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Why Stockholm attracts so many successful researchers

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Why Stockholm attracts so many successful researchers
Photo: Stockholm University
08:56 CEST+02:00
Stockholm is a remarkably international city, with more than 8,000 students from across the globe guesting its universities each year for a wide variety of reasons.

But it's not just students who are drawn to the capital. Stockholm University is also host, or simply home, to scores of researchers from around the world - like Sweden's youngest PhD, a 20-year-old from the Netherlands. So what brings them here?

Stockholm's sterling reputation

Political scientist Jonathan Kuyper is from Australia where he did both undergraduate and graduate studies, including a PhD.

But when it came time for postdoctoral research, he knew he was headed to Stockholm.

“Stockholm University is very well-rated internationally, and the Political Science Department is particularly strong,” he tells The Local.

He cited the chance to work with international relations Professor Jonas Tallberg as a major factor.

“He is a world-leading scholar and just an all-round great guy. There was a big incentive to work with him,” Kuyper says.


Jonathan Kuyper. Photo: Private

Austrian Researcher Gerda Neyer was also drawn by the university's reputation.

“Swedish demographers are internationally known and working with them is a pure privilege,” she says.

Neyer says that the Stockholm University's high international standing and the wonderful group of international researchers and doctoral students make the school “absolutely unique” – and a clear choice. She was offered a position at the Stockholm University Linnaeus Center on Social Policy and Family Dynamics in Europe (SPaDE), and she pounced.

“The Demography Unit here in Stockholm is one of the leading centres in social demography in Europe – and the world,” she says.

View all available research jobs at Stockholm University

Outstanding resources and facilities

Meanwhile Patricia Shaughnessy moved here for love – having met her Swedish husband on a ski trip to Switzerland – but the Hawaii-based researcher quickly found her second love at the university.

“I had always wanted to do a research project in arbitration, so when I visited my then-boyfriend I decided to do my research at Stockholm University,” she recalls.


Patricia Shaughnessy. Photo: Staffan Westerlund/Stockholm University

An agreement with her law school in Hawaii let Shaughnessy use the library and resources at Stockholm University, and she was hooked.

“Within a couple of months I knew I wanted to stay,” she says. Shaughnessy is now an Associate Professor in International Procedural Law at the university.

“We have an incredible library system and database here, and the staff is great at getting extra research material,” she adds. “We can access an entire world of research. I can sit in Stockholm and do the same research I could do in New York.”

Cameroon native Ernest Chi Fru, a geomicrobiologist, was also lured by the “vibrant environment and facilities” available at the university.

“The research at Stockholm University, at least in my department, is focused and inspiring,” he says.

Find out more about research at Stockholm University

Friends and fika

But it's not just about cutting-edge research and incredible resources. As any Swede would tell you, work-life balance and a positive work environment are essential to happiness.

“I liked the university from day one. Working here is simply great,” exclaims Neyer.

“Swedes seem to have a natural talent to create an inspiring environment, always innovative, always with some charming and heart-warming surprises.”

Those heart-warming surprises include Swedish ‘fika' coffee breaks – “three times a day,” Chi Fru notes with a chuckle – and a warm, collaborative atmosphere.

“Swedish society is built on equality for all and frowns on cut-throat competition, which has several benefits in empowering everyone and bringing out their worth,” he explains.


Ernest Chi Fru. Photo: Private

Kupyer agrees, saying that the friendly and intimate atmosphere, even in the larger departments, make the university a vibrant place to work.

“Stockholm University has been a really excellent employer,” he says. “The other academic staff members couldn't be nicer, the administrators are very helpful, and my head of department is very supportive.”

International progress

The university is Sweden's largest, with 5,000 staff members and 70,000 students, but still relatively small compared to many other international universities.

But Kupyer points out that the research is on par, and that Stockholm University measures up just as well – or better – than its big brothers on what matters most.

“I've spent time at world-leading places like Princeton and Oxford,” he says. “The Political Science Department here at Stockholm University might not match these places in terms of size, but the research being done is just as impressive.”

Find out more about research at Stockholm University

And it's only getting better.

“The work done in our department is increasingly being published in top journals and with top book publishers,” he says.

“And I am pleasantly surprised by the continual efforts to internationalize my department and bring in great researchers to give talks or have visiting stays.” 

“The research opportunities have definitely increased,” agrees Shaughnessy, who has been in Stockholm for more than 20 years now. “Stockholm University provides an excellent platform for me to engage in the international academic community.”

View all available research jobs at Stockholm University

Equal environment

The four international researchers also value the flat structure of the university – although it can take some getting used to.

“I was surprised when I first came that everyone at the university is on a first-name basis,” Shaughnessy says. “But people here in Sweden, at the university and otherwise, are friendly and non-hierarchical. They're hospitable and unpretentious. I appreciate that.”

It's one of the aspects Neyer loves most about life in Stockholm.


Gerda Neyer. Photo: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock (Germany)

“I love the international, very supportive environment. And most of all I value the egalitarian structure and the egalitarian forms of communication among all employees,” she says.

Everyone is treated equally, the researchers point out. But at the same time, they are given the freedom and the support to pursue their own interests and project, independently and yet truly integrated with the community around them.

“We have academic independence and freedom of thought. I'm engaged with the Swedish business and legal community in this beautiful city, and I can contribute to my field on an international level,” Shaughnessy explains.

“I have an opportunity to both teach students in an area I find exciting, and to engage in the local and international community. What more could I want?”

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Stockholm University.

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