Nathanial Street and Judith Lundberg-Felten in a shared Zoom meetingNathaniel Street (left) and Judith Lundberg-Felten (right) in an online Zoom meeting

Judith Lundberg-Felten and Nathaniel Street were recently appointed as docents at SLU and Umeå University, respectively. Both are working already for several years at UPSC, first as postdocs and now as group leaders. The appointment as docent is the next career step within the Swedish academic system. Here they are talking about their career, what is driving them and their future goals.

Did you always want to make an academic career?

Judith: I have enjoyed doing research in plant biology since my Master’s project. I love the analytical, scientific approach. This and my curiosity for science has motivated me to continue on the academic path.

Nathaniel: No, for me, that came late. I didn’t think properly about it until during my PhD. By then, I knew that I loved research enough to always want to do that.

What is your driving force?

Nathaniel: The world around me. I have always been fascinated by the fact that the largescale emerges from processes at the small scale and trees are an ultimate example of that for me. I love the ordered chaos of biology and the challenge of trying to understand that system. So, my biology interest is the major force but I also want to pass on that passion to others and to create an environment where people can explore and develop their own ideas, interests and skills.

Judith: As a group leader, I also want to empower young scientists on their road to discover the molecular processes happening inside plants and to understand how these fascinating and highly diverse organisms develop and function. I believe that one day, the knowledge that I create through my research team will foster creating innovative solutions for a future sustainable society.

Why did you come to UPSC?

Nathaniel: Trees. I love working on trees and Sweden loves trees. I visited UPSC during my PhD and loved working there. People at UPSC were passionate about tree genomics and that was inspiring. They were using the latest techniques and technologies – at the time cDNA microarrays – and that also appealed to the side of me that loves new technology. Microarrays really fuelled my love of working with largescale datasets and applying that also at larger scales out in the field.

Judith: I had worked on poplar trees during my PhD project in France and when I heard about UPSC, it seemed like a dream place for me to work at, both because of its scientific excellence and extraordinary infrastructure and, because of its ‘exotic’ Northern geographical location. Moving to Sweden and receiving a (rather unexpected) postdoc-opportunity at UPSC – this was like a dream come true for me as a young scientist.

What do you like about teaching?

Judith: I love to interact with students, to hear what they are curious about and to see them learn and grow in their reflections with every new piece of knowledge and skills they acquire. Also, I find teaching a very rewarding activity as the feedback that I receive from the students makes me reflect about myself and develop new skills. I see teaching as a continuous dialogue and opportunity for development for both students and teacher.

Nathaniel: Initially, I liked simply trying to pass on my own passion for the subject. Now, I also enjoy challenging and encouraging students to develop their own learning skills to become independent learners and thinkers.

What are your goals for the future?

Nathaniel: More of the same but better – both in the research and teaching or career development aspects of the job. I enjoy approaching research from a system-wide perspective, but this does not always provide concrete end results. Learning how to do this better is my major aim at the moment. In teaching, I want to continue exploring which teaching techniques provide the best learning and development opportunities for students and to evolve my courses accordingly. For my group, I want to create an environment that supports each person in identifying, developing and exploring their interest in biology. I want to make sure that their time in the group is providing them with the skills, output and opportunities they need to advance in their careers. I don’t want my own limitations to limit others.

Judith: I have used flipped classroom techniques in the past for my own lectures and want to develop that throughout my courses even more. I have students with varying background knowledge, and I see an advantage in having them learn the basics at their own pace through recorded lectures that integrate interactive moments such as quizzes. As teacher, I can focus then on interactive activities in the physical classroom such as case scenarios, problem-based learning, group exercises, discussions and so on. The students do not only learn to remember new material, but also to apply, compare, analyse and evaluate information. It is surprising not only for me but also for the students how much they learned through such discussions and interactive lectures and I would like to develop my teaching skills further to stimulate this type of learning.

Do you have some tips for young researchers?

Nathaniel: Be sure you know what inspires you about research and always remind yourself of that to let it drive you forward. There’s lots of important, practical advice about publishing papers and thinking strategically about the next move in your career. However, if you forget why you’re doing it then none of that practical advice really matters as you need that drive to provide the energy for those practical concerns. It’s good to remember that also other routes can lead you forward. If an opportunity arises that interests you but diverges from the model career path, don’t be blind by focusing only on strategic career advices.

Judith: Yes, I agree on that. I think it is very important to find out early during your career what you are passionate about, what you are good at and what makes you get out of bed in the morning with a smile on your face. Set yourself a goal and pave your unique path with patience and kindness for yourself. And remember: Doubt will kill more dreams than failure ever will. Believe in your dreams!