Published: 26-05-2014 15:35 | Updated: 03-06-2014 14:42

"The PhD students should feel that their work is important"

Petter Höglund, professor of Immunology and active at HERM, is the new director of the doctoral education at the Department, since 1 April 2013.

How do you view your new role as director?

-I am very excited about taking over this important position. The doctoral education is a central part of the Department, and it is crucial for our research activities that we provide our PhD students with the best possible training.

-As director of doctoral education, I function as a link between PhD students and the Department, but also as a support for the PhD students and their supervisors in all questions that concern their PhD training project.

What is it that makes you suited for the role as the director of education?

-I have had several PhD students myself who completed their doctoral studies under my supervision, and I have also co-supervised several other.

-I have also organized a large number of PhD courses at KI, and have been a member of the board for research education at KI for six years. During those years, I took part in the creation of the KID-system, participated in a major revision of KI's current policies for the doctoral education, and led two major evaluations concerning the research programs at KI.

-In my role as teacher representative in the board, I also approved many theses before nailing ("må spikas"), and were then given the opportunity to discuss the experiences of the PhD training each PhD student had been through.

What characterizes a good doctoral education?

-The project should be scientifically cutting-edge of course. An important aspect is also that the program provides a wide methodological training, and that theoretical education is also valued. Every supervisor should have a defined role and there should be a solid plan for how the supervision should be conducted.

-It is also important that the individual study plan is revised continually and readjusted in accordance to how the project develops. The yearly follow-up allows natural times for this, where I as a director of education can act as a resource for advice and feedback.

Do you think that the doctoral education at KI have changed since you took your PhD here in 1993?

-There have been major changes in the way PhD training are perceived since then. A big difference is that the research programs are restricted to four years instead of having no time limit. Another important change is that we now have a wider perspective on the PhD training and require, besides a suitable project, clear plans for both theoretical and practical studies. These changes, along with other in the same direction, support the contemporary view that the doctoral work is an education, which should in a thought-out way prepare the PhD students for the next step in their career.

Why should anyone invest their time in a doctoral education?

-Researching and writing a dissertation is a unique opportunity to produce something new, unique and original. If you are given this chance, you should take it. Academic studies, besides being a merit for further studies and employment, also develops you as a person. Anyone who has conducted research has developed a critical voice and approach. But it also strengthens your perseverance and ability to handle setbacks, which is of great use in your future career.

-What is your best advice to a student, who has come a way through their research, and suddenly wants to give up?

-As a PhD student you live with your research project day and night for several years and become very engaged in it. While this commitment is necessary in order to be successful, you have to be careful not to become too emotional and equate a failed experiment with a failed personality! When things are going slow you might want to step aside and bring your objectivity out, often with the help of mentors, tutors, and colleagues at the lab. A few days off with friends outside of the lab can also do wonders for your inspiration!

What are your visions for the doctoral education at the Department?

-The doctoral education at KI is composed of many policies, rules and regulations and I want provide our students with good and competent administrative support. My recent predecessors of this post, Eva Hellström-Lindberg and Anna Norrby-Teglund, have together with our experienced and very engaged study administrator Eva Holmgaard created several routines that I will put in practice and hopefully develop.

-I also want to support an environment that encourages both students and their supervisors to feel free to contact me or Eva Holmgaard when they have things that are not working so well that they want to discuss.

-Lastly, I want all students to feel that their work is important to the Department, and that they are seen as individuals. Here, I think there is room for more activities, initiated by the PhD students themselves, where the students own issues are raised and discussed, and where the student's personal development is stimulated.

Doctoral education facts:

  • A doctoral education at KI is equivalent of 4 years of full-time studies.
  • The Department of Medicine, Huddinge, currently has about 100 PhD students.
  • Each year, about 14-15 people take their doctorates at MedH.