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Published: 2019-11-25 15:44 | Updated: 2019-11-29 08:46

Pioneers met researchers of the future when KI held conferment ceremony

“Each of you have taken your own path and have done it your way. That reminds me of a classic song,” said Robert Harris before he burst into Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ in a tribute to Karolinska Institutet’s new doctors. With his tenor reverberating across the Blue Hall in Stockholm City Hall, the vice-president of doctoral education elicited laughter and applauds during KI’s annual autumn conferment ceremony held on Friday.

In total, 153 new doctors and 12 jubilee doctors received their diplomas, hats and canon salutes in a formal ceremony followed by a three-course dinner in the Golden Hall and dancing. Robert Harris offered his own interpretation of ‘My Way’ as a way of illustrating how each doctoral student at KI has had the opportunity to shape his or her own training program.

“It amazes me to think no two of you have conducted an identical PhD training, no two of you have conducted exactly the same journey,” said Robert Harris. “What wonderful flexibility there is in our system.”


Changing conditions

Robert Harris also reflected on how the demands on researchers and the publication practices have changed since the 1950s. When James Watson and Francis Crick published two articles about their ground-breaking research on the DNA double helix structure in Nature in 1953, they did not include any data to support their conclusions. Today, this would be unthinkable, according to Robert Harris, who stressed the need for the new doctors to continue to educate themselves and adapt to new knowledge and methods.

“Publish or perish is a phrase we hear far too often, but I suggest you concentrate on Darwin’s adapt and survival of the fittest-phrase instead,” he said. “And please remember that knowledge may come and go but friendships can last a lifetime.”

The way forward

President Ole Petter Ottersen took the opportunity to talk about the importance of combating inequities in health and to focus on preventative measures against disease and poor health – both key elements of KI’s new strategy for 2030.

“Our new vision says that we should strive for a better health for all, but it also says that we shall advance our knowledge of life,” he said. “Curiosity-driven research is and will continue to be the basis for everything we aspire to do in the realm of medicine and health.”

‘Shoulder of giants’

Vice President of Research Birgitta Henriques Normark followed by citing Isaac Newton’s famous words—“if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder of giants”—in a homage to the jubilee doctors who paved the way for today’s new doctors.

Among the 12 were Professor Jan-Åke Gustafsson, who helped establish basic research at KI’s southern campus and who in 1969 fought to raise the status of young researchers in Sweden. Another jubilee doctor was Anita Aperia, who has worked as a pediatrician and who established a research laboratory at the children’s clinic at Saint Göran’s Hospital. In 1969, she was part of the 10 percent of new doctors who were women. Today, women represent more than half of the new doctors at KI.

“I ask you, the KI official representatives, to continue this policy; it has been one of your best investments,” said Aperia in her speech during the banquet, which drew the night’s biggest applause.