Stockholm university

The Swedish academic system – this is how it works

Some unwritten rules in the Swedish academic system might be difficult for researchers from other countries to undertand. How does it work with ethics review, social security number and research funding? A new Guidebook intends to provide some answers.

For new researchers in Sweden, it can be difficult to know how the Swedish academic system works. Photo: Niklas Björling

The book “A Beginner’s Guide to Swedish Academia” is written in English and is published by the Young Academy of Sweden (Sveriges unga akademi). It targets all newcomers to the Swedish academic system and among the contributing authors are three researchers at Stockholm University: Frida Bender, Ewa Machotka and Sofia Lodén. All three are also members of the Young Academy of Sweden.

Frida Bender. Photo: Erik Thor/The Young Academy of Sweden

“There are a lot of things to figure out for a young researcher who comes to Sweden. Everything from social security numbers and home insurance, to grading criteria and ethical reviews. We have tried to collect the answers to some of the questions that may arise, to make it easier for newcomers, and simply remove some hurdles and make their transition smoother”, says Frida Bender, Associate Professor of Meteorology at the Department of Meteorology.

In the book, she has written a chapter on education and teaching together with Ylva Söderfeldt, Associate Professor of History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University.

“I think there is a lot to learn, even for researchers who are not completely new to the Swedish system. Especially about differences between different universities and different disciplines”, says Frida Bender.

Sofia Lodén. Photo: Erik Thor/The Young Academy of Sweden

Sofia Lodén, Associate Professor of French at the Department of Romance Studies and Classics, has written the chapter on language together with Philippe Tassin, Professor of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology.

“In addition to writing our own chapters, we have also read each other’s chapters and commented on them. I thought that was particularly interesting! I learned a lot about the Swedish system – even though this is the environment that I come from”, says Sofia Lodén.


Many unwritten rules

She believes that many foreign researchers do not feel fully integrated into the Swedish university environment.

“There are many unwritten rules – in all environments – things that you are just expected to know. Most of us have experience of working in countries other than Sweden and know how difficult it can be to get into a new system. We hope that the guide will make it easier to understand how things work in Sweden, and thus help scholars to get more involved in what is happening here”, says Sofia Lodén.

Ewa Machotka. Photo: Magnus Kardal

Ewa Machotka, Associate Professor of Japanese Art History at the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, contributed to the chapter on how higher education and research is organized in Sweden, as it was the topic that she herself was most curious about. She wrote it together with Lucie Delemotte, Associate Professor of Biophysics at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.


Disparity between institutions

“It is difficult to generalize about what all newcomers think is most difficult about the Swedish system. They come from a great variety of academic environments and experience the system differently depending on their backgrounds. What some may find novel and difficult the others may find familiar and useful. What is good to remember in this context is that the Swedish system itself is characterized by great disparity, depending on institutions and research fields. We stressed this characteristic of the system in our Guidebook”, says Ewa Machotka.


Non-hierarchical system in Sweden

Frida Bender believes that an important difference between the Swedish academic system and other countries where she has worked is that the system in Sweden is so “flat”, i.e. non-hierarchical.

“Another important difference is that in Sweden a doctoral position is a job, with a salary, and a range of rights, which is not the case everywhere. And of course, the lunch and coffee breaks during the working day”, she says.

Sofia Lodén agrees that the hierarchies are not always visible in Sweden, although they exist here too.

“My advice to get into the system more easily would be to take the time to have coffee and lunch with new colleagues. I think that the social context is very important”, says Sofia Lodén.


Provide practical information

Ewa Machotka says that the motivation with the Guidebook was largely pragmatic; to provide practical information about the existing system that would help the newcomers to navigate it.   

“We know that internationalization is essential to promote quality in research and education. And we know that the ability to attract international knowledge and competence is important for our research system. But we also know that although mobility is advantageous for the research system as a whole, the individual researchers may often encounter obstacles when moving to a new country. We wanted to make these transitions easier for the individuals and in extension contribute to the internationalization of Swedish academia in general”, says Ewa Machotka.


Want people to feel welcome

Sofia Lodén agrees:
“Hopefully the guide can answer some of the questions that researchers from other countries ask when they come here. It is incredibly important that Sweden attracts researchers from many different countries, and the guide is a small piece of the puzzle, we want more people to feel welcome here.”

A Beginner’s Guide to Swedish Academia is published by the Young Academy of Sweden.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Swedish Academia” can be downloaded as a pdf from the Young Academy of Sweden’s website.
The book will also be published in a printed version in October.

The Guidebook has been developed in collaboration between several members of the Young Academy of Sweden. The Academy has also gathered ideas and opinions from reference persons with knowledge and insight about the research system.

Release mingle at Accelerator 19 October.