was promoted to professor. During her career she has served on the Academic Appointments Board, initiated and ran GENECO (Graduate Research School in Genomic Ecology), and been director of doctoral studies for the Department of Biology. Besides that, she sat on Formas’s Scientific Council and has held several international posts, including in the academic collaboration between Chile and Sweden (ACCESS) and in research societies for limnological research and research into algal bloom research. When she found out she had been nominated for the position of deputy dean of the Faculty of Science, she was both surprised and delighted.

“I have ten years to go until retirement. I still find research and teaching exciting. Yet I feel a need to do something that means something to people beyond me and my research team,” she says.

A potential future as deputy dean is something Karin Rengefors looks upon with humility. It might be difficult to approach it in any other way. The issues set to dominate the faculty leadership’s agenda for the upcoming term of office are not exactly trifling matters. Karin Rengefors and Per Persson (the Nominating Committee’s recommendation for dean) will, if elected, have to get stuck into the Faculty of Science’s establishment in Science Village and the planned merger between the Department of Geology, the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science and the Centre for Environmental and Climate Science. As if that were not enough, there are plenty of potential challenges in intricate questions relating to the winding up of the Department of Astronomy and Theoretical Physics and the planned establishment of a centre for computational science.

I am someone who is driven, I engage a lot with the projects I get involved in. Challenges really get me going. I do hope this is not something I will come to regret saying, she chuckles.

Doctoral education is something Karin Rengefors is particularly passionate about. In 2008, she was awarded the Lund students’ prize for excellence in teaching for her graduate school GENECO, and she knows the importance of getting sufficient resources. Issues pertaining to organisation, internationalisation and recruitment are also important to Karin Rengefors.

“I have a lot of confidence in Per Persson. We worked together in the Department head’s advisory council and his was actually the name I mentioned when the Nominating Committee asked who I would most like to work with,” she says.

When she is not working, Karin recharges by spending time with her son Atle who is studying architecture, and Frossie the cat. As well as that, she spends at least two evenings a week in the riding stables and jogs around the hills of Sankt Hans backar. Karin Rengefors likes to spend her summers in the family’s cottage in Trosa, or in Italy, where she spent eight years and still has family. So what became of the artistic career? It is still very much alive. Karin Rengefors paints – often landscapes in watercolours – and exhibits as often as she can. From 1 January 2024 however, her focus is very likely to be on sketching out the future of the Faculty of Science.

Text and photo: Johan Joelsson.