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Head of Department Letter April 2024

Application deadlines and competence management plans

It's that time of year when many have just submitted applications to the Swedish Research Council or Formas. Thank you for that! These grants are important to keep the department's finances running smoothly. It's also the time of year when we have to apply for new teaching positions at the faculties. So in every way it is a time to plan for renewal.

Our activities are highly dependent on external funding, and this also applies to new teaching positions. The two things are therefore linked. The question is whether, in the long term, we will be able to maintain a high level of external funding even for permanent teaching posts, without stressing our teaching staff? It is certainly healthy and fun to regularly review your research focus and make new plans. But at the same time, this can lead to negative spirals when we are less successful. And even when we are successful, a perpetual application cycle is rarely good. An inevitable consequence is that a lot of time is taken away from our main task of conducting research and teaching.

In the competition for external funding, we do very well, although there is always room for improvement. Our approval rate for, for example, VR project grants is usually above the average in Sweden for technology and natural sciences - with the exception of the years 2020 and 2022 when our approval rate was a few per cent below the national average. In other years, we are sometimes well above the average. So we already have high quality projects and researchers. Nevertheless, not everyone can get an award. Can we become more strategic in this regard? In the longer term, it is important to have a realistic teacher density and it is even more important to hire strategically. In the shorter term, we still need to bring in quite a lot of external funding. Therefore, we need to develop support for our teachers in application processes and nominations.

These discussions are ongoing both in our research divisions and in the departmental research committee. The Board is currently working on recruitment plans and nominations. Skills supply plans and sharper recruitment are also recurring themes at meetings with the faculties and other heads of department.

When new recruitment decreases, it becomes even more important to recruit the right people and here the Department of Physics has a great advantage as it already has a departmental research committee. We have already built up a process where we, with full subject expertise, will be able to make reasonable priorities and ensure that our teacher recruitments are well thought out, well motivated and financially feasible. It won't be easy, but at least we are well equipped with our new Institutional Research Committee.  It is particularly important for us in the Department of Physics to have these strategic discussions about how many we should be, because our activities are so research-intensive. Therefore, it would not work for us to simply size the teaching staff according to the number of students. 

Of course, I do not expect us to finish all discussions in the spring. The dialogues internally and with the faculties will continue. For now, I am keeping my fingers crossed for a good result in this year's calls!

Else Lytken

Head of Department