NewsA group of people sitting on a sunny day on a dock on a lake with calm water and mountains in the backGroup discussions during the UPSC DAYS 2022 in Saxnäs (photo: Maria Israelsson Nordström)

About one year ago, UPSC organised the UPSC Days in Saxnäs. After two years of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the goal was to bring people together, strengthen the community at UPSC and identify possibilities to improve UPSC’s research environment. What has happened since then? Many good suggestions were brought up during the meeting - some were easy to implement, others are still in the progress to be realised. We take a look back on the last year.

More than 80 people working at UPSC spent three days in the beautiful environment of Saxnäs in South Lapland and discussed in different constellations UPSC’s strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats for UPSC. The engagement of the participants was great and the feedback collected during these discussions enormous.

“It took us quite some time to go through and structure everything that came up during the meeting and we still have not manage to address everything,” says Totte Niittylä, Head of Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, SLU. “We started with things that were easy to solve. For example, we have now once per month in our joint UPSC-all meeting a presentation from one of our scientific facilities to help increasing their visibility. This was an easy fix but other more structural improvements need longer time to be implemented.”

It is not always easy to understand the structure of UPSC which is part of two universities with different rules and regulations. The administration including HR and economy is separated between the two departments and also the PhD education differs somewhat between the two universities. The facilities and equipment on the other hand are shared by all research groups and seminars and events are jointly organised for all of UPSC.

“The close collaboration of the two departments under the umbrella of UPSC is the main strength of UPSC but it can be confusing to understand that a colleague working besides me is from a different university and may have different guidelines and rules to follow,” explains Johannes Hanson, who is Head of the Department of Plant Physiology at Umeå University since beginning of this year. “The discussions in Saxnäs and afterwards made it apparent that we can improve our internal communication and that is what we are working on now.”

Since the beginning of the year, newcomers at UPSC are invited for a UPSC Welcome Meeting where UPSC’s structure and facilities are presented. Once a year in November a lecture is given on the Swedish academia and the career paths it offers. The postdocs and PhD students started a Buddy initiative to help new arriving postdocs and PhD students finding their way at UPSC and help them integrating in the community. Twice per year a lecture with talks from UPSC group leaders is organised and this week the first joint seminar day for half-time PhD students took place.

“We cannot fully harmonize the PhD education at the two departments nor the administration since the systems at SLU and UmU differ, but we do it as often as possible,” says Ove Nilsson, director of UPSC. “We also know we can improve our internal communication and we are very glad about the strong commitment of our staff that is helping us to constantly improve on this front. Excellent research output is very much dependent on a good work environment, and we need to all work together to shape a competitive UPSC.”