"Relocating to Sweden has been one of the best choices of my life so far"

Describe your role at the company, and briefly your background / experience of living and working in other countries.

– I am a Senior Scientist at Sprint Bioscience, Stockholm, where I am involved in the cell biology team in projects being driven by the company. This work involves important QC steps in the projects and, more importantly, a lot of basic research into what our compounds are doing. The job is truly stimulating by its constant fluctuation within the projects which is something I relish daily. Previous to this position I was in academia, with a postdoc at Karolinska Institutet (KI), Stockholm, and at The University of Westminster, London, UK. I lived in London for six and a half years before making the move to Stockholm a year and a half ago. I moved to London from County Limerick, Ireland to pursue an MSc in Molecular Medicine at Imperial College London and I stayed to further my career with a PhD also from Imperial College in Investigative Medicine. Living abroad is both challenging and fun! As a child I grew up in Australia before my family relocated to Ireland, so experiencing new, different cultures was something I had appreciated and enjoyed. Living and working in London was thoroughly enjoyable, however, initially I found the move hard as the culture is quite different to rural Ireland but I was lucky to have quite a few friends from Ireland who had also made the move. London is an amazing place to live in, there are so many things to see and do and as Samuel Johnson said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. The city is a busy city with many different events going on daily so you can really extend your social life, if you have time! Working in London however, is also busy. There are nearly 9 million people living in London (not including the tourists!) which can make commuting a little stressful and accommodation prices high. Nevertheless, it pulls people from all over the world which means you end up working and collaborating with the world. That is something amazing about science in London, it is a global affair.

What expectations did you have before moving to Sweden?

– Moving from London to further my scientific career was an easy move. As much as I loved the melting pot, I wanted to see what other countries had to offer and what I could convey to others. I had never been to Sweden before accepting my position so I had a lot of research to do before the move. My expectations were one of a better work-life balance, high scientific calibre and good weather. I was excited to move further from the rain!

How did it turn out?

– It rains a lot less! Relocating to Sweden has been one of the best choices of my life so far. The lifestyle is more relaxed compared to London living and reminds me a lot of Ireland. However, that doesn’t mean that the Science is relaxed. The level of scientific research, that I have come across in Sweden, is on par with that of London. I thoroughly enjoy the new scientific conversations and collaborations I have made here in Sweden. I have learnt so much in my last year and a half through the open community here. This does not end with the Science. Sweden itself surpassed my expectations and I began to walk a little slower to enjoy the nature and even embraced many of its traditions such as fredagsmys.

What is the best thing about living in Sweden?

– I think the way the Swedish have been able to excel at their work-life balance. Even though Swedes enjoy life outside of work, this does not mean that work standards falter. This is something that would have worried me in London, that by balancing my life outside of work more my career would not have survived. Yet in Sweden, they have managed this. One example of the healthy lifestyle that Swedes live is that it seems everyone is part of a gym and it is a big part of their week. A small contribution to each employee is given from companies to be allocated to a health interest be it gym membership or a new tennis racket and by law you are entitled to one hour off from working hours to exercise. This healthy lifestyle means a healthy body and mind ensuring the best quality of work. It seems to really work! But even with the healthy lifestyle, people still have time to fika every day. Fika involves a hot drink (not always coffee for an Irish tea drinker here!), a sweet treat and a chat, not about work but about you and what’s going on in your life. This also helps in the healthy life balance here as it encourages taking a break from the desk so your brain may process what you might be troubleshooting whilst also building better work relationships.

Would you recommend others to move here?

– I already am. I am constantly trying to get my old colleagues and friends who are getting tired of their busy UK lives to come here and see how you can really balance work and life. I would highly recommend Sweden not only for its work-life balance but for its Science. The Nordic community is really great at sharing scientific ideas and techniques and it really helps you excel at your science and your career.

What do you think of Sweden in regard to equality and other social aspects?

– In my opinion, Sweden is leading in equality in the work place and social aspect. There are a lot of initiatives in the UK, such as the Athena Swan Charter, to advance gender equality. However, these initiatives seem ingrained into the Swedish philosophy. One of the first things highlighted in my introduction lecture at KI was the number of women in the institutet and how KI is excelling at challenging the gender balance at the top end of the career path. This was evident in my direct surroundings at KI, where my corridor was filled with three groups headed by female PIs, one being my PI who had just stepped down as Head of the Department following a successful ten years. I was lucky to be surrounded by high achieving women in an environment where it was deemed normal. This experience did not end at KI as at my current workplace there is an equal gender balance for the project leaders. Interestingly, this is not something strange to Swedes as it is ingrained in their culture to have leading women at the top. However, to me, it is amazing to see. Moreover, when it comes to outside the workplace this equality doesn’t stop and makes me wonder how this couldn’t be the case in other countries. I recently had a conversation about this equality with one of my colleagues and she believes that Sweden has quite a bit to go with regards gender balance but I think that the steps that have already been undertaken surpass anything I have ever experienced.

In your opinion, which is the most beautiful place in Sweden?

– I didn’t realise how large Sweden is, which means it has quite a varying topography. Though, and it might sound clichéd, I love being out on the archipelago in the Summer and just enjoying the quiet and beauty that Sweden has to offer.

Which is the best Swedish tradition?

– Every day, the best things has to be Fika but I really love midsommar in Sweden. It is a celebration in June for the longest day of the year and is very similar to Christmas but in the warm Summer months. It is all about friends and family and this year we invited some of our UK friends to join us celebrate. It was really fun to embrace the Swedish tradition and enjoy the long Summer days with some kubb.

Back to EMA to Sweden >

 

Aine Henley

Senior Scientist at Sprint Bioscience