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Top researcher 'too old' to work in Sweden

Charlotte Webb · 22 Sep 2009, 11:18

Published: 22 Sep 2009 11:18 GMT+02:00

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With over forty years of cutting edge research and over 1100 scientific articles under his belt, Gustafsson is far from ready to slow down.

On Monday he was awarded the 2009 Fernströms Great Nordic Prize, a one million kronor ($146,000) award, for ground-breaking research in the area of nuclear receptors, research that stands to benefit millions of patients afflicted by a variety of diseases ranging from depression to prostate cancer.

Next summer, however, Gustafsson turns 67, an age at which Swedish law dictates that researchers must begin to cut back on their hours.

"I can't believe it," he told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

"It feels as though I still have much more to give."

Since January of this year, Gustafsson has devoted much of his time to establishing a new, $30 million researcher centre in the United States at the University of Houston in Texas.

And he doesn't expect his advancing age to be an issue for his colleagues in the United States.

"During the whole decision making process in Houston, not a single person has asked how old I am," he told SvD.

"It's irrelevant there. The only thing that counts is competence."

Story continues below…

In the years to come, Gustafsson hopes to establish a scientific bridge between Karolinska Institutet and the University of Houston, but will remain in the United States to avoid being "pushed to the side", a fate which awaits many Emeritus professors in Sweden after reaching a certain age.

"When I got the offer from Houston, it seemed like an offer I couldn't refuse. I would love to continue my research as long as I can, and to help ensure that the knowledge we attain is put to good use," he told the newspaper.

Charlotte Webb (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:16 September 22, 2009 by Re-Horakhty
Never heard of him.
13:27 September 22, 2009 by trinaican
That is really unfortunate..people should not be discriminated against because of their age. Thats a lack of respect for his talents and experience and qualifications....1100 scientific papers..impressive
13:30 September 22, 2009 by canadian in skåne
The problem is there are also lots of younger researchers with new ideas that would also like jobs.

As long as you are productive, I don't see a problem but many older researchers are not, and having an age cap at least forces them out, while older, productive researchers will always find a way to keep their science as a priority.
15:11 September 22, 2009 by Mister E
Good! Let some fresh blood in. Unemployment among young adults has skyrocketed and it's time to let a new generation of workers get their start.
15:38 September 22, 2009 by Blissfullignorance
That's some BS. Unemployment among young Swedes is partly their fault. Millenials enter the workforce believing that job opportunities is their god given right; they lack serious work ethic. The privilige to work in a role like Jan Ake's should be based on performance and competence. Sweden is well know for age discrimination against the aging. It's just another poor example of Sweden's outdated politics.
15:54 September 22, 2009 by Dimath
So we're trying to push the life expectency forward.... but for what? when you're too old to have fun or work or have a life.. what is wrong with this world?
16:09 September 22, 2009 by ropegun247
The swedes and their idiotic rules again. If Jan Ake has done really well at research, why get rid of him?

Midiocrity at work seems to be the norm in most jobs in Sweden. "Good enough for a goverment job" is the attitude. When you are good at what you do they get rid of you.
17:18 September 22, 2009 by mkvgtired
I can not believe all of the people who agree with this rule. This scientist is researching very important topics. What if he finds a cure for prostate cancer before he dies? Then will people still be saying "good, we need to employ more young and inexperienced people". Not to mention in his old age he still has a lot to teach the young researchers. I am glad that he found a University to take him. It is a shame for Sweden that any groundbreaking discoveries he makes in the future will not be considered Swedish.
18:20 September 22, 2009 by DamnImmigrant
RETIREMENT - I had always assumed it was a VOLUNTARY thing that keep people from HAVING to work until they die!

Then I learned the truth. Retirement was created to FORCE older people from the workforce so younger workers could get a chance for employment!

Once again I think this LOCAL NEWS article is a little short on information.

I am confused by what retirement actually means here because this article says "67, an age at which Swedish law dictates that researchers must begin to cut back on their hours."

What does "cut back" actually mean?

Does it mean he will ONLY be paid for a certain amount of HOURS WORKED per week? For example, does it mean he can continue to work his normal 75 hours each week but he will only be paid for 30 of those hours? Or does it mean that after 30 hours, the authorities will kick him out of the building?

I do not see what the problem is with his "forced retirement". People like him will continue to work until they are either mentally or physically are dead! It sounds like retirement will NOT FORCE him NOT TO WORK anymore, it just means he will not get paid for the extra work he is doing.

20:24 September 22, 2009 by bettan1
Hmmmmmmm , he worked with the Karolinska Institute ???

Seem to remember they were highly critical of SNUS as causing an increase in mouth and pancreatic cancers. That type of irresponsible pseudo-scientific (Gov opinion only) flap could destroy a good source of government revenues.

That'll get'em fired for sure!!!
02:24 September 23, 2009 by Greg in Canada
My dad is in his early 80's and still works past retirement in his own company. He is a mechanical engineer who is regarded as one of the world's top experts in his field. My brother works with him and does a lot of the regular grunt work so my dad can concentrate only on what he wants. Dad would have died years ago if he was forced into retirement.

As for those like Mister E who are posting that older people should have forced retirement, you're living proof of the old expression "youth is wasted on the young.' Men like this have forgotten more than you will ever know and as long as they have their brain power we need them more than you.
09:21 September 24, 2009 by karex
Spot on Greg.

Sounds like a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

There's a good reason why the term "respect your elders" exists. They are the ones with the knowledge. If we refuse to benefit from that then we are hopelessly ignorant, and deserve to remain that way.
14:49 September 25, 2009 by Nemesis
This is disgraceful.

He is a brilliant researcher.

If he can still bring in massive research grants and perform good research, he should be allowed to work.
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