“In Sweden, it’s so easy to take a beautiful photograph,” microscopist Cheuk-Wai Tai tells The Local. “There’s lots of nice scenery and the seasonal changes are very distinct. In Hong Kong, where I’m from, it’s just summer…and summer!”
The scientist-cum-amateur-photographer joined Stockholm University in 2009, drawn to the university and life in Sweden.
“It’s a famous university, especially in natural and social science,” he explains. “There are a lot of different research opportunities. We have many good scientists so if you want to tackle some big scientific questions then this is the place to work.”
Cheuk-Wai had high hopes before joining the Electron Microscopy Center in Stockholm University’s Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry. His expectations, he says, have been more than met.
“It’s much better than I thought! I feel less stressed. Working in academia is quite stressful, there are a lot of things to do. But here, it’s quite balanced.”
He says that the university is a melting pot of academic expertise — a perquisite for researchers in multidisciplinary fields.
“Stockholm University has a lot of top scientists and talented students working together. I work with researchers not just within my department but also other departments. They have expertise in other fields such as organic chemistry, or sometimes I work with engineers. It’s a very multidisciplinary environment.”
It’s not just the academic environment that Cheuk-Wai appreciates. The university itself is set in a national park; it’s surrounded by nature and there’s even a farm on campus.
Stockholm University campus. Photo: Clément Morin
“Whenever I have a visitor I show them the modern labs – in our department we have a state-of-the-art electron microscope – then we walk just a few minutes from our working environment and see nice forests and countryside and animals in the farm!”
It’s a stark contrast, he says, from his native Hong Kong. One that he appreciates as a parent raising his family in a capital city.
“Stockholm is so beautiful, there are lots of nature and forests and lakes. I bring my kids to the forests, depending on the weather sometimes we go to the beach or in winter we go ice skating. I feel very calm and relaxed here.”
Djurgården, Stockholm. Photo: Werner Nystrand/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se
Dynamic, friendly and collegial
Researcher Mitch Downey from the United States recently joined Stockholm University to work as an assistant professor at the Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES).
“Everything that I could want in a job is well represented here,” says Mitch. “How you fit in to an institution, how you fit in to a department – and whether the types of work you like, and the types of work they like are the same – has a really big impact on how happy you are. And being here, as well as being somewhere else, has really taught me how true that is and how important that is.”
“The environment here I think is pretty special,” says Mitch, describing the environment as “really dynamic, friendly and collegial”.
The city itself has also won him over.
“Every day I walk out of my door my jaw drops”, he says. “To move to a city where you can walk down the street and see buildings that are five hundred years old. That just doesn't happen in the United States.”
‘We love to be in Stockholm, it’s a fantastic city’
Senior researcher Angela Adamo first came to Stockholm as a PhD student in 2006. She moved away following graduation but it wasn’t long before she returned, accepting a position in Stockholm University’s Department of Astronomy in 2014.
“Because I was here as a student and then I came back with my family, I have lived all the Stockholm lives! For people without kids or families, it’s a great city with many things to do for any type of lifestyle. For families, there is so much to do for kids. We love to be in Stockholm, it’s a fantastic city,” she tells The Local.
It isn’t just Angela’s personal life that has thrived since moving to Stockholm. With the support of the university, she’s been able to pursue her research into how galaxies form stars. She believes the university’s commitment to research is what brings in top talent from across the globe.
Astrophysics research at Stockholm University. Photo: Lina Enell
“Stockholm University considers research an important part of education. It supports research and offers special training for people who are interested in applying for research funds. This is a necessary step for research because we need resources to carry out our research, travel for collaborations and meetings and to advertise our results in international journals.”
There’s also a commitment to inclusivity that she says makes the university a pleasant place to work.
“We really connect with each other and support each other in research. We try to improve where we are weak. For example, it’s known in many sciences that females aren’t as well represented so we do our best to improve this and educate against bias.”
She says that working at Stockholm University has helped her to find a work-life balance she doesn’t believe would have been possible elsewhere.
“As part of the Swedish social system, researchers at Stockholm University have access to parent leave and family support which makes it easy to find a balance between work and private life. For example, both parents can share parental leave for one year and get the chance to be with their toddlers, conditions that are unthinkable in other countries where I lived and worked before moving to Stockholm.”
Would she recommend Stockholm University to other researchers? In the blink of an eye.
“Try it out! It’s so great. Stockholm University provides so much support for researchers, you’re never left alone to sort out the move. Working here is really fantastic, I think people should give it a try and experience it for themselves!”
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and presented by Stockholm University.