Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: October 2020

Guest Post: Many crossdisciplinary initiatives in Humanities and Social Sciences

At the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, crossover is all the rage – several new cross-disciplinary initiatives have been launched and more are on the way. Cross-disciplinary research and education have a strong tradition in Humanities and Social Sciences. Historian of ideas Karin Johannisson played a pioneering role in Sweden and at Uppsala University in promoting an understanding of human complexity. Research about the existential body and the human being in medicine involves issues of health, suffering and death. These issues cannot be owned by a single scholarly or scientific discipline; by their very nature, they are cross-disciplinary. 

In this spirit, the new Centre for Medical Humanities (CMHS) recently made its debut at the Humanities Theatre. CMHS is a collaboration between the Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy. The centre supports cross-cutting research on medicine and health and the necessary integration of perspectives from the humanities and social sciences in professional education and training in medicine. The Department of History of Science and Ideas, which is the host institution for CMHS, was also Karin Johannisson’s home department, which of course is no coincidence.

On 11 November, Uppsala Immigration Lab (UIL) will be inaugurated. The Lab seeks to develop new methods for addressing current issues in integration and working life, ranging from labour market establishment to socioeconomic aspects of integration. UIL is based at the Department of Economics and is a collaboration between several departments, mostly from the Faculty of Social Sciences. The collaboration also extends to actors outside the University, such as the Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.

Also in the pipeline is the establishment of HERO (Higher Education as Research Object), a five-year University-wide project in the broad research field of higher education. This field is sorely needed in the Swedish research landscape and contributes essential cutting-edge expertise to the entire higher education sector. More than ever, in times of fact resistance and threats to university autonomy, we need to develop knowledge about the conditions, possibilities and challenges of higher education, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

It is important to bear in mind that all cross-cutting collaborations depend on the subject-specific excellence of the participating environments. In other words: no breadth without depth. Which means that one important conclusion is that all these projects, and others, testify to the depth of scholarly and scientific knowledge in widely disparate fields encompassed by the domain of humanities and social sciences in Uppsala.

P.S. Don’t miss the exciting symposium on 29 October at CIRCUS (Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society) on the theme Doing research together: The good, the challenging and the ugly aspects of collaborative research.

Tora Holmberg, Vice-Rector of the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Let’s all play our part in reducing infection in Uppsala!

Yesterday the Public Health Agency of Sweden issued local advice for Uppsala aimed at curbing the spread of infection, now that the pressure on health services has begun to increase in our region. Last week we wrote here in the blog that we need to take a step back in the current infection situation; now even greater discipline is required of all of us to help. Over the next two weeks, we must be extra careful to follow the recommendations. These recommendations are not actually completely new; it is more a matter of applying existing rules and guidelines even more strictly.

During the spring and autumn we have developed and applied effective solutions in our activities and infection rates at the University have not given cause for concern. However, we need to be equally careful away from work.

There is a striking need to reduce the burden on public transport. In accordance with the stricter advice, over the next two weeks it is particularly important to give everyone at the University who can work from home the opportunity to do so, especially those who are dependent on public transport for getting to work. In this way, we will make room for those who really do have to take the bus to their job or studies.

If everyone who can makes room in local transport, keeps their distance in shops and minimises social contact with people outside their own household, this will yield results.

The University’s activities will continue as before in formats that are adapted for infection control. We will not close our premises to students or staff, but we will make an even greater effort to keep our distance and avoid crowding.

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Invigorating adapted events

Infection rates are increasing in Uppsala and we need to be particularly careful right now and in the coming weeks when we choose to meet physically. After all, in many cases digital alternatives work extremely well. However, sometimes meeting in well-planned and orderly ways helps us to keep going now, when we know that this situation is going to last longer than we thought at first.

We decided quite early on in the pandemic not to routinely postpone or cancel activities, but to try to adapt instead. Many events have necessarily been almost completely digitalised – and have far surpassed expectations. Others have been adapted with spacing to enable us to meet anyway, sometimes in combination with online streaming.

This past week we have participated in several adapted events of this kind. Being able to meet in somewhat more formal ways to celebrate important occasions and initiatives gives an energy boost and new momentum, and creates memorable moments.

Inauguration of AI4Research. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

One example is the recent inauguration of the interdisciplinary research project AI4Research. This is a five-year project designed to reinforce, renew and further develop research in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. We are delighted to have received generous support from the Beijer Foundation and Anders Wall for the new Beijer Chair in Artificial Intelligence, held by Professor Thomas Schön, director of the new project. This is an exciting venture that will benefit the entire University and many fields of research. Another exciting project that was inaugurated this week is GlobeLife, a project for developing interdisciplinary collaborations in global health between our University and Karolinska Institutet.

Presentation of the award “For Zealous and Devoted Service of the Realm”

It was a particular pleasure to have the opportunity as Vice-Chancellor to present the award “For Zealous and Devoted Service of the Realm” at a fine – and carefully distanced – ceremony in the University Main Building on Thursday. This award dates back to 1803 and is presented once a year to those who have been employed by the state for at least 30 years, or 25 years in connection with retirement. This year, 61 people were thanked for the important work they have done and do at Uppsala University.

It was also pleasing to have the opportunity to plant a new tree in the Botanical Garden, a gift from Akademiska Hus. My thanks for this gift, and for a good partnership over the years!

A tree that will bear fruit in the future
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Guest Post: Raising the roof at Nya Ångström

Last thursday I was invited to a roof-raising ceremony at Building 10, Nya Ångström. The building has reached the point where the facade and roof are virtually finished.

The builders had gathered on the ground floor to celebrate this milestone. We walked into the atrium at the heart of Building 10. The atrium is stunning, soaring nearly 30 metres to the ceiling. You can now begin to sense the setting taking shape, with reception, teaching premises, restaurant and offices for the IT Department.

I was invited to make a speech. The workers stood on the different floors around the atrium. It was quite a feeling to look up and see all the people involved in constructing this building. I tried to describe how important their work is. When it is all finished, Nya Ångström will have a total floor area of 100,000 square metres for education and research in technology and natural sciences. This facility will be a focal point for Swedish and international students and researchers. It will make a significant contribution to the future of Uppsala, the region and indeed the whole country. I thanked them for carrying out this important project within the planned time and budget, despite the complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, I had a chance to look at the placement of the Foucault pendulum, which will be 28 metres long. The bracket is already fixed in the ceiling and the circle in the floor over which the pendulum will swing is already clearly marked.

I cycled away feeling grateful and proud.

Johan Tysk, Vice-Rector of the Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology

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Students and everyone else – step back!

The infection situation in Sweden, and particularly in Uppsala, is cause for concern. The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has increased sharply in the last few weeks. Young people, not least students, have been identified as groups that are playing a major role in spreading infection.

To some extent, students have been unfairly singled out for criticism. There are examples of social gatherings among students leading to the spread of infection, but the figures do not really show that students differ from other groups of young people, according to Johan Nöjd, infection control doctor in Uppsala. Our impression is that students’ unions and student nations in Uppsala are continuing to act responsibly.

Nevertheless, the situation right now gives cause for concern. We certainly do not want to end up in the same situation as in the spring, when the universities had to move all their education online.

That is what makes it particularly important that we continue to follow the general advice to keep our distance, wash our hands and avoid gathering in large groups. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more we relax. Now it is time to concentrate again and make sure that we really do keep our distance.

Time to step back a pace, in other words. This applies to our students of course, but it also applies to all the rest of us!

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Deans’ days at the Castle: coronavirus routines and future issues

The autumn deans’ away days at home on Thursday to Friday were a welcome physical meeting. We had fewer participants than usual this time and used spacious rooms in the Castle. Meeting in real life and letting the conversation flow in the room was invigorating and sparked new ideas in a way that is difficult to achieve digitally.

We started off with an absorbing debate about leadership during the coronavirus crisis. The balance between collegial management and line management changes in crisis situations, which affects the role of leader. Some participants were keen to have clear messages and more decisions from the top, while others thought that the decisions allowed welcome scope for adaptation to the local circumstances in each part of the organisation. There are many lessons to be learned. In a crisis, there may be good reason to deviate from normal procedures and take quick decisions, but it is important to be able to return to previous principles when the urgent danger is past and to find a way to restore functional normalcy. The pandemic started suddenly and as a crisis but has now moved into a more chronic state, and we need to find sustainable models that can work as long as the pandemic continues.

At present, the solutions vary somewhat between different parts of the University. Some differences are well-motivated, but perhaps not all. Those who feel the inconsistencies most are our students. We are receiving clear signals from them that coordination needs to improve. Certain programmes have all students on campus, others none.

This autumn, it is essential for everyone to focus on the established priorities: it is particularly important that teaching for first-year students, students with special needs, practical tasks and exams can be scheduled on campus to a sufficient extent. Our focus must be on the quality of our activities, and meeting physically in seminar rooms and laboratories is inspiring and enhances the quality of education for our students.

Our message is:

  • This is going to take a long time – keep going, stay strong and remain alert.
  • Act swiftly and resolutely when infection is discovered.
  • Help one another so that everyone manages to give campus-based education to the prioritised groups and components (as set out in the Vice-Chancellor’s decision):
  1. Courses for new students and the first semester of educational programmes.
  2. Students for whom special educational support has been approved.
  3. Practical tasks that cannot be performed digitally.
  4. Examinations that are difficult to carry out digitally.
  5. Final exams and mandatory components in the final year of educational programmes.

We also found time for other issues during the away days, such as implementation of the University’s Mission, Goals and Strategies document, the upcoming HEI audit of our quality assurance procedures and – not least – an overview of what’s going on in the students’ unions and disciplinary domains. Listening to one another and drawing inspiration from one another is an important part of finding new ways to make the most of the entire breadth of our comprehensive University.

Finally, we had a productive session on the ongoing inquiry on research infrastructure. This session included two entertaining features: we had to react to radical scenarios to test the positions we take and we took part in a photo competition “Guess which infrastructure”. Vice-Rector Mats Larhed won the competition – congratulations!

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